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Bugs bug me

September 10, 2013

I was in Savo on the weekend visiting with the in-laws, one reason was the annual fish festival known as Kalaryssäys and the Mr.’s dad will be overseeing it for the last time. That is another story…

According to the Mr.’s mom it hasn’t rained a whole lot lately, which I am not sure about. It has been so dry in Espoo this summer that it has been a poor mushroom season, so I went looking for mushrooms while we were visiting the Mr.’s parents. That’s only part of the story…

It’s great to be in the bush when it is still so nice out, save for one thing – the bugs and other critters that fly and crawl. Now I can handle mosquitoes and blackflies, as a Canadian these are par for the course in Northern Ontario – slap on the bug stuff and go. What I have come across here is enough to give anyone the heebeejeebies: ticks (singular: punkki) and deer flies* (singular: hirvi kärpänen or Lipoptena cervi). These are Finnish words you should know if you spend any time in the bush.

I was warned by my brother in-law’s girlfriend: they’re out there: deer flies. “And that’s why I don’t go in the bush at this time of the year,” she said. I thought I would take my chances because I wanted to go looking for mushrooms, so I pulled on some snug-fitting clothes, put on a hat and out I went.

The in-laws house is in the middle of an open area, but the long grass and the bush are about a 100m walk from the house. Five minutes in the bush and I heard the first Z-z-z-z—zhup! A deer fly – smacked into the side of my face and promptly crawled under my hat. It was to prove an annoying time over the next hour. Don’t know what a deer fly looks like? Check here.

I did find some mushrooms – lots of them in fact and even learned a new species, the woolly milk cap, or karvarousku in Finnish. But I found several deer flies on my clothing, under my hat and even in my pack sack after getting back to the house. Yuck! Deer flies are know to bite, but other than itchy bites, they are more of a nuisance to people than a threat.

Ticks, however, are among the most fearsome animals in Finland. Yes, really. Large predators are rare and they’re more afraid of us than we are of them. Ticks – those little blood sucking creepy crawlies are nearly invisible. There’s some handy background information here, from (the now defunct) Helsingin Sanomat International.

Yes, I know because found one between my toes this morning. “Wha?” you say. Yes, really. I’ll bet that I picked it up whilst on my sojourn at my in-laws… In asking around here at work, I discovered we didn’t have any tick tweezers here, so it was necessary for me to visit our company’s healthcare provider. The verdict: tiny, tiny tick successfully removed by the hands of a skilled nurse. <huge sigh of relief>

And just a week and a half ago, I found a tick behind the Little Miss’ ear. I am unskilled in tick removal, so I gathered up what I needed and paid a visit to my neighbour. The Little Miss had been out in the bush with her kindergarten class, so it was not a surprise. I informed her teachers, who were grateful for the information.


Ticks are scary – really scary. Every year several hundred people in Finland become ill after being bitten by a tick, but sometimes do not make the connection between their symptoms and where they have been. Some people develop Lyme disease as a result.

There are three lessons to share here:

#1 If you spend any time in the bush, be sure to shake your clothes off outside before going in, and give your skin a check to make sure no one has hitched a ride.

#2 Be sure you have tick tweezers and disinfectant handy – even at your workplace. You can buy them from any pharmacy and maybe even in the bigger grocery stores.

#3 If you have had a tick removed, follow up on it and observe the area from where it was removed. If it gets red and swollen and/or you observe cold and flu-like symptoms, go back to the doctor.

Jeez, I have the creepy crawlies just writing this… Ugh!

*What we know as deer flies in Northern Ontario are completely different to these pests.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Finn permalink
    September 10, 2013 2:24 pm

    I’ve been following your blog and I think the nature in Finland is not so different than it is in Canada. Depending of course where you are in that big country. I live in Espoo too and I’m glad we don’t have “hirvikärpänen” here. Also it’s “karvarousku”. The big difference between Finnish and English is that in Finnish if you think it’s “yhdyssana” it probably is. In English if you have to think it then it probably isn’t a compound word. Just my 2 cents. Keep it up!

    • September 10, 2013 9:52 pm

      Well Finn, when I was a kid I never had to worry about ticks in Northern Ontario, which is virtually the same as here. The first time I ever heard about ticks the need to look out for them was on a field trip to the midwest US in 1994.

      Actually we do have hirvi kärpänen in Espoo – got bombarded by one last fall. But you’re right, you don’t see many of them here that’s for sure.

      Thanks for the correction on karvarousku – it’s fixed now. 🙂

      • anonymous permalink
        September 12, 2013 7:32 pm

        It’s the same with hirvikärpänen. Basically you always write (and say) it as a compound word, if it describes a singular concept:
        Consider koiranruoka, dog food, and koiran ruoka, (a/the) dog’s food. Both of which are different from koiraruoka, which is not served in Finland. Also, you can’t have two separate, basic form nouns after one another – either it should be a compound word or they should have some punctuation between them.

      • September 13, 2013 7:22 am

        Well, even though I have lived here for nearly 15 years – I will always have to refer to a dictionary to find out if I need to use a compound word or not. The point is that people understand, right? But when I googled hirvi kärpänen it came up as two words.

      • anonymous permalink
        September 13, 2013 5:32 pm

        Well, you did give it two separate words, right?
        Google doesn’t really do grammar.

  2. Sonia permalink
    September 11, 2013 11:09 am

    I think there is still a good tick situation here (especially with the minority of infected ticks) compared to e.g. Austria, but you’re right, they are on the increase. I observe it on my cat (who’s walking outside). Even the anti-tick medicine does not properly help and it’s a huge portion of poisonous stuff for the poor creature – still some ticks take the risk to stick on him.

    I’m not sure if it’s as good for human as for animals, but the tickbar (punkkirauta) is better than any other gadget. You get it in a pharmacy. I’m not so skilled about this kind of removals from human body (didn’t have to), but with Oliver it’s not any issue, provided that I get through the bushy fur.

    Applause for our company nurse! I’m not sure you’d have it done in a municipal service… queuing with a tick. 😉

    • anonymous permalink
      September 12, 2013 7:36 pm

      The point of anti-tick stuff for dogs is not that the ticks don’t target the animal but that they die before they bite if they do. You can then just brush them off.
      Or are you talking about some medicine taken internally?

      • September 13, 2013 7:23 am

        Oliver is a cat, anonymous. 🙂

      • anonymous permalink
        November 23, 2013 10:21 pm

        Whatever. You don’t notice the difference anyway when it’s cooked.

  3. Sonia permalink
    September 13, 2013 10:37 am

    I speak of Frontline for cats 🙂 . Last year worked fine, they left him alone (no ticks or sometimes “dry out”) Now they often stick and suck even after a fresh application (onto Oliver’s neck). I heard from dog owners that Frontline did not work properly either this year. They seem to get immune…

  4. February 1, 2014 11:48 pm

    There always seems to be a fuss about ticks, but really, they are hardly ever dangerous. If you check your body every time you have been in an area where there may be ticks, it’s almost impossible to get ill. And anyway, mainly people in certain southern areas should be somewhat concerned about them. I’ve seen a million ticks and I know only one person who actually got ill. He has spend almost all his life (~60 years) in the archipelago of Turku.

    • February 3, 2014 7:47 am

      Thanks for tuning in Shannon. Actually I heard from a neighbour that one of their neighbours came down with Borrelia after being bitten by a tick last summer. One of the two ticks I sent to a friend of mine (she’s a biologist and does research in a lab) last fall was also carrying Borrelia. The risk is there… Ticks are scary, you’ll never be able to convince me they are not.

      • April 12, 2015 1:04 pm

        Catching Borrelia means that you’re super unlucky or can’t take care of yourself – it doesn’t make ticks that dangerous. You finding a tick that carries the disease doesn’t mean that you were actually in danger of getting it yourself. If you check your body every evening, it’s extremely unlikely you’d get ill. And the disease obviously isn’t the worst there is anyway.

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