By now, everyone in Alabama has gotten a sunburn and been bitten or stung by a summer insect of some sort. Whether it be a mosquito, horsefly, deer fly, wasp, hornet, bee, fire ant, or the impossible to identify no-see-ums that bombard me at every evening baseball game I attend. Another real issue in our part of the world is ticks. Big ticks, small ticks, fat ticks, thin ticks, common ticks, deer ticks, and it seems to me, ticks that appear on you out of thin air. Our venomous spiders are also much more active in the summer and can appear in the strangest places.
Biting and stinging insects are a real concern for Alabamians in the summer time. When dealing with biting insects, your first and best line of defense is a good quality insect repellant. If you are planning to spend time in the woods or in weedy areas, make sure you increase the strength of the repellant and the amount and frequency with which you apply it. A good repellant is no guarantee against being bitten, but it is the best way to prevent it. Ticks are another story. Of seventeen known tick species in Alabama, five different species are known to use humans as hosts (Agricultural Research study performed by Gary Mullen and Renee Anderson). Of these five, four are carriers of diseases that affect humans. The five species that will use humans as a host are the American Dog Tick, Brown Dog Tick, Gulf Coast Tick, Blacklegged Tick, and the Lone Star Tick, which is also the most common. Only the Brown Dog Tick is not a vector for human disease, so tick identification can be important to the outdoorsman. If bitten by a tick or mosquito, keep an eye on the affected area for a few days. If any redness, swelling, or other discolorations or pain occur at the site of the bite, seek medical attention.
Stinging insects, on the other hand, could not care less about your insect repellant. Fortunately, with the exception of the fire ant, they don’t go looking for trouble. However, if you bring trouble to them, or disturb a nest, they will retaliate with extreme prejudice. Most insect stings occur when humans inadvertently disturb or threaten a nest and the insects are just doing what come naturally. While most stings are painful and irritating, they are not life threatening. The exception to this is when a human has an allergic reaction to a sting. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they are allergic until they get stung. Humans can also develop allergic reactions to stings at any time in our life, so just because you have been stung in the past with no ill effects does not mean that next time won’t be different. Always take safety precautions when dealing with a venomous insect sting. Keep the victim under observation and watch for swelling, whelps, and especially difficulty breathing, which all can be signs of allergic reaction that can lead to anaphylactic shock.
I place fire ants in a completely different category than other stinging insects in Alabama. They are demonic and satanic in nature and are here only to create misery, frustration, and strife in the lives of all other living creatures. All I can say is do your best to kill them all, regardless of the consequences. Fire ants will go out of their way just for the opportunity to sting someone. It is obvious they greatly enjoy injecting their stinging, itching venom into anything that moves. Most of my attempts to kill them result in them recruiting additional fire ants to move onto my property and set-up shop. I do enjoy my small victories of running over a nice mound with the lawn mower, or poking the mound with a stick to make them scurry around needlessly for a few minutes. In the end though, they always get the last laugh.
Spiders, namely the Black Widow are a summertime nemesis to many who spend time outdoors. The Brown Recluse is mainly a dwelling spider, meaning they like it indoors or at least in covered areas. The black widow enjoys heat, cool, humidity, dry, and anything else. You just never know where you will find them. Good places to watch out for them are water meter boxes, inside and underneath mailboxes, underneath anything laying on the ground for more than a week, underneath squash, cucumbers, and melons in the garden, and anywhere around the base of buildings and outdoor structures. While not a common occurrence, there are enough of them that you need to be observant and careful about where you put your hands.
Just make sure that you are aware of the insects that can harm you and be prepared to deal with the inevitable encounters you will have with them over the summer.
In the opening, I mentioned sunburn. With summer time comes being outdoors and along with the insect encounters, you are going to be exposed to sunlight and dangerous ultraviolet radiation. I know suntans are cool and part of life in the south, but skin cancer is a serious disease that affect millions of people – and, for the most part, is totally preventable. A good quality sunscreen is not an option folks, it is a mandatory accessory for your outdoor gear bag. Whether going to the beach, the lake, barbecuing on the deck, or going to a sporting event, please use a good quality sunscreen on all exposed skin. A wide brimmed hat is also effective a keeping sunlight off the always-exposed skin of the face.
When it comes to sunscreen, the higher the rating, the better it is for protecting your skin. Reapply frequently and in sufficient quantity to insure protection. That summer tan will still come eventually, but make sure you are doing all you can to protect yourself from UV radiation while you are outdoors.
Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and memorable summer season. Remember, everything is better outdoors and thank God for putting it here for us to enjoy.