Teaching Children About Dangerous Bugs

Teach your children the facts about dangerous bugs. Learn which insects and spiders are poisonous and how to react around them.

Every year from 40 to 100 people in the US die because of dangerous insects. While certain bugs and other small creatures present a genuine danger, it is important to teach kids the facts. Otherwise they will be overly afraid of many harmless insects. They will also be more likely to react in fear when confronted with a potentially dangerous situation, and their reaction can make things worse. For these reasons, it's wise to teach children which insects and spiders are dangerous and how to avoid the danger. A field guide with photographs is a valuable tool for teaching kids about bugs.

The insect responsible for the most human deaths worldwide is the mosquito. Their bites are uncomfortable, but the real danger lies in the germs they can carry. The best course of action where mosquitoes are concerned is to empty standing water around the house and to use insect repellent. To avoid being bitten, stay inside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. In the U.S., there is some possibility of contracting West Nile Virus (WNV), but 80% of the people who do never develop symptoms. Children will probably receive an occasional bite. Simply comfort the child, care for the bite, and trust for the best. Seek medical attention if the child develops headaches, fever, swollen glands and other symptoms of WNV.

Bees have barbed stingers. They lose their life when they sting. Bee stings are most dangerous to people who have an allergic reaction to them. They are very uncomfortable to the rest. Bees are extremely beneficial, however, because all food is made possible by pollination. Without bees, we'd all go hungry! Teach children to respect and stay away from these little workers. Never swat at a stinging insect with your hand. Be careful when playing in clover patches and around flowers. Bees are not looking to hurt anyone, and will usually only sting when threatened or defending the hive.

Wasps and hornets do not die after stinging, but can sting repeatedly. Meanest are yellow jackets and hornets. Paper wasps are less aggressive, and mud daubers are relatively harmless. All can inflict a painful sting, which is made more harmful in the event of an allergic reaction. The best course of action for children who see a wasp is to remain calm and leave the area. Children should never play near a wasp or hornet nest.

Ticks are annoying parasites and harmful in that they can carry a variety of serious illnesses, including Lyme disease. Ticks are found in woods and grasslands worldwide. They should be avoided. Have your children use insect repellents and stay out of thick brush and grass. If they get a tick, remove it as soon as possible with tweezers placed closed to the skin. Save the tick to show the physician in the event of fever, rash, or other symptoms.

A lesser-known dangerous insect is the conenose bug, also knows as kissing bug or Mexican bedbug. This insect hides under furniture during the day and comes out at night to suck blood while a person is sleeping. With each bite, a person gets a little more sensitive to the bites. Allergic reaction can include itching of the palms, soles of feet, and scalp, as well as rash, welts, vomiting, and trouble breathing. The best way to trap these bugs if your house is infested is to attach tape sticky-side up around the undersides of the furniture. As with all unfamiliar bugs, look in field guides to get an idea of what they look like. Teach your children to keep their eyes open for these dangerous bugs.



Assassin bugs and giant water bugs can inflict a painful bite, but they have no venom. Hellgrammites, the immature version (nymph) of a dobsonfly, live in the gravel of streambeds and also have a harmless but painful bite. Again, the field guide is indispensable for learning to identify these creatures.

A few harmless insects can inflict a small pinch but do no other damage. Grasshoppers, June bugs, and Japanese beetles are all in this category. Grasshoppers also spit out a bit of brown liquid, commonly called "tobacco juice," to discourage handling. If your child wants to handle these interesting creatures, warn them to treat the bug gently. This is the best way to avoid the rare pinch. Caterpillars are generally harmless, but some fuzzy ones contain an irritant in the hairs. The common wooly bear does not, and can be handled.

By far, most insects are harmless. Cockroaches are only dangerous in that they may carry germs onto food, and people tend to develop allergies to them when around them. Walkingsticks are thought by many to be poisonous, but in reality they have no ability to bite a human. They are gentle vegetarians and can be kept as pets. However, there may be local regulations concerning collecting them from the wild, so be sure to check first. The praying mantis is a sinister looking fellow but completely harmless and very beneficial in the garden. These large bugs can also be kept as pets. They are one of the few insects that can turn their heads from side to side. They will even eat a bit of hamburger from your hand!

Some other small creatures are dangerous, but are not technically insects. They include spiders, scorpions, and centipedes. Children should be taught to respect spiders and keep their distance from them, because even those that are not poisonous can often inflict a painful bite. Never press down on a spider with your hand unless you want to be bitten! One spider that is completely harmless, though, is the harvester, better known as a "daddy long-legs."

The brown recluse spider is identified by the fiddle shape seen on the back of the head and the thorax. This poisonous spider is brown with long slender legs, measuring 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter, counting legs. In houses, they are often found in boxes or piles of old clothes or blankets, especially if the clothes have been stored in the same place for a long time. Their bite is poisonous, causing a boil-like welt that may require medical care. Teach your children to shake out cloth items that have been undisturbed for a long time. Brown recluses can also be found in out of the way places outdoors, such as under rocks and logs, or in caves.

Tarantulas, sometimes sold as pets, are huge hairy spiders that have a painful bite. Hairs on their abdomen can cause itching and burning. The hairs can be removed with tape if your child should come into contact with them.

The black widow female is a shiny round black spider with an orange or red hourglass shaped mark on the underside of the abdomen. Like most spiders, they tend to hide in out of the way places, like under rocks and logs. They can also be found in storage areas, such as in bags of stored newspapers. Their bite is very poisonous and requires medical treatment. Teach children to back away if they should see a black widow.

Scorpions live under logs and rocks and in decaying matter. They are nocturnal. They are occasionally found in houses and have been known to hide in boots. Found worldwide, they sting with their tails. The poison causes pain and swelling, and possibly death. Again, remain calm and back away when one is seen.

Centipedes are found under logs and rocks. They have a poisonous bite, but the small centipedes found in the U.S. are often not even able to break the skin. Millipedes resemble centipedes but don't bite. They do secrete irritating liquid, however, and should not be handled. One way to tell the difference is that millipedes have two sets of legs on every segment and centipedes have one. Common millipedes are rounder in shape and their legs go straight down while centipedes are flat and their legs stick out to the sides.

There are dangers presented by the insect world, but, fortunately, most bugs are harmless. When teaching children about insects, give them the facts, and remind them to respect the little creatures. Help them learn to stay calm when dangerous bugs are nearby. While turning over an old log is a great way to teach about decay and nature's recycling methods, one should always be on the lookout for dangerous creatures in these places. There might even be a snake under a rock or log, so always teach children to be cautious when disturbing this dark habitat.

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