UK Insect Bites: Bugs that Bite

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Something that we all dream of during the cold winter months is being able to step outside without having to put on hundreds of layers, and instead of the sharp cold of frost, we’re greeted with the soothing warmth of the sun. The summer seems so bliss compared to the challenges that come with winter: flu season, coughs and colds, the cost of heating, and the general grey skies to name a few, so who wouldn’t want summer to arrive?

However, summertime also comes with its challenges.

Everything comes to life in the summer, trees show their leaves once more, flowers flaunt their bright colours, and bugs… are there too… and with bugs, comes bug bites.

Bugs and insects seem to love the summer months as much as we do, and they also love a good nibble on some human flesh. Unfortunately, even the smallest bug bite can impact you enough to ruin your holiday. We want to avoid this. In this article, we’re going to be listing some of the most common bug and insect bites in the UK, as well as some advice if you find you’ve been an insect’s snack!

Warning, this article will make you itch!

Bug bite on ankle

Common Insect Bites UK

Horsefly Bites

Horsefly bites are infamous for being one of the nastiest you can experience in the UK. Horseflies themselves can be fairly aggressive and not very subtle when they’ve got their eye on you.

Horseflies are small, fairly common-looking flies that are usually grey or black in colour with dark wings. There are over 30 species of horsefly, however, the smaller ones are the most common in the UK.

Horseflies can be found almost anywhere, but are most common in warm and wet or damp areas, such as woodlands, especially after it’s been raining. They are also, shockingly, often found around horses, as well as cows.

Did you know that it’s only the female horsefly that bites?

Horsefly bites can be very painful and can often cause some nasty side effects. The area of a horsefly bite will likely be red and swollen, you may also experience feeling dizzy, weak, and maybe wheezy. Horsefly bites could get infected and take a while to heal. Speak to your GP if you’re worried about a horsefly bite.

Mosquito Bites

Everyone in the UK is familiar with the mosquito bite, it is one of the bites we’ll all almost inevitably experience in the summer every year. Although they don’t cause much damage here in the UK, mosquito bites can spread serious, life-threatening diseases, such as malaria, in other areas of the world.

If you are looking to travel to exotic areas where malaria is a risk, book your travel health and vaccination service at your pharmacy to protect yourself from malaria and other risks.

Applying cream to a bug bite

Mosquitos are small and slender flies with long legs and a long mouthpart they use to suck blood and inject saliva. A mosquito bite in the UK can be very itchy and shows up as a small red lump, or sometimes forms into a blister, but they don’t often cause major harm and are usually just a nuisance.

Like horseflies, mosquitos can be found near water in humid areas, but are also often unwanted guests in our houses if our windows are doors are left open.

Midge Bites/Gnat Bites

A midge refers to most small flies besides mosquitos, despite looking similar to them. Like horseflies, only female midges bite as they require a protein-rich diet. There are thousands of species of midges/gnats, and like mosquitos, they’re often unwanted guests that somehow find their way into our houses.

A biting midge, or Ceratopogonidae, can be found hanging out with the other biting bugs mentioned prior, near rivers, swamps, and other natural water sources and damp locations. Midge bites look similar to a mosquito bite, forming small, red lumps that are very itchy or sometimes painful. They may also swell up more than you expect and form blisters.

Spider Bites

Unlike other bugs out there, it’s uncommon to get a spider bite in the UK. As scary as some people find them, most spiders aren’t very aggressive towards people, hence the saying “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Midge biting someone

However, not all spiders are the shy type. There are some spiders found here in the UK that do bite, the most well-known being the false widow, which bite feels similar to that of a wasp sting.

According to the Natural History Museum, there are 650 species of spider in the UK, and only 12 are known to bite. Spider bites may leave bite marks on your skin, causing painful redness and swelling.

Spider bites can also have side effects such as feeling dizzy, sweating, and feeling or being sick. An infected or allergic reaction to a spider bite is rare but requires medical help.

Flea Bites

Fleas aren’t usually a fan of living on people and prefer the security of our furry friends such as cats and dogs. However, flea bites are not uncommon. Flea bites are recognised as clusters of red circles on your skin that are very itchy.

Those with pets such as cats and dogs are more at risk of flea bites, which your pet may pick up from socialising with others. Fleas may also be found in your carpets and rugs.

Ladybird Bites

You may be asking, do ladybirds bite? The answer is yes, ladybirds do bite. In particular, the harlequin ladybird - a red or orange ladybird with white patches on its head - is the most aggressive. Ladybird bites can be painful but aren’t serious.

Someone itching insect bites on their legs

Tick Bites

Ticks are nasty little creatures that, like fleas, tend to prefer other animals, most commonly wild animals or dogs. Unlike other bugs that bite, ticks are subtle and like to stick around, they embed themselves into your skin without any itching or pain, and will begin to swell up with your blood, only then do tick bites become easier to locate.

As we mentioned before, tick bites are painless and you’re unlikely to realise you’ve been bitten straight away. However, symptoms following the initial bite include swelling, redness and itching.

Here in the UK, some ticks can carry a serious infection called Lyme disease, if this is the case, the bite may resemble that of a bullseye, a small red circle with a ring around it, and can last for several weeks. Other symptoms include those similar to having the flu.

See your GP is you think you may have symptoms of Lyme disease.

Wasp Stings

Wasps are known for their sting and their ability to ruin a relaxing sunbathing session. Most people believe wasps will sting no matter what, but this isn’t the case. Like bees, wasps will only sting when provoked.

If you do manage to anger a wasp, resulting in a wasp sting, you’ll experience immediate sharp pain, as well as a swollen red mark that will feel uncomfortable for a few hours.

It is possible to have a serious allergic reaction to wasp stings, which can make breathing difficult, face swelling, and dizziness.

How to treat insect bites

All insect bites and stings are different and may require special treatment if your reaction is uncommon or serious. However, in most cases, it’s fairly easy to treat insect bites.

  • It can be difficult to not itch an insect bite, however, itching could make it worse, leading to an increased risk of infection.
  • Some bites and stings require you to remove the culprit. This is especially important with ticks, as the longer they stay embedded in your skin, the more at risk you are of Lyme disease. Take special care when you do this, and make sure you remove the head of the tick by grabbing it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible.
  • Make sure the area of the bite or sting is kept clean and cool to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Your pharmacy can help to relieve insect bite symptoms with painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and creams and ointments to reduce itching.
  • If you’re concerned that a bug bite has become infected, speak to your GP as you may need antibiotics.
A man n a walk treating insect bites

How to prevent insect bites

There are many ways to prevent insect bites from ruining your summer, here are some of our top tips:

  • Visit your pharmacy to prevent insect bites by purchasing insect repellent
  • Avoid exposing your skin, especially in rural areas such as woodlands
  • Don’t keep your windows and doors open too wide for long periods.
  • Make sure you clean and de-flea your pets regularly
  • Stay calm around wasps and bees
A woman treating insect bites with bug spray

So, next time you head out into the great outdoors, you know which insects to look out for, how to avoid being their next meal, and how to treat those nasty, itchy bites!