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Dock spider
Photo by Ed Boutilier/Muskoka Blog

Coping with cottage creepy crawlies

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Spending a long weekend at the lake is all about reconnecting with nature. However, not all nature takes the form of deer fawns and fox kits. Yes, there’s plenty to love about cottage wildlife, but there are also plenty of icky, irksome, and occasionally dangerous creepy crawlies you’ll find during your time in the woods. Here are five of the main offenders and how to avoid them.

Centipedes

If you were voting for the creepiest of all cottage creepy crawlies, you’d have a strong case for the common house centipede. Whether it’s their shimmering, oily bodies; their twitchy rows of quick, dexterous legs; or the simple fact that they’re nocturnal carnivores prone to scurrying across the floor during our late-night bathroom trips, these long, quick insects are just plain frightening. And though they aren’t venomous like their cousins in other parts of the world, they still pack a bite.

Where you’ll find them: House centipedes thrive anywhere that’s cold, dark, and damp. Expect to find them in your cold room, shed, bathroom, or garage.

What to do: Sticky traps have proven effective against centipedes, but to keep them from coming back, you’ll want to seal off entrance points and fix any damp, leaky areas. Also, since they feed on other insects like silverfish, keeping their prey in check will ensure that you have fewer centipedes scuttling across your linoleum at night.

Carpenter ants

While they’re almost too small to be considered creepy, carpenter ants are a common problem in cottage country where wood structures are the norm. Unlike wood-eating termites, however, carpenter ants don’t devour wood. Rather, they bore through it, building tunnels for nests to house their massive colonies—and damaging your cottage in the process.

Where you’ll find them: Since they don’t eat the wood they tunnel through, you’ll find plenty of sawdust wherever carpenter ants are present. Look for sawdust in your basement, beneath your porch, or around cracks in your wooden walls.

What to do: If you can locate a nest (which will require tearing your walls apart wherever you hear ants rustling within), remove it with a vacuum cleaner. Otherwise, chemical ant traps and gel-based insecticides are your best bet for handling these invasive insects. Once an ant becomes contaminated with the chemical, it carries it back to its colony, effectively contaminating and ousting its entire population.

Dock spiders

Dock spiders are Canada’s largest spider species, and love them or hate them (yes, some cottagers actually profess to love them), they’ve become synonymous with the cottage lifestyle. These amazing arachnids can run along the surface of the lake thanks to their waxy, water-resistant legs, and they can even remain submerged for up to half an hour using air sacs stored on their legs and bellies! Luckily, these ever-present spiders are hunters rather than web-slingers (though they do spin small webs for their nurseries), so you don’t have to worry about dodging face-level webs while wandering to the outhouse. They do bite, however, and though their venom is mostly harmless to humans, their bites can be painful.

Where you’ll find them: They love lakes and streams, but they’re no strangers to the inside of a cottage. If you have a boathouse, you’re likely used to seeing them lounging on the walls, waiting for their next victim.

What to do: Spider sprays are effective against dock spiders, though you’ll have to apply it frequently. Another tactic that some cottagers have found successful, particularly on boats (and who wants to be trapped on a boat with spiders?) is placing moth balls in areas where you most often encounter them.

Ticks

Ticks have become a major problem in cottage country thanks to increasing outbreaks of Lyme disease in recent years. Two related species of tick can transmit the bacteria, which causes headaches, muscle aches, and fevers. If left unchecked, the disease can have serious consequences for your joints and nervous system and can even be fatal, so it is wise to take precautions.

Where you’ll find them: Ticks thrive in wooded and bushy areas, and are particularly pernicious in the spring, summer, and fall (though they can even be active on warm winter days).

What to do: Cover exposed skin before you head out for a hike, and be sure to check your dog when you return home. To be extra cautious, use a bug repellent with DEET. If a tick sinks its teeth into you, use tweezers to remove it as soon as possible.

Snails and slugs

If you’ve got a green thumb, then you have a mortal enemy in cottage country: snails and slugs live to devour the gardens you lovingly tend each spring and summer, and they’ll eat anything they can find. Your lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes are among their favourite snacks, as are flowering plants like lilies, iris, and tulips. But it’s not all bad news. Like earthworms, these slimy critters play a key role in breaking down plant matter and feces, returning nutrients to the soil so you can plant again.

Where you’ll find them: They most commonly congregate in gardens and grassy areas, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch where you step on your deck!

What to do: If hand-picking is too icky for you, there are plenty of effective chemical options for combatting slugs and snails. You can also go the natural route, using coffee grounds, beer, or even dog or cat food to deter them from eating your plants.