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What are the swarms of black bugs taking over Alberta’s Pigeon Lake?

Click to play video: 'Insect infestation takes over Pigeon Lake southwest of Edmonton' Insect infestation takes over Pigeon Lake southwest of Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: If being around insects makes you squeamish, you may want to avoid Pigeon Lake southwest of Edmonton over the next few days. That's because the area is experiencing a lake fly infestation. Chris Chacon has more on how residents and visitors are dealing with these pesky creatures – May 30, 2021

They look like mosquitoes, they sound like mosquitoes, but alas, they’re not mosquitoes.

Visitors and residents around Pigeon Lake, Alta., have recently noticed swarms of mosquito-like black bugs taking over the area southwest of Edmonton.

“I think I’ve eaten four already,” said Travis Reid, who was enjoying a beach day on Sunday. “I don’t remember it being like this years ago.

Marjorey Buges arrived at the lake around 9:30 a.m. Sunday. She said she’s been to the area several times over the past few years but the bugs have never been this bad.

“We were swarmed,” she said. “It’s pretty bad… and the bug spray doesn’t help.

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“They’ll land in your mouth and your eyes, so that’s the annoying part about it.”

Both beachgoers admitted they eventually got used to the bugs and were still able to enjoy their days.

But what exactly are these bugs? Are they harmful? And for those trying to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors, how long will they last?

“The first thing you might think when you saw it is, ‘Woah! That’s a lot of mosquitoes!’ But it isn’t. Mosquitoes can hurt you and these ones can’t hurt you at all,” said entomologist Janet Sperling.

Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures were taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News

The chironomids look like mosquitoes but they don’t have mouthparts, so they can’t bite, Sperling explained. They are basically fish food.

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“All the mother fish are out there saying, ‘This is a superb year,’ because we have a whole lot of chironomids,” Sperling said with a smile.

Read more: Why do insects matter? Alberta bug course will tell you

Sperling said the larvae live under the ice and come out after it melts. She said the swarms we’re seeing this year are a great sign of a healthy lake.

“Fish love them and they’re actually an indicator too of a healthy lake. If you didn’t have chironomids, you’d have to worry that maybe there was some kind of pollution in the lake,” she said.

“To have this kind of mass outburst of chironomids is actually a good thing. It says that we have a nice, healthy lake.”

Pigeon Lake resident Darwin Gallagher said while the bugs typically come out every spring, this year is particularly bad.

“We’ve been here for three years. This has happened every year but up until this year, it’s only been about a quarter of this severity,” he said.

“There were just swarms of them all over and as you can see, they just cover your house.”

Gallagher said the bugs have forced them indoors.

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“Can’t mow my grass. We were supposed to put our dock and boat out today, can’t do that. There’s just too many bugs,” Gallagher said.

“It completely changes your lake house. As you can see coming in, I’m screening in the whole front deck. This is why. You can’t be outside.

“You just have to convince yourself they’re harmless. Totally harmless.”

Gallagher said he keeps the vacuum at the front door at this time of year. About three or four times a day, he goes all around the kitchen, living room and bathrooms to suck up all the bugs.

“You come out, you get in your vehicle and until you get to Leduc, even then, you haven’t gotten them out of your vehicle because they just swarm right into the vehicle.”

Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News

While the bugs may be a nuisance to those trying to get outside to enjoy the nice weather, Sperling stressed that the insects are not harmful. People don’t need to use bug spray to repel them because they don’t bite, she added.

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Because chironomids come out in swarms, Sperling encouraged people to wear their face masks to keep the bugs from flying into their mouths.

Sperling expects the insects to be around for the next few weeks.

“What’s fun about this is there’s that particular chironomid and then there’s another species and another species and another species,” she explained.

“So we’re going to have this for a while. We’re going to have the little ones and the bigger ones. But again, since none of them are going to bite you like a mosquito, it’s really not a problem.

“You can take the kids out, take a look at this really cool fish food and know that they were lucky that they happen to be here. This was a great year; 2021 was a great year for these particular chironomid midges.”

Read more: Edmonton anticipates fewer mosquitoes this year after dry winter, spring

She said the insects are a sight to be seen, and everyone should get out and experience the “perfect storm” of chironomids.

“It is a little bit like going to Africa and seeing the wildebeest on the Serengeti because we can go to Pigeon Lake and I know that the people of the Village of Pigeon Lake would love to see you,” Sperling said.

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“It’s going to be a beautiful weekend, and you can go and you can check out this amazing Alberta, kind-of-Serengeti thing when you get hundreds of them.

Sperling said June 8 is National Insect Appreciation Day. The Entomological Society of Alberta is encouraging people to get out and take pictures of the cool insects they see in their communities.

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Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News
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Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News
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Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News
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Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News
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Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News
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Swarms of chironomid midges have taken over Pigeon Lake, Alta. Pictures taken Sunday, May 30, 2021. Global News

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