Weird Facts About Northern Ontario Bugs

Northern Ontario is known for its bugs–we've rounded up some weird and quirky facts about these critters plus some advice on how to deal with them!

Insects are a part of life in Northeastern Ontario. But did you know they’re so infamous there’s an Oscar-nominated film about Ontario’s blackflies? Or that slathering yourself in animal fat can prevent mosquito bites?

With the help of Jacqueline Bertrand, a Horticulture Technician at Science North in Sudbury, we rounded up some weird and wonderful facts about bugs for your enjoyment. She also shared a few anecdotes relating to her work with insects at Science North—including the black widow spider she kept on her desk as a pet! 

We recommend reading these facts around the campfire next time you’re up north to take your mind off the bugs.

Top ten weird facts about bugs

Pass me that bear grease, would ya?

Bug spray is a relatively new invention, so Indigenous Peoples and early settlers had to get creative to keep the bugs away. How did they do that? According to Science North’s Bertrand, the answer is: bear grease. Yep! Lots and lots of bear grease. Apparently oily skin makes it tough for the bugs to land. While it may sound odd, fat from local animals was a standard defense against mosquitos back in those days. Down in the areas that are now Florida and Texas, for example, the Indigenous Nations used alligator grease!

If you film it, they will come

   A still from Blackfly. 

Blackflies are such a quintessential part of Northern Ontario, there’s even an Academy Award-nominated film about them! Check out the animated short Blackfly on the National Film Board of Canada’s website. Produced in 1991 by Christopher Hinton, and based on the song by folk singer Wade Hemsworth with backup vocals by the McGarrigle sisters, the film recounts an all-too-familiar battle with the pesky bugs.

Gender Roles

Female mosquitos are the only ones that bite. They use the iron and protein in human blood to make their eggs. So it isn’t personal! They’re just biting you in order to have healthy families… that can continue to bite you for generations. Both male and female mosquitos feed on water and nectar.

Come into my parlour…

 A black widow spider.

We asked Bertrand what's the weirdest non-native insect she’s ever encountered. Her answer? A black widow spider! A local grocery store worker had discovered it while unpacking some grapes. “Controlling his impulse to get rid of it (squish) he thought of us and brought it in to me,” she says. “I kept the little lady on my desk for three years to show visitors.”


Light-colored clothes really do keep the insects at bay. Apparently mosquitoes can spot dark colors more easily than lighter ones. So if you want to stay incognito—pack light. Literally.

Just 1,003 more bites to go…

The more often you’re bitten by a particular species of mosquito, the less likely you are to react to it. That’s why tourists are often plagued by bites their first trip up north while the locals are hardly bothered. The only downside is there are 67 species of mosquito in Ontario. That’s a lot of bites to endure to build up an immunity!

Bugs in books

A beautiful buggy book for summertime reading

They say to write what you know. That must be why there’s a ton of great Canadian literature that deals with bugs. Try Giles Blunt’s Black Fly Season, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's The Nettle Spinner, or check out this terrifying “Blackfly Rally” as imagined by Marni Jackson. If you want a stiff drink to compliment your reading, there’s even a Canadian cocktail company called Black Fly Booze!  

The circle of life

Mosquitos are no fun. The bites, the buzzing, the swarming—no thanks! But without mosquitos we’d be in trouble. These little insects are an important part of the food chain, providing nourishment for bats, birds, fish, frogs, spiders, and turtles. So take comfort in the fact that while the mosquito may be snacking on you today, it will soon be a meal for someone else.

What’s that on your face?

We asked Bertrand about Science North’s resident tarantulas. (Don’t worry—you won’t come across any of them on your camping trip. They are non-native to Canada!) Did you know, for example, that female tarantulas can live up to 25 years, while males only live up to five years? Bertrand also notes that tarantulas aren’t dangerous to humans—our fear of them is based on their size (some species have leg spans of up to 12 inches, yikes!) and from their portrayal in movies (think films like Arachnophobia).  Plus, the species you’ll find at Science North is one of the most docile of all the tarantulas: the easy-going Chilean Rose species.

Sweet Relief

Finally, we asked Bertrand what was the best, scientifically-proven way to relieve a bug bite? Her answer? “Scientifically, I can't say—but I swear by Vicks VapoRub.” So there you have it. Of course, if you really want to avoid the bugs up here, try visiting during the fall and winter! 

About Jennifer McCartney

Jennifer McCartney is a New York Times bestselling author. She has written a number of books including So You Want to Move to Canada, Eh? Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vice Magazine, Teen Vogue, and CBC.

Recommended Articles

5 Amazing Bike Rides to Discover

Varied terrain, quiet roads, and flowy trails—The Seven is calling.

Northern Lights in Northeastern Ontario

5 great spots in The Seven to find the Aurora Borealis.

Complete Guide to Moosonee & Moose Factory Island

12 essential experiences for visitors.

An Insider's Guide to Manitoulin Island

12 communities, sights, hikes and experiences that most first-time visitors miss!

Spectres of the Past: A Ghost Town Field Trip

Follow this trail of abandoned communities on a road trip through the history of Northeastern Ontario

Ontario's Secret Lagoon

Discover paradise just outside of Sudbury

Chasing Fall Colours Through The Seven: North Of Muskoka

A 7 day road trip in Northern Ontario

Hollywood Northeast

These hit TV shows were filmed in Sudbury & North Bay

The Northern Lights Trip Planner

3 trip ideas for an illuminating experience in Ontario

The Ultimate Guide to the Lumberjack Heritage Festival

The "Game" Panfish

Fishing for crappie and bluegill is fun, challenging, & different every day.

A Guide to Mushroom Hunting

How, when and where to go, and what to look for

The Lake Nipissing Loop

From french bakeries to trading posts, museums to winter hiking—add this epic weekend road trip to your bucket list

6 Best Places to Get Married in Ontario

From riverside resorts to a quirky science centre, here are some awesome wedding venue ideas!

Non-Resident Guide to Ontario's Whitetail

Know before you go.

Colder Than Expected

How to prepare for spring brook trout bounty.

Give Mountain Biking in Sudbury a Chance

Welcoming to all levels of riders!

No trout? Don't pout!

Turn that frown upside down at one of these Northeastern Ontario trout fishing lodges.

BIG Hikes - Duchesnay Falls' Never-Ending Cascades

Exploring the Marten River System

Checking in to Beaverland Camp for smallies—and a truly haunting pike experience.