Lakeside Bugs: How to Help Protect Yourself

Summer has arrived, and with it comes vacation plans. Many are planning to soak up the warm summer sun with an outing to their favorite nearby body of water. Unfortunately, along with boating, swimming, food and fellowship, you’ll probably face a host of flying and crawling creatures. Some of these lake bugs, which are not really bugs but are actually flies, are harmless and even beneficial, but others could potentially harm you and even your pets.

bugs at the lake

Here are some flies you may encounter at the lake, which ones you want to look out for and how to help keep them away.

Mosquitoes

As if the painful, itchy bites they can leave behind weren't bad enough, mosquitoes can carry pathogens that may cause diseases. Mosquitoes can also transmit the organisms that cause heartworm disease to your dogs.

Because females lay their eggs in water, areas of standing water around lakes and ponds are a favorite mosquito habitat. Before heading out to the lake, apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin, while being sure to follow label instructions. To help protect any dogs accompanying you on your lake excursion, consult with your veterinarian about heartworm prevention medication.

Gnats

These harmless flying insects need moisture to breed so they are often encountered near lakes and ponds, especially along shorelines. Though they may be seen congregating in large mating swarms in the evening, gnats do not bite. Still, they can be a nuisance. Minimize outdoor lighting and keep doors and windows closed or tightly screened to help keep them away.

Mayflies

Once they mature, these flying aquatic insects live incredibly brief lives. They only live for a few days. However, in that time, females are able to lay fertilized eggs under the surface of the water. Immature mayflies (nymphs) may live for as long as a year, going through many stages of development, or molts, before fully emerging. Often green or brown in color, mayflies do not bite and can be beneficial insects in that they provide a major food source for fish. In fact, the fishing lure in your tackle box has probably been designed to resemble an adult mayfly. If you are out on the water after hours or before sunrise, be aware that mayflies are attracted to artificial lights, so you should reduce those to help keep them away.

Horse Flies

These biting flies, like mosquitoes, are constantly in search of a blood meal. They may be common around lakes, ponds and streams where they prey on other insects. They also feed on livestock and other animals. An effective weapon against horse files is good sanitation. Clean up piles of animal waste and keep garbage containers tightly sealed.

Dragonflies

Dragonflies may occasionally buzz your boat, but there's no reason to be alarmed by these large, often brilliantly-colored insects. Dragonflies are top predators, amazing aviators and beneficial insects, helping to control mosquitoes by dining on their water-borne larvae.

Water Striders

These scientific curiosities skim across the surface of lakes and ponds, distributing their weight evenly on their four legs. Like dragonflies, they consume mosquitoes and will not bite humans.

Biting Midges (No-See-Ums)

Most midge species, like gnats, do not bite. However, these moisture-loving pests derive their popular name from the fact that they are so small — often measuring less than one-eighth of an inch — they often escape detection until they deliver their unpleasant bite. Like mosquitoes, female No-See-Ums bite and suck blood in order to get the protein they need to produce eggs. Luckily, like mosquitoes, you can help keep them at bay using insect repellent containing DEET.

Water Boatmen

Classified as "true bugs" (order Hemiptera), these flat, medium-sized (up to half-an-inch in length) insects are champion swimmers and divers. They are also vegetarians, feeding on algae and aquatic plants. Water boatman are harmless to human beings.

Ants

They’re everywhere, and some may bite and/or sting depending on the species. Some individuals can experience an allergic reaction upon being bitten and should take extra precautions. Give ants a wide berth, avoid their mounds, and if you're picnicking lakeside, keep your food containers tightly sealed.

Bees and wasps

You’re likely to encounter honey bees and bumblebees seeking nectar from any flowering plants blooming near lakes or ponds. Neither is particularly aggressive if you’re not perceived as a threat. Wasps and yellow jackets can be more aggressive, but unless you’re allergic to their venom, their stings usually only cause pain and swelling. As with ants, steer clear! In general, it's best to just leave these stinging insects and their nests alone if you see them.

For more tips on how to help not get stung by a bee, read "Why Are Bees Attracted to Me."

Spiders

Most spiders are harmless, but two can be dangerous: the brown recluse and the black widow. You may encounter either variety in or around lake cabins. Though usually not fatal to healthy adults, their bites can produce symptoms ranging from ulcerated sores to fever, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. When at your lake house, be careful in closets, attics, crawl spaces or really any area that often goes untouched, as black widow and brown recluse spiders like to hang out there.

For more information on venomous spider bites and treatment, read this article by Dr. Stephanie Richards.

Cockroaches

These creatures, which can be up to two inches long, may invade your lakeside retreat, finding everything they need to thrive there, including food, water and shelter. While they don’t normally bite, cockroaches can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Again, proper sanitation is important to deterring cockroaches.

 

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