By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
Someone told me they thought that living in Williamson County is like living in the “Australia of America.” Just like in Australia, there are many strange bugs here as compared to the rest of the world. This is most certainly an overstatement, but due to our mild winters, Williamson County does have significant insect concerns. Some insects are mostly nuisances, such as Japanese Beetles munching on tree leaves. Other insects, however, can cause significant injury or damage. What follows are five of the bugs of Tennessee that register higher degrees of fear among residents of our area. We will go from number five to number one.
Numbers Five and Four: Hard working but harmful Beetles or Borers. Most give little thought to various beetles that fly about our area, but those who manage our forests and those who love beautiful landscape trees soon learn to respect the menace that certain beetles pose. Landowners and cities see some of their favorite, older shade trees die within three years after being attacked by the Southern Pine Beetle and the Emerald Ash Borer.
5. Emerald Ash Borers (EAB)
Adults are dark green and fly in Tennessee especially in May and June. They spend the rest of the year as larvae eating away under the bark of ash trees, leading to the decline and death of their host tree. EABs emerge from the trees as adults and leave a small, distinctive D-shaped hole in the bark.
4. The Southern Pine Beetle
It is native to our area, causing extensive damage to pine trees during times when its population expands. When Tennessee’s southern pine beetle population gradually began to build in 1998, the beetles killed close to 350,000 acres and $358 million of pine in the years that followed.
3. Imported Fire Ants (IFA)
Lest the reader think I am exaggerating, I will quote from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture regarding this newcomer to the county which has a low tolerance for humans.
Imported Fire Ants (IFA) were accidentally introduced into the United States from South America, beginning in about 1918, and have spread to many counties in Tennessee, including Williamson County…. Imported Fire Ants are very aggressive when disturbed and cause a painful sting that produces a small white pustule about 8-24 hours following the sting.
Fire ant colonies build mounds that may be 10 inches or more in height, 15 inches or more in diameter, and 3 feet or more in depth. ….
Imported Fire Ants cause harm and economic losses in a variety of ways. Stings from fire ants inflict intense pain to millions of Americans each year with thousands requiring medical treatment. A small number of people develop a life-threatening allergic reaction to IFA stings. The number of human fatalities resulting from IFA stings is not known due to lack documentation. However, there have been confirmed deaths due to IFA in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Imported Fire Ants also attack and kill domestic animals and wildlife as well as destroy seedling corn, soybeans, and other crops. Fire ant mounds can damage farm equipment and lawn mowers. IFA are attracted to electrical equipment and chew on insulation, resulting in short circuits and interference with switching mechanisms. Fire ants can shut down air conditioners, traffic signal boxes, and even airport runway lights. Approximately $2 billion in damage, including costs for insecticide for fire ant suppression and eradication, is caused by IFA in the United States each year.” [https://www.tn.gov/agriculture/article/ag-businesses-ifa]
2. Yellowjackets (Paper Wasps, and Hornets runners up)
UT Assistant Professor of Entomology, Karen Vail, tells us: “Yellowjackets are often considered the most dangerous stinging insects in the United States. They are more unpredictable than honey bees and will sting readily if their nest is disturbed….. During late summer and fall, yellowjacket colonies are near maturity and large numbers of workers forage for food. Sweets support large populations of foraging
wasps. They are particularly fond of sweets (e.g., fruit, soft drinks, ice cream, beer), but they will also eat meats, potato salad and just about anything we eat.”
Many county residents are unaware of where yellowjackets build their paper nest. They nest mostly underground, which makes their presence harder to detect. They can be highly aggressive and sting multiple times.
1. The Brown Recluse Spider
The most feared bug of Tennessee as reported by several exterminators is the brown recluse spider.
Most of us are familiar with the Brown Recluse, if not by sight, then certainly by its reputation. I have unfortunate personal experience with the Brown Recluse, receiving two bites over the years that left the horrendous pain and scars that their bites can sometimes do.
So I am an informal “expert” on the spider, trying to avoid being bitten again. I even discuss them with our “bug man” exterminator named Joe from All-Pest Solutions, who sprays our house four times a year. He recently added to my knowledge about the spider when I explained the enormous size of one I saw last week. The “bug man” said that Recluses do get that big, but no bigger. What I saw was likely a female adult (larger than the males) in her prime (who can give birth to 130 little recluses just like that). So they will be around.
But the exterminator also gave me some good news. He said, “Did you know that they can’t bite you without help? Their mouths are too small. They have to be mashed or pushed into the skin, most often by ourselves, and then they have the force to bite.” I asked for clarification, “You mean if one just gets on you, or you hold it in your hand, it can’t bite you?” “Yes, that’s right. They have to have help.” That was news to me, and good to know.
Something else came out about the spider during my second bite (this one to the temple of my head from lying on an old, rolled up blanket for a pillow while camping). The venom of the Brown Recluse is interesting. It is only 15% or so actual poison, so it basically tricks the body into turning on itself in reaction. It is powerful through deception. Further, unlike the immediately painful and burning bite of the Black Widow spider, the Brown Recluse bite seldom hurts at first. In fact, the venom, for the first 24 hours, tends to create a state of euphoria (extreme gladness) in the human victim. I experienced this very thing. But afterward, the effects of the tricky venom begin to turn living tissue into dead tissue. The victim must wait and see just how deep the wound will go.