Last Updated: February 18, 2020
Before we can get rid of water bugs we need to know something about them. “Know your enemy” as the saying goes, and bugs are definitely the enemy. So let’s take a look at them up close.
There are two main types of water bugs – water boatmen and backswimmers. It’s rare to find one without the other, as they are closely related. There are some other bugs that aren’t technically classified as “water bugs” but who like to live in water too.
These bugs are oval-shaped bugs, in the family Hemiptera, narrower at the back-end than the front, about 0.1-0.6 inches in length. They have black or brown striations on their wings. They have six legs, two in the front, and four longer ones in the back that are shaped like oars, which is where they get their name. They normally live in slow-moving rivers and ponds where they eat pond scum and algae. They’re equally willing to live in your swimming pool.
These bugs, also in the family Hemiptera, get their name from their habit of swimming upside down on their backs. They are similar in appearance to the water boatmen cousins but with longer legs. Unlike the boatmen they are predators, and in fact, kill and eat the boatmen whenever they can. They can deliver a very painful bite. Like all predators, they follow their prey, therefore whenever you see boatmen you know the backswimmers can’t be far away.
Flies, dragonflies, beetles, and mosquitoes also seek out water. Many of them spawn and spend much of their life in water, so they’ll be quite content to live in your swimming pool too, especially in their larval form. Their presence naturally draws predators who eat them, adding to the bug population in your pool.
Finally, let’s not forget the bugs who like to live in your swimming pool and have a very unpleasant odor. Some of them are sunn pests, bug-skunks, and Italian stink bugs. Touching them with your bare hand is generally a bad idea.
It’s actually quite simple. Water boatmen and most of the other bugs eat algae, while backswimmers and other predators eat them. If you get rid of the food source for the water boatmen and company, they’ll soon leave for greener pastures, with the predator bugs hard on their heels. In other words, the best defense against bugs in the water is sparkling clean, crystal clear water.
Assuming you’ve already got bugs in your pool, you need to shock it to get rid of the algae. In situations where bugs have already been attracted, it’s probably best for you to double shock your pool. This means that for ever 10,000 gallons of water, you need to add a one-pound bag of your favorite chlorine shock (calcium hypochlorite).
An hour or two after shocking your pool, get in there with an algae brush and vigorously scrub the bottom and sides of your pool to knock any algae loose. This will knock it into the water where the chlorine can get to it. Run the pump all night to suck the algae into the filter, then backwash the filter the next morning to clean it.
Next, you need to add an algaecide to the water to kill any microscope spores that survived the shock and were too small to be captured by the filter. Let that work for several hours then check the chemical levels in your pool. Adjust the pH, Total Alkalinity, and other chemicals as needed until your pool is back in balance.
Shocking the pool and killing the algae won’t kill the bugs or drive them away right off the bat. It might take a week to ten days before they get the message that the food supply has been shut off. You probably don’t want to wait that long for them to leave so here are some preemptive steps you can take to speed up the process.
You’ll need a bucket with a lid. Scoop some water out of the pool with it then pour a couple of teaspoons of ordinary cooking oil into the bucket as well. Since oil and water don’t mix, the oil will float to the top. Use a long-handled skimmer to skim the bugs out of your pool then dump them in the bucket and close the lid. In a few hours, they’ll all be dead.
According to Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So many people get fixated on maintaining the pH levels in their pool they forget what the purpose of it is – to keep the pool clean. If there’s nothing for water boatmen and other bugs to eat, they won’t hang around. They’ll lite on the water, realize there’s nothing to eat, and move on.
In addition to shocking your pool and maintaining the pH, be sure to keep plenty of algaecide and flocculant on hand. The algaecide to kill any algae, and the flocculant to quickly drop all the dead algae and particulate matter to the bottom of the pool where the bugs can’t get to it. They’re all air breathers and if their food is on the bottom of the pool, it might as well be on Mars for all the good it will do them.
Keep your swimming pool clean and free of algae and it will automatically be free of bugs too. Such a deal!
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