Bug bite season: Most beautiful and painful insects in AZ – with fun illustrations

Break out the liquid Benadryl and unfurl those mosquito nets as summer rains bring pain in the form of bug bites.

Arizona is blessed with a bevy of beautiful and bothersome bugs that buzz round our mountains and bumble through our backyards.

A particular quartet of our local insects, herein dubbed the “fearsome four,” can be especially agonizing – and even deadly – if you are unlucky enough to get bit.

Tarantula hawk (wasp)/Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Tarantula hawks

Claim to fame: Definitely their size, which is about the same as a hummingbird. They are also incredibly beautiful.

Injury capacity: Their stings may not kill, but folks say they surely feel like they do. One researcher quoted by Desert USA described the pain as feeling like “an electric wand that hits you, inducing an immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream.”

Fun facts:
Although their bright, orange-red wings are the same color as many artificially flavored candies, not many predators find them tasty. Roadrunners are one of the few that bother eating these things. The wasps get their names from laying their eggs in and then consuming whole tarantulas. They are also known to eat fermented fruit, which makes them zigzag drunkenly through the air.

Another fun fact
: TC.com blog Wry Heat had a fun feature on these big, beautiful bugs.

Flying ants aka "mandable man" bugs/Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Flying ants

Claim to fame: Although their heads are supposedly small, their bites feel like they come from jaws about the size of Texas. Some circles have thusly nicknamed this insect “mandible man.”

Injury capacity: A bite from a flying “mandible man” ant feels similar to a 2-inch hatpin being jammed through your flesh. They especially enjoy biting your thigh if you’re sitting outside on the patio right before bed. And yes, I know about hatpin pain from experience.

Fun facts: Flying “mandible man” ants sound somewhat like castanets when you flick them against the wall. They are also easy to trap after they become woozy from hitting the wall. An upside-down spray paint cap works well or, if you’d rather watch them scurry in entrapment, use an overturned glass.

Kissing bug/Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Kissing bugs

Claim to fame: The itty-bitty insects pack some painful “kisses” which are more like mini-vampire bites. And yes, they do suck your blood.

Injury capacity: The vampire kisses hurt, but the real danger comes from the infections they spread, like Chagas disease. According to a Feb. 10 Arizona Republic article:

Chagas disease is endemic in poor areas in Latin American countries, where an estimated 8 million to 11 million people are infected, according to the CDC. In recent years, immigrants infected with Chagas have come to the U.S., and in 2009, the CDC estimated at least 300,000 migrants carried the disease.


Fun facts: About 40 percent of kissing bugs collected by researchers in Tucson tested positive for Changas disease, the article said. Whee. The article did note, however, that we should not panic, just be aware.

Mosquito/Illustration Ryn Gargulinski


Claim to fame: Most annoying bug on Earth.

Injury capacity: Mosquito bites are known to leave nasty scars, especially if you learned as a kid to use your fingernails to make an X in them to stop the itching. These insects also carry diseases, like the potentially fatal West Nile virus, which already killed one in Maricopa Count this year, according to the Pima County Health Department. Eleven cases of West Nile have been confirmed in humans this year in Arizona but Pima County’s only case has been an infected chicken.

Fun facts: Mosquitoes will die soon after biting you – as long as you smash them with a sledgehammer. Otherwise they will simply buzz onward to the next victim. At least they often get confused around citronella candles. While the buggers are supposed to be repelled by the candles, some are instead attracted to them and end up falling into and drowning in the melted wax.


What do you think?

What’s the worst sting or bite you’ve ever received?

What insects do you find beautiful? Which ones skeeve you out the most?

About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
This entry was posted in danger, death, environment, gross stuff, health, life, Pets/animals and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Bug bite season: Most beautiful and painful insects in AZ – with fun illustrations

  1. leftfield says:

    When ants migrate, they sprout these wings and fly.  At some point, they gather on the highest point around, which in our case happens to be our chimney.  This usually takes place in the middle of the night, meaning that all night long they have been coming down the chimney and the living room is just carpeted with the little buggers.  As soon as the sun is up they will head towards the light.  So, we open the front door and they start their march across the living room and out the door, where they fly away and continue their journey.  We also help them by sweeping them into dustpans and taking them outdoors en masse.  After several episodes we learned that if Lefty climbs up on the roof and covers the chimney with plastic sheeting, it not only keeps the flying ants out, but also entertains the dog. 

    So, if you want your karma to survive this life intact, help the flying ants on their way, keep some raisins in your pocket in case you meet a chicken today and become a communist. 

    I’m sorry to hear that a chicken got sick. 

    • Rynski says:

      thanks for the add’l info, lefty!
      wow – what a horror show these flying ‘mandible man’ ants are – at least you found a way to stop them from carpeting your living room – and entertaining your dog (hahaha).
      i’ve noted plenty of the ants all over my back porch. they like to bite if they feel cornered on a thigh. one sits beneath a spray paint cap as we type.
      i hope he does not suffocate, as i’d rather have some of that good bug karma of which you speak.
      and yes, i’ll feed a chicken today if i happen to run across one. do they eat flying ants?
      i’m sorry for the chicken sickness, too. health dept did not note if it were fatal, so maybe he can be revived with some (non-chicken) soup.

  2. andrew farley says:

    Kissing Bugs, Walipai Tigers, Cone-Nosed Blood Suckers, Wheel Bugs, no matter what, they are the worst. They don’t have males or females but pierce each other to mate. And the stinger! Along with the blood sucking tool they have a terrible sting like the barb on a rose bush. I grabbed one and it stung worse than a scorpion and I had my hand in the beer cooler for a half hour. I have almost committed suicide and screamed at the Great Mystery “Why did you put these on Earth?” I went into shock and had to be carried out I had so many welts on me, in short-I hate them. Sorry for the rant but we must all get together and rid the planet of them. “catatonic of” itc

    • Rynski says:

      should i guess ‘kissing bugs’ was your poll response? hahahahha.
      thanks for sharing your experience, catatonic of. it serves as a wonderful warning to others to wholly steer clear of these atrocities, no matter if they have a cutesy name.
      i had actually never heard of the buggers until recently. now i wish i went back to my bliss of not knowing they exist.
      good you had a beer cooler on hand to stop the swelling – frozen peas also work well for such situations (as long as you leave the peas in the pack).
      so glad you recovered from the near-death welting. stay safe!

  3. Hugh Holub says:

    Mosquitoes get into homes and find places to breed like in the dishes under potted plants. Once established inside, they can be biting until December when it finally gets cold enough to kill them all (you have to leave home and turn the heat off one night).

    • Rynski says:

      thanks, hugh, for feeding us more facts on why mosquitoes qualify as the most annoying bugs on earth!
      they breed in the dishes? are they dishes with or without food on them? that reminds me of roaches breeding in the microwave when i lived above a brooklyn pizzeria. blech.
      also thanks for the leave-the-heat-off killing tip – although i do hope i never have to use it! it’s enough sawyer once brought home fleas….

  4. radmax says:

    Love the illustrations Rynski! You have captured the essence of pestilence. I’ve got to skedaddle over to party 934, so quick comment-I’ve never been bit by anything(non-human, anyways) 😉 and if Pandora hadn’t opened that danged box, the restaya’s wouldn’t be in a fix now… 🙂
    ‘See’ you on the show Rynski!
    “Arizona is blessed with a bevy of beautiful and bothersome bugs that buzz round our mountains and bumble through our backyards.” MOST impressive Rynski. 🙂

    • Rynski says:

      ha! thanks, radmax –
      i especially enjoy your ‘essence of pestilence’ rhyme, not to mention ‘skedaddle’ is a good word!
      good for you!!! on not even being bitten by anything (knock wood) – i seem to be a grand feast for all types of insects. when i got back from mich, my whole back was covered with mosquito bites (which is how i know about liquid benadryl – although it’s really a gel but i needed the extra syllable).
      and i was once bitten by something my friend said was a spider that would kill me.

  5. fraser007 says:

    Great post Rynski!!

    The Tarantula Hawks are tough! In my work our building was open to the elements a bit and they would sometimes fly in. With children close at times I had to flush them out as best as I could. At times I had to kill them. (I dont like killing animals/bugs unless necessary and in their case very necessary). I will tell you that it takes three hits with a shovel! One to take them down. One to disable and the final one to kill. This is true for all of them, no exceptions. I saw one after the second hit kill himself. Thats right kill himself. It may have been a nervous reaction but after the second hit he ran his stiger right inro his thorax (chest) spasm then die. I have a great respect and fear of these guys. The hit with the shovel if I hit you with it would have caused a fracture. You have to hit hard to kill them.
    So stay away from them.!!!

    • Rynski says:

      thanks, fraser007 – glad you enjoyed!
      wow!! on witnessing the tarantula hawk kill himself – sounds like one of those japanese suicides where they plunge the sword  into their own bodies. geesh.
      i’m none too fond of killing things, either – esp. something like the tarantula hawks – or cockroaches – that take an hour and a half to go about it. i remember once someone smashed a roach with something like a shovel and the roach got up and walked away ‘like he got a mere massage,’ the person said.
      i shall stay away from the tarantula hawks, i promise!! as long as you steer clear of the cockroaches. thanks for story!

  6. ANNIE says:

    I cannot handle any kind of bug insect crawlie or what ever you wish to call them I was sort of traumatized when 3 had an “Ant Incident” at 6 yrs, literally covered in th esmall black ants.  Everyone who knows me see the damage and  netrvouse tension, even a  lady bug or  moth  can give. Two funny things happened , well funny may not be my word, but  I moved into Jurassic He** I mean Park.  It is the Southern California Inland Empire, Lake Elsinore, Now just to give an idea, I live in a rural area, while there is  many houses and community members near me, behind our fence is Cleveland National Forest. I have had since I moved in a little over a year ago, dealt with a slumlord, his property was  a real dump, he dumped his garbage hauling trash all over the place. The rodents and  all the  critters that feed off of that food chan are rampant. I have aligator Lizards, Rattle Snakes, gopher snakes, I think I have the entire world population of  black widow spiders, the largest body i have seen on one of these beauties! was the size of a US half dollar coin. Our hospitals have spider venom wrangles on call, I  thought slumlord land was bad, with h9s diseased trees and  leg breaking gopher holes and the 10 billion different bees wasps hornets and then of course the large army ants the  tiny black ants and these sort of giant sized tiny ant type but a sort of faded reddish or  brownish  colored ants  ( I call med sized} and RED FIRE ANTS .. I have seen several various sizes of these too, one almost 1.5 incs long.  So I was creeped out,  we were lucky enought to rent house next door once we  learned the slumlord situation. A nice clean and rather newly constructed. Not even  landscaping. I was thinking oh  finally no more bugs,  ha . Was I ever  more wrong? I doubt it . Guess what no plants means? Nothing for the icky bugs to do in yard gues where they go?? Yep.  Well as spooked as I get,  I  could sort of handle  ants with a spray can.

  7. ANNIE says:

    Okay, here is part two.  I found a can of typical ant roach spray, it was red colored and  brand name Raid, for those whom had problems getting a roach to die, I sprayed this stuff one tiny spurt, really small amount. I found a roach on counter, must have hitched ride from slumlord’s. The roach instantly just stopped dean flipped on back and  was dead. I have NEVER seen any spray except wasp spray do that.  Anyway, we get cement hopping bees or wasps. I am allergic so I  am afraid even more. I read online if you  take a small paper bag and  make it sort of Hive shaped and hang it , it will fool the other bees and wasps. I figured it couldnt hurt to try it. OOPS!!!  It worked actually for the three days i had it , not one single  bee or wasp YAY. But it must really look real becasue I had a large tarantula directly under it under a sort of  tiny indent at the  cement wher e the house  connects to  foundation. UGH!!!!!  well the next night I now have the Bluw wask Tarantula Hawks  sitting on wall near  light awating  tarantulas. I read tonight that  the big spiders that are predatory eat bees and wasps. Ohhh that explains that , I cut it down.  T hawks like milkweed and rotten fruit on the ground. Sometimes its fermented, and the wasps get drunk. They supposedly have the most painful sting in N America. A drunk 4 inch wasp with a stinger the size of a push pin . At least that was OUTSIDE. but.. I have had 2 scorpions in house one at 2 am  right next to bed walking around. 2 inch ling . I slighly dif  kind  at door.  I would gladly trade my room here for a nice cement jungle  condo. I have had a Giant Golden Eagle 10 feet from my head, 6 vulchers take over a  dead tree, a young Mountain Lion, I heard what sounded like 100 coyotes one night after weird lights and searches on mountain around 3 weeks ago, , never saw even 1 ever  oddly, and hawks , falcons, and  2 brush fires 200 yards from my back fence. I am so creeped out i can barely walk to fridge. Every day is 107 degrees, and  nights have been 83, the cold water comes out at 124 degrees  for like 10 mins in the day. We are a lakeside community. I thought the large private yard would be greaty for my pets.  I am carefule and get them in, but its becoming  too much. I seriously wish i could control the fear. I am deadly allergoc to bees and I have never seen so many sizes colors and types of wasps and bees. Thousands of small holes in slumlord land next door, I couldnt go into yard there. The deserted pond grows mosquitos by the billions at slumlord land, I try to use some bleach and  non fateal to pets  things to kill them, I had a small amount of swimming pool tile cleaner and after a  huge amount of bleach did not phase the swimmers,  I dumped the 2 oz oeft of this, WOW  that worked better than anything ever. They were  fleeing to the  edges and then the hot sun zapped them . Helicopter bugs  to eat them swarm at night. The fireants  farm and harvest scale on the poor eucalyptus trees next door and now everyones trees are  also infected.  Please Please someone get me out of here. I will work for bug spray!!  I wish the bugs would kill me already and get it overwith. I am sure they are all gonna  bite me. I swear all of this is true.  I can clean off anything in the yard like the chairs or bbq i havent used yet, and the next day its full of sticky webs like i never cleaned them I saw a  greyish or tan like colored spider, smooth but large and long almost pointed back ent and sort of  flat sections all the way around   . like vertical panels all goinf into a V shape. He looked armoured, He was much larger than th ehalf dollar black widow. To date that  widow was the biggest I have seen.  and there are  literally hundreds of  little egg sacks and  webs all over the   slumlords yard. He should call the med college and let them have  tjeir entemology classes there. I thought the venom value, I have learned they dont  go catch wild ones though.. Duh.  Okay can some one  drop a bug bomb on both yards, I will keep the pets in??   So my creepiest is my soon to be ex   for moving us into this living hell on earth.  I simply cannot handle this. And I thought Aphids on my roses and white flies were the worst thing ever ,  ha!  Okay I guess the  answer really is  maggots.  OMG  or seeing 50 wasps try to eat a dead or dying mouse. I saw a badly injured gopher getting eaten alive and  it made me cry and ask  someone to please kill it  I couldnt stand  the thought of it suffering , besides a cat may have brought it in. Also i feel for the  4 or 5 in grasshoppers whom my cats catch and play with until they pull the legs off then they leave it out on cement to die. for the record, I cannot even kill a bug myself unless its  with a long broom, a can of spray  i do and run. I just cannot even not scream at a housefly.Its becoming much worse. DOes anyone else suffer this mental  thing. it makes my life harder really. I tried to get books and  honestly I cant even touch pictures of them.  Maybe  someone should get some  dork spray and put me out of my misery. (Just kidding) ANy comments?

  8. Less traditional materials like wood, cork or concrete really can make a statement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s