Dealing With Biting and Stinging Insects by K.F.

Tuesday, Feb 5, 2013

Being “bugged” by insects is a problem we will likely face in TEOTWAWKI. Americans will spend more time outdoors in an effort to gather food and fuel as well as hunt and guard their retreat and resources. Exposure to insects will increase exponentially. Our defenses against pests will diminish significantly as our homes and retreats have their windows and doors left open more often. Also, the commonly available pesticides will probably not be available as supplies (of all kinds) decrease when TSHTF. We all know that insects have the potential to spread disease as well as lower our quality of life.  
While some insects have many beneficial roles in nature, this article will focus on those that are considered biting or stinging pests, e.g., ants, mosquitoes, flies, chiggers, fleas, ticks, lice, bees, wasps, and bedbugs.  Certainly, there are many more insects that can be considered pests. The brief descriptions here are intended to familiarize the preparing reader with insects that may be a nuisance when TEOTWAWKI comes and give some information on the dangers they pose and some suggestions for their control when supplies may be limited. Each of the listed insects below has a brief description, their likely locations, the effect and treatment of their bite or sting, as well as suggestions for their control when supplies may be limited.
Ants are found on nearly every inhabited land mass of the planet. Most ants serve beneficial roles in our ecosystem, but occasionally conflict with humans. Examples of such conflict include, invading retreat larders and foodstuffs, damage done to equipment by ant hills, and of course, ant bites. There are many species of ants: the Black Ant is the most common while the Fire Ant is the most feared. Ants may be nomadic but most build nests that are made up of chewed vegetation and soil. Their nests may be located on or underground, under stones or logs, inside logs, hollow stems, or even acorns, in and on buildings in walls, windows, and even electric appliances. Ants enter a home to forage or seek shelter or both. Most ant bites cause brief pain, but scratching at them can lead to skin infections. Fire Ants are the only ant species that both bite and sting. The sting can be painful for several hours. Multiple stings can cause anaphylaxis and death to individuals that are highly allergic to insect stings.  Treatment for ant bite/sting consist of topical cortisone cream and oral antihistamines such as Benadryl. Control of ants is difficult. For ants found in the home, a bait that the ants carry back to their nest is the most effective. Many commercial products are on the market and a supply should be included in your preparations. Other control methods are to be sure your home and retreat are tightly sealed with caulking, screens, etc before TSHTF. There are many folk remedies for repelling ants, many more than can be discussed here, but I’ll include citrus oil.  Save any citrus peels, boil them gently in a small amount of water for 10 minutes, strain, and spray areas that need ant control. Boric Acid powder placed where ants will walk through it clings to their exoskeleton and dehydrates them or is ingested when they groom and kills them. Boric acid can be effective for up to a year if kept dry.  Please investigate other remedies to determine what will store well, be affordable, and perform to your satisfaction.
Mosquitoes have been called by some “the most dangerous animal on Earth”.  Mosquitoes are found everywhere, except Antarctica. Stagnant pools of water are required for most mosquitoes to lay their eggs. The water can be fresh or salty depending on the species of mosquito. Both male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar and other plant juices, however, only the female of some mosquito species requires blood protein for egg production. Besides the irritation of their bite and possible allergic reactions, mosquitoes are known to transmit West Nile virus, St. Louis Encephalitis and Eastern Equine Encephalitis to humans. Use insect repellent containing DEET, citrus oils, or diluted Skin So Soft (Avon) on exposed skin and/or clothing. Products containing 100% DEET have been shown to provide up to 12 hours of protection while those with concentrations of 20% - 30% DEET offer 3 – 6 hours of defense. DEET is very stable and is effective indefinitely as a mosquito repellent.  The repellent/insecticide permethrin can be used on clothing to protect through several washes. Always follow the directions on the package. Avon Skin-So-Soft (diluted 1:1 with water) sprayed on skin and clothing is an excellent, economical repellent. Wear long sleeves and pants when weather permits. Have secure screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. Limit outdoor activity during peak mosquito feeding times such as early morning and evening hours. Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets, open barrels and other containers. Make small holes in tire swings so water will drain out. Children’s wading pools should be kept empty and on their sides when they aren't being used, as should similar containers.  

The Housefly comprises about 90% of the common flies. Not only is the Housefly a nuisance, it spreads diseases as well. Houseflies lay their eggs in decaying, organic material from which larvae (maggots) emerge and develop into the adult. Houseflies serve as vectors of diseases such as Amebiasis (amoebic dysentery), Giardiasis, Typhoid, Cholera, bacterial dysentery, and intestinal viruses to name only a few. Flyswatters may keep kids busy and provide temporary relief from these pests, but other control measures are needed. Several commercial fly sprays are available, use the one you are familiar with which provides the control, price and availability you desire. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, a DIY fly trap may be useful. Re-purposing a 2 Liter (or similar) bottle with a funnel taped to the mouth (small opening in the bottle). Use a little waste organic material or waste sweet substance as bait. When full, remove the funnel, place the cap on the bottle and pour on the compost pile. Start over again.. Remove organic trash daily (or more frequently) to the compost pile, which should be located well away from the residence and water source.  If Houseflies (or other flies) are a problem, look for the source of decaying organic material and remove it. Wipe out waste receptacles, rinse, and bleach weekly or as needed. Sanitation is the key to Housefly control. Horsefly females inflict a painful bite. They are present in nearly all of the United States. Control is difficult relying on long sleeves and pants with DEET  insect repellent. Horseflies are known to transmit many blood borne pathogens between humans and Tularemia from rabbits to humans in the western US. They also transmit Equine Encephalomyelitis to horses. 


Chiggers (aka Red Bugs) are found worldwide and are present in the United States. They are common in the Southeast and Midwest but rare in the northern areas, deserts, and mountain terrain. A Chigger is a mite that lives in forests, grasslands, low, damp, marshy areas and appears to be more active in early summer. They seem to thrive in hot humid climes. Chigger larvae attach to human (and several other animal) skin. These larvae form a hole in the skin (not a bite) and inject digestive enzymes through this hole. The Chigger larvae then ingest the cellular contents and after 3-5 days on its host they drop off. The redness, itching, and irritation of a Chigger “bite” are not usually noticed until more than 24 hours after their digestive juices are injected.  Chiggers are not known for transmitting serious disease in the U.S., however serious cellulitis and secondary bacterial infections are common. Over the counter topical corticosteroids and/or topical/oral antihistamines are often used to treat Chigger “bites”. Cool or warm baths have both been described as bringing relief for Trombiculiasis (Chigger “bite”s). Fingernail polish applied to the “bite” does not suffocate the Chigger as is commonly believed. Control methods include wearing long pants/long sleeved shirts when possibly entering an area Chiggers are known to infest. Use a DEET or permethrin  pesticide before engaging in activity near Chigger infested areas. Wash clothes in hot water or leave them out in the hot sun for an extended period will clear the Chigger larvae from the clothes. Widespread or spot/area pesticide treatment of areas known to have chigger infestations is probably not practical in a TEOTWAWKI scenario.


Lice (singular is Louse) are small insects that are very species specific. Human lice affect only humans, while different animal lice affect only their host specie, i.e. cattle louse for cattle, dog louse for dog, etc. Lice are spread by direct contact and there are three types of human lice. These are head lice, body lice and pubic lice. Head lice are spread by direct head to head contact, sharing combs and hair adornments (hats, caps, etc.). They are very common among children, but also spread by child-parent contact. Body lice are also spread by direct contact as well as by sharing clothing and like articles from an infested person. Pubic lice are spread by direct contact, sexual contact, and/or shared towels, bedding, and clothes. All three types of human lice feed on blood, but do not burrow under the skin. The body louse has been known to spread diseases such as typhus.  All lice cause itching, redness and the possibility of secondary bacterial skin infections due to the intense itching. Head lice are treated most effectively with  a combination of lice combs to remove the nits (louse eggs attached to hairs) and wet combing every 3-7 days until the infestation is cleared. Hot air blow drying until the nits are dehydrated is effective, but not against newly hatched larvae.  Several other treatments are described, but may not be available when TSHTF.  Prevention is directed at preventing contact with affected persons and scrupulous hygiene when an infestation of head lice is occurring. Body lice are more easily treated by improving personal hygiene and washing clothing, towels, and bedding in hot water greater than 130 degrees F. Leaving clothes unwashed, but unworn for greater than a week will also kill the lice and prevent lice eggs from hatching.  Pubic Lice (aka Crabs) require clothing and bedding to be laundered and topical treatment by a physician using a permethrin or lindane product. Sexual or other direct (or indirect) contact should be avoided until the infestation is cleared. The take home message about lice is not to let an infestation get started in a TEOTWAWKI situation. There’s enough to worry about. Be careful of sexual, direct, or indirect contact (by group or family members) with new additions to your group until sure they are healthy to prevent pediculosis (louse infestation) as well as other health problems.


Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed exclusively on blood. The name "bed bug" comes from its preferred habitat: inside of or near beds or bedding in warm houses. Bed bugs are mainly active at night. They usually feed on their hosts without being noticed.  Many adverse health effects may result from bed bug bites, including skin rashes, psychological effects, and allergic symptoms. Diagnosis involves both finding bed bugs and the occurrence of compatible symptoms. Bed bugs are bloodsucking insects. They are attracted to humans mainly by carbon dioxide and body heat. Their bites are not usually noticed at the time. Itchy welts develop slowly and may take weeks to go away. Bed bugs prefer to bite exposed skin, especially the face, neck and arms of a sleeping individual. It takes between five to ten minutes for a bed bug to become completely engorged with blood and then it returns to its hiding place. Bed bugs can live for a year without feeding; they normally try to feed every five to ten days. When it’s cold, bed bugs live for about a year while at warmer temperatures they survive about five months. Bedbugs are carried to new locations on clothing, luggage, visiting pets, and transfer of furniture and/or on the human body. They may also travel between connected dwellings through duct work or false ceilings. Elimination of bed bugs is difficult. They are beginning to enjoy resistance to many pesticides. The active ingredient Lambda-Cyhalothrin found in Hot Shot Spider Killer has been found to be effective, but not appealing to use around human sleeping areas. Vacuuming, heat treating mattresses and bedding as well as wrapping mattresses must be included in any attempt to exterminate bed bugs, here again, be careful what you bring into your home or retreat. Bed bugs are hard to find and usually move only at night. They usually stay unnoticed in dark crevices, and their eggs can be found in fabric seams. Aside from bite symptoms, signs include fecal spots, blood smears on sheets, and molts. Bed bugs can be seen alone, but often congregate once established. They usually remain close to hosts, commonly in or near beds or couches. Bed bugs can also be detected by a unique smell described as that of rotting raspberries.


Fleas are small pests that cause discomfort and disease. They are laterally compressed, wingless insects that are found worldwide. Both male and female fleas bite and feed on the skin cells and blood of their host which may be human or domestic animals such as dogs or cats and rabbits, squirrels, etc.  For every adult flea found on a host, there are many more in the environment. Fleas cause discomfort by biting and crawling on the hosts’ skin. Their bites cause itchiness and redness. Some people may be highly allergic to these bites. Fleas also spread diseases such as plague, flea-born typhus, and cat-scratch fever. Treat flea bites with topical steroid or antihistamine creams, and/or calamine preparations. Flea control is difficult, especially if you have canine security or feline rodent control as part of your preparations. Modern flea control for pets is very effective; however the best topical or oral flea control products may not be available long when the grid is down. There are many, many flea control suggestions. Some are effective and others are hopeful. The following suggestions are offered for use when better flea control products may not be available. Salt, boric acid (borate), or baking soda can be applied liberally to bed linens and laundry mixed well in a closed container and left for 24 hours, then washed thoroughly. This will dehydrate and kill the fleas. These same compounds can be liberally sprinkled on floors and other places fleas may hide. Luckily, these are non-toxic and have many other uses so they may be too precious to use for flea control. Stock up! On the pet, most shampoos and diluted dishwashing detergents will kill fleas if lathered well for 10-20 minutes and rinsed well, however, this offers no long lasting control. Another suggestion is to use as much discarded citrus peelings or rinds as you can, boil in a small amount of water for 10 minutes and allow to steep overnight. The resulting fluid may be used as a non-toxic flea spray on humans, pets, and the environment, if you are lucky enough to have citrus fruits available. Have a container to accumulate citrus rinds and peelings to make as much of this fluid as you need.

Ticks are not insects, but are included in this discussion as they are biting pests that cause discomfort and transmit disease. Ticks are present worldwide and are known to transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Colorado Tick Fever, as well as several other blood borne disease like babesiosis. They can also cause tick paralysis in humans and animals. The treatment of these diseases is not in the scope of this discussion, but is important for any outdoors person to be familiar with. If a tick is discovered on a human or pet, it must be removed with care not to force more of the fluid in the tick into the bite wound. Tweezers are recommended to remove the tick by grasping the attached mouth parts and head and gently rocking them out of the skin, being sure to remove the mouthparts and head. If these parts remain attached to the victim, gently scrape to remove these parts much like a splinter. Of course, wash and treat the bite as a wound. Tick control can be accomplished with regular inspection of your body especially after walking through tick infested areas. Also, many of the commercial mosquito control products containing DEET work well for tick control. An interesting approach for tick control in the environment, especially in a survival situation, is the use of guinea fowl. An article in the New York Times reports that 2 guineas can clear 2 acres of ticks in a year. As a bonus, guineas and their eggs can be cooked and eaten, plus they may add to security by setting up a ruckus if a predator or stranger comes near.

Bees and Wasps are truly venomous insects that are common throughout the United States. There are several types including the Paper Wasp, Yellow Jacket, Hornet, Mud (or Dirt) Dauber, and Cicada Killer as well as Honey Bee, Bumble Bee and Carpenter Bee. The Honey Bee may be the most beneficial insect to humans. All these venomous insects contribute to agriculture by honey production, pollination, and pest control, but may pose a threat to humans when their nests are disturbed. These insects feed on nectar, sugary plant juices, ripe or rotting fruit, and attractive, sugary human foodstuffs. Many of them prey on spiders, caterpillars, and other insects to feed their developing larvae.  Wasps and bees make their nests in many different fashions. Honey bees build colonies of combs or cells made of beeswax in tiers or layers located in tree cavities, rocks, spaces in buildings and commercial hives. Honey bees swarm when a newly produced queen leaves the colony with workers looking for a new place to establish a colony. A swarm is typically not aggressive and will usually settle in 2 – 4 days.  Bumble bees are larger, more hairy relatives of the honey bee. They burrow in the ground and use old rodent dens. Carpenter bees have little hair and are very similar in appearance to the Bumble bee. Their abdomens are typically slick. The female deposits its larvae in a tunnel with ½ inch diameter holes that extend several inches into wood. Male Carpenter bees cannot sting but will “bluff” when protecting the tunnel. Yellow Jackets make their nests in the ground, attics, crawl spaces and wall spaces. Hornets are bigger relatives of the wasps and make their paper, upside-down, pear shaped nests in trees, attics, and eaves of structures located in or near forests. Mud Daubers and Cicada Killers make their nests out of dirt on the sides of structures or burrow in the ground.  Only the female bees and wasps have stingers, which are adaptations of the ovipositor.  Honey, Bumble and female Carpenter bees typically are not aggressive unless provoked. Honey bees rarely sting when away from the colony however, but will actively defend the colony. Africanized Honey bees are more aggressive and attack in greater numbers when threatened. Paper Wasps build nests under eaves of buildings, trees, or other structures that they feel are out of the way and not likely to be disturbed. They will aggressively defend their nest if provoked. 

Yellow Jackets cause more stings than any other bee or wasp. They are notoriously belligerent. Yellow Jackets are attracted to sweets, and like the paper wasps, they feed on nectar and plant juices but prey on insects, spiders, and caterpillars to feed their larvae. Hornets behave like the wasps, but are slightly larger. Mud Daubers and Cicada Killers are wasps but are very passive and only sting when handled roughly. Their nests are the familiar dirt tubes found on walls or in the ground. Honey Bees stingers are strongly barbed compared to other bees or wasps. As such, when the Honey bee stings, the stinger is lodged in the skin and torn out of and along with other parts of its abdomen. Therefore, Honey Bees can only sting once and die shortly after stinging.  Honey Bee Queens stinger has no barb and can sting repeatedly, but rarely do. Other bees and wasps can sting repeatedly, and do not necessarily die from the act of stinging alone.  Bees, wasps, and hornets may release an aggression pheromone when killed, threatened, or stinging to identify a threat and raise an alarm to the rest of its colony. This pheromone goes away slowly and may stay on even after being rinsed with water. Therefore, these venomous insects may attack again after the perceived threat has gone under water and re-emerged.  

Bee, wasp, or hornet stings (venoms) vary in intensity by the type of insect. Usually they only cause brief pain, swelling, and redness which may last a few hours to a day or so. Some people are highly allergic to bee or wasp stings such that one sting can be fatal. Treatment for a bee or wasp sting is to rapidly remove the stinger, either by scraping the stinger out or removing it with fingers being careful not to stick yourself again. No difference has been proven between scraping or plucking the stinger from the skin, the more important factor seems to be removing the stinger quickly so that less venom is injected. Several home remedies such as applying tobacco, toothpaste, pennies, clay, urine, onion, baking soda and other similar applications circulate in folklore, but are not proven to be of benefit other than that from rubbing the area and the placebo effect. Ice applied to the area has the best result as for reducing the pain and swelling. People known to be highly allergic to bee and wasp stings should have an EpiPen or other source of epinephrine readily available. These people should be monitored closely and treated for anaphylactic shock if necessary. Destroying the nest of bees and wasps that are likely to conflict with humans is the most important part of bee and wasp control. Aerosol wasp and hornet sprays are available, and a significant supply should be available in your home or retreat. Sometimes destroying a nest becomes more of a threat than if the nest is simply left alone.

Honey Bees are the only one of the flying venomous insects that survive the winter. The others produce a queen to start over again and usually do not re-use a nest after freezing weather. Other control techniques involve good sanitation where foods are stored, prepared, eaten, and discarded. Also, using trash receptacles that have a tight lid and are cleaned as needed and regularly is important.  Control is not easy given that these insects usually nest in places that may be secluded and not frequently used. It is tempting to save gasoline or diesel fuel that is no longer useful, to kill ants, wasps, or bees with, but be aware of the risk these fuels may have if there is accidental skin or eye contact or inhalation. The flammable or explosive nature of old fuels may present more of a hazard than the insects you need to manage. Wasp and Hornet sprays can be used as a personal defense spray when directed at the face of an unwanted attacker - which may qualify it as a force multiplier.  

In conclusion, be prepared. Have your home and retreat pest proof. Seal cracks in walls and floors, use window screens and screen doors where appropriate and have a way to mend them. Include first aid items for insect bites and stings in your medical supply. Research and stock up on pesticides and repellents with an emphasis on those pests common to the area your home and retreat are in. Realistically guesstimate the quantities you may need or wish to have for barter or charity. Be cautious of who and what you allow into your home or retreat as they may bring insect pests. Always use good hygiene and sanitation. As preparations are made for TEOTWAWKI, please remember that it will be a long haul. My hope is that we will all thrive, not merely survive. If your arrangements have progressed past the Beans, Bullets, and Band-Aids stage, remember that you will have some company in the form of insects. Given the information above you can make some educated preparation. Now, of course, this information is not exhaustive and you should do more due diligence on this topic, just as you should with any other preparation. Where pesticides are used, it is the applicator’s legal responsibility to read and follow directions on the product label. None of the commercial products listed here are endorsed nor do I have any commercial interest by mentioning them. A physician, veterinarian, entomologist, nurse or pest control technician should be consulted if possible for more information, ideally before it is needed.


List of Items for Bug Management

  • Cortisone Cream
  • Benadryl Cream
  • Calamine Lotion
  • Benadryl Capsules
  • EpiPen
  • Neosporin, Triple Antibiotic Ointment
  • Crab Louse Insecticide containing Permethrin or Lindane
  • Avon Skin-So-Soft
  • Deep Woods Off – DEET 25%
  • Repel 100 – DEET 100%
  • Wasp/Hornet Spray
  • Hot Shot Spider Killer
  • Fly Swatters & Mosquito Nets
  • Bleach
  • Salt, Boric Acid, Baking Soda – in bulk
  • Tweezers
  • Louse Combs
  • Spray Bottles – generic
  • Other Items desired for your specific needs


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Fact sheets
How to Manage Ants – University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
Iowa State University Extension Department web site
DEETonline - web site
University of Wisconsin Extension Department web site
University of Florida – Medical Entomology Laboratory web site
US Environmental Protection Agency web site
US Department of Agriculture web site

Author's Personal Experience: Twenty years of Scouting: Scoutmaster, District Chairman, Board Member. More than 300 days and nights of camping (front country and back country). Firsthand experience with all of these pests while camping – except the bedbugs.

Copyright 2005-2012 James Wesley, Rawles - All Rights Reserved