bugs in the water?

I remember when i was a kid, swimming in the lakes, you’d here of someone who got ‘jiggers’ or ‘chiggers’? They were little bugs swimming in the water, but I dont think they were actually chiggers or jiggers. Chiggers live on land, and jiggers dont really exsist.

Anyone know what they really are?

water striders or whirligigs
Are two insects you see on the surface of the water. Whirligigs are a a small black water beetle that often swims in circles. Water striders sort of walk on the water with their legs doing a rowing type of motion. however their are many types of water bugs that live in the water.

Many, many kinds
My major in college and grad school was entomology, and I don’t even know what they all are. I know many of them though, and if you were to point one out to me, I could probably tell you what it is, or figure it out pretty easily (to the family level anyway, which with insects, is usually good enough).

Swimmer’s Itch?
Swimmer’s Itch feels a lot like a cluster of Chigger bites. Both were pretty common on a lake my Grandparents lived on in Southern Ill.


The other things to watch out for were balls (softball size) of Fire Ants rolling through the water. If the ball hits you, they spread and attack and resulted in a few drownings.

Swimmer’s Itch?
Are you talking about “Swimmer’s Itch” (aka “Lake Itch”, “Duck Itch”), that leaves intensely itchy bumps on your skin after swimming and feels like chigger bites?

If so, it’s caused by a flatworm (parasite) that infects snails and ducks. They penetrate your skin and quickly die, but cause a hell of a rash in some people due to the immune response. The good news is that it’s a sign of a clean, healthy lake and warm temperatures, and is usually only a problem near shore. The lake where I usually train is bad for this.

A good sunblock like BullFrog can help, as can toweling off briskly before you dry. There are also some very strong-smelling concoctions (basically zinc-oxide with some aromatics) that you can buy made specially for this, that also seem to work.

Greg Stamer


– Last Updated: Aug-10-14 10:13 PM EST –

swimmers itch...... thanks greg.

One cause of swimmers itch is from
goose, duck, and swan feces.

This is one reason we should not feed the water type birds. Sure they’re cute, but they generate “swimmers itch”.

Plus mother nature has provided food for them, so help keep our beaches clean and don’t feed the wildlife, no matter how “cute”. Swimmers will be thankful.

I’m confused and bemused
Gstamer says that the swimmer’s itch parasite is “a sign of a clean, healthy lake”. Shirlann says swimmer’s itch comes from “goose, duck, and swan feces.”

I’m having difficulty reconciling these statements.

This is sort of like a serious question,
isn’t it?


– Last Updated: Aug-12-14 1:05 PM EST –

At least in Florida, my understanding is that you don't find the ecosystem to support the necessary snails AND ducks (both are required to complete the life-cycle) in polluted lakes, so ironically it's the more pristine lakes, often spring-fed, that have the problem. At least, that is they only places where I have personally encountered the issue.

In my nearby lake with the problem, a "normal" population of Mallards is the problem, not flocks of nuisance Muscovy Ducks, Swans, etc.

Think more in terms of a wild clean lake, not central park...

Greg Stamer

they’re chiggers (not swimmers itch)
Chiggers are a sort of land-based mite. They are not the source of swimmers itch but they do bite and leave tiny red welts.

A jigger is a unit of liquid measurement used in mixing alcoholic drinks.

It is if you are susceptible
Google some images for “Swimmers Itch” and you’ll get the idea.

If you are susceptible and you kayak multiple times per week, then you can keep getting exposed again before you heal. It won’t kill you but can be a nuisance. If you like the feeling of chigger bites, or being covered in poison ivy, then you’ll love it.

For myself this tends to be an issue when I’m using my racing kayaks as they are too fragile to ground, so I wade in shallow water to launch/take-out. The parasites are released by the snails in shallow water near shore.

Greg Stamer

Mt Baker
County Park lake at road’s end north of Mt Baker has a Canadian (!) Goose driven parasite problem leading to skin rash.

small red spots
are chiggers.

I have not seen many chiggers since 1952 in rural New England’s hay fields…mostly around exposed earth bound rock structures.

But small redskin welts inflicted while you’re asleep are often attributed to ‘chiggers’ are probably fleas.



Like GBG, I am an ENT!
Plus my focus was medical and aquatic entomology.

Swimmer’s itch is caused by trematodes called schistosomes. As noted, the maintenance vectors are freshwater snails. The host is waterfowl, highly correlated with mergansar ducks, but other water fowl can act as a host. They generally occur near the surface. They have nothing to do with feces or water quality.

What happens is, these little buggers hang out in the snails, they sense a warm blooded creature makin’ waves, and they swim into your skin in the hopes your a viable host. But you’re a dead end host. The itch is them dead in your skin. Fun! Your body dissolves them, but the inflammatory response is a sight to behold. I’ve had it many a time wandering in really eutrophic ponds/marshes/small lakes collecting when it was too hot to be in waders all day.

Nothing to worry about at all compared to the trematodes in the same family that cause schistosomiasis, which is accounts for many deaths every year!

Canada Goose

– Last Updated: Aug-14-14 8:40 AM EST –

Their citizenship is undertermined.

Eggs passed in waterfowl feces.
Not completely true, the parasite eggs are passed into the water via the feces of waterfowl. That said, this doesn’t mean the water body is a cess-pool and is usually quite the opposite.

Lifecycle: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/86/Cercarial_LifeCycle.gif

Greg Stamer

Economic impact
The folks recreating at Higgins Lake in Roscommon, MI think it’s a pretty serious matter. As do the surrounding businesses. Serious enough to spend $58,000 on a study.


Prevention tips
This is only a problem in my area in the summer. Once the water temps cool off I have never had an issue.

I find that using “Swimmer’s Itch Guard creme” works, as does BullFrog gel sunblock. The itch guard is a commercial preparation you can find on the web. It’s a greasy concoction (mostly zinc oxide) that smells so strongly of Eucalyptus oil that my dog flees the room whenever I crack open the jar! You will either love the strong scent, or hate it. It leaves residue wherever your legs touch the kayak… I only use it on my legs when I will be wading.

I keep a small towel in the kayak and after launching I vigorously dry my legs – if the water dries on your legs with the “bugs” you will get “bit”. I do the same when getting out of the water, including a strong rinse from a hose if nearby.

If you wear water shoes, it’s common to get bit where the shoes touch the skin (and where clothing touches the skin).

You have to be quick, once you feel the itch it’s too late to prevent.

The “problem-areas” are near shore, particularly a windward shore. For rolling practice, often once you are in deeper water, you are probably OK. If you can launch/exit from a dock, rather than the shore, you can often avoid the problem altogether.

Greg Stamer

I wonder if reactions vary
One nearby lake has a history of problems with swimmer’s itch, and one time when I swam there, I got it. For me, it was just dozens of tiny, sharp bumps in my skin that went away in about a day and a half. No itch. After that, I always rubbed extra hard with a towel after getting out of the water and it never happened again (a brisk towel rub is supposed to be a good preventive measure. I suppose it kills the little critters before they have fully burrowed in, but I’ve never seen an explanation for why it works).

I wonder if the first exposure is no big deal, and if maybe subsequent exposures are worse, which is a common situation when it comes to the body’s reaction to foreign biological substances. I’ve heard that a child’s first exposure to mosquito bites gets no reaction for this reason.