How To

Mosquitoes Suck: How to Avoid Getting Bit

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Nothing bites quite like a skeeter from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Follow these tips to avoid getting carried away like the unfortunate fella on this sign.

Nothing bites quite like a skeeter from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Follow these tips to avoid getting carried away like the unfortunate fella on this sign. Image by Derrek Sigler.

Everything on the planet has a purpose, right? It may be hard to imagine, especially after watching the evening news, but everything has to have some particular niche that it fills, some role in the great scheme of life on the planet Earth. Okay, I may have watched way too many documentaries on the Discovery Channel. I can almost envision David Attenborough narrating this story. But seriously, can you tell me what role the mosquito fills?

I’m sure at one point in history, the mosquito did something important, be it to transport some virus, or serve as a food source. Today I think they only serve to annoy any and everyone who goes outside when the weather warms up. This year, with all of the rain and moisture from flooding and the tremendous amounts of stagnant water, there’s record numbers of mosquitoes. Is it going to stop me and my family from enjoying the outdoors? Not a chance of that!

Some skeeter facts

You’ve probably heard by now that only the female mosquito drinks blood. I have a few divorced buddies who snorted at that and said it sounds about right. All kidding aside, the females only drink blood when they are producing eggs. The rest of the time, they are like the males in that they are after nectar and pollen like many other insects. The adults live five to six months on average, so that one mosquito in your house might stay there all summer long and then some.

Only the female mosquito feeds on blood, and then only when preparing to produce eggs. The smaller males feed on pollen and nectar, like many other bugs. Image courtesy University of Wisconsin.

Only the female mosquito feeds on blood, and then only when preparing to produce eggs. The smaller males feed on pollen and nectar, like many other bugs. Image courtesy University of Wisconsin.

I don’t know about you, but it feels kind of creepy knowing that something is feeding upon me. A mosquito on average will suck .00001 pints of blood. That’s not very much. In fact, it would take 1.25 million mosquito bites within a short time frame to suck all of your blood. Of course, that’s normal, average mosquitoes. I think it would only take 15 mosquitoes from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to do the trick, but I digress.

Mosquitoes are actually the deadliest insect in the world, but their deadliness has nothing to do with blood loss. They carry and transfer more viruses than anything else, and with access to your blood supply, lots of people die due to these hated little buggers. They can also cause an allergic reaction, which can lead to severe illness and even death. What purpose do they serve again?

Prepare to defend yourselves

Keeping skeeters from biting you is big business and a good idea, especially for kids and parents. But what works best? There are lots of sprays on the market and many of them work well. The main ingredient in most is N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, abbreviated DEET. It’s an oil with a slight yellow tint. DEET was originally developed during World War II as an insecticide, but later issued to troops as a repellent. The main reason we get bit is due to scent. The mosquito senses a number of odors that lead it to believe it has found a food source. Did you know mosquitoes can smell the carbon dioxide you breath out from a mile away? They apparently use that to zone in on a potential food source, but it is the smell of our sweat and general “animal odor” that invites them in for a taste. The DEET not only blocks that odor to mosquitoes and other biting insects, but, according to several of the manufacturers who use DEET, skeeters are repelled by the odor.

The issue with DEET and some of the other repellents is its toxicity to humans and animals. It isn’t exactly the kind of stuff you want to go getting into your body, which can happen. IR3535 is a non-toxic, synthetic repellent that was approved by the EPA back in 1999. It is used in what has been my favorite all-in-one, summer fun spray for the whole family so far this year: BullFrog Mosquito Coast. The BullFrog incorporates a 30SPF sunscreen and a mosquito repellent in one spray. How often do you have to layer up with both? This year, it’s almost every day.

The BullFrog spray repels skeeters for up to eight hours. I can attest after several fishing trips that that claim is pretty accurate. It was comparable to products with 25 percent DEET. BullFrog also makes another spray that instead of sunscreen. It contains aloe and vitamin E, making it great for moisturizing dry skin. It also smells good too, kind of like grapefruit.

A ThermaCELL product (like the lantern seen on the right) is worth its weight in gold around a campsite, or when you’re hunting. Image by Derrek Sigler.

A ThermaCELL product (like the lantern seen on the right) is worth its weight in gold around a campsite, or when you’re hunting. Image by Derrek Sigler.

ThermaWHAT?

By now, you have had to have heard about ThermaCELL products. If you’re on the fence about buying one, get off it! Besides, you’re probably being chewed up by mosquitoes! I picked up two different ThermaCELL appliances last summer before a week-long camping trip. They worked pretty well, especially when it came to clearing the bugs out of our tents.

ThermaCELLs work by using a butane cartridge that, when lit, heats a small blue mat that contains the repellent. You’ll only get three to four hours of time from each mat though, which is rather short (the butane cartridges last up to 12 hours). When lit, the appliances will clear out a 15-by-15-foot area. We had one going around the campsite and it seemed to do the job pretty well. I had the lantern going in our 10-by-18-foot tent and it kept the biters away when the kids left the doors open. It wasn’t overly windy, so honestly, I don’t know how they’d work in the wind.

Ammo supplies limited!

Every man’s got to have a plan, right? So far this year, with as bad as the moquitoes and other biting insects have been, I have had a plan to keep my family bite-free and safe from any viruses. The latest one to hit our shores is chikungunya, which is like dengue fever. The Centers for Disease Control suggests using DEET, IR3535, Picaridin (another chemical repellent used in some common sprays), or Permathrin-treated clothing. I’ve used Permathrin sprays before to treat my warm-weather hunting clothing for ticks. It works well, as I haven’t been bit by any ticks. Besides all of the nasty viruses going around, skeeter bites are really annoying. Trying going to sleep with a bad bite itching away. I had one on my foot last night!

My plan is to keep plenty of BullFrog on-hand for me and my family. I also have been stocking up on ThermaCELL refills. A local store had them on clearance over the winter and I loaded up. Now they can’t keep them in stock. In fact, I was looking for some extra mosquito spray last week and was told that the week’s supply ran out in less than a day. Stock up when you can folks—bug spray is the new .22 ammo!

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • SirTerrance Murphy

    Before you go out shower in lemon dish soap , when you’re out spray Avon skin so soft .

  • Eating garlic helps as it’s essence exudes from skin pores and I think I read somewhere that it’s one of Vicks Vapor Rub many unofficial uses. In Malaysia DEET is banned because of its toxicity.

  • turbo

    The sign is from Denali Alaska…..you’ve never really dealt with mosquitoes until you’ve been there. People say their so big they could make them the state bird.

  • William Keith

    Thank you for the article.
    Using DEET in spray form allows the skin to absorb the chemical. If you use the lotion form of DEET, the chemical stays topical.

    Ultrathon by 3M or Ultra 30 by Sawyer suspends the DEET in a lotion matrix and is not absorbed into the skin. The lotion allows the skin to breathe and perspire. The DEET is time released for up to 12 hours. I recommend Maxi DEET by Sawyer for locations with high mosquito infestations.

  • Lawrence Green

    Therma Cells do not work in high altitudes, like over 4500 feet. Archery hunters beware.

    • Knute Dualdrill

      Limit the amount of sugar intake. This will help to keep all biting insects away

  • Tom

    The reason you keep getting bit on the foot / ankle is because they are tuned in to foot odor. Saw a science display in a museum with my kids, and there it was, the answer to the mystery. Put that Skin So Soft on your feet! Scalp I think was their second choice, hence the bites on the ears. Protect your head. But if it’s clouds of mosquitos, like in Maine, just douse yourself in DEET, there’s no escape, they’ll find the square inch you missed, even through clothes!

  • Beth

    Besides the mosquitoes, how are the biting flies at this time? We are heading to the Superior shoreline – from Grand Marais to Copper Harbor, next week. I’m more fearful of the flies.