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
: 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?