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The pests of most concern to Alaska's visitors are mosquitos. The good news is that they are simply an annoyance and do not transmit disease-causing agents to humans in Alaska. At worst, a visitor may have an allergic reaction to a sting, in which case he or she should carry the necessary precautions against a severe reaction.

The majority of insects in Alaska belong to the order diptera, a varied group of insects commonly known as flies. Many of them have proboscises designed for piercing skin and sucking blood from animal hosts.

It is important to not allow the presence of insects to discourage you from enjoying Alaska. The best defenses against insect pests are insect repellant and mosquito nets. Don't forget, mosquitos can pierce through normal long sleeves!


Magnified picture of a Sand fly with a white background
Sand Fly

Biting Midge, No-see-ums, Sand Flea, Punkie (Ceratopogonidae)
While these guys usually annoy livestock, they will sometimes bite a human. Truthfully, their loud buzz of attack is probably the most obnoxious thing about them. Similar to mosquitoes, it is only the females that seek protein-rich blood to lay eggs.  

Although no-see-ums are significantly smaller than mosquitoes, their bites are more painful and they can bite through light clothing as well as fly through screens. Tightly woven outer garments that do not directly contact the body help prevent biting as do common bug repellents.

Magnified picture of black fly with white background
Black Fly

Black Fly, White Sox (Simuliidae)
These bugs have nasty bites that can itch and swell for weeks! The biting season starts in May and lasts until things start freezing up. Their activity is relatively localized, mostly around the streams from which the adults emerge. These are crawlers, and will crawl under clothing to bite the skin, so tucking your pants into your socks and wearing a light, hooded parka with tight wrists and a drawstring hood will greatly reduce biting.

Blow Fly lands on the tip of lavender
Blow Fly

Blow Fly (Calliphoridae)
Blow flies and other insects attracted to filth, breed in animal and human feces, decaying organic material, and garbage. The adults are attracted to human food, which they contaminate with bacteria as they walk over it. Proper disposal of human waste and garbage will help eliminate the problem, so please use appropriate containers and waste dumping stations.

Black and white drawing of leech
Department of Natural Resources

Alaska's lakes and ponds host 11 kinds of leeches and at least one is capable of attaching itself to a human host. They are found in, but not necessarily restricted to stagnant and slow-moving water in Southcentral Alaska. Though leeches are present in many bodies of water in Alaska, they are not any more common than anywhere else in the United States, and the likelihood of finding one on the body after spending time in water is miniscule.

Mosquito biting skin and filling with blood
Mosquito Feeding

Mosquito (Culicidae)
The mosquito is the unofficial state bird for a reason! Alaska has 35 species of mosquitoes. None of Alaska's mosquitoes are known to carry any disease, but they do leave itchy welts that can take days to go away. Their population reaches a peak around June. Repellent is quite effective against bites. In the event that you are bitten, apply a topical antihistamine or aloe vera to sooth the swelling.

Mosquitoes do not like dry heat, so warm, dry areas are good places to avoid their bites. Lighter colored clothing is also less attractive to mosquitoes than darker colors. Scented lotions, soaps, and shampoos may attract them. If mosquitoes are dense, try wearing a headnet with a billed hat to keep the netting away from your face. Also, find a windy place to escape most of them. Finally, avoid exposure in the morning and evening - when mosquitoes prefer to feed.

One Yellow-Jacket with a white background
Yellow Jacket

Stinging Insects
Alaska has it's share of stingers like yellow-jackets, hornets, wasps, and bees. Their venom is painful and itchy for awhile, but usually not otherwise dangerous. However, severe allergic reactions to these stingers can be fatal. These insects are often attracted to meat, fish, food, sweets, garbage, and moisture. They aren't usually aggressive, but they will sting if provoked. They tend to retreat to their nests at night.

Microscopic image of a pair of Schistosoma
Microscopic magnification of a pair of Schistosoma

Swimmer's Itch (Schistosomes)
The larvae of schistosomes can cause Swimmers's Itch, an irritating condition of itching and scratching that can last for up to a week. These larvae get under your skin when you swim in local waters, especially areas that are shallow and warm. It's best to avoid these areas, especially if you hear other swimmers complaining about the problem. If you towel yourself off effectively and thoroughly, this can remove the larvae before they make it under the skin.

References and Link

"Alaska Science Forum: Bugs Index." Alaska Science Forum: Bugs Index. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2012. <>.

Kenk, Roman, Roger F. Cressey, J. B. Burch, Nancy Foster, John R. Holsinger, Harley P. Brown, W. D. Williams, Donald J. Klemm, H. H. Hobbs, V. R. Ferris, J. P. Tjepkema, J. M. Ferris, and J. B. Burch. "Freshwater Leeches of North America." Biota of Freshwater Ecosystems: Identification Manual. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1972. N. pag. Print.

Rutledge-Connelly,, Roxanne Rutledge-Connelly,. "Biting Midges, No-see-ums, Culicoides Spp." University of Florida, May 2005. Web. 16 Aug. 2012. <>.

Whitworth, Terry (July 2006). “Keys to the Genera and Species of Blow Flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) of America North of Mexico” (PDF). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 108 (3): 689–725.

A close up of a magpie standing on a pile of twigs and grass. Magpies have a dark head and chest which a bright band of white on the belly and upper wings with brilliant blue tail feathers. Did You Know?
Magpies are a common site in urban and rural areas of Alaska and can be seen throughout the entire year. Listen for their songs that mimic other local birds.