Read our Maine bug primer before the season lands on you.

Maine has a lot of things going for it.

Pristine lakes. Gorgeous views. Nature trails. Miles of beaches.

And billions of mosquitoes and ticks ready and willing to saddle up to Cafe You for a snack.

Like the views and the beaches, the creepy crawly creatures aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying all the good things a Maine summer has to offer. 

Toward that goal, we present 10 things you should know about bugs in Maine this summer to help inform, protect and make you feel better about all those ladybugs you had last fall.

WE’VE GOT A LOT . . .

Black flies are out in force now; ticks and mosquitoes are gearing up.

“Mosquitoes are a little slower this year,” Jim Dill, pest management specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said in mid-May. “I think that’s mostly because we had a quick snow melt for the most part, so there wasn’t a lot of standing water early. But if we start getting some rain and stuff, they’ll pick back up I’m sure.”

Also here now or soon to be (among others): eastern tent caterpillars, browntail moths, various kinds of ants, ladybugs, flies, earwigs, white grubs and Japanese beetles.

And then there’s the western conifer seed bug, a gangly little brown creature you’ve probably seen but could never name. It buzzes like a wasp when it flies by your head, so that’s fun. Plus, it smells a lot like sour apple candy when you squash it. It is not recommended that you squash it. 

Except for ticks and mosquitoes, which are well-known to carry disease, most Maine bugs are more nuisance than dangerous. The western conifer seed bug, for example, is mostly known for eating the seeds of conifer trees. 

“If you want to consider that damage, maybe?” Dill said. “But on the flip side of that is I’m not sure we need a gazillion little pine trees growing underneath your pines that you’d just have to take out anyway.”    

. . . BUT IT COULD BE MUCH WORSE

While more than half the country has kissing bugs — biting insects that can transmit the potentially deadly Chagas disease — Maine has not seen any of them, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The emerald ash borer, a killer of ash trees, isn’t typically found in Maine, either. And the Asian longhorn beetle, known for decimating hardwood trees, may be “knocking on our door,” Dill said, but it isn’t here yet.

The lone star tick — probably best known for making its victims allergic to meat — is prevalent in other parts of the country but rare in Maine. Since 1990, a tick or two has been spotted in Maine each year, but most of them are likely inadvertently carried here by people or pets who visited a state where the ticks are more common, Dill said.

Despite recent media reports suggesting lone star ticks are moving into the Maine, Dill said follow-up searches have never found more than those one or two lone star ticks each year.

So you may get eaten alive by black flies at your next barbecue, but you won’t have to worry about a sudden allergy to your burger.

PRAY FOR A COOL, DRY SUMMER?

The good news: Most bugs need the right environment, which is often determined by the weather. And Maine’s weather can be fickle.

The bad news: There’s always some bug that will like the weather we’re having.

Wet weather brings on the mosquitoes. Ticks like it warm and humid. So if our spring and summer are warm, wet and humid, you can expect to see more of both.

We won’t know until that’s happened.

But what about the bad winter we had? That didn’t help a whole lot, at least not with ticks. Buried under snow, the tiny bugs were safely insulated from even freezing temperatures. Lucky them.

TICK BITE + SUMMER FLU = SEE YOUR DOCTOR

Last year there were 1,769 confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease in Maine, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s January report to the Legislature. Fifty-eight of those people, or 3 percent, were hospitalized.

But while Lyme is a problem throughout the state, it’s not the only tick-borne disease to be aware of.

Last year there were estimated to be 662 cases of anaplasmosis, 117 cases of babesiosis and three cases of powassan in Maine. Borrelia miyamotoi, a bacterium distantly related to the one that causes Lyme, popped up in six people, including at least one in Androscoggin County, according to the CDC report.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a tick-borne illness rarely seen in Maine, but one “that we get concerned about just because it’s a very severe illness and you can die from it,” said State Epidemiologist Siiri Bennett.

“One of the problems is that you can get infected by more than one disease,” she added. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’ve got Lyme disease, therefore I don’t have anaplasmosis.’ It doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you can get three infections, which is really awful.” 

Many tick-borne diseases start out with similar flu-like symptoms. If you think you’ve been bitten by a tick, Bennett recommends you mark the day on the calendar and go to the doctor if flu-like symptoms develop within 30 days. A “tick panel” blood test can help determine what disease you’ve got, if any.

While not all tests are accurate — the Lyme test, for example, is notorious for being wrong — Bennett said testing quickly is better than waiting.

“If there’s anything — a summer cold, a summer flu — go see your doctor and tell them that you’ve been bitten by a tick, particularly if it was engorged,” she said. 

PREVENTION IS KEY; NO LYME VACCINE *YET*

To help prevent mosquito bites, experts suggest you use good window screens and stay inside during dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

To help prevent tick bites, stay in the center of groomed trails when hiking and away from brush and woods that may be infested. If you do anything in the grass or forest — mowing the lawn, gardening, camping — wear long sleeves, long pants tucked into socks and a hat, and consider wearing clothes treated with the repellent Permethrin.

If you’ve been outside, dry your clothes on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks that might be clinging to them. Shower to wash off ticks before they become attached. Do a tick check — particularly under arms, in and around ears, in and around hair and between legs — to find any ticks that might be on you.

Bug sprays can help ward off both ticks and mosquitoes. The CDC recommends using EPA-registered repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, lemon eucalyptus oil or 2-undecanone. (The EPA has a handy search tool to help find the one that’s right for you. Go to: www.tinyurl.com/ybna58br )

Don’t count on a vaccine to cover you — at least not right now.

There is currently no human vaccine against Lyme, the most common tick-borne illness in Maine. One was available in the late 1990s, but its maker pulled it from the market in 2002 amid sinking sales and a class action law suit over side effects. (The lawsuit was settled not long after.) Another vaccine is in the works and the FDA has said it will fast track any approval of it, but the vaccine is not available yet. 

YOUR YARD MAY BE GROUND ZERO

You know not to tramp through the brush, but how about lounging on your lawn?

Yeah, maybe not a good idea.

Your yard is just as likely to harbor bugs this summer as anywhere else.

To prevent mosquitoes from calling your yard home, get rid of any water left standing for a week, no matter how insignificant it might seem to you. A leftover bucket of water from washing the car, clogged rain gutters or bird baths work fine for mosquitoes.

Ticks like grass, brush and woods, so clear your yard of brush and leaves, keep grass mowed short and set down tick barriers (wood chips or gravel work well) between the woods and your yard.

SORRY, BUT YOUR PET IS A BUG’S BEST FRIEND

Your dog only goes out in the yard, never the woods. Your cat takes only the  occasional foray outside. Both have been treated with vet-approved flea and tick repellent.

You figure there’s no way they can bring bugs in the house.

You’re wrong.

Bugs can hitch a ride on pets anytime they go outside, even if those pets stay in the yard. Repellents can help, but they may not kill every pest and may not work at all if the bug doesn’t bite. 

Experts suggest cutting your lawn short and keeping animals out of any tall grass, brush or wooded areas to lessen the chances they’ll come in contact with ticks. They recommend checking for bugs on pets every time animals come inside, thoroughly brushing pets at least once a week and regularly vacuuming the house — including pet beds, couches and carpets — to pick up stray bugs that were brought inside. 

ANTS: SOME BITE, OTHERS WILL EAT YOUR HOUSE

A half-dozen types of ants call Maine home, including common pavement ants, outdoor-loving cornfield ants and invasive European red ants. 

Maine ants aren’t necessarily a problem if they find their way in the house. Some forage for a while, then move back out when the weather gets nice.

But carpenter ants — black or red — eat wood. When your house is made of wood, that’s not good. 

“Usually it’s wet wood, so that means you probably have two problems. One, you’ve got a leak someplace. It could be a gutter, it could be whatever,” Dill said. “And then, of course, now you’ve got carpenter ants chewing in the wood and nesting in the wood.”

If you see ants in your home, Dill recommends that you identify them, fast. If left unchecked, carpenter ants can cause structural damage.

THE BROWNTAIL CATERPILLAR: IRRITATING, DANGEROUS

Browntail moths have been in New England for more than 100 years, but they’re an increasing problem in Maine.

As caterpillars, browntail moths feed on hardwood trees and shrubs, causing damage. It’s their impact on humans that gets the CDC concerned.

The caterpillars’ fine hair is poisonous and can cause a rash not unlike the one caused by poison ivy. Touching a caterpillar will bring it on, sure, but so will coming in contact with airborne hair from living, dead or molting caterpillars. 

“Those can still stay, irritating for two or three years later,” Dill said. “So even though you say, ‘Gee, we don’t have any browntails this year, I’m going to go and rake things up,’ you go out and start raking and all of a sudden you’re hurting because you stirred up the hairs that were laying on the ground in the leaves and stuff. You’ve got yourself a nasty rash and you’re sitting there saying, ‘What did I do? How did this happen?'”

Inhaling hairs can be even more dangerous, leading to problems breathing.

There is, unfortunately, little Mainers can do to protect themselves. 

“If you’re in a browntail area, what we recommend is going right inside and taking a shower just as soon as you get done raking or whatever. Hopefully what that does is wash most of the hairs off your skin,” Dill said. “Don’t wait around.”

The Maine CDC lists browntail moth exposure risk for 2018 as high along the coast, including in Topsham and Brunswick. (Turner, oddly enough, is nowhere near the coast, but it’s also considered a high-risk area.)

Nearby inland towns — Auburn, Sabattus, Lisbon, Wales and Monmouth — are moderate risk. The exposure risk in Lewiston, Greene, Leeds and Livermore is listed as low, but the caterpillars webs have been found there.

AND ABOUT ALL THOSE LADYBUGS . . .

You come home one fine fall day to find dozens of little red dots crawling all over your kitchen wall. Some of the dots have clustered in a corner of the ceiling. A few rogues have hidden among the folds of your curtains or are sitting on the windowsill.

One lands on your head.

You’ve been invaded by ladybugs.

They don’t carry disease, don’t destroy your home and are actually considered lucky in a number of cultures. So there are worse bug infestations to have. But they can be annoying — and dismaying — in great numbers.

“Even though they don’t do anything (bad), you get hundreds of ladybugs crawling around, dropping into your tea or on your dinner plate,” Dill said. “We’ve had people call us in the fall when they’ve literally had hundreds, if not thousands, of ladybugs in their house.”

If this sounds familiar, now is the time to start warding against them.

“All summer long, if you really want to work at it, try to caulk all your cracks and crevices, especially if you’ve had a problem with them,” Dill said.

The tiny bugs can find their way into a home through any open space, so Dill recommends that Mainers start hunting down and filling in those spaces around June. In particular, think windows and doors.  

An added benefit: Flies and other bugs will buzz off, too.

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