Potato Bug Bite: Here's What To Do If You Get Bitten By One | Kidadl

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Potato Bug Bite: Here's What To Do If You Get Bitten By One

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The term 'potato bug' can refer to two insect species, both named after their love of feeding on potatoes and other roots and tubers.

These are the Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus) and the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). Jerusalem crickets have the stronger bite of the two, and their scary appearance doesn't help either.

Their detailed faces look like those of small humans, and they tend to make a hissing sound if cornered which can be quite frightening. Jerusalem crickets and potato beetles are both found in parts of the United States and Mexico. They tend to swarm in large numbers around potato crops as well as other plants and fruits. In rare cases, they may also form infestations inside the house. They are both considered pests as they decimate potato crops by burrowing under the ground to feed on the tubers. Their saliva contains a natural toxin that can cause potato crops as well as other plants to decay. To learn more about these insects which look like humans and round orange beetles, read on!

Do potato bugs bite?

Potato bugs can refer to two types of insects- the Jerusalem cricket and Colorado potato bug.

These insects have been given this name because of their tendency to burrow underground in areas with moist soil, like in potato beds. They dig deep in the soil and feed on potato bulbs and the roots of plants. Although a Jerusalem cricket is not considered to be much of a pest as it also feeds on small insects, fruits, leaves, and other roots and tubers, the Colorado potato beetle is considered a huge menace to potato crops as this beetle tends to swarm around them and consume their leaves as well as the tubers. Potato beetle females also lay their eggs on the underside of potato crop leaves, laying at least 10-30 eggs at a time.

Are potato bugs dangerous?

Yes, these insects can actually be quite dangerous, especially the Jerusalem cricket.

A Jerusalem cricket is known for its extremely strong jaws, and its tendency to bite people if it feels threatened or cornered. In fact, this insect looks more dangerous than it actually is with its human-like heads, creepy jaws, and long, spindly antennae. However, those strong jaws can sink quite deep into human skin, inflicting a painful bug bite indeed! The potato bug bite can go quite deep and leave behind some lingering pain.

The Colorado potato bug looks much tamer, with its round ladybug-like body, and white, black, and orange striped wings. There is also a good chance of these insects invading your home if you live in the western parts of the United States or Mexico, usually in arid areas. Jerusalem crickets are nocturnal in nature, and since they enjoy staying out of sight, potential infestations can go unnoticed until it is very late. They spend most of their time under the ground, only emerging to feed on leaves or lay their eggs on the underside part of plants where they can develop safely. You may accidentally encounter a potato bug while gardening, in which case it may bite if caught off guard.

A Jerusalem cricket looks scarier than a Colorado potato bug, and has a stronger bite.

Is a potato bug bite poisonous?

Although this critter has a powerful bite and can clamp onto your skin causing a painful wound, it is not toxic to humans. Its saliva is laced with a natural toxin, but this is more harmful to plants and crops than it is to you.

These critters may emit a foul smell if threatened or squashed. This smell is used to deter predators from preying on them.

Potato bugs might have a frightening appearance because of their large jaws, which can make them look quite extraterrestrial if observed up close. They use their jaws to burrow their way into the earth or decimate the leaves of plants, decaying roots and leaves or fruits, and vegetables. Because of their burrowing nature, they have also been the name 'Nino de la Tierra', which means 'the child of the earth' in Spanish. However contrary to popular belief, they do not cry like babies.

What To Do If Bitten By A Potato Bug

Potato bugs prefer to stay underground and are quite shy. They typically flee if approached. They only bite when they feel cornered or threatened, as a form of self-defense. These insects are not aggressive at all. If you are on the receiving end of a potato bug bite, that means you have startled or scared this critter in some way while picking fruits and vegetables or gardening. If you have many fruit and vegetable-bearing plants in your garden, these could attract potato bugs.

Although these insects are small, they can pack a mean punch using their powerful jaws. If a large number of them bite you at the same time you may suffer from redness, swelling, or itchiness. The bite of a Jerusalem cricket especially can be quite painful if inflicted because this insect has extremely sharp teeth. Although neither potato bug species is poisonous nor toxic towards humans, their bite can still cut deep, and if not treated properly can lead to an infection.

If either insect bites you, then the first thing you should do is gently clean the affected part with soap and warm water. Apply antibiotic cream to stave off any bacteria which may have entered and avoid infections. If the area feels itchy, gently dab it with a cotton ball soaked in a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. Keep repeating this process to treat the redness and itching until it goes down. This may take around three to four days.

Potato bugs can be present in your garden, especially if you have tubers like yams and potatoes and tomatoes, eggplants, and pepper plants, as they enjoy eating their leaves and roots. Jerusalem crickets use their powerful jaws to dig into the earth, which is why their bites are so powerful. They are usually found in the places you would least suspect them to be under leaves, among leaf litter, and feeding on decaying plants. As they only bite when threatened, you may receive an unexpected nip while gardening! If you live in an area where potato bug infestations are common, then it is recommended to dig around in the soil with gloves on to prevent bug bites from any hidden Jerusalem crickets or Colorado potato bugs.

If you see one of these threatening bugs around, there are a few warning signs that it is getting ready to bite you. When a Jerusalem cricket is getting ready to bite, it begins to make a hissing sound and lifts its back legs up in order to make itself look bigger. Immediately move away if it begins to exhibit these signs to save yourself from the pain of being bitten! You can control potato bug populations by manually picking them off plants and dropping them into buckets of soapy water to kill them. This is easier with larger Jerusalem crickets, which are easy to locate. Make sure to wear gloves while going about this task in your garden to stop any unwanted bug bites.

You can also use a powerful insecticide on eggs and larvae, which will kill them off. Using mild insecticides may not always do the trick as potato bugs have developed a resistance to these chemicals over time. You can introduce their natural predators into your gardens such as birds and reptiles, by setting out bird feed and dishes of water for them to drink from. This will attract a larger number of wilder species to your garden and help keep the Jerusalem cricket population in your garden in check. A small number of potato bugs in a garden is not harmful, as they feed on other small pests and around the garden. However, if too many of them gather in the same place, they may cause a lot of damage to your plants and upset the garden's ecosystem.

Did You Know...

Jerusalem crickets usually eat dead organic matter and feed on live insects. Their powerful jaws make them quite formidable predators.

Jerusalem crickets are also called earth babies, devil spawns, and children of the earth because of their scary human-like heads and nocturnal nature, which makes them quite mysterious. They belong to the insect genus Stenopelmatus.

Like other cricket species, these insects do not have wings and move by hopping or using their jaws to burrow into the earth.

Colorado potato beetles are most active during the spring when eggs hatch into new insects.

Unfortunately, the Colorado potato beetle has become highly resistant to as many as 56 common insecticides over the years, which is why it is so difficult to get rid of this critter from your garden!

As potatoes are an introduced plant to North America, potato bugs did not always feed on them! Before potatoes were brought over to the United States, these beetles primarily fed on a plant called 'buffalo bur'.

Written By
Tanya Parkhi

Tanya always had a knack for writing which encouraged her to be a part of several editorials and publications across print and digital media. During her school life, she was a prominent member of the editorial team at the school newspaper. While studying economics at Fergusson College, Pune, India, she got more opportunities to learn details of content creation. She wrote various blogs, articles, and essays that garnered appreciation from readers. Continuing her passion for writing, she accepted the role of a content creator, where she wrote articles on an array of topics. Tanya’s write-ups reflect her love for traveling, learning about new cultures, and experiencing local traditions.

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