Bugging Out

8 November 2011 By Claire Griffiths

As you travel the world on that big, beautiful yacht, you rarely think about the little things, such as bugs, hanging around the foreign ports that you frequent. Not all bugs are harmless, and as you go to and fro, you may want to be aware of dangers that you may not see.

And here we all are thinking that Homo sapiens rule the roost, but the incy-wincey, teeny-weeny creepy-crawly world of bugs is one of the greatest success stories of the living world — because bugs can and do exist in every single nook and cranny known (and unknown) to man and adapt according to changes in their surroundings.

And it’s a very, very big bug world out there with over 1.5 million known species of insects (another 45 million species are believed to exist) plus, (stop scratching) about 75,000 species of arachnids including spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites. That’s quite a lot of creepy-crawling.

Those that claim to be “in the know” about the little critters cite the top five scariest bugs as: the Japanese Giant Hornet, which attacks its prey with a flesh-melting poison (found mostly in Japan), the inch-long, screaming Bullet Ant, which can be found in the rainforests from Nicaragua to Paraguay, the Africanized Honey Bee, also known as the “killer bee,” which is a product of a Brazilian science lab that escaped during the 1950’s, the Amazon Basin-based Soldier Ant and the Human Bot Fly, which is found mostly in Central and Southern America. The good ole’ Bot Fly enjoys burrowing into your flesh and living happily ever after.

But despite their machete-like jaws, their lethal acid shots of poison or their tendencies to swarm or feast on human flesh, these guys don’t really cut much mustard in terms of realistically probable death threats.

The deadliest insect on earth (to humans) is the mosquito. It kills between one and three million people per year and infects 300 million people per annum with malaria. There are 3,000 species of mosquito and they carry not only malaria but also dengue and yellow fevers, encephalitis, elephantiasis and canine heartworm. The first non-imported case of dengue fever (transmitted by female tiger mosquitoes) on the Cote d’Azur was reported in 2010 and last year New Scientist magazine claimed that the fever had re-entered the U.S. via the Florida Keys after an absence of 65 years.

Whereas forty people might die per year following an unusually unlucky encounter with a Japanese Giant Hornet, each year around 250,000 people in Central Africa fall into a fatal coma and die from sleeping sickness passed on by the tsetse fly. And while the common fly might not feature as the preferred super-scary, house-of-horrors flying beastie,  it’s  pretty good at spreading around 200 pathogens (germs) and parasites to humans. Fighting off a plague of Africanized Honey Bees might sound sexy, but you’re more likely to be cut down in your prime by Musca domestica Linnaeus (common house fly).

Some wee beasties have developed a fearful reputation of a bark far worse than the bite. Take the scarily hairy, bug-ugly tarantula, for example. Commonly found near banana groves, his bite is usually no worse than a bee sting. Scorpions only march across bedclothes to feast on your rather fetid feet in very silly films. They far prefer to gobble up spiders and insects (but do check your boots in case they slunk in for a sleep).

Click beetles deserve a place in your thoughts, as they are bioluminescent with light producing organs and often are captured in the Caribbean islands and used for decorations at parties, but that just sounds rather beastly, so please don’t.