You’ve probably heard of the infamous Northern Ontario black fly season, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the great outdoors! There are a few simple tips which will make your next outdoor adventure safe and fun without uninvited guests ruining the party.
There are many insects that may be considered a pest that reside around the shores of Lake Superior. Some of the more common include black flies, mosquitos, and ticks.
Black flies refer to dark insects, 1-5mm long which belong to the family Simuliidae. They lay massive numbers of eggs per day and you are likely to see large amounts when travelling in any natural areas. The flies play an especially important part in the ecosystem: The eggs feed all sorts of fish and aquatic life, and the flies fertilize riverbanks.
Listen to our personal favourite folk song written about the black fly by Canadian artist Wade Hemsworth.
Spanish for “little fly”, these creatures have been on earth for at least 99 million years, but some studies suggest even longer. Canada boasts the second oldest fossil of a mosquito trapped in amber, although to our knowledge, no dinosaurs have been cloned yet. They lay their eggs in river systems or moist soil. They are an important part of the ecosystem, providing a food source to fish, reptiles, bats, and birds and even pollinate certain flowers.
These cute little guys are technically not insects but are parasitic arachnids. They are typically 3-5mm long, although their size varies based on how ”full” they are. They have been present for at least 100 million years and were even known to feed on the dinosaurs!
When to look out for them
Black flies: The season is from mid April until July. They are most active during the daytime.
Mosquitos: Active from May until August. Tend to be most active during dawn and dusk, although you may encounter them at any time.
Ticks: They are active any time the average temperature is above 4 degrees Celsius or 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where to look out for them
Black flies: They are especially abundant in northern wooded areas and near large rivers and lakes. Though they aren’t good flyers in the wind. Gusty breezes that Lake Superior tends to whirl up can deter flies from its shores.
Mosquitos: You will commonly see them around marshy, swampy areas, stagnant water and after heavy rainfall.
Ticks: They tend to like warm, humid environments and typically do not like to be in direct sunlight. This means that long grasses and shady areas are more likely to harbour ticks.
Protection and Prevention
You should wear long sleeves and pants. For extra protection, and to look extra “fly”, try tucking your pants into your socks, and your shirt into your pants. You should wear light colors. There are commercially available insect hats with netting if you need that extra bit of protection for your face.
Bug Spray – Sprays are an excellent way to make you less appetizing for these bugs. A repellant containing DEET (Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a tried-and-true method that is safe and effective. There are many other repellants available for purchase but always ensure to follow the instructions for use on the packaging of any purchased products.
DIY – If the usual commercial products aren’t your thing you can make your own repellants with essential oils that flies despise but actually smell great. Essential oils such as lemongrass, lavender, clove, mint, rosemary and citronella will keep those flies away. You can make your own spray or soak pieces of fabric in the oils and hang them around your campsite or on your back pack when hiking.
Fire! – You can also try burning a citronella candle or a mosquito coil in your area to repel flying insects. A camp fire will also help smoke those flies out!
Vodka? – Not just good for a nice cocktail around the campsite. Flies hate the smell of this liquor. You can try pouring some in a ziplock bag, close it most of the way and hang some around with twine or clothes pins. Just use the cheap stuff for the flies. Save the Grey Goose for your martinis.
If you are eating or lounging outdoors, try to do so in an enclosure with a full bug net such as a dining tent.
Flies love garbage! Make sure to clean up sticky spills, cover trash well and dispose of it properly and pick up after your furry traveling companions.
Black Flies: These will leave small welts on the skin usually with a small amount of blood. They are painful and itchy. AfterBite is a product you will probably want to pack with you for any outdoor excursions. You can also try calamine or hydrocortisone cream. An oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, may help as well.
Mosquitoes: Small raised bumps which will be itchy, swollen, and painful. Treat these bites in the same way as black fly bites.
Ticks: These are generally painless, but you will see a tick lodged in the skin for up to 10 days following the bite. Later you may see a red bump or “bulls-eye” rash centered around the bite.
If the tick is lodged inside of your skin, it is important to remove it correctly. Grab a set of tweezers or forceps, place them as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick straight up and out. Try to avoid twisting. Inspect the bite to ensure all of the tick has been removed and if any parts are left over, remove those as well. The tick can either be saved in a sealed, airtight container and brought in for identification to your doctor’s office or health unit, placed in rubbing alcohol to kill it, or burn it with fire!!! Killing the tick may make it impossible to identify if you bring it in.
Fun Fly Facts
- Only female mosquitos are adapted to pierce the skin of animals and humans. Why can’t these gals just stick to flower nectar like the fellas do?
- Mosquitoes have a particular appetite for delicious type O blood.
- They also love heavy breathers and high body heat, so sweaty, panting hikers beware!
- Mosquitoes are everywhere in the world! Well, almost everywhere. You can take an expedition to Antarctica to avoid them completely.
- There are more than 2,300 species of black flies in the world and 164 can be found in Canada. So, it could be worse I suppose.
- Flies fertilize riverbanks with literally tonnes of fly poop every day! Think about that next time you’re fishing.
- Flies experience time in slower motion compared to humans. So that lightening fast fly swatter of yours is often little match to them.
So in conclusion, yes, bugs can suck….literally! But they are also an integral part of the ecosystem that makes Northern Ontario so great. With a bit of preplanning you can ensure that your visit here is a pleasurable one by avoiding pesky black flies, mosquitos and ticks a bit better. The Northern Ontario black fly season doesn’t have to be so bad.
If you want to learn about wildlife that you actually want to spot on your trip check out this Lake Superior Wildlife Blog