Some insects are dangerous to humans because they use you as a food source. Biting flies, for example, bite big chunks of our skin. Ouch! Other insects like the kissing bug, tsetse fly, mosquitoes, or ticks use us for snacks and pass diseases to us that can cause very serious health effects. Many of these bugs are not dangerous themselves, but the diseases they carry can create serious health problems around the world.
For example, kissing bugs may sound sweet, but the Chagas Disease that you can get from their 'kiss' is not. Mosquitoes are the vampires of the insect world because they suck our blood, but that's not the real reason they're dangerous. The bite of certain kinds of mosquitoes can carry many different diseases, including a very dangerous parasite that causes malaria. The mosquito is thus the most dangerous insect because it causes the highest number of people harm, and even death.
Ticks are another common example of a blood-loving insect. Hikers or outdoor enthusiasts pick up ticks, and these ticks bury themselves into their skin. Ticks themselves, like the other bugs we've mentioned, are harmless. But they carry a parasite that causes Lyme's disease, which can cause things like joint pain and sleepiness. Tsetse flies, found in Africa, also cause sleepiness. They carry another parasite responsible for the deadly sleeping sickness.
Many insects that cause us harm do so as a way of protecting themselves. Bites and stings aren't just for hurting people, they're actually a way for these small animals to tell bigger animals not to mess with them. Bees, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps all have stingers that pierce the skin and leave awful pain. And fire ants not only bite, they also spray formic acid that really stings.
Believe it or not, a scientist by the name of Justin Schmidt allowed 150 different insects to sting and bite him, then rated the pain. Scientists, like Schmidt, that study insects are called entomologists. The tarantula, hawk wasp, and bullet ants are some insects he ranked as the top in the world for their stinging pain. If you want to imagine what that might have felt like, think about the sting of a honey bee, which Schmidt only put in the middle of the scale.
Many harmful insects harm the planet and humans by simply just trying to get a bite to eat. It turns out that the foods that farmers grow for us are great foods for insects too. Pests such as the locust can destroy whole fields in a matter of hours.
Other times, what the insect likes to eat turns out to be important to us in other ways. Termites eat the foundation wood in homes and can destroy houses both big and small. Moths snacking on our clothes can leave our belongings in tatters.
Insects have three distinct body segments: antennae, six legs, and (usually) wings. The world needs insects, but there are countless ways that insects are harmful to humans and the planet. Some feed on humans, which can spread disease. Others bite or sting us as a defense. Scientist Justin Schmidt allowed 150 different insects to sting and bite him, then graded the pain. Yet others insects eat our crops, like locusts, or eat our structures, like termites. The entomologists, or scientists who study insects, have given us some important perspective on these small creatures that greatly outnumber us.