The biting bugs of summer are back again. Most are just huge nuisances, though some carry diseases. Understanding when and where each kind is likely to cause trouble can lower their bother but the only really effective thing to do is to use repellents. The major pests are black flies, ticks, biting flies, yellow jackets and of course, mosquitoes.
The true unsung heroes in bug battle are our county mosquito control officers. They monitor the insect populations with traps and lab analysis, then treat areas that show unusual population buildups. They provide early warning of diseases, and take the actions necessary to protect public health. They even do what they can for mosquito nuisance control.
Mosquitoes are attracted to the scent of carbon dioxide and lactic acid, compounds released by the skin. Some like biting the head or feet perhaps because of skin temperature. They like adults better than children, and prefer men to women. Moisture also attracts them. Dry people are less bothered.
The worst biters are the ubiquitous mosquitoes that breed in a few days after every rain storm and they bite a lot. They prey at dawn, dusk and on cool, cloudy days. As their populations build up, they become a gigantic nuisance, and many species carry serious diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and encephalitis.
There are many different species of mosquitoes. For example, in Massachusetts alone, there are l8 species though only a a few cause problems for people. They all may look alike to you, but the different kinds bite at different times and in different places.
For instance, in Massachusetts, there is a cat tail mosquito which breeds only around the roots of cat tails in fresh water swamps. It and another species of swamp mosquito, bite mid-June to mid-July, but only at night and they will fly 5 miles for a good blood meal. Then there is a salt marsh mosquito, that bites only during the day but can fly up to 20 miles for its blood meal. It has 3 broods a season which hatch just a few days after the monthly full moon and ocean flood tides the moon causes. So there is a new brood once in June, again in July and then in August.
What to Do?
A new comprehensive medical study suggests using repellents containing DEET (diethyltoluamide), which works also for flies, chiggers, fleas and ticks. Products that contain DEET, which is absorbed through the skin, are Off, Deep Woods, Ben’s, Cutter and Repel. However, the best ones to use are the polymer based, extended release kinds that last longer and are absorbed less by the body. One, called Skedaddle, was formulated by a father especially for children but can also be used by adults who prefer a lower (6.5% and 10%) concentration. The other one, called Hour Guard, was developed for the army. It’s 25% spray is supposed to last 8 hours, the 35% cream lasts 12 hours.
Precautions When Using DEET:
The higher concentrations of DEET don’t work better, they just last longer. Generally 10%-35% is enough under normal conditions, but never more than 10% on children, and not at all on babies. (Children have a high skin to body weight ratio so there’s more absorptive area and one has to be careful too much is not absorbed.) Spray on skin or clothing, but not on undergarments or on the face or in the eyes. Spray on hands and spread it on the face, then wash hands. Wash children’s hands too. DEET has been used for 40 years with rare incidents of sensitivity. Most problems have come from extended or excessive use, particularly when perspiring. DEET can be sprayed on tents, screens, sleeping bags and clothes. It damages plastics, eyeglasses, synthetic fabrics and painted surfaces, but does not harm nylon, cotton or wool.
In tests, Skin-So-Soft worked for 40 minutes, much less than 12% DEET’s 4 hours of protection. (It’s not useful for ticks.) Buzz Away, a citronella oil, worked for 2 hours. Bite Blocker made of soybean, geranium and coconut oils worked for 3.5 hours, the same as 7% DEET. In other tests, people near citronella candles had 42% fewer bites than controls. Even plain candles reduced bites by 23%. Pyrethrum, a less toxic insecticide for mosquitoes, flies, ticks and chiggers can be sprayed on clothing, tents, screens and such, but not directly on skin. Spray on clothing, then let it dry for 2-3 hours. It lasts for about 2 weeks, even through washings.
To Reduce Mosquito Populations
Get rid of standing water where they breed, such as clogged gutters, planters, bird baths, tree stump holes. For these, as well as swamps, or areas that flood after rain, throw in Mosquito Dunks, which are brickettes of BT (bacillus thuringensis israeliensis) , a safe insecticide, that kills the larvae and should last through the summer. (At most garden centers.) For heavens sake, don’t use Electric Zappers because they mostly kill good bugs. In one test less than a tenth of one percent killed were mosquitoes but lots of good predator bugs were killed. Ultrasonic electronic devices don’t work either. Neither do bird nor bat houses.
There is the ShooBug jacket (with hood) and pants. It’s a tan colored mesh with cotton threads that absorb the DEET. The jacket is doused once or twice a year with strong DEET, and kept in a sealed plastic bag when not in use to preserve the smell. Not cheap, but airy and cooler than regular clothing. What I really want for my birthday this year is a beekeepers hat with a netting down to the shoulders. That’ll show those dastardly mosquitoes just who’s boss! Furthermore, I think the Garden of Eden must have been screened in.
To Help the Itch
Other than grandma’s remedies, cortisone skin ointment may be useful or oral antihistamines. Ask your doctor.
Some Other Bugs of Summer
- Biting Flies: Hoards of biting flies swarm and chase people from the tundras of Alaska to the game preserves of East Africa. They are all big, bad and unpleasant. Each locale has it’s own. For instance, horrid greenheads often ruin visits to the glorious East Coast beaches in July. They come from the salt marshes, where they live, to molest with their painful sting. Then sometime in early August they just disappear until the next year. Use DEET, protective clothing or stay out of their way.
- Yellow Jackets: Also wasps, bees and hornets. They really don’t prefer people, but are just looking for sugar or nectar. If you smell like a flower, or are serving food, they will find you and fly around. Just stand still and hopefully, they will lose interest. Flailing about upsets them and then they might bite. Meat tenderizer put on the bite quickly may help dissolve their irritating proteins. Many leave a barbed stinger which carried the toxins in the skin. It should to be removed, ideally without breaking the poison sac. Call a doctor if the itch, pain and swelling is bad. If a bitten person’s throat feels swollen or difficulty breathing or swallowing ensues, go immediately to a hospital emergency room. If a person is known to be highly allergic, they should always carry an adrenalin injection vial and syringe at all times.
- Black Flies: They plague us in spring near the running water brooks they need to breed. Traditionally a plague in northern climes, they have recently enlarged their range. One really hot spell usually wipes them out until next year. Bite prevention is with DEET.
- Ticks: Ticks attach themselves to the skin and swell as they suck our blood, often transmitting serious diseases. Lyme disease is found in the Northeast, the Northern Midwest and on the West Coast. In the east and Midwest, deer ticks are the culprit. These ticks have a complicated life cycle but are most infectious and most hungry in spring and summer until they lay their eggs in early August. They live on lawns and in the long grasses on golf courses, meadows, brush, wherever Bambi walks. Practice the same precautions as for mosquitoes: repellents, long pants tucked in socks. Additionally, inspect the body carefully for the tiny black ticks, the size of a grain of pepper. Remove them by dabbing with alcohol ( to loosen their grip), using a tweezers, and be sure to get the head. The ticks have to remain attached for 24 to 48 hours to transmit disease. In the West, black legged tick is the common carrier. Rocky Mountain spotted fever which is actually all over the United states, is carried by the dog tick, and the wood tick in the west. The disease is most common in men and boys. So inspect the poor pooch for ticks, and yourself as well and remove any ticks found. A tick and flea collar on the dog is useful.
Credit: Mother’s Garden