What bit me?
June 19, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

A tiny, tiny insect in the grass bit me and made my finger swell up. I'm getting better now, but wondering what it could have been.

On Friday, I was sitting in the grass and put my hand behind me. I felt a prick, and thought a little thorn got me - however, it's probable that it was a tiny bug. It hurt rather a lot at first, but then I forgot about it.

Saturday morning, I woke up to a swollen finger - picture here. It got progressively more swollen throughout the day (the picture is from the morning). I thought about going to the doctor, as I was quite uncomfortable, but I'm a student, and my insurance only allows me to go to the student heath center M-F or the emergency room. It didn't seem worth an ER visit.

Luckily the swelling went down over Saturday night, and this morning it's starting to itch, which I think is a good sign especially in combination with the swelling going down.

Two questions:
1) Any idea what kind of bug it could have been?
2) YANMD, but should I go see my doctor Monday morning to get it checked out? That would be very inconvenient, and I would miss a couple hours of work, but it's possible.
posted by insectosaurus to Grab Bag (12 answers total)
1) Probably a bee. You'll never know though, bug bites are really hard to classify.
2) If it hasn't killed you by now you'll be fine.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2011

Nod to your username!
The photo looks like there are two white dots, like pincers, am I seeing that right?

If it's two dots: I'm not sure: maybe an ant?
If it's just one dot: Wasps will sting without leaving a sac behind. I've also heard they can bite with pincers but I can't find a photo of that.
Honeybees leave a small stinger and venom sac behind - do you remember brushing off anything like that?
posted by SarahbytheSea at 10:19 AM on June 19, 2011

Might have been a bee. Might have been a spider. That's a lot of swelling for a bee; if you've got an undiagnosed allergy it could be very dangerous. I've been the broke student before. At MINIMUM, buy yourself some Benadryl and keep it with you at all times. This time didn't kill you, but if it's a beesting allergy you could have a worse reaction next time. It would be better if you could get an epipen, but at least keep the Benadryl handy.
posted by theplotchickens at 10:20 AM on June 19, 2011

I have something like this happen to me at least once every summer. The times I've caught the culprit in the act, they've been different types of critters. I've busted a couple of mosquitos and a couple of other random bugs. But seemingly arbitrarily, I will swell up over the course of a couple of hours to a day, and it starts going down again within about 24 hours. I've had my eye swell completely shut, had a balloon hand, and twice had a foot so swollen I couldn't put a shoe on it. In my experience, once the swelling hits its apex, it goes down at approximately the same rate as it progressed, so based on your progression, I'd guess you're right at the tail end now.

And for what it's worth, someone credibly speculated that it's not the insect itself that is causing the grotesque swelling, but some kind of plant they ingested, which would explain why most of the time, my mosquito bites are normal annoying mosquito bites, and only the infrequent ones make me explode.

So my guess as to the origin is either a spider, or some random stinging insect that ate some plant material you're allergic to.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:21 AM on June 19, 2011

I had the same experience a few summers ago on my foot - swelled up so that I could wear a shoe and walk only with great discomfort. I spoke to my gp, he suggested benadryl, so in addition to getting a good night's sleep, I woke up with my foot back to normal.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:30 AM on June 19, 2011

Response by poster: - Sarahbythesea, there was one white dot (as far as I could tell). I did brush off a little something - I thought it was a thorn, but it might have been a stinger, hmm. There were a couple bees around that I saw later.

- Regarding bee stings - I've only had one before in my life, and I didn't swell up at all, but it was 10+ years ago and on the bottom of my foot (very thick skin). So, it's definitely possible that this is a bad reaction to a bee sting. If I go see my doctor, would she be able to do some sort of test to see if I'm allergic to bee stings?

Thanks for all the responses so far.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2011

Could be a bee, could be a carpenter ant or something if it hurt a lot at the time. Spider bites usually leave little pits rather than raised white dots.

Would you characterize the pain as a sharp prick only or was there a burning involved? My guess is big ol' ant.
posted by penduluum at 11:49 AM on June 19, 2011

Your location is important for narrowing down the answer, though I will guess from your profile that it's L.A. Also the photo is not really zoomed in enough to see the injury on your finger. Anyhow I would bet on it being a fire ant or army ant and that you might have a little sensitivity to them. I'm not sure about it being a bee or a wasp, as they're not really found in the grass unless they have a nest, and that seems like a strange spot for one. I also might consider a juvenile scorpion, especially due to the itching you described, but the grass would be an odd place for one unless you turned over a rock or small piece of bark.
posted by crapmatic at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2011

Response by poster: Yup, I'm in LA.

I would definitely characterize the pain as burning/stinging.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:13 PM on June 19, 2011

Sounds like a bee to me, too. For what it's worth, my bee stings didn't swell as a child but do now, but I still don't have any of the serious reactions (trouble breathing or swelling spreading to other places), I just get a really ugly red lump and then lots of itching. Topical anti-histamine creams help a little bit with the itching, and a tube is not too expensive at the drug store.
posted by anaelith at 1:29 PM on June 19, 2011

Tiny? Sounds like an ant bite to me. They can be surprisingly painful. I'm not buying bee at all. They're largeish and you would probably have felt it moving under your hand.
posted by Decani at 5:31 PM on June 19, 2011

stinging plants in L.A.? in my yard there are fifty things you could put your hand on (prickly pear cactus, thistle, tread-softly (spurge nettle), etc), most of which except the cactus have hair-fine silica spines with irritants in them that will make you swell like mad, take days to go away, and itch like crazy on the way out.

Now, some of these are strictly eastern plants, but not all of them, and my karst, scrub habitat is probably a lot like where you live.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:41 PM on June 19, 2011

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