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6 Scary-Looking Bugs That Are Actually Harmless (With Photos)

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Very Scary; Totally Harmless

The insects and bugs featured here all have two things in common: they all look truly deadly, but they are all completely harmless. Many of them use their scary appearance to frighten away predators who might attack them, but some simply look creepy or dangerous to humans (even though they're not).

Here are the top 6 scary-but-not-deadly insect and bugs!

A very peaceful whip scorpion

A very peaceful whip scorpion

1. Whip Scorpions

With its scorpion's body, enormous "claws," and long, whip-like antennae, the whip scorpion is without a doubt one of the scariest creatures out there. It most definitely looks like it could sting, bite, and thrash you without a second thought. But for all its fronting, this creature is much more pussycat than panther.

Sometimes called "vinegaroons" because they gives off the smell of vinegar to deter predators, whip scorpions are nocturnal predators that come out at night to hunt insects and other prey. Like a scorpion, to which they are related, vinegaroons seize their victims with large front claws; unlike real scorpions, whip scorpions have no deadly sting and are not venomous at all. It's perfectly safe to handle these creatures, although it takes a certain kind of person who would want to go out of their way to do that.

The male dobson fly

The male dobson fly

2. The Male Dobson Fly

The dobson fly has the biggest pincers of any insect on the planet. Checking in at close to four inches long – a big one won't fit in the palm of your hand – the male dobson fly is also one of the biggest insects in North America. It's also one of the least dangerous.

The major drawback of having such major biting mouthparts is making them actually bite. The insect simply doesn't have the muscle power to get those gigantic chompers to do any real damage, so it just walks around with these huge, ineffective pincers.

The female, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with. Also huge, she has short, strong mandibles that can give you a nasty pinch of you mess with her.

Hmm. Weak male, strong female. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

A stingless wasp moth

A stingless wasp moth

3. Wasp Moths

These very cool insects are among our very favorite bugs on the planet. Wasp moths are, of course, moths – fragile, harmless creatures closely related to butterflies. The vast majority of moths fly during the night and hide during the day, and they are various shades of dull brown or gray, and they specialize in not being seen. Wasp moths, however, break all the rules. They fly during the day and have bright colors, and most of them closely resemble actual wasps. They mimic a stinging wasp's movements as they as they buzz from leaf to leaf in the bright sunshine. Wasp moths don't hide or try to blend in; they basically dare predators to eat them, trusting their wasp costume to protect them.

It's strange to capture one of these harmless insects and then hold it in your hand – there's a little voice that says, "but what if it actually IS a wasp?".

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It's strange to capture one of these harmless insects and then hold it in your hand – there's a little voice that says, "but what if it actually IS a wasp?"

The snake caterpillar, with its head twisted upside-down to mimic a viper.

The snake caterpillar, with its head twisted upside-down to mimic a viper.

4. The Pit Viper Caterpillar

A classic example of protective mimicry, the snake caterpillar has evolved a perfect facsimile of a snake, in both appearance and behavior. Although it's only a couple of inches long, the caterpillar of the moth species Hemeroplanes triptolemus creates a stunning impression of a wide-eyed, deadly pit viper ready to strike. It does this by twisting the front of its body upside-down and puffing up the front sections. The illusion of a snake's head is phenomenal. Any bird or lizard close enough to be a threat will no doubt think twice before attacking, but the caterpillar is completely harmless.

There are other caterpillars that mimic snakes, although few have it down as perfectly as H. triptolemus. One good example is the enormous striped larva of a semi-tropical moth. These harmless caterpillars have a black-and-yellow striped pattern that's very similar to some kinds of deadly snakes. The caterpillars are highly visible, which leads to the conclusion that they want to be seen and avoided.


5. Scorpionflies

Scorpionflies, order Mecoptera, combine two deadly looks: a wasp and a scorpion. Put together, these two designs create a truly fearsome-looking creature. The one thing that might keep you from running screaming from an encounter with a scorpionfly is the insect's size: it's only about an inch long, easily overlooked by the casual observer. If you think you have never seen one of these creatures in person, rest assured that you probably have – you just didn't look close enough to appreciate its scary appearance.

The scorpion tail on this insect has no sting, and it has no claws or teeth to bite with. It's basically completely harmless. Whether the scorpionfly's dangerous appearance drives away predators is debatable.

Death and Scorpionflies

There is one thing about scorpionflies that is remarkably morbid, however: they are among the first insects to find and feed on a human corpse. This insect's attraction to dead things makes it useful to medical examiners, who use the presence of scorpionflies to help determine time of death. So while this little insect does possess a seriously dark side, it's also true that it is beneficial to humans.

A harmless house centipede

A harmless house centipede

6. House Centipedes

With their multitude of long thin legs and antennae, and their way of popping out from under that box you just picked up in your basement, house centipedes are undeniably creepy. Of all the bugs in your house, centipedes appear to be the most toxic and deadly, and it's understandable if your first impulse is to stomp them into oblivion. Add to that the fact that centipedes do possess a mild poison that they can inject into a bite, and you might wish they would leave and never come back.

However centipedes are truly harmless to humans. It would take a lot to persuade a centipede to actually try to bite you, since all they want to do is run and hide the minute you disturb their cozy home. If you did manage to catch, pick up, and provoke a little house centipede into trying to bite you, it would be barely noticeable, given their tiny pincers.

House centipedes are a great example of a common bug that looks deadly, but is actually harmless to people. When you consider that they help keep your dark corners cleans by eating crud that accumulates there, and that one of their favorite foods is actually cockroach eggs, there's really no reason to harass the helpful centipede population in your basement.

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The following sources were used for this guide:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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