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Aside: Crazy Ideas for Dealing with Biting Insect Swarms in the Backcountry

Mosquito by Center of Disease Control (CDC)

Being alone for many days in the backcountry gives me plenty of time to think. Too much time. And when I start getting bitten by hordes of blood-hungry insects, the thoughts inevitably revolve around ways to repel or destroy these pesky little pain-inflicting devils.

Typically, I subscribe to the traditional methods of dealing with these blood-suckers. My first line of defense is proper clothing, with insect repellants being my back-up in more extreme conditions.

Keeping fully clothed is my preferred method of avoiding being bitten. I tend to stay fully clothed while out in the backcountry, regardless of the temperature. A long sleeve jacket, made of tightly-woven nylon prevents even the needle-like proboscis of a mosquito from penetrating. Long pants of similar material protect my legs; rarely do I ever wear shorts. Unfortunately, being ensconced in a full array of impenetrable clothing during the dog-days of summer is not only uncomfortable but the stench can get overpowering after a few days.

During the height of black fly season or on hot summer evenings when the mosquitoes are intolerable, I supplement the clothing and/or insect repellent with a head net. Although a head net is useful at a campsite or while taking lunch, it is completely impractical while bushwhacking. Head nets get readily snagged on the smallest of twigs and they tear quite easily.

Plus it is amazing how hot head nets can get for something you can see through. Or sort of see through, anyways. Strangely, even though I can tolerate being totally encased in clothing during warm temperatures, I find a sweating head to be entirely unacceptable.

As a back-up when it gets really insufferable, I usually use some type of natural insect repellent such as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent or All Terrain Herbal Armor Outdoor Insect Repellent. And if it gets really insane then I take out the big guns and use the DEET-containing Sawyer’s Premium Insect Repellent Controlled Release. But I hate wearing insect repellant. Literally, HATE it. The slimy, smelly gunk leaves my skin feeling clammy, and repels me almost as much as it does the insects. So I usually try to avoid using it, if possible.

When out in some remote corner of the backcountry, I dream up some interesting ideas on how to thwart these biting insects. The cocktail of assorted insect repellants and numerous infusions of blood-ingesting insect salivae, combined with high temperatures during the summer, probably play a role in fomenting these wild notions.

One of my favorite ideas for deterring these insects is a pee-wee-on-a-string. Tying a eastern wood pee-wee’s foot to the top of my hat would put a serious dent in the insect swarm around my head. One of these flycatchers could perch on my head and continuously fly around me, feasting on all the insects hovering around looking for an opportunity to feast on my precious bodily fluid. The only occasional downside would be cleaning bird droppings off my hat.

The only complication with this idea (other than the totally unrealistic notion of tying a string to the foot of a wild bird) is the illegality of capturing and imposing a life of indentured servitude on these protected birds. I curse you Migratory Bird Act of 1918! This is just another example of the increasing reach of the power of the federal government. We need to sick those perpetual Presidential-candidate Ron Paul supporters on this law, pronto! If only they were not so busy herding together and self-congratulating themselves on being so independent thinking.

Bats might work just as well as a pee-wee on a string. These flying mammals could continuously circle around my body, catching and devouring all the biting insects. Sometimes they do this of their own accord, as I witnessed while on a backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park this past summer. The key would be how to get them to follow you around continuously, especially during the daytime.

Bats eat a lot of insects and they should get more than enough during the summer season, especially in the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, many bat populations are in severe decline in the eastern United States due to white-nose syndrome. Some bat species populations in the eastern United States have endured over 90% mortality because of this disease.

Oven Lake

With the significant reductions in bat species, it is hard to rationalize keeping them around as I explore the backcountry, even if it was possible to keep them from flying off. Or worse, biting my nose off. Then I would get red-nose syndrome!!

This past summer while hanging out on the shore of Oven Lake, deep within the Five Ponds Wilderness, I observed numerous dragonflies and damselflies consume biting insects from mosquitoes to deer flies. Several times one or more of these predatory insects would land on my hat, arm or shoulder and wait until they spotted their prey. When they saw something of interest in those spooky compound eyes, they would swoop off, snag it and return to their previous perch to devour their well-earned meal.

So maybe it would be possible to train a group of these predatory insects to hover around me as I bushwhack through the forest. And luckily, these insects are not protected by law OR suffering from a population crippling disease. Now if I could only figure out how to teach them to fetch.

Fortunately, with the colder weather moving in and the summer bug season just a memory, there will be plenty of time to come up with some more crazy ideas of dealing with biting insect swarms in the backcountry. Maybe some of them will even be practical. Nah, probably not.

Ever come up with a unique idea to deal with biting insects in the backcountry? If so, share it with everyone in the comments below. The crazier the better!

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2 comments on “Aside: Crazy Ideas for Dealing with Biting Insect Swarms in the Backcountry

  • Don’t be a puss and put on the carcinogen. Ben’s 100% DEET on your skin is the best way to get rid of insects.

  • bushwhackingfool

    November 2, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    A puss? Now, just because you have to saturate your skin in nasty insect repellent there is absolutely no reason to call us who do not any nasty names. And, I think the US Army did a study that demonstrated 30% DEET was most effective against insects NOT 100%. Sometimes the “more is better” philosophy is not the correct one.

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