Swimmer's Itch

"Swimmer's Itch"

August 1, 2022 | Gordon Atkins | Naturalist at Camp Au Sable

A bird swimming in water

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If you have ever had it, you know it’s not much fun! Swimmer’s Itch is caused by a microscopic parasite in the water that burrows into your skin and causes a red, itching, burning rash. The parasite lives in lakes and is transferred from lake to lake via the feet and feathers of any of the three species of Mergansers. Common Mergansers are often mistaken for Loons, which also live in the lakes of northern Michigan.  

What is so interesting is that while most of the lakes around Camp Au Sable are contaminated with the parasite that causes Swimmer’s Itch, our Lake Shellenbarger does not have Swimmer’s Itch. This blessing from God comes in the form of an unlikely summer hero – the Canada Goose!    

Here is how it works. Mergansers arrive on Lake Shellenbarger as soon as the ice begins to melt, however it’s too cold for the Swimmer’s Itch parasite to survive.  A few weeks later the Canada Geese arrive and when they start to set up their nesting territories, they become very aggressive and drive off the Mergansers from the lake. Thus, there are no Mergansers on our lake during the warm summer months when Swimmer’s Itch would likely spread! 

The benefit of no Swimmer’s Itch in our lake does come with a cost. Those at the waterfront know what I mean. Since the geese hang around the beach area, it’s possible you might step in some goose poop on your way to go swimming! I guess it’s a small price to pay for a lake that is free from parasites!    

The Christian life can have similar “costs and benefits.” Sometimes we might blame God for things that happen in our lives that we don’t like—kind of like stepping in the goose poop.  But in the big picture, those things in our lives that we might not understand now, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I am glad that God is in control and has everything worked out.