Random Ephemera

Six Houston-Area Bugs You Don't Want to Mess With

The Black Widow spider has inspired a Marvel Comics character and a great Alice Cooper song back in the '70s.
The Black Widow spider has inspired a Marvel Comics character and a great Alice Cooper song back in the '70s.
Texas is a state full of natural beauty, where the residents of huge cities like Houston often share their neighborhoods with animals from the wild. We've already discussed the types of venomous snakes that live here, but what about the biting bugs one might encounter in or around our area? Let's take a look at a few it's best to steer clear of.

We might as well get this one out of the way, since it seems to be one of the bugs that people in this part of the state worry about the most — with good reason. This small spider's nasty bite packs a hemotoxic venom which can cause a whole host of unpleasantness, including death in rare cases. Many people who are bitten don't notice anything at first, but symptoms including serious skin lesions and systemic illness can develop soon afterwards. The good news is that while brown recluses are common, they also live up to their name and aren't particularly aggressive. Most bites seem to happen when the spider is pushed directly against a person's skin, as might occur when the recluse is tangled in bedding or when someone puts on clothing that's been piled up. They are most active at night and like to hang out in dry warm places, making them common in barns and closets.

Someone who is bitten should use ice and clean the wound site, and seek medical care if symptoms worsen. In the case of young children or people with compromised immune systems, seeking medical care as soon as possible is recommended.

This spider is so famous that its name is almost synonymous with danger, inspiring fear in many people; Alice Cooper even recorded a great song about it back in the '70s. Found throughout Texas, these spiders are most often in areas like sheds, abandoned barns, and other quiet, protected places. Only the females are potentially dangerous, and they are marked by a red hourglass on the underside of their bodies. Bites can be quite painful and medical attention may be necessary, especially if the person affected is a child or infirm, as the spider's venom can be fatal in rare circumstances. Fortunately, black widows are regarded as being non-aggressive, and are usually easy to avoid.

This yellow and brown scorpion is rarely over two and a half inches long, but has a painful sting and is found throughout much of the state, including the Houston area. Most people  who get stung either step on them or put on a shoe that one has crawled into. While the critter isn't considered potentially lethal to humans, its bite can be extremely painful, so it's worth shaking out one's boots before putting them on and watching where one steps barefoot.

This furry-looking caterpillar is the larval stage of the Southern Flannel Moth, but it's soft-looking coat contains venomous spines. Touching one of these guys is a bad idea, because those spines cause immediate skin irritation and severe pain to skin that contacts them; that can last for hours, along with other unpleasant symptoms. These caterpillars can be found in and around gardens and flowerbeds, as well as on trees such as elms and oaks. They are common here and best avoided.

While there are no confirmed human deaths attributed to this huge, awful-looking venomous centipede, and they seem to be rare in Houston, they're out there and nobody wants to deal with their sting. It's hard to imagine many people who would try to pick up one of these, since its average length is 6.5 inches, but I guess someone might. I wouldn't suggest it, since most accounts of its bite describe it as "excruciating." In and around Houston, one would most likely encounter these centipedes in rocky woodland areas.

When one of the common names for an insect is "cow killer," you know it's nothing to mess with. These are actually a kind of wasp, not an ant, but the large females of the species are wingless and look like weird furry red ants. They also have a painful sting, and can be found hanging out in gardens and flowerbeds, so it's advisable (once again) to not walk around barefoot in those areas.