Of all the joys that summer in Houston brings -- heat, humidity, hurricanes -- perhaps the most aggravating is the plague of bugs that descends on us like a swamp (which is basically what the city is anyway). As the creepy crawlies come out of hibernation in the spring, they begin to infest what feels like every nook and cranny of our lives. Exterminators no doubt love the summer in Houston for the very same reason most of us can't stand it.
Most bugs in Texas are harmless. Yes, that includes roaches, you ninnies. Some are even remarkably beautiful, like butterflies. But there are a handful of bug types (I say bugs because at least one type is not technically an insect) that can cause you some pain if you come into contact with one of them.
Despite what many of you may believe, that big black fuzzy thing at the top of this post will NOT hurt you. That is the caterpillar for a giant leopard moth and is completely harmless. As a general rule, however, it is not a bad idea to avoid furry caterpillars like our friend the asp in the photo directly above. The sting from an asp can be pretty nasty, the result of its spines coming in contact with skin. Fortunately, contact with asps is pretty rare even if exposure this year has been a bit higher than usual. Still, it is not unheard of for one to fall out of a tree on an unsuspecting victim.
In Houston, you are most likely going to run into ants when you accidentally step on a mound, but if it is home to fire ants, you could be in for some painful stings. In particular, the red imported fire ants are very aggressive, with a sting that can leave a gross pustule. Best bet is to look where you walk, particularly in an open area like a park where you are unfamiliar with the terrain.
Bees and Wasps
As a kid, I hated cutting the grass. I didn't mind working in the yard. It was the mowing part that drove me crazy. Some of my disdain for mowing came from the monotony of it, walking up and down row after row. But what really did it for me was the giant honeysuckle bushes my parents had on the back fence of our yard, covered in bees that stung me with regularity. We have plenty of bees and wasps in and around Houston, the worst being the red wasp and yellow jacket. It is particularly true of people allergic to the stings, but even those of us who aren't generally try to avoid such things, which is one reason I gave up mowing the damn grass.
My father was terrified of spiders, which I always found a bit amusing, but very few people want anything to do with the eight-legged freaks. The good news is that, unlike the brown recluse pictured above, the vast majority of spiders in Texas are not at all harmful. In fact, most of them are extremely beneficial to our environment -- they eat a ton of roaches and mosquitoes, if that helps you deal. The brown recluse and black widow, however, are quite dangerous. Fortunately, you practically have to fall on top of one to be bitten -- or spend your time digging through old piles of garbage or crawling through the attics of abandoned warehouses.
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The greatest insect menace around here -- and the most dangerous thanks to the diseases they carry -- are the godforsaken mosquitoes. We live in a town built on a swamp, so it is no surprise our city is inundated with the tiny stinging jackasses of the insect community. Lucky for us, they also carry a handful of diseases, from St. Louis encephalitis to the West Nile virus. The key to avoiding these stings is good bug spray...or living in a different city.