Biting Bugs. Who? What? Why?

The Biting Bugs: What’s their deal?

         Imagine sitting in the backyard enjoying a fantastic afternoon and then it happens, you feel the pinch or hear the incessant buzzing of a flying bug. Anyone who has ever visited Muskoka, or Ontario, for that matter during the summer months has been bitten by an insect. Beyond the nuisance of being bitten, why do these bugs bite? What is the purpose? Why do some bites hurt more than others? Which insects bite me? In the following post, we will venture to answer a few of these questions, which hopefully will supply you with some knowledge about these insects.

The Pain

         The pain associated with these insects comes from their bite. Mosquitoes saw into the skin and suck blood through their needle-like mouthpiece. Blackflies and biting midges tend to cut our skin which hurts more than the mosquitoes’ needle-like mouthpiece. Stable flies tend to stab their way in, and the masters of pain, deer and horse flies, tend to chew and cut the skin with nightmare-inducing mouthparts.


         The reason that these bites tend to itch is due to the saliva of the insects. This saliva tends to contain anticoagulants that keep blood flowing. Mosquitoes tend to inject their saliva whereas the others slater it on the wound. Your body/immune system swiftly attacks this foreign substance, causing a raised itchy bump.

         Ticks which are akin to stealth artists take their assault farther by injecting an anaesthetic that hides their presence until the affected has a “what the heck is on me” moment. Dog ticks even put out an adhesive that makes them harder to dislodge.


         Biting flies, as well as mosquitoes, tend to prefer flower nectar to humans. However, they need protein from mammalian blood to produce eggs. So female Mosquitoes, black flies, stable flies, biting midges, horseflies, deer flies, and ticks search out humans and other mammals. For the most part, only the female insects tend to bite mammals however male stable flies, male ticks, and immature ticks of both sexes also bite.

         Carbon dioxide, body heat, and skin odour are all major draws for biting flies however motion also lures them in. The most commonly attracted to motion are horseflies and deer flies due to the presence of large eyes that are capable of detecting motion from a distance. They are particularly drawn to shiny, moving objects, i.e. swimmers. Ticks, however, are the hitchhikers of the insect world. They climb high on vegetation, raise their front legs and latch onto us as we brush by them.


What can happen?

         These biting bugs have the ability to transmit diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, and river blindness, which in other parts of the world can cause death and misery. Ontario is a relatively safe zone, however, with the appearance of diseases such as West Nile, it is not entirely without risk.

         West Nile is transmitted via the bite of an infected mosquito, its symptoms in humans are either indiscernible or it can manifest into a flu-like appearance. Extreme cases are very rare, however, the virus can lead to debilitation and death. Its area of impact has spread rapidly since its arrival in Canada in 2001. It now includes much of Ontario, southern Quebec, and parts of the prairies. This virus has also been seen in Alberta and BC. All of the people who live in these areas are at risk of exposure to West Nile, however, the likelihood of serious health effects is very small. There is no vaccine to West Nile so the best prevention is a reduction in your exposure to mosquitoes.

         The other major risk from these biting bugs is Lyme disease. This is an illness caused by bacteria transmitted by the black-legged or deer tick. While latching onto and sucking blood from a passing animal, the nymph or adult tick can acquire the bacteria or pass it on. These tick’s range is spreading perhaps due to rising global temperatures. However, family pets and wildlife, especially birds, tend to facilitate establishing new focal points by carrying ticks to new areas.

         Early warning signs of Lyme disease include but are not limited to joint pain, general flu-like symptoms, and at times a red rash around the bite. The recognized treatment for Lyme disease is the prescription of antibiotics which is usually effective in eradicating the disease. If left untreated, the disease may progress and cause symptoms such as arthritis, joint swelling, cardiac illness, or cognitive disorders due to infection of the central nervous system. However, it is typically considered not to be fatal.

         Well, I hope this was an informative blog with information regarding the reasons why bugs bite and why we have the human reaction we do to these bites. Look out for next week’s blog exploring the individual insects in more detail and as all ways stay safe out there from your friends at HRC Insurance.

Since the 1900's...

Born under the name George Hutcheson, Hutcheson, Reynolds & Caswell Ltd. began providing insurance policies in Muskoka since the early 1900s. Bernard Reynolds joined the firm in the 1940s and purchased the firm from George Hutcheson in 1967. Finally, in 1980, David Caswell joined the company's ranks to complete Hutcheson, Reynolds and Caswell. We have grown along with our name and provide the same dedication to superior customer service and top-notch insurance coverage that George Hutcheson was famous for over 100 years ago.