There are 3,500 subspecies of mosquitoes worldwide, with about 600 of those varieties of the little bloodsuckers living in North America. That’s a lot of opportunity for these pests to cause their annoyances whenever we are outdoors. Plus, they can transmit at least five different diseases. Add ticks and black flies to the equation and we have a long list of reasons we hate these common insects we encounter when we go outdoors.
There are a lot of things you probably don’t know about mosquitoes—like the fact that only the female mosquitoes bite (they need the blood to nurture their eggs to maturity). But some of the most important things you may not know about them are how to repel them. Surprisingly, there are some things that really work well. Plus knowing what attracts them can help us learn to avoid encounters in the first place. Here are five things that will help you win the bug battle.
The heat of the moment
How do mosquitoes find you? They are most attracted to body heat and the carbon dioxide in your breath. That’s why mosquitoes are more active in the cooler periods of the evening rather than the heat of the day—it’s easier for them to home in on heat sources when everything else is cooler. Dark-colored clothing collects more heat and helps them out, so wearing white or light colors can give you a leg up. Pregnant women have a higher body temperature, so the mosquitoes also zero in on them.
Busted by beer
Human skin and breath emit hundreds of chemical compounds and many of them attract mosquitoes. But there’s one that has been shown to attract the pests more than any other. A study done in Africa on malaria carrying mosquitoes found that they landed on people who drank beer far more often than on those who did not. Maybe it’s something in the blood.
For liquid and spray on repellents, nothing beats NN diethyl-meta-taluamide, affectionately known as DEET. DEET has a somewhat of a bad rap because the spraying of a chemical toxin right onto your skin really turns some people off. There have been many organic or less-toxic substances introduced for repelling insects, but none of them are even close to as effective as DEET. It works, but you can sweat it off, wear it off, and it’s a good idea to wash it off when you come indoors or before you crawl into your sleeping bag at night.
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First introduced as a tick repellent, permethrin can be sprayed on clothing but should not be applied directly to skin. Here’s what’s fantastic about permethrin: ticks will not come near it. Ticks crawl out to the end of blades of grass, branches, and leaves and sit there with their little hook-shaped legs, waiting for something to come by they can hook on to. Spray permethrin on your pantlegs, sleeves, and shoes, and you will be tick-free. It really works well. According to the label, it will last in your clothing for up to six washes. I think that is a little optimistic, but I know it really works flawlessly the first time I apply it.
Permethrin can be used with excellent success on fabric items you use around camp, too. Spray it on the screen door of your tent and around the opening. Mosquitoes will avoid the area. Spray it on your screen tent, your hat, and your lawn chair.
This is a product that totally changed early-season hunting for me, and it has many applications for camping. Bear hunting, for example, takes place mostly in May, June, August, and September, prime times for mosquitoes and black flies. Before the ThermaCELL, these hunts were a continual battle against the miserable bugs. Not anymore. It works so well that it has changed the entire experience.
Some goes with camping and fishing. Anytime there is a mosquito problem, a ThermaCELL lights up around my campfire and the mosquitoes leave. I use them in my boat when I’m fishing in bug-infested areas and I wear one on my belt anytime I am working outside when the bugs are bad. ThermaCELL makes a handy camping lantern in addition to the original appliance.
The ThermaCELL uses a small pad impregnated with permethrin, which is heated by a tiny flame powered by butane. It takes about 15 minutes for the unit to fully heat up and work to its full potential. I haven’t run across anything that comes close to its effectiveness.
So there are five ways to win the bug battle. Knowledge of the enemy is the first priority, then using the right tools to combat their senses will help make all our outdoor pursuits more pleasant.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.