Taking The Sting Out Of Summer

Here's a guide for dealing with pesky outdoor bugs

Focus On Pests

May 26, 2002|By Text by Peter Jensen | Text by Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Summer is coming, which means your backyard could soon be crawling with, well, things that crawl. Some pests are tolerable -- gnats, non-poisonous spiders, your brother-in-law. But some bite and sting and carry diseases.

What's out there and how can the average person fight back? Before you reach for a bottle of insecticide, make sure you understand your opponents.

Some pests can be deterred simply by eliminating their favorite habitat. Others need to be encouraged to leave the property. Still others aren't really that much of a threat -- unless you do something that threatens them.

Stanton Gill, an entomologist with the University of Maryland, says many bugs are just misunderstood. Too many people, he says, react irrationally to pests out of ignorance.

"The best solution to all these pests is to get the thing identified and understand something about it," says Gill. "We can't use pesticide and wipe out the world. For one thing, it wouldn't work, and we'd probably just do more damage to ourselves."

What bugs are the biggest bane of the backyard? Here are the critters that the extension service gets the most complaints about -- and what you can do to avoid an encounter:

Deer tick

Tiny, dark-colored ticks that feed on the blood of deer, rodents, horses, dogs and other animals, including humans. Most often appear along paths, trails and roads.

Their bite can be painful, but more worrisome is that the ticks can carry Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that should be treated with antibiotics.

How it attacks

* A tick finds its host by responding to scent, body heat and other factors. It will then climb upwards on brush and use one set of legs to grab onto a person as he or she moves past.

The tick first digs into its host and then inserts a central piercing element, much like a hollow sword lined with microscopic hooks, from which it sucks out blood. It may stay attached for hours, sometimes days before it is fully engorged and falls off.

* The rash from a deer tick bite is distinctive: It appears as a red 2- to 3-inch circular rash lasting about four weeks. But sometimes the rash is never apparent.


* Symptoms of Lyme disease are flu-like, and may be accompanied by joint pain, headaches, fever and muscle ache. Left untreated, more serious arthritis, cardiac and neurological disorders can develop.


* Stay away from dense undergrowth, keep grass closely mowed, discourage wild animals from entering the yard.

* If you do want to take a walk in the woods, wear pants tucked into socks, apply a repellent with DEET, and check yourself and children afterwards.


* If you get bitten,

remove feeding tick with tweezers. See a physician if symptoms of Lyme disease appear.

The sting

* Unlike honey-bee stingers, which are barbed and stay attached to a victim, wasp stingers are as smooth as a paring knife. This allows a single wasp to sting its victim repeatedly.

* When a wasp wants to sting, it curves its abdomen downward and punctures the victim's skin with its sharp stinger, driving it into the flesh.

* Venom is pumped from the venom sac through the stinger. Chemicals in the venom cause the irritation from the sting.


* If stung by a bee, use a needle to scrape out the stinger.

* To reduce pain, apply meat

tenderizer to the wound; it breaks down the sting fluid.

* To reduce swelling, hold an ice pack on the wound.

* To reduce itching, apply hydrocortisone cream or an

over-the-counter antihistamine.

Yellow jacket

One of the most aggressive wasps, this black and yellow insect likes to forage on food that people eat, especially sweets. Yellow jackets are worst at the end of the season, when natural sources of food dry up and they concentrate more on human-made.

The nest

* Yellow jackets commonly nest in the ground.


* Eliminate possible food sources, especially in late summer.

* Note nest sites (where workers can be seen coming and going) and avoid them.

* Traps that use a fruit juice to lure yellow jackets have recently become popular.

Paper wasp

Recognizable by its longer legs and wasp-waisted body, the reddish-brown and yellow wasp can give a severe sting.

The nest

* Unlike hornets and yellow jackets, wasps like to build their nests near people. Attics and eaves are favorites because they protect the open combs.


* Discourage nests in spring before wasps get established. Knock them down or spray with aerosol insecticide.

Tiger mosquito

A relative newcomer (it came to the U.S. from Japan in 1985), the tiger is the dominant mosquito in Maryland and can carry West Nile virus. Peak populations are June to September.

The bite

As a mosquito feeds on a person's blood, it pumps saliva into the wound to stop blood clotting. An infected mosquito can pass a disease through its saliva.

How to fight back

Use repellent containing DEET, avoid outdoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

Eliminate containers of standing water that can serve as breeding sites.

If you get bitten

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