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How to Protect Yourself from Mosquitoes and Pests
 

Note: This Embedded video resides on the official Alaska National Park YouTube channel

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. 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.

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 and pants!

 



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

Biting Midge, No-see-ums, Sand Flea, Punkie (Ceratopogonidae)
While these guys usually annoy livestock, but they can also be a nuisance to outdoor lovers of all kinds. They are generally found in semi-aquatic or mountain habitats. 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. 

There are many ways to protect yourself from these bites. The easiest deterrent is insect repellent. Tightly woven outer garments that do not directly contact the body also help prevent biting. In addition, extra fine mesh netting will help keep these pests out of your camping tent.

 



Black flies feed off of mammal blood and nectar for nourishment. They can be dangerous transports of infectious diseases.
USACE
Black Fly

Black Fly, White Sox (Simuliidae)
Black flies feed off of mammal blood and nectar for nourishment. In foreign countries, black flies can be dangerous transports of infectious diseases. However, there are no known diseases transmitted through humans within the United States. 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 in October. Their activity is relatively localized, mostly around the streams from which the adults emerge. The most effective control program for these pests are run by the state. Physically altering their habitats and conducting aerial insecticide sprays will alleviate most black fly populations. These are crawlers, and will crawl under clothing to bite the skin. Personal preventative measures include: tucking your pants into your socks, wearing a light hooded parka with tight wrists, and a drawstring hood will greatly reduce biting.




Blow Fly lands on the tip of lavender
UCANR
Blow Fly

Blow Fly (Calliphoridae)
These flies are only seasonal pests, as they become inactive in cold temperatures during the winter months. Blow flies and other insects attracted to filth, breed and lay eggs in animal and human feces, decaying organic material, and garbage. These mosquitos are essential components within nature, as they help with the decomposition process in dead animal carcasses. Mature flies can then find their way into a house through a broken sewer, garbage, or forgotten rodent in the basement. The adults are then attracted to human food, which they contaminate with bacteria as they walk over it. Fly strips and swatters will stop the intruders before they become out of control. Proper disposal of human waste and garbage will help eliminate the problem, so please use appropriate containers and waste dumping stations.



There are 35 species of mosquitoes in Alaska.
CDC
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.



Yellow jackets are the most aggressive type of bees and usually the cause of stings.
NPS
Yellow Jacket

Stinging Insects
Alaska has it's share of stingers like yellow-jackets, hornets, wasps, and bees. Yellow-jackets are the most aggressive and often responsible for stings. Most live in colonies, characterized either as a worker, queen, or drone. Bee colonies can either exist in the open air or in rodent burrows underground. 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.



Black and white drawing of leech
Department of Natural Resources
Leech

Leech
Leeches are segmented worms that live in freshwater environments. They live on the bottom of bodies of water, commonly found under rocks or leaves. Leeches feed on the blood of both vertebrate and invertebrate animals, by detecting their prey through vibrations in the water. After detecting prey, they will emerge from hiding and use their excellent swimming capabilities in attack. Leeches can attach to the host with their mouth or tail. After attachment, the leech numbs the surrounding skin on the host and releases an enzyme allowing blood to flow more freely to the parasite. 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.



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

Swimmer's Itch (Schistosomes)
Swimmer's Itch is an allergic reaction given as a result of microscopic parasites under human skin. The larvae of schistosomes causes 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. This rash is most commonly found in freshwater lakes and ponds, but can also occur in similar saltwater habitats. It's best to avoid these areas, especially if you hear other swimmers complaining about the problem. Humans are not appropriate hosts for the larvae, and these parasites will die under the skin within days. Although uncomfortable, this reaction is short and can easily be treated with medication. If you towel yourself off effectively and thoroughly, this can remove the larvae before they make it under the skin.



References and Links

 

"Alaska Forest Health Protection Program." Division of Forestry. Alaska Department of Natural Resources, n.d. Web. 8 July 2014. <http://forestry.alaska.gov/insects/>.

 

"Insects and Diseases." Integrated Pest Management Program. Cooperative Extension Service, 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www.uaf.edu/ces/ipm/insects/>.

"Pesticide Control Program." Division of Environmental Health. State of Alaska, 2011. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://dec.alaska.gov/EH/pest/index.htm>.

"Pesticides." US EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 20 June 2014. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/>.

"Pest Management Overview." National Institute of Food and Agriculture. United States Department of Agriculture, 27 July 2007. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/pest/pest.cfm>.

"Section 2: Snapshots of Public Health Preparedness in States and Directly Funded Localities: Alaska." Emergency Preparedness and Response. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 08 July 2014 <http://www.bt.cdc.gov/publications/feb08phprep/section2/alaska.asp>.

Alaska Mosquito and Biting Fly Pest Control Supplemental Information Category Ten (2012): n. pag. Department of Environmental Conservation, Dec. 2012. Web. 7 July 2014. <1.usa.gov/1thuyOZ>.

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Barrett, Tony, Patrick Bloecher, Mariah Ervin.Bed Bug Complaints on the Rise. Anchorage: State of Alaska Epidemiology, 2014. Department of Health and Social Services, 18 Mar. 2014. Web.

Holsten, Edward, Paul Hennon, Lori Trummer, James Kruse, Mark Schultz, and John Lundquist. Insects and Diseases of Alaskan Forests (2008): n. pag. United States Department of Agriculture. Web. 7 July 2014. 

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.

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.

Wittwer, Dustin, comp. Forest Insect and Disease Condition in Alaska(2001): n. pag. Web.





 
Distant view of Mt. McKinley on a perfectly clear day. The mountain is fully covered in snow. Did You Know?
When measured from the 2,000 foot lowlands near Wonder Lake to its snowy summit at 20,320 feet, Mount McKinley has a vertical relief of over 18,000 feet, which is greater than that of Mount Everest!
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