By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Mosquitoes thrive in most regions of the world and, as hard as it is to believe, humans aren’t their primary targets. Mosquitoes, as much as we love to hate them, are actually an important part of the food chain. Without them many of the frogs, lizards, fish, and birds that we enjoy in the outdoors would go hungry. So, since we can’t get rid of them, let’s learn a few facts and some strategies to deal with these insect pests.
1. It’s a matter of sex. Both male and female mosquitoes feed on plant nectar, but only female mosquitoes suck blood. What may surprise you, though, is that, according to entomologists, humans provide just one percent of the blood drawn by mosquitoes for use in producing eggs. Rabbits, birds, and other small animals supply the other 99 percent. Still, it’s hard to appreciate the statistics when you feel like your skin is on fire.
2. How does she do it? If you’re a bit squeamish, you might want to skip this paragraph, which includes a quick explanation of how mosquitoes draw blood. The female mosquito pierces the skin and sends saliva down into the puncture hole. This saliva, which is what causes the itching at the bite site, serves as an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting before she can fill her belly. Mama mosquito doesn’t bite you for her own nutritional needs; rather, she requires the protein in blood to produce her eggs, which she then drops into the nearest puddle, pond, or lake. Before long, rain-filled puddles are full of tiny mosquito larvae. A week or two later, a mass of adult mosquitoes emerges. You’d better be ready.
3. What to wear. Cover up! Wear long-sleeved shirts and loose-fitting, long pants. The less skin you expose, the better. Keep your shirt tucked in, or those little biters will wiggle underneath and go to work. And even when it’s warm, leave your sandals in the coach while staying in mosquito country.
4. Be careful where you park. This was, and still is, a tough piece of advice to follow. We aren’t the only ones who prefer green, shady campsites – so do the mosquitoes. When it’s buggy outside, we opt for a site in an open, breezy area populated by fewer blood-sucking insects.
5. Head for a campground with plenty of birds. Many birds enjoy eating mosquitoes – especially waterfowl and most songbirds. Swallows spend much of their time swooping around, snatching up insects. Let’s hear it for the feathered ones. They’re a real asset to campers in need of mosquito control.
6. Shut the door! Be conscious of the need to close the coach doors quickly whenever you go in and out. Keep unscreened windows closed, unless you have at least one flyswatter for every person in the coach. We always inspect the seals on the coach doors and windows for air leaks before taking off for a summer outing. Dealing with all insect-sized leaks before we leave is far preferable to wishing we had done it when we’re being eaten.
7. Blow ’em away. Mosquitoes are not strong fliers, so they don’t frequent windy places. By carrying along a large electric fan in your coach, you can use the stream of air as a refuge while other members of your party take appropriate action. And if you have to go in and out of the motorhome multiple times when you first get to camp, point that fan at the door and turn it on high. It should blow at least a few of them away, and keep them outdoors where they belong.
8. Sunrise . . . sunset. Sunrise and sunset are peak activity periods in the mosquito world. Unfortunately, they also are the best times for bird-watching and photography. When the bugs really get bad, it’s remarkable how much birding we can do through the coach window. Although it’s not nearly as much fun as when you can walk around following the birds, it’s better than having all those itching bites. One more thing: when you do go for a walk, keep moving around. Linger too long and you might be eaten.
9. Time your travels. If you can plan your trip during the mosquito “off season,” do so. It doesn’t matter how much we love the Florida Everglades; we wouldn’t consider arriving at the height of mosquito season. We can get plenty of bites there in January.
10. Make yourself unattractive to insects. Your body gives off greater quantities of carbon dioxide and lactic acid, two primary mosquito attractants, when you are hot from hiking. Mosquitoes also seem to like the smell of perspiration. It’s especially important to use fragrance-free hair products, unscented sunscreens, and odorless dryer sheets. There’s no way of knowing which scents will appeal to these pests, so we try to avoid them all in mosquito season.
11. Choose your weapon. Products that contain DEET are regarded as being most effective in repelling insects. But careless use of such products can be risky, so follow the directions and apply them properly. Natural products also fend off mosquitoes. The downside is that you need to reapply them every two hours, instead of the four hours recommended for stronger preparations. If you’d rather go the natural route, folks have found that repellents made with clove, cinnamon, basil, thyme, and/or garlic provide short-term protection. Some people even report that crushed leaves of peppermint, marigold, and geranium rubbed on your skin can be effective. Others say that unscented fabric softener sheets will help repel insects by just wiping your skin with them.
12. Spread the insect repellent around. Of course, you’ll want to apply the repellent to all exposed skin. But if you spray it on your shoes and clothes, you’ll have better protection. Be cautious, though, when using the most powerful repellents. You don’t want to harm yourself just to kill off the biters.
13. After the bite. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, as we do, you’ll have to put up with some mosquito bites. But after the fact, we’ve found a product that seems to help. It’s called After Bite and it comes in an easy-to-carry, pencil-like application tube that you rub on the bite. We’ve found that it does take away most of the itch. The basic ingredient is ammonia, so if you can’t find the commercial version of this product, pick up a small bottle of ammonia at the drugstore to dab onto the bite.