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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

I Caught a Bug (AKA: Is that a bite?)

I’m sick. I picked up whatever version of the plague is currently making the rounds. (Yes, I did get my flu and covid shot.) My throat hurts, I’m running a fever off and on, and all my muscles ache like I was trampled by a herd of deer. On top of that, I’m supposed to write this blog post because I have not missed a single one in 128 weeks. Really, it’s a matter of my sick pride at this point.

So this is a perfect time to cover the topic: do insects get sick? We know insects can carry many vector borne diseases that can make people sick, but do they themselves come down with the common cold?

You bet they do. There hasn’t been a ton of research done on insects getting “sick” partly because it’s a bit hard to ask them what their symptoms are and partly because they have relatively short lifespans. There has been some work into it though. Honey bees are a commonly studied insect due to their benificiality (is that really a word?) and their lifespan as a colony. They are susceptible to bacteria (American and European foulbrood), fungal diseases (chalkbrood), and viruses (sacbrood). Even more concerning: there is evidence these can be transmitted to other pollinators, even those in other orders like flies.

One of my favorite insect diseases is the fungus that infects ants and makes them “zombies”. This article in the Atlantic said it best: When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

We know that insects carry diseases that they transmit to people and animals. Often those pathogens have no effect on their insect carriers. There are many instances of the insect suffering from some symptoms. Malaria actually decreases the lifespan of infected mosquitoes.

Is there a cure? Technically, many of the human medications we have to treat bacteria, viruses, and other infections could be used, but the mechanisms of getting those medications to the infected insects are not really feasible.

I haven’t even touched on the parasites that can infect insects (again, one of my favorites here), but I’m worn out, I need more Advil and cough drops, and I’m going to go lie down now. Stay safe, wash your hands, get your flu shots, and remember that we are not alone in getting sick!

If you are sick of dealing with tough pest problems, contact us here, we can help…when we are feeling better.


Urban pest consulting.

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