Tennessee's temperate climate hosts many insects and spiders that are potentially dangerous if you're bitten or stung. Some have venom used to disable prey. They don't consider humans food and only attack if threatened. Others feed on blood and aren't picky about their host -- any warm-blooded creature will do. Wearing protective clothing and insect repellant when outdoors, especially in wooded areas, can keep these bugs at bay.
More than an Itchy Irritation
Mosquitoes are a common pest during Tennessee summers, but the small, itchy spots their bites leave on your skin are the least of your worries. These blood-suckers carry several diseases that can infect people -- most notably West Nile virus. Only a very small percentage of people infected will become seriously ill as a result, primarily those with weaker immune systems such as children and the elderly. Nonetheless, the virus is a serious health concern. According to the Metro Public Health Department, 21 batches of mosquitoes captured and tested in the summer of 2013 tested positive for the virus in the Nashville-Davidson County metro area alone.
Once Bitten Twice Shy
Of the many spider species in Tennessee, only two have venom that is poisonous to people: black widows and brown recluses, both of which live in every county in the state. As their name suggests, brown recluses are shy, typically weaving their webs in dry, sheltered areas. The violin-shaped marking on their backs sets them apart from other brown spiders you might see. Contrary to popular belief, they only bite people if they're injured. Their bite results in fever and chills, headache and weakness. Black widows frequently reside in closed, dark places and have bright red or orange hourglass-shaped markings on smooth black bodies. A bite from one of these spiders causes cramping, stiffness, sweating, nausea and vomiting.
A Good Hike Spoiled
Ticks aren't actually insects -- they're arachnids, like spiders. They feed on the blood of mammals, including people, and their firm attachment to their host while feeding makes them quite efficient carriers of disease. Ticks can't fly or jump, and typically wait on tips of tall grasses for a potential host to brush past and pick them up. At least 15 tick species live in Tennessee, although people encounter relatively few of them. Dog ticks and deer ticks in particular are most common in spring and summer, and spread diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to humans. These diseases have serious long-term effects and can be fatal if left untreated.
Come Out Stinging
Honeybees are common in Tennessee and play an important role in pollination of plants. Honeybees, however, aren't a big concern; their barbed stingers mean they can only sting once and will die afterward, so they only sting as a last resort if being seriously harassed. Wasps and hornets, however, are more unpredictable than honeybees -- and far more dangerous. Because they can sting repeatedly, they don't hesitate to use that stinger if swatted or alarmed. For most people, bee stings result in minor pain and swelling, but if you're allergic to their venom stings can be fatal.
- Vanderbilt University Tennessee Poison Center: Poisonous Spiders in Tennessee
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Tick Identification and Prevention
- Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation: Venomous Creatures of Tennessee
- Tennessee Department of Health: West Nile Virus Information
- NewsChannel5.com: Health Officials Issue Warning About West Nile Risk
- University of Tennessee Extension: Yellowjacket Wasps in Tennessee
- John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images