Insects in Alaska: 29 Varieties That Thrive in the Tundra

Alaska, often associated with its vast landscapes, icy tundras, and diverse wildlife, is also home to a myriad of insect species.

Contrary to popular belief, the cold climate of Alaska doesn’t deter insect life; in fact, it boasts a surprising variety of insects that have adapted to thrive in its unique conditions.

From the dense forests to the icy plains, insects play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance of this northern state.

In this article, let us look at the teeming insect life that has adapted to survive and thrive in the frigid tundra regions of our world.

Giant Ichneumon or Stump Stabber. Insects in Alaska
Giant Ichneumon or Stump Stabber in Alaska

Answering Common Questions

The fact that life for humans is extremely hard in the Alaskan tundra makes many people wonder whether it’s even possible for other species to survive there.

Before we begin, let us first answer some common questions in this section.

Can bugs survive in Alaska? 

Yes, bugs can and do survive in Alaska. Insects in Alaska have evolved and adapted to the state’s cold climate.

For instance, many insects have developed antifreeze proteins that allow them to survive the harsh winters.

Others have life cycles synchronized with the seasons, ensuring their survival during the colder months.

Does Alaska have a state insect? 

Alaska, like many states, has designated a state insect. The Four-Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly is recognized as the official state insect of Alaska.

This particular dragonfly is common throughout Alaska and is known for its distinctive wing markings and agile flight.

Does Alaska have a bug problem?

While some wonder if there are any insects in the tundras, others ask if there is a surplus of them.

While Alaska does have a diverse range of insects, it wouldn’t be accurate to label it as a “bug problem.”

Like any other region, Alaska has its share of insects, some of which might be considered pests, but they are a natural part of the ecosystem.

It’s essential to understand that these insects play a vital role in the food chain and contribute to the state’s biodiversity.

The Mosquito Myth: Does Alaska have mosquitoes?

One of the most common misconceptions about Alaska is the absence of mosquitoes due to its cold climate. However, the truth is quite the opposite.

Alaska is home to a significant population of mosquitoes, and during certain times of the year, they can be quite prevalent, especially in the state’s interior and tundra regions.

Mosquito

The life cycle of mosquitoes in Alaska is intricately tied to its unique climate. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Eggs and Overwintering: Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water sources during the late summer. These eggs are equipped to survive the harsh Alaskan winter. As temperatures drop, the eggs enter a state of diapause, a form of dormancy that allows them to endure the cold.
  • Spring Hatching: As the snow melts and temperatures rise, stagnant pools of water form, providing the perfect environment for mosquito eggs to hatch. By late spring and early summer, mosquito larvae begin to emerge in these pools.
  • Larval and Pupal Stages: The larvae feed on organic matter in the water, molting several times as they grow. After a few weeks, they enter the pupal stage, during which they don’t feed but undergo a transformation into adult mosquitoes.
  • Adult Mosquitoes: By mid-to-late summer, adult mosquitoes emerge from the water and begin their quest for blood meals. This is when residents and visitors are most likely to encounter them, especially during the evenings or in areas with stagnant water.
  • Short Lifespan: The adult lifespan of mosquitoes in Alaska is relatively short, often just a few weeks. However, during this time, they can lay hundreds of eggs, ensuring the next generation’s survival.

It’s worth noting that while mosquitoes in Alaska can be a nuisance, especially during peak times, they play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

They serve as a food source for many birds, bats, and other insects. Moreover, not all mosquitoes bite; many species feed primarily on nectar and plant juices.

For those planning to visit or spend time outdoors in Alaska during the summer, it’s advisable to be prepared with mosquito repellents and protective clothing.

Insects of the Alaskan Tundra

The Alaskan tundra, characterized by its cold climate, permafrost, and short growing seasons, might seem inhospitable to many forms of life.

However, it is teeming with a variety of insect species that have adapted to its unique conditions.

These insects not only survive but thrive, playing essential roles in the tundra’s ecosystem, from pollination to serving as a food source for larger animals.

Bumblebees

Bumblebees are vital pollinators in the Alaskan tundra. Due to the short summer season, plants have a limited window for pollination, making the role of bumblebees crucial.

These bees have adapted to the cold, with dense hair that provides insulation and the ability to generate heat by rapidly moving their flight muscles.

Some common species include the Yellow-faced bumblebee and the Arctic bumblebee.

Perplexing Bumble Bee

Butterflies

While not as numerous as in other regions, several butterfly species call the Alaskan tundra home.

These include the Arctic Blue and the Polixenes Arctic. These butterflies have a rapid life cycle to make the most of the short Alaskan summer.

Their caterpillars often feed on specific tundra plants, and the adults play a role in pollination.

Beetles

Beetles are among the most diverse insect groups in the Alaskan tundra.

From the predatory Ground beetles that hunt other insects to the Leaf beetles that feed on plants, they occupy various ecological niches.

The Willow leaf beetle, for instance, is a common sight, feeding on willow leaves.

Flies

Flies are ubiquitous in the Alaskan tundra. While mosquitoes are the most notorious, many other fly species are beneficial.

The Hoverflies, for example, are pollinators, while the larvae of Black flies serve as food for fish and other aquatic animals.

Hoverfly

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Both dragonflies and damselflies are common in the Alaskan tundra, especially near water bodies.

They are agile fliers and are often seen hunting other insects in mid-air.

The Four-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly is a common species and is also Alaska’s state insect. 

Damselflies, like the Northern Bluet, are often seen resting with their wings folded along their bodies.

Dangerous and Nuisance Insects

While the Alaskan tundra is home to a plethora of insect species that play crucial roles in the ecosystem, some can pose a threat or annoyance to humans.

These insects, whether they bite, sting, or are merely bothersome, are often a concern for residents and visitors alike.

Dangerous Insects in Alaska

The term “dangerous” can be subjective, but in the context of Alaska, it primarily refers to insects that can cause harm through bites or stings.

While most insects in Alaska are harmless, black flies can be a concern.

These small flies can deliver painful bites, especially around the head and neck. Their bites can cause swelling and itching.

Biting Insects in Alaska

Several insects in Alaska seek out blood meals, which can lead to itchy and sometimes painful bites:

  • Mosquitoes: As previously mentioned, mosquitoes are prevalent in Alaska, especially during the summer months. They can be a significant nuisance, especially in areas with stagnant water.
  • No-See-Ums or Biting Midges: These tiny insects can deliver bites that are disproportionately painful for their size. They are especially active during dawn and dusk.

Stinging Insects in Alaska

While not as common as biting insects, a few species in Alaska can deliver painful stings:

  • Yellowjackets: These are wasps that can deliver painful stings when threatened. They are attracted to food and can be a nuisance during outdoor activities.
  • Bald-faced Hornets: Larger than yellowjackets, these black and white wasps can be aggressive and sting multiple times.

Poisonous Insects in Alaska

The term “poisonous” refers to organisms that release toxins when ingested. In Alaska, there aren’t any insects that are truly poisonous in this sense.

However, blister beetles can release irritating substances.

When threatened, these beetles can release a chemical called cantharidin, which can cause skin blisters.

Deadly Insects in Alaska

It’s important to note that while some insects in Alaska can be a nuisance or cause discomfort, there are no known insects in the state that are deadly to humans.

Most reactions to bites or stings are mild, but individuals with allergies should exercise caution and seek medical attention if they experience severe reactions.

In conclusion, while there are insects in Alaska that can pose a threat or annoyance, with proper precautions, they can be managed.

Using repellents, wearing protective clothing, and being aware of one’s surroundings can significantly reduce the risk of unpleasant encounters.

Aquatic Insects of Alaska

Alaska’s vast landscapes are dotted with numerous freshwater habitats, from tranquil ponds and lakes to flowing rivers and streams.

These water bodies, often pristine and untouched, are teeming with a diverse range of aquatic insects.

These insects, adapted to life in water, play pivotal roles in the aquatic ecosystems of Alaska.

Importance of Aquatic Insects in the Ecosystem

Aquatic insects are a fundamental component of freshwater ecosystems. They serve multiple functions:

Food Source: Many aquatic insects, especially in their larval stages, are a primary food source for fish, birds, and other wildlife. Their presence indicates a healthy, thriving ecosystem.

For example:

  • Mayfly Nymphs: These are a staple in the diet of many freshwater fish species, such as salmon and trout. The synchronized emergence of adult mayflies can also provide a feeding frenzy for birds like swallows and swifts.
  • Caddisfly Larvae: Apart from fish, these larvae are also consumed by amphibians, particularly salamanders and newts. Their protective cases often give away their presence to keen-eyed predators.
  • Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs: These predatory nymphs, while hunters themselves, often fall prey to larger aquatic predators like frogs and even larger insects.
Swamp Darner in Flight

Some aquatic insects feed on dead organic matter, breaking it down and recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem. Here are a few examples.

  • Water Beetles: Some species, like the Carrion beetles, specifically feed on decaying matter, aiding in decomposition.
  • Rat-tailed Maggots: These are the larvae of some hoverfly species. They thrive in stagnant, oxygen-poor water and feed on decaying organic material, helping recycle nutrients.
  • Aquatic Moth Larvae: Certain moth species have aquatic larvae that feed on decaying leaves and plant matter in freshwater habitats.

Indicators of Water Quality
The presence or absence of certain aquatic insects can indicate the health and quality of the water.

  • Stoneflies: As mentioned, these insects prefer clean, oxygen-rich waters. Their presence often indicates a healthy aquatic environment. For instance, the Golden stonefly is often found in pristine mountain streams.
  • Caddisflies: Some species, like the Net-spinning caddisflies, are sensitive to pollution. Their presence can indicate good water quality, while their absence might suggest issues with water health.
  • Water Pennies: These are the larvae of a type of beetle and are found clinging to rocks in fast-flowing streams. They are sensitive to various pollutants and are often used in bio-monitoring efforts to assess stream health.

Highlighting Specific Aquatic Insects and Their Habitats

  • Caddisflies: Found in various freshwater habitats, caddisfly larvae are known for constructing protective cases from twigs, sand, or other debris. They are primarily detritivores, feeding on decomposing organic matter. Streams and rivers with moderate flow are common habitats.
  • Mayflies: Recognizable by their upright wings, mayflies are a staple in freshwater ecosystems. Their nymphs, which live underwater, are a crucial food source for many fish species. They inhabit clean streams and rivers and are sensitive to pollution.
  • Stoneflies: Preferring cold, clean, and oxygen-rich waters, stoneflies are often found in fast-flowing streams and rivers. Both their nymphs and adults are an essential food source for fish and birds.
  • Water Beetles: These beetles are versatile and can be found in various aquatic habitats, from ponds to streams. The Diving beetle, with its streamlined body and strong hind legs, is a proficient swimmer and predator.
  • Water Bugs: This group includes insects like the Water strider, which can skate on the water’s surface, and the Backswimmer, which swims upside down and preys on other aquatic insects.
  • Dragonflies and Damselflies: While their adults are aerial, both dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in water. Their nymphs, equipped with specialized mouthparts, are voracious predators, feeding on other aquatic insects.

Insects Across Alaskan Cities

Here’s an overview of the insect populations in some of Alaskan’s major cities.

Insects in Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage, being the largest city in Alaska, has a mix of urban and natural habitats. The city’s proximity to forests, wetlands, and the coast means a diverse insect population:

  • Mosquitoes: Due to the numerous wetlands and ponds around Anchorage, mosquitoes can be prevalent, especially during the summer months.
  • Bumblebees: Urban gardens and parks in Anchorage attract bumblebees, vital for pollination.
  • Aphids: These small insects can be found on garden plants and are often a concern for gardeners in the city.
Lacewing Larva (right side) with Aphids

Insects in Fairbanks, Alaska

Located in the interior of Alaska, Fairbanks experiences more extreme temperature variations:

  • Black Flies: These biting insects are more common in Fairbanks during the summer, especially near the Chena River.
  • Butterflies: The warmer summers in Fairbanks attract a variety of butterflies, including the Arctic Blue and Mourning Cloak.
  • Ground Beetles: Beneficial predators, these beetles are commonly found in gardens and yards, hunting smaller pests.

Insects in Juneau, Alaska

Juneau, the state capital, located in the southeastern part of the state, has a maritime climate:

  • Sand Flies or No-See-Ums: These biting insects can be a nuisance in Juneau, especially during damp conditions.
  • Dragonflies: The wetlands around Juneau are breeding grounds for various dragonfly species, including the Common Green Darner.
  • Slugs: While not insects, slugs are a common sight in Juneau’s gardens due to the city’s humid climate.

Insects in Kodiak, Alaska

Kodiak, an island city, has a unique ecosystem influenced by the surrounding ocean:

  • Moths: The island’s lush vegetation supports a variety of moth species, including the Pale Beauty and Twin-spotted Sphinx.
  • Beach Flies: These are commonly found along Kodiak’s coastlines, especially during the summer months.
  • Water Striders: Freshwater bodies in Kodiak support these insects, which can “walk” on the water’s surface.

Seasonal Variations

In Alaska, with its distinct seasons ranging from the long, cold winters to the brief, warm summers, insect populations undergo significant changes throughout the year.

Winter

During the harsh Alaskan winters, most insects enter a state of dormancy. They employ various survival strategies:

  • Overwintering: Many insects, like the Yellow-faced bumblebee, overwinter as adults, finding shelter in crevices or under tree bark. They enter a state of torpor, reducing their metabolic rate to conserve energy.
  • Eggs and Larvae: Some insects, such as certain mosquito species, lay eggs that are equipped to survive the winter. These eggs hatch when conditions become favorable in the spring.

Spring

As temperatures rise and snow melts, insect activity begins to increase:

  • Emergence: Overwintering adults and newly hatched larvae start to become active. For instance, stoneflies emerge in large numbers near freshwater bodies.
  • Reproduction: Many insects mate and lay eggs during the spring, ensuring the next generation’s survival.

Summer

Summer is the peak of insect activity in Alaska, addressing the search query about Alaska bugs in summer:

  • Abundance: With the warmer temperatures and increased daylight, insects like mosquitoes, flies, and beetles become more prevalent.
  • Pollination: Pollinators, such as bumblebees and butterflies, are vital during the summer months, aiding in the reproduction of many plants.
  • Migration: Some insects, like certain butterfly species, undertake migrations during the summer, moving to different regions in search of food and suitable habitats.
Mating Stoneflies

Fall

As temperatures start to drop, insects prepare for the upcoming winter:

  • Preparation: Many insects find suitable overwintering sites or lay eggs that will survive the winter. For example, the larvae of caddisflies build protective cases to shelter during the colder months.
  • Reduction in Activity: The overall insect activity begins to decrease as the days become shorter and temperatures drop.

Beneficial Insects and Spiders in Alaska

Many insects and spiders play roles that are advantageous to both the environment and humans. Here are some of them.

Beneficial Insects:

  • Ladybugs: One of the most recognized beneficial insects, ladybugs are voracious predators of aphids, scale insects, and other pests. Their presence in gardens and agricultural areas helps naturally control pest populations, reducing the need for chemical interventions.
  • Hoverflies: While their larvae are known to consume aphids, the adult hoverflies are essential pollinators. They visit a variety of flowers, transferring pollen and aiding in plant reproduction.
  • Parasitic Wasps: These wasps lay their eggs inside or on the bodies of other insects. When the eggs hatch, the larvae consume the host insect. This behavior helps control populations of many pests, including caterpillars and beetles.
  • Ground Beetles: These beetles are nocturnal predators that feed on a variety of pests, including slugs, snails, and cutworms. Their presence in gardens and fields can significantly reduce pest damage to plants.

Beneficial Spiders

  • Wolf Spiders: Commonly found in Alaskan gardens, wolf spiders are active hunters that prey on a variety of insects, including pests like aphids and grasshoppers.
  • Orb-weaving Spiders: Recognizable by their intricate, circular webs, these spiders capture flying insects, including many pests. Their webs are often seen in gardens, meadows, and forests.
  • Jumping Spiders: These agile spiders are active during the day and feed on a variety of insects. Their keen eyesight and hunting prowess make them efficient predators of many pests.

Many beneficial insects and spiders are natural predators of pests. Their presence helps maintain a balance, ensuring that no single species becomes overly dominant and damages the ecosystem.

Moreover, insects like hoverflies, bees, and certain beetles play a crucial role in pollinating plants.

This process is vital for the reproduction of many plants, ensuring the continuation of diverse plant species in the Alaskan ecosystem.

Conclusion

While Alaska is often celebrated for its majestic landscapes, towering mountains, and diverse wildlife, the state also boasts an equally impressive and diverse insect population.

From the pollinators that ensure the reproduction of countless plant species to the predators that keep pest populations in check, each insect has a unique role and purpose.

It’s essential to recognize that the health and vitality of Alaska’s ecosystems are intricately linked to its insect inhabitants.

They are indicators of environmental health, with their presence or absence often signaling changes in the ecosystem.

Moreover, their adaptability and resilience, especially in the face of Alaska’s challenging climate, are a testament to the wonders of nature.

In all, we covered 29 insects (and spiders) that thrive in Alaska in this article, but there are many, many more to talk about. Here are the insects that we covered.

  1. Yellow-faced bumblebee
  2. Arctic bumblebee
  3. Arctic Blue butterfly
  4. Polixenes Arctic butterfly
  5. Ground beetles
  6. Willow leaf beetle
  7. Black flies
  8. Hoverflies
  9. Four-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly
  10. Northern Bluet damselfly
  11. Caddisflies
  12. Mayflies
  13. Stoneflies
  14. Water beetles (specifically mentioned: Whirligig beetle)
  15. Water bugs (specifically mentioned: Water striders)
  16. Mosquitoes
  17. No-See-Ums or Biting Midges
  18. Yellowjackets
  19. Bald-faced Hornets
  20. Blister Beetles
  21. Carrion beetles
  22. Rat-tailed Maggots
  23. Aquatic Moth Larvae
  24. Golden stonefly
  25. Ladybugs
  26. Parasitic Wasps
  27. Wolf Spiders
  28. Orb-weaving Spiders
  29. Jumping Spiders

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

3 thoughts on “Insects in Alaska: 29 Varieties That Thrive in the Tundra”

  1. These things weren’t around when i was a kid. I’ve seen them all over in Fairbanks and about 100 miles farther north. I’ve seen ones that were orange and redish as well, also with a pair of “stinger” things

    Reply

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