With Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, just around the corner, people in northern New Jersey are spending more time outdoors. They’re mowing the lawn, sprucing up the garden, walking and biking, playing ball with the kids and manning the grill. For hungry insects that prey on humans, summer is a moveable feast.

Insects bite people for two reasons:

  1. Many insects feed on human blood and require a blood meal in order to reproduce. Such insects include mosquitoes, bed bugs, fleas and ticks.
  2. Some insects that normally don’t bother humans will attack and bite if threatened. Spiders, bees and some ants are among the insects and arthropods that fall into this category.

Insect bites, while often itchy, are primarily a nuisance and not a health threat. However, there are some New Jersey insects, like deer ticks, whose bites can cause serious and sometimes chronic health problems. Additionally, while a rare occurrence in New Jersey, insect bites, particularly bee stings and some spider bites, can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock, if the person is highly sensitive to a particular insect’s bite or if the individual is attacked by a swarm and stung multiple times.

It pays to know which insects have the potential to be dangerous. Unfortunately, most insects are small and nocturnal. They also inject a bit of anesthetic into the skin to mask their bite, making it less likely that you’ll actually see them chomp down on your arm or ankle. Unless you see what’s biting you, you’ll be stuck trying to identify your nemesis by its bite marks. The problem with that, of course, is that most insect bites look pretty much alike. The itchy, red bumps associated with mosquito bites are typical. Even so, insect bites can provide clues that can help you figure out what is biting you.

Next time: Insect bite identification clues