Many common bug myths are floating around out there. But which are real, and which are false? You might have heard the one about daddy long legs being the most poisonous of all spiders. How about the one that says a penny can cure a bee sting? Let’s not forget about Florida’s favorite pastime of telling newcomers that lovebugs are the result of an escaped experiment at the University of Florida. No matter what bug tales you’ve heard, more than likely, it’s probably false. Spinning tall tales is part of human nature, but short of becoming an entomologist, how does one separate fact from fiction? Read on, and you’ll see there may be an inkling of truth to some of these ten common bug myths. 

  1. Lovebugs Were Lab-Created to Eat Mosquitos

Let’s face it, if you live in Florida, you’ve told someone, and someone likely told you. Maybe you even believed it to be true…if only for a minute. But no, lovebugs were not the result of some escaped lab experiment gone awry. Evil entomologists were not trying to create a new bug that would help rid Florida of its abundant mosquito population. University of Florida may have the leading Entomology Department in the State of Florida. However, they did not create lovebugs, but they did create Gatorade! 

Lovebugs are Mother Nature’s wonder alone. They are a species of march fly that feed on dead vegetation and offer essential nutrients back into the soil. Lovebugs In the pupal stage, crawl to the surface to become that pest we all know and loathe. This function of crawling to the surface helps to aerate the soil, which, in turn, allows rain to penetrate the ground instead of running off. So, while Lovebugs are extraordinarily annoying to residents and visitors of Florida alike, they are an essential part of the cycle of life. 

  1. Bees Die After Stinging You

A bee sting can be painful, and for some, downright dangerous due to an allergic reaction. But not all bees die after they sting you. The only bee that dies after stinging you is the female honeybee. Males do not possess a stinger. The reason the honeybee dies after stinging is because it does not pull its stinger back out after stinging you. A honeybee’s stinger is barbed, so when it penetrates human flesh, it cannot be pulled back out. The stinger is attached to the venom sac inside the bee’s abdomen, where it also connects with a part of its digestive tract, muscles, and other glands. When the honeybee flies away, it amputates part of its abdomen with it. For the bee, this is a particularly gruesome death. Honeybees are generally docile and will not sting unless they feel threatened. 

Part of bee sting first aid protocol is to “scrape, not squeeze” the stinger out. This method is used because when you squeeze the stinger, you can potentially inject more venom into the wound. This protocol may lead us to the next myth.

  1. Copper Pennies Cure Bee Stings

The root of this myth seems to have begun on a British household tips website around 2006. The folk remedy claims that if you tape a penny to the site of the sting for about 15 minutes, you will reduce your pain and the subsequent swelling associated with a bee sting. It is claimed that the copper in the penny counteracts the venom left behind by the bee. However, the last run of copper pennies were produced by the Denver Mint on October 22nd, 1982. These days, there is less than 3% copper in a penny. This folk remedy was likely passed word of mouth from generation to generation before being penned on the internet in 2006. There are multiple home remedy suggestions for bee stings beside the copper penny trick. They include pastes made of various ingredients, including baking soda, vinegar, meat tenderizer, aspirin, and tobacco juice. Raw onions and toothpaste are also included in these folk medicine remedies for bee stings. Though I’ve heard that toothpaste is also a potential treatment for acne (probably also a myth). The only real “cure” for a bee sting is ice, antihistamines if the wound is bad enough, a doctor may prescribe a topical corticosteroid. Most of the time, a bee sting is painful and certainly annoying. However, if you are one of the 5% of the population that is allergic to bee and other insect stings, you will want to keep an Epi-Pen on hand. For the rest of us, those pennies are best saved and put toward purchasing an antihistamine product from the local pharmacy. 

  1. Daddy Longlegs Are Deadly

Daddy long legs is a colloquial term for spiders in the Opiliones order. It has a single pill-like body and very long legs. Other spiders with the nickname “daddy longlegs,” are cellar spiders. A commonly held myth is that these are the most poisonous of all spiders, but their fangs are either too weak or too short to penetrate human flesh. These spiders are, in fact, venomous, like most spiders. However, except for a few, most spiders are not a threat to humans. While the toxin is extremely lethal to the pests that spiders prey on, humans are generally not harmed if bitten by them. Spiders can, and do, bite when threatened, even the most docile of them. But most spider bites do little more than cause a bit of localized swelling and maybe a brief bit of pain. Daddy long legs are no more a threat to humans than ladybugs. 

  1. Female Black Widows Eat Their Mates

Black widow spiders, on the other hand, are quite dangerous to humans. A black widow spider bite is said to be 15 times more potent than a rattlesnake. There are three species of black widow spider spiders in the US: the Eastern Black Widow, Southern Black Widow, and the Western Black Widow. In Florida, you might find the eastern and southern varieties. Black widows, like most spiders, are not aggressive and do not seek to bite humans. RatherInstead, they bite when they feel threatened. If a person is bitten, symptoms from the bite can include muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and chills. It is said that black widows kill their male counterparts after mating. This myth is not entirely false. The only species that has been known to do this in the wild is the Southern Black Widow. However, all three species of North American have been observed killing their mates in captivity. Widow spiders kill their prey instantly by injecting them with their highly toxic venom. They are also extremely solitary spiders. When a male approaches a female for mating, he does so with caution. After the act, the male runs away. If he is not fast enough, he may become a meal for the female. This ritual happens more often in captivity, where the male is trapped. It is less common in the wild, where he had a higher chance of escape. 

  1. Mosquitos Transmit HIV

While there a host of diseases that a mosquito can transmit to humans, including Zika, West Nile, dengue, chikungunya, and malaria. HIV is not among one of the diseases that these pests can transmit to humans. One of the main reasons why is because mosquitos do not inject blood into its animal host. The mouth of the mosquito is a dual tube system. One tube injects saliva into the host forcing blood out and into a second tube where the insect ingests it. Another reason that mosquitos do not transmit HIV is that the virus that causes AIDS binds to human T cells. Mosquitos do not have T cells. Therefore the virus is incapable of binding to them and replicating the way it does in humans. Even if a human were to accidentally swallow or squash a mosquito that has fed on an HIV infected person, the amount required to prduce a new infection in a different host is far more than a single mosquito is capable of carrying. HIV levels in the blood of infected patients are about ten units. It would take about ten million mosquito bites to reach the level of one unit of the virus in a new host. 

  1. It is Illegal to Kill a Praying Mantis

If you stumbled across a praying mantis as a child, you might remember one of your friends telling you it was illegal to kill them. Nobody knows for sure where this myth originated, but it has been circulating since at least the 1950s. Praying mantis’ are not on the endangered species list, so killing them isn’t a crime. However, mantis’ are beneficial bugs and will help reduce other populations of insects like caterpillars, crickets, and mosquitos. Large Praying Mantis also supplement their diet with lizards, frogs, and even small birds.  Perhaps the myth started because of the unusual prayer-like pose they take before they ambush their prey. I mean, they are “praying” mantis’ after all!

Conclusion

There are many more common myths about bugs. Insects live in a world that is foreign to humans. By our very nature, we tend to fear what we don’t understand. To make sense of that, we make up tales to help explain that which we do not know. Through knowledge and observation, we become more aware of these alien worlds intertwined with our own. Always ask yourself before believing the next tall tale that you hear: what is the truth behind this myth?

Resources

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/honeybee-sting-kill-bee

http://www.tipking.co.uk/tip/6746.html

https://www.livescience.com/40069-daddy-longlegs.html

https://www.burkemuseum.org/collections-and-research/biology/arachnology-and-entomology/spider-myths/myth-black-widows-eat

https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/viruses101/why_cant_mosquitos_transmit_hiv/

Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.