Three Deadly Insects
Insects are an important part of our world’s ecosystems. Almost all insects serve specific functions, including pollinating our crops, providing food for other animals and recycling nutrients. There are a reported 1.4 billion insects per person on the planet. While most insects aren’t considered dangerous, there are some that can cause significant harm to humans — and even kill them, including:
Triatomine bugs, or “kissing bugs” as they’re more commonly known, get their nickname from their tendency to bite people around the mouth and other areas of their face. These blood-sucking arthropods are members of a group known as assassin bugs and are predominantly found in the Southern U.S., Mexico, Central America and South America. They’re often found in the cracks and holes of walls and doors inside a home, beneath porches, in rock and wood brush piles, and in outdoor kennels and chicken coops.
Triatomine bugs are considered a killer insect because they carry the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, which is responsible for causing Chagas disease. When the triatomine bug bites, it defecates in the wound, leaving the parasite behind. Once Chagas disease is transmitted to a human, it presents itself in two phases. The first phase is flu-like symptoms that go away in a few weeks or months. The second phase is especially troublesome and can cause serious health issues and death, including intestinal problems, blood clots, heart failure and sudden cardiac arrest.
The Anopheles mosquito has the privilege of being the primary vector for malaria, a disease that causes over 400,000 global deaths each year. There are 430 species of Anopheles mosquito and 30-40 of them are carriers of malaria. This mosquito is dark brown with a stomach that points upwards and can be found almost anywhere in the world. It’s even responsible for re-infecting areas where malaria was eliminated.
Female mosquitos infect humans by carrying the disease from one human to another, without being infected themselves. Once transmitted, the parasite that causes malaria travels to the liver, enters the bloodstream and infects red blood cells. As a result, it can cause many life-threatening complications, including swelling of the blood vessels in the brain, pulmonary edema, organ failure, anemia and low blood sugar.
Asian Giant Hornets
Asian giant hornets are one of the deadliest insects on the planet, and they’re unique to this list because they kill not by transmitting a disease or pathogen but with venom. Typically twice the size of an average hornet with a black, brown, yellow and orange coloring and dark wings, Asian giant hornets are fast, strategic in their attacks, and extremely defensive and territorial, known for killing 20-40 humans each year. They can be found in East and Southeast Asia, but they were recently found in Washington state, Canada and the UK. They tend to thrive in forests and low-elevation mountain regions.
The specific venom Asian giant hornets use is mandaratoxin, which is a neurotoxin that can eat through human tissue and destroy red blood cells. Even if a human were to survive a swarm of Asian giant hornets, they may still find themselves with ongoing kidney problems and may require dialysis to rid their kidneys of the toxins. Perhaps even more frightening, if you’re stung, the puncture can widen and become necrotic, which can lead to organ failure and death.
This list is just a small sample of the killer insects found around the world. You can gain further insight into the insects listed above, as well as many others playing essential roles in our ecosystem, by continuing your graduate studies with one of the University of Florida’s graduate programs in entomology and nematology. With three specialization options to choose from in both the master’s degree and graduate certificate programs, you can gain a comprehensive knowledge of insects through classes like ALS 6166 Exotic Species and Biosecurity Issues, ALS 6935 Topics in Biological Invasions and more. Find out more about the programs by clicking here.