UK insects that bite or sting

The creatures that are most likely to feast on you, including wasps, bees, ants, spiders, midges and ticks.

Buzzing bees, marching ants and swarms of midges are as much a part of the British summer as deckchairs, picnics and ice creams. 

Get the lowdown on these pesky creatures so you can spot and avoid the ones waiting to feast on you.

Wasps

The humble wasp (and closely related hornet) can give a nasty sting if it feels threatened, leading to itching and swelling. 

In some cases, stings from wasps can cause an allergic reaction. It's unusual to be allergic to both wasps and bees. 

Prevent wasp stings: Don't try to swat wasps away – you'll just make them cross and more likely to sting you. Instead, calmly and slowly move out of their way. Like other stinging insects, wasps love bright colours, so wear white or neutral clothes to deter them. Look out for wasps' nests in your home or garden and have them removed immediately by your local council or a pest control expert.

See a doctor if: you develop symptoms of a serious allergic reaction

Bees


A bee sting feels similar to that of a wasp. In the UK, we have two types of bees: honey bees and bumble bees. 

The honey bee leaves its barbed sting inside you and then dies. It's important to remove the barb to stop infection setting in. Find out how to remove a bee sting.

Bumble bees don't have barbed stings and can sting you many times if they want to. But bumble bees aren't aggressive and are unlikely to sting unless provoked.

Bee stings are painful, but unless you have an allergy to bees, they're unlikely to cause serious harm. It's unusual to be allergic to both bees and wasps. 

Prevent bee stings: Stay still and calm while a bee buzzes around you. Bees normally only sting in self-defence, so avoid provoking them. Bees aren't attracted by food and drink.  

See a doctor if: you develop symptoms of a serious allergic reaction

Ticks

 

Ticks are a common presence in UK woods, moors or thick grass. Once they've latched on to you, ticks cling to your skin and suck your blood.

The bite doesn't really hurt, but certain types of tick can transmit a condition called Lyme disease. You should remove a tick as soon as you spot one on your skin.

Prevent tick bites: Wear long sleeves and trousers when you're walking in forested, overgrown areas and use a tick repellent.

See a doctor if: you get a circular rash spreading out from where you were bitten or you develop the symptoms of Lyme disease.

Send any ticks you collect to Public Health England's Tick Recording Scheme and they'll identify them for you.  

Mosquitoes

Most mosquitoes in the UK feed on the blood of birds, not humans. Other types of mosquitos do bite humans, but unlike in the tropics, mosquitoes in this country aren't currently known to transmit any infections. 

Prevent mosquito bites: Cover water butts. Remove leaves and change the water regularly in bird baths and paddling pools. Try to stay indoors when mosquitoes become most active, around dusk and dawn, or use insect repellent if you need to be outside.

Read more about how to treat mosquito bites.  

Send any mosquitoes you come across to Public Health England's mosquito recording system to help their research.

Flower bugs

 

Flower bugs have tiny oval bodies, reflective wings, and orange-brown legs. They can be found on flowering plants in meadows, parks and gardens. They're pretty to look at, but their bite can be very itchy and slow to heal.

Prevent flower bug bites: The common flower bug bite isn't serious, but it's very annoying. You could use insect repellent when gardening or, better still, cover your bare skin and wear gloves to stop them nipping. Flower bugs are great for the garden, so don't be tempted to use a general insecticide to get rid of them. 

Midges and gnats

 
Midges (often also called gnats) are the scourge of trips to the Scottish Highlands and a common feature throughout the rest of the UK, especially on damp and cloudy summer days. Midge bites don't transmit illness, but they're painful, itch intensely, and can swell up alarmingly.

Prevent midge bites: Midges and gnats tend to attack in swarms, especially in hot weather, so use an insect repellent and cover up at dawn and dusk. Protective gear, such as mesh covers for your face, can be very effective, too. 

Bedbugs

 

Bedbugs are a growing problem in the UK. They don't carry disease, but their bites cause itchy red bumps. Some people have a serious skin reaction with blisters that can become infected.

What to do: If you think your home is infested with bedbugs (tiny black spots on your mattress and bed are a giveaway), get a pest control expert to treat it straight away. Don't be embarrassed – bedbugs aren't a sign of a dirty home. 

Horseflies

 

A large, hairy fly whose bite can be extremely painful, the horsefly tends to bite on warm, sunny days, especially your head and upper body.

Prevent horsefly bites: The horsefly doesn't spread disease, but as its bite cuts the skin rather than piercing it, horsefly bites are very painful, take longer to heal than other insect bites, and can easily become infected, so cover up and use insect repellent. Find out what to do if you have an infected insect bite

Ants

 

Our most common ant, the black garden variety, doesn't sting, but the UK has red, wood and flying ants that do, especially in warm weather or when threatened.

You'll feel a nip, but it's all pretty harmless as ants have less toxin in their sting than wasps or bees. The only evidence you've been stung will probably be a pale pink mark.

Prevent ant stings: Use ant repellent. 

Spiders

 

You may be surprised to know that a number of spiders in the UK are capable of giving a nasty nip – usually after rough handling or if they become trapped in your clothes. You can tell it's a spider bite because it leaves little puncture marks. 

False widow spiders, so called because of their similarity to the more poisonous black widow spider, are the main culprits and typically give bites that cause pain, redness and swelling.

Prevent spider bites: Don't disturb spiders if you can help it – they tend to bite you only when they feel threatened.

Read more about insect bites and stings

Caterpillars

 

The caterpillars of oak processionary moths have thousands of tiny hairs that can cause itchy rashes, eye problems and sore throats – and, very occasionally, breathing difficulties. 

If you see them crawling up and down trees in nose-to-tail processions or spot one of their white silken nests, report it to the Forestry Commission or your local council.

Prevent oak processionary moth problems: Don't touch or approach the caterpillars or nests. Don't try to remove the nests yourself – call a pest control expert. 

If a caterpillar is on your skin: Use tweezers or a pen to remove it. Try not to disturb it (for example, by brushing it with your hands) as it will then release more hairs.

If you think you've been exposed: Rinse with running water, allow to air dry, and then use sticky tape to strip off any leftover hairs. Use calamine, ice packs or a remedy from the pharmacy containing 3.5% ammonia to relieve the itch. Remove all contaminated clothes and wash at as high a temperature as the fabric allows. Don't towel yourself dry after rinsing, and don't use creams containing antihistamine.

See a doctor if: you develop symptoms of a serious allergic reaction or breathing difficulties, or think you may have caterpillar hairs in your eyes. If itching is severe or prolonged, consult a doctor or pharmacist.

For more information

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