Poisonous Insects Abound
In a world full of poisonous creatures we usually don’t give too much thought to poisonous insects, possibly because they are mostly small and not so fearsome to come across as is a rattlesnake or a Black Widow spider. Like most poisonous creatures, the severity of a bite or sting and the symptoms can vary greatly, from insect to insect and from person to person. Most poisonous insects used their poison or venom either for self protection or as a means of attacking prey.
Many poisonous snakes or spiders are not at all aggressive, and prefer flight to fight if they have a chance. Some are aggressive of course, but the majority would simply prefer to be left alone and use their venom or poison only as a last resort or it they are actually on the hunt for food. Insects, perhaps because they are small, tend to be more aggressive, or at least more protective of themselves.
We are all too familiar with bee stings and wasp stings, and can easily be led to believe that a yellow jacket sting is about as bad as it can get. The truth is, some species of ants, such as fire ants and harvester ants, are much more toxic, and the fact that one can be stung or bitten by a swarm of ants makes it all that much worse.
We can then add ants to bees and wasps to the list of poisonous insects. At the risk of seeming to split hairs, the distinction should perhaps be made between poisonous insects and venomous insects, even though we use the two terms interchangeably. If we really want to talk only about poisonous insects, bees, wasps, and ants will not be on the list, as they are technically venomous insects. Venomous insects inject venom by biting or stinging. Poisonous insects on the other hand are poisonous if eaten or if touched. Their poison is usually for defensive purposes only, telling predators, “don’t eat me, and don’t touch me, or you’ll be sorry”.
Butterflies? – If we are going to make a list of poisonous insects, instead of bees, wasps, and ants, we find moths, caterpillars, butterflies, beetles, a few of the true bugs, and some species of grasshopper. Some of these will bite, but don’t inject venom. Butterflies of course don’t bite, but handling some species of butterflies or moths could cause a reaction. Similarly some species of beetles are poisonous if touched, just as some plants are, and certainly could be if eaten.
Caterpillars Are Insects – The bristles of some caterpillars are laden with toxic substances and can be quite irritating if they work their way into the skin. Caterpillars belong on the list, even though we don’t think of them as insects, but they eventually will be when they become butterflies or moths, exchanging their many legs for six legs and wings. Several species of moths are poisonous to the touch.
Most Are Not Poisonous – People collect butterflies and moths, and should be all means continue to do so and not be afraid of deadly consequences. Some are more sensitive to the toxins in these insects than are others, and some people may experience severe reactions if touching the wrong species of a caterpillar, moth, or butterfly. If it is any consolation, the vast majority of species of moths and caterpillars, and beetles for that matter, are not poisonous to the touch, and we for the most part don’t eat them. Some beetles can deliver a painful bite, but inject no venom, even if the species is poisonous. While there are poisonous insects around, we needn’t walk on tiptoes for fear of being attacked by them. If you handle insects however, it may pay to learn which ones should be handled with a bit more care.