The deadly critter assassination squad

Last week was part one of my “Layman’s List of the Five Most Dangerous Non-Mammalian Creatures in Northern Nevada.” It was a hard-hitting, muckraking piece of work, yet not without moments of ribald humor and caring compassion. Unfortunately, it was also a total SHAM!

Yes, a sham. As in, inaccurate and not right. I had listed the western diamondback rattlesnake as the most dangerous creature around here and the black widow as number two. It was only as I was researching the two bugs I had slotted for positions four and five that I discovered that I was off a little. Corrections will now be made.

Because if I’m going to base my rankings on the annual human death count racked up by these bugs and reptiles, then I must immediately put the rattler in a sack and bump his buzzworm ass all the way down to the third spot. The rattlesnake, with only 10 to 20 deaths a year in the United States, is a complete powder puff compared to the new number one, the much reviled and irrepressible … mosquito.

Yep, the mosquito. As a killer, she—since the females are the only ones who drink blood—totally buries the rattler, with about 260 human kills last year due to that nasty new West Nile virus.

And occupying the new number-two position on the revised danger list is none other than the common honey bee! While nowhere near as glamorous, cool and fearsome as a big hairy scorpion or a dog-eating tarantula, the good ole honey bee manages to rack up at least 90 to 100 dead humans a year. How can this bee? Well, the bee’s secret Rx for murder is allergy; one in a hundred humans are sufficiently allergic to bee venom to where, should they be stung, they instantly have a real shot at leaving the planet.

OK, so the revised list now reads, (1) mosquito, (2) bee, (3) rattlesnake and (4) black widow. The number five slot goes to … the tick. Actually, this critter’s full name is the goddamn tick. The reason I’m indulging in gratuitous tick-dissing is because these stealthy little bastards, like the mosquito, aren’t shy about their desire to find a nice, warm-blooded human to munch. And while the tick’s bite is painless (you may never know he was there), the bacterium he can bring into your life (Lyme disease, tularemia, relapsing fever, spotted fever) make the tick’s bite more dangerous than the sting of a scorpion (which was a true contender for the number-five slot) or the bite of a tarantula (utterly overrated).

There’s a simple way to protect against the two critters on this list that are tracking you: Bug spray with at least 10 percent DEET gets it done for both mosquitoes and ticks. Buy it by the jug; in a world now tainted by West Nile and Lyme, it’s become a necessity for all of us who spend summers outdoors.