Friday, June 09, 2006

Canada's Biting Insects

Canada is famous for many things. Poutine, Mounties, and excessive politeness. However, within Canada, different aspects of Canada receive more attention, most especially the insects.

No one has bugs like Canada. Sure, the tropics have, on an organism level, nastier, uglier, and more Indiana Jones-worthy insects, but for sheer appetite and numbers, Canada gets the prize. Things aren't too bad here in Toronto as insect swarms tend to keep to more pastoral regions, but if you head north in Ontario, you will be utterly eaten alive.

This story in the Toronto Star reports about a man outside of Huntsville, ON, which lies about three hours north of Toronto, who attempted to evade police by hiding in the brush. However, he was forced to give himself into custody after being eaten alive by mosquitoes. The police used ample amounts of repellent and were able to wait the suspect out.

Besides your standard mosquito, Canada is also home to many other insects who enjoy biting you, and who also happen to live in large swarms thereby when you come across one of these little guys who likes to bite you, he brings along all five trillion of his friends (who also like to bite you.)

One of these insects is the Black Fly, pictured. The Canadian government even has a webpage about these critters here. In fact, they have many pages about all of the various sorts of biting flies this lovely country has to offer. They state (almost proudly) that there are more black flies here than mosquitoes. There's a reason to visit.

Black flies are so bad that Wade Hemsworth, a noteable Canadian, wrote a song about them after working in Northern Ontario on a surveying crew in the summer. The lyrics follow, taken from this website where you can download a version of the song to hear.

'Twas early in the spring when I decide to go
For to work up in the woods of North Ontario.
The unemployment office said they'd send me through
To the Little Abitibi with the survey crew

And the black flies, the little black flies
Always the black fly no matter where you go
I'll die with the black fly a Pickin' my bones
In North Ontar-i-o-i-o, In North Ontar-i-o

The man Black Tobey was the captain of the crew
He said, I'm gonna tell you boys, what we're gonna do
They want to build a power dam; we must find a way
For to make the Little Ab flow around the other way

So we survey the east, survey to the west.
We couldn't make our minds up how to do it best
Little Ab, Little Ab, what shall I do?
I'm all but goin' crazy on the survey crew.

'Twas blackfly, blackfly, everywhere
A-crawlin' in your whiskers, a-crawlin' in your hair
A-swimmin' in the soup and a-swimmin' in the tea
The devil take the blackfly and let me be.

Black Tobey fell to swearin'; the work went slow
The state of our morale was a-gettin' pretty low
The flies swarmed heavy; it was hard to catch a breath
As you staggered up and down the trail talkin' to yourself

The bull cook's name was Blind River Joe
If it hadn't been for him we'd 've never pulled through
He bound up our bruises and he kidded us for fun
And he lathered us with bacon grease and balsam gum

At last the job was over, Black Tobey said, we're through
With the Little Abitibi and the survey crew!
'Twas a wonderful experience and this I know;
I'll never go again to North Ontar-i-o

© 1957 Southern Publishing Co. Ltd.

Also famous even outside of Canada are the no-see-ums. No-see-ums are biting midges and they are so small that you probably will only know they are around when they start sucking your blood. Isn't that fun? An invisible blooksucker. Everyone's favorite party guest. One is pictured here.

Personally, I have yet to run in to any of these biting insects, though my experiences with mosquitoes in Kansas is that they are not that attracted to me. Not that I want to trapse into Northern Ontario to find out.

And at this point you are probalby asking yourself, why in the world would anyone live in Northern Ontario? The snows, the insects, the bogs, the bears... and I'll say right now that they don't. Hardly anyone lives in Northern Ontario, and those who do, well, yeah, I don't know either.


Blogger doug said...

How do the Canadian spiders compare with our Kansas varieties? Naturally, the vicious spider prize is held by Australia, but what have you got there?

9:23 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

We actually have hardly any spiders of note here. There are no black widows or brown recluses. I told some of the doctors here about brown recluses and they were horrified. Absolutely horrified. Spiders up here are itty things. They are either the random tiny house spider type that probably eats mites and gnats, or they have some smaller hunting types, but I've never seen those in the apartment. It is possible that in Northern Ontario they have some sizable web spiders who dine on these swarming insects, but the problem with Northern Ontario is that the insect season is very short and spiders do not generate as quickly as insects do. The growing season just isn't quite long enough for them to reach large sizes and any sort of late or early cold snap would damage the population. So despite the plethora of biting insects, we are reasonably spider-free, especially here in the T-O.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Mostly, I choose to live in Ontario for the maple syrup baths ... oh wait ... was I not supposed to say that out loud? Shoot.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Sshhhh! Don't tell them about the Maple Syrup baths!! Then everyone will want to move here.

9:24 PM  
Blogger nosetotale said...

Apparently you have never seen a large dock spider yet. I would estimate that they can jump about ten feet, and bite off a toe!

1:00 PM  
Blogger john said...

Um, I guess this problem hasn't been eliminated in the few years since you wrote this post?

3:53 PM  
Blogger Miss said...

Those are the very few biting things here... lol!!!
I've lived in \northrn ontario all my life, and its pretty easy to get used to...
and dock spiders are the shit!! they eat fish!!!!! but they will only bite you if you provoke them emough, ive held a dock spider in my hand before with no bade outcome lol!!!

5:22 PM  

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