MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: What are the most poisonous types of insects in the state of Maine?

Date: Fri Feb 23 21:51:45 2001
Posted By: Jurgen Ziesmann, Post-doc Biology and Ecological Chemistry
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 971363373.Zo

Thank you for your interesting question. I researched quite a while, found 
a good bit of information on poisonous insects but nothing special about 
Maine. Thus I think it is correct to assume, Maine is similar to the 
remainder of mainland USA.

What are the most poisonous insects? You might have had three different 
questions in your mind when you asked this question: 
1.)	Which insect stings with the most dangerous venom?
2.)	Which insect contains the most dangerous venom but does not 
sting?  these insects are only dangerous for animals that eat them or if 
they are touched
3.)	Which insect actually kills most people and animals even if it 
does not any venom or dangerous chemical?

As I only can guess what you wanted to know I am going to answer them all.

1.)	Which insect stings with the most dangerous venom?
Are insect stings dangerous at all? They sure can be. In the USA each year 
approximately 13 people die because of snake bites, about 10 because of 
bites and stings from arthropods that are no insects like spiders and 
scorpions, but 23 due to insect stings from bees and wasps. 
Usually an insect sting is quite harmless for a healthy person. They only 
show slight general reaction-inflammation like welts and itching. But a 
few show severe shock reaction like difficulty in breathing, difficulty in 
swallowing, a sharp fall in blood pressure, collapse and unconsciousness 
that can lead to death.
The most dangerous insect species in the USA is the well known honey bee 
Apis mellifera that accounts for as many deaths as all species of snakes 

Now nearly 100% of all deaths that follow insect stings are caused by 
allergic reactions, not by the venom itself. Which insect has the most 
dangerous venom. Here the ant species in the genus Pogonomyrmex are record 
holder. 12 stings can kill a 2kg rabbit or rat  - or 350 to 450 stings 
would be life threatening for any human  even without allergic reaction. 
Just for comparison: to be equally life threatening more than 10000 
hornets, yellow jackets or honeybees must sting one person.

2.)	Which insect contains the most dangerous venom but does not sting?
There are only two groups of beetles and a few caterpillars in this 
category. The most important is the blister beetle. They produce the toxin 
cantharidin, a chemical that causes blisters, if eaten also inside the 
body in the tissues of the intestine. Around 10 beetles eaten by cows or 
horses by accident with their normal diet, grass or hay will make the 
animal seriously ill and likely kill the animal.
There are around 2000 species of blister beetles worldwide and some are 
found all over the USA. If they occur in large numbers, they can become a 
problem for livestock.

3.)	Which insect kills most humans and livestock even if it does not 
produce a dangerous venom?
All insects that feed on humans or animals  mosquitoes -  are potentially 
dangerous as they can easily transmit diseases. The world record holder is 
the mosquito genus Anopheles. In Africa alone this insect kills one child 
under 5 years old every 30 seconds. That are more than 3000 each day and 
near 1.5 million in a year. Around 10 times this number gets malaria for 
the first time and have to battle this disease for the rest of their 
lives  even if they do not die of it or only many years later. Add the 
cases in Asia, Oceania and Southern America and you will agree that 
malaria certainly is the number killer one among all insect transmitted 
In the USA malaria is not a predominant problem. Most cases occur get 
malaria during journeys in countries with high malaria. 
But also in the USA there is asways the threat of infections tansmitted by 
mosquitos (and ticks - that are no insects).
In the USA the West Nile Virus made it into the news last year, with less 
than 50 people getting ill, none of them died. But the virus killed a 
larger number of birds along the eastern shore. This is a mosquito 
transmitted disease. Lime disease is a similar viral infection but 
transmitted by ticks.

Of course this is only a short introduction in a highly interesting 
subject. All the in formations in this answer came from following sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica on blister beetles

University of Florida web page on stinging or venomous insects 

The book of insect records. Published by the University of California 

and finally the information pages of the World Health Organization on Malaria 

Thanks again for the question.
I learned a lot!

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