What bit me?

By Jennifer BraggJennifer Bragg


Photo by basel101658/Shutterstock.com


So you’ve noticed some itchy painful bumps, welts, and spots on your skin. You’re convinced that a tiny critter managed to get in a few good nips while you were looking the other way. But you didn’t catch the little bugger, so you have no idea how to deal with the bites—or whether you should worry about more severe reactions. Here’s a handy guide that will help you identify the culprit and assess the damage.


Let’s start with an easy one. If you’ve ever set foot outdoors during the summer, you’ve encountered these meddlesome, blood-sucking little flies. When you’ve been feasted on, you’ll notice raised round pink bumps on your skin. They vary in size, but they all itch like crazy, especially the more you scratch them. Try to keep your hands otherwise occupied until they fade away in a few days.


These teensy parasites will latch on to moist areas of your skin like your armpits or your groin. It’s almost impossible to tell that you’ve been bitten unless you check carefully for them. If you find one, remove it with fine-tipped tweezers and try not to handle it with bare hands. In Ontario, blacklegged ticks are the only kind that can transmit serious illness like Lyme disease, but it’s still highly unlikely you’ll contract it. To be on the safe side, keep a close eye on any areas where you’ve removed ticks. If a large, red bite with a ring around it (that looks a lot like a bulls eye) appears, see your doctor immediately. This can happen up to a month after an initial bite and you may start to feel, feverish, fatigued and achy.


Do yourself a favour and resist the urge to Google “spider bites.” The web is full of gruesome images that give all arachnids a bad name. But the truth is that most spiders in Canada aren’t poisonous or even dangerous. If a spider bites you, your skin will swell slightly and you’ll experience mild pain, but that’s about it. It will feel very similar to a bee sting.


Unfortunately, these wingless menaces aren’t just a problem for your pooch—they can be quite the nuisance for humans as well. And even if you don’t have pets at the cottage, they can be spread through other animals like raccoons, squirrels, or bats. Fleas are fond of the folds of your skin—think armpits, knees, elbows, and ankles. Their red bites tend to cluster in groups of three and four and could be mistaken for a skin rash. The bites will itch and possibly even bleed, although the severity varies from person to person.

Bed Bugs

Although these insidious pests are a bigger epidemic in cities, you can still encounter them up at the cottage, especially if you’re renting property. It doesn’t hurt when these nighttime nippers attack you in your sleep, but their saliva will cause an allergic reaction that shows up as tiny red lumps. The bites generally appear in rows over uncovered areas of your skin. So if you love to sleep in the nude, beware!


These awful critters are more gruesome than their fellow flies. Instead of a needle-like mouth, horse flies have long mandibles that rip open your skin—even through layers of clothing. Long sleeves and socks won’t protect you from their wrath. Horsefly bites are quite painful and can be become inflamed and itchy while your body fights off a potential infection. Some people experience a more severe allergic reaction that may include hives, swelling around the lips and eyes, and dizziness. There’s also the danger of a bacterial infection. If you notice any pus around the wound site, have a doctor check it out.


Unlike mosquitos, which are most active at night, blackflies only bite during the day. They can be a huge annoyance during the most fruitful daylight hours of your cottage time. The bite symptoms are almost identical to mosquitos, but with slightly more swelling and pain.

Red fire ants

Fire ants weren’t originally native to Canada, but certain communities in Nova Scotia and Ontario have been colonized by these little critters after they spread throughout North America in the 1930s. If you get bitten by some (and you’ll usually be nipped multiple times when you stumble on a colony), you’ll feel a sharp pain. A day later you’ll develop white, fluid filled blisters or lesions that can take over a week to clear up.

Carpenter ants

These little guys generally only bite when you invade their space and threaten their colonies. They don’t cause much damage, but they do spray a formic acid into your skin, causing a burning sensation. Wash the bites with soap and water to relieve any pain.


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Aug. 22, 2013

10:04 am

I have just one comment on your information on spiders. Although most people may not suffer much from a spider bite - there are some of us that do and it can be serious. I took my 1 year old grandson to the hospital last week with a red mark and infection the size of a baseball, inflamed, fever, and blistered from where the venom was released within several hours. He was given antibiotics, and advised to return to a doctor a day later. This continue for over a week and he was quite ill. From researching through Google it looks as it may have been a SAC spider which is very common in Ontario. My advice would be to error on the side of caution and have it checked out when it does not look or feel right. And apparently there are alot of spiders that bite in Ontario.


Aug. 22, 2013

9:36 am

Excellent response, thank you. Anything else aside, I too would like to see information on deer flies, sand flies, and no-see-ums (the latter being my personal nightmare).


Aug. 22, 2013

8:42 am

There are so many issues with this article I barely know where to start! First, how can you write an article on biting insects at the cottage and leave out deer flies, stable flies, sand flies, and no-see-ums? Secondly, if you're going to include things like spiders and ants, that are only biting in self defense, why leave out other nasty biters like centipedes, giant water bugs, etc.? The burn from a fire ant is from its sting, not its bite, so why exclude bees and wasps from the article? Spiders are venomous, not poisonous (you can eat them all you like). My biggest issue, however, is the section on ticks. Lyme disease is a serious illness and you should not wait until you are exhibiting symptoms before going to see a doctor! The bull's-eye rash doesn't always show up, even if you do have Lyme disease and by then, you'll have let it progress farther than you want. Remove the tick with tweezers or a dedicated tick removal tool (available at your local vet for $5), put it in a sealed baggy, and take the tick to your local health office. They will test it to see if it is carrying the troublesome bacteria. If it is, your Dr. will probably put you on antibiotics as a preventative measure because the earlier you treat it the better your outcome.

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