You can encounter many unpleasant insects while you're working in your garden, including blister beetles. These beetles secrete a poisonous chemical that leads to skin blisters, hence their name. Here are four things gardeners need to know about blister beetles.

How do you identify them?

Blister beetles can vary quite a bit in appearance. Generally, they're between 10 and 20 millimeters long, though some of them can be as small as 3 millimeters or as large as 70 millimeters. Their bodies are elongated and cylindrical, with broad, rectangular heads. Unlike other types of beetles, their bodies are soft with a leathery texture.

Their coloration varies significantly, just like their size. The blister beetles found in the eastern United States tend to be dull and can be easily mistaken for harmless beetles. In the western part of the country, they are much more colorful; this coloring may include bright shades of red or orange to warn people and predators to keep their distance.

Where are they found?

Blister beetles can be found across North America, so no matter where you live, they could be in your garden. Arid and semiarid regions, like the Southwest, have a greater variety of blister beetle species.

These beetles feed on both leaves and flowers, so you may see them crawling on your plants if you look closely.

How can you protect yourself?

Since blister beetles produce a dangerous chemical, you need to take precautions to avoid touching them with your bare skin. When you're working in your garden, make sure to always wear your gardening gloves. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants will also help to protect you from the beetles; it's also a good idea to wear closed-toe shoes, and if weather permits, boots.

Blister beetles play dead when they're scared, so if you see these beetles lying on the soil, don't assume they're safe to touch and pick them up without gloves. These beetles will release their dangerous chemical when you touch them.

How can you get rid of them?

There are many ways to get rid of blister beetles. Unlike other garden pests, you can't safely hand pick them due to the risk of blistering. One chemical-free way to kill them is to place a dish of soapy water beneath an affected plant, then gently shake the plant while wearing gloves. The blister beetles will fall into the soapy water and be killed.

Pesticides can also be used to kill blister beetles. Spray infested plants, as well as the surrounding soil, with a pesticide that is designed to kill beetles. Make sure to follow the package directions carefully and repeat the treatment as needed.

If you're having trouble controlling the blister beetles in your garden, contact a pest control company such as Mr. Bug Killer Inc for help.