'Their mouths are for chewing wood, not people': Why the spruce beetles of northern Sask. aren't as scary as they look
WASKESIU LAKE -- If you’ve ever travelled into the boreal forest north of Prince Albert, there's a good chance you've been bugged by some unique inhabitants of the area.
Evan Oulette is nine and he’s been visiting Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park his whole life so when asked what bug comes to his mind first when he thinks about his summer home, no surprise, he says, the spruce beetle.
“When they land on me I call my mom because I freak out and don’t know what to do,” Oulette told CTV News.
He says he’s had a few of the insects, also known as sawyer beetles — fly into him and with a hard body that measures about three centimetres in length plus three cm more of antenna — a total of six cm of flying fury that doesn't go unnoticed when they strike.
Oulette had a chance to confront his fear, thanks to University of Saskatchewan (U of S) entomology student Ramsey Rude, who is doing some of his university work while at the lake for the summer.
"Felt weird. It felt like it was biting me, but it wasn’t.” Oulette said.
U of S assistant biology professor Sean Prager says Oulette, and everyone else, has little to fear from the beetle.
"Those big mouth parts they have are there for chewing into wood not chewing into people. I suppose if you bothered them enough and they felt worried they might possibly bite, but no their mouths are for chewing wood, not people generally,” Prager said.
Prager said there actually are two types of the beetle, the white spotted sawyer which is black and northeastern sawyer which is more grey.
They are called the "sawyer" beetle because they “saw” into spruce trees where they live, eat and lay eggs, Prager said.
While they don't set out to bite humans, it can happen.
Jane Kulbida has been coming to her family cabin in Waskesiu since she was a child and had an encounter with one of the infamous beetles about thirty years ago.
“It landed on my shoulder. I didn’t hear it clicking because that’s the signal usually and all of a sudden it just a bit me and it hurt. It was the worst bite I’ve ever had,” Kulbida said.
She said it took a bit of skin and left a mark. Ever since she has stayed on the lookout for the beetles.
As for Oulette, he’s going to continue to enjoy his summer by believing what the experts say and take comfort in the fact that the spruce beetles don’t have it out for him because they like spruce trees more than him.