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The 10 Most Dangerous Insects in the World

A female Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus) spider on her sticky web in a dark corner of an Arizona garden
Maria Jeffs/Shutterstock

No one, it seems, is neutral about bugs. You either love them or you hate them. And even if you love them, there are times and places they just don’t feel welcome—such as when a spider walks casually out of a dark corner of your home.

Luckily, most house spiders are harmless, even if they look scary. Yet, some insects are so dangerous, you might hope to never cross paths with them, especially when you’re least expecting to. Here are some of the world’s most threatening insects—what would you do if you came across one?

Africanized Honeybee

As it turns out, “killer bees” aren’t just a myth.

The Africanized honeybee comes from South America—it’s actually a product of breeding between African honeybees and European honeybees. However, something about this hybrid makes the bees super-aggressive.

Africanized honeybees won’t really chase you down and kill you, as popular culture suggests. But if you disrupt their hive, they’ll definitely respond in droves. While you could usually expect to get a few stings after interrupting a beehive, Africanized honeybees can leave you with 1,000 stings or more—enough to kill even someone who isn’t allergic to bees.

It’s how these bees have killed hundreds of people over the years. With that said, they won’t attack unless you’re encroaching on their hive. And not all Africanized honeybees are equally dangerous: the ones in Puerto Rico, for example, are almost as friendly as regular honeybees.

Katipo Spider

Black widows are often named as one of the world’s most dangerous insects, although their bite is only deadly if you don’t seek treatment right away. Most people, however, already know about the dangers of a black widow. Their similar-looking relative, the katipo spider, is far rarer but still as deadly.

The katipo spider is actually the only native venomous species in New Zealand. They’re also endangered, so you’ll find yourself facing serious charges if you kill one on purpose. They mainly live in sand dunes, but human recreation has severely limited the katipo’s habitat lately.

The good news is that although these spiders are extremely venomous, they’re also much more likely to hide from you than to bite you. If you do get bitten, their venom can spread throughout your body in minutes, and it may very well kill you if you can’t get treated fast enough.

(And yes, spiders technically aren’t insects—but we often put them in the same category in our minds, so we feel they deserve a place on this list.)

Brown Recluse Spider

Close-up of a brown recluse spider
Physics_joe/Shutterstock

The brown recluse, like the black widow, is another well-known venomous species. But unlike black widows, few people know how to recognize a brown recluse. As their name suggests, they’re dull-colored and like to hide—so how can you know if one has bitten you?

A violin-like marking located on the spider’s back is the main characteristic that will help you tell a brown recluse apart from other spiders. These spiders live in the United States, primarily in the Midwest and South. They’re brown, about the size of a quarter, and most active when it’s warm.

Like the katipo (and most other spiders), a brown recluse would much rather hide from you than bite you. If one does bite you, you likely won’t know it at first. It takes a few hours for the bite to become inflammed with redness and swelling.

The good news? Most brown recluse bites heal on their own. Sometimes, however, the bite will become a lesion as the venom destroys nearby tissue. Over the next few days, the wound can expand into a nasty ulcer. In children, the elderly, and anyone with serious health problems, these complications can turn life-threatening.

Bull Ant

The bull or bulldog ant is known as the world’s most dangerous ant. While that may not sound like a significant distinction, these small creatures can inflict some hefty damage using a combination attack of jaws and stinger.

They’re among the largest ants in the world, and their stingers inject about six times more the venom than honeybee stingers do. However, their painful stings won’t kill you unless you’re allergic, so they’ve only caused a handful of deaths in recent years.

Bullet Ant

Bullet ant in the Jungle of amazonas river
Christian Vinces/Shutterstock

If a bull ant sounds bad, the bullet ant is even worse. The bullet ant, you’ll be glad to know, also can’t kill you unless you have an allergy. However, their incredibly painful stings may make you wish you were dead.

There’s actually a measurement for how painful an insect sting is, it’s called the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. The bullet ant tops that list, clocking in with the world’s most painful sting. (To create the index, entomologist Justin Schmidt actually used his own experience with different insect stings.)

After a bullet ant stings you, you may feel brutal pain for as long as 48 hours. But luckily, they live deep in the rainforests of South America, and because they’re about an inch long, you can usually see them coming.

Botfly

When you think “dangerous,” you don’t usually think of flies. However, botflies are one of the nastier types of flies, and in some cases, they can be dangerous.

Botflies are parasites that typically affect animals over humans. But in Central and South America, the “human botfly” sometimes infests people. The botfly egg travels via other insects, such as mosquitoes, to its human host. From there, the larva hatches and makes its way under your skin. We suggest never Google image searching this process—it’s every bit as gross as it sounds.

Once under the skin, the larva grows, causing intense, painful swelling. It also produces something like an antibiotic to prevent infection as it grows. However, this doesn’t always work: the area can become infected or the surrounding tissue can become damaged, causing nasty complications. Luckily, botfly larvae rarely show up in humans who take precautions like wearing long sleeves and using bug spray.

Kissing Bug

The sweetly named “kissing bug” of the southern United States and Latin America isn’t nearly as nice as it sounds.

The bug’s name actually comes from their habit of biting people’s faces. But what makes them especially dangerous is a parasite they carry—Trypanosoma cruzi. If a kissing bug transmits this parasite to you through a bite, you can get an infection known as Chagas disease, which has many unpleasant symptoms and can affect you for life.

Kissing bug bites don’t hurt, so you may never know you’ve been bitten until the symptoms of Chagas disease appear. Early symptoms of the disease often mimic the flu, though, so it sometimes isn’t diagnosed until the symptoms becomes chronic. However, people with allergies can go into anaphylactic shock right after a kissing bug bite. And, over time, Chagas disease can become deadly, too.

Sydney Funnelweb Spider

If you’re scared of spiders, you might find reassurance in the fact that deaths from spider bites are super rare, even when the spider is incredibly venomous. Still, you should probably steer clear of the Sydney funnelweb spider, which are sometimes called the world’s deadliest.

The large, black, shiny spiders are hard to miss, and sometimes take up residence in homes and gardens (especially in cozy spots like inside of a pair of shoes). Their toxin affects the nervous system, and has the power to kill in well under an hour. However, modern antivenom can quickly halt these harmful effects.

Asian Giant Hornet

Asian Giant Hornet
Ruzy Hartini/Shutterstock

The words giant and hornet aren’t exactly a reassuring pair. But the name is accurate: these hornets are about the size of your thumb, and they live in east and southeast Asia.

Asian giant hornets are aggressive, too, although they’re much more likely to attack honeybees than people. However, they’ve been known to occasionally attack people. And if you don’t get treatment, the venom of multiple bites can be strong enough to kill you.

Mosquito

When you think of dangerous insects, you probably picture large, scary, and hairy species that thrive on Australian coasts or in South American jungles. But the most deadly insect in the world is really the mosquito.

Although you might see them as just nuisances, mosquitoes often kill. That’s not because they’re venomous—it’s because they carry diseases. Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and Zika kill millions of people a year, making them the world’s deadliest insect. However, if you have access to modern medicine, you have nothing to fear, which is really the case for all of these dangerous insects.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »