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Repelling Insects 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Biting insects can drive us indoors. Wildlife are not as fortunate as we are in escaping biting critters. They find ways to reduce the nuisance by selecting breezy locations that keep mosquitoes and black flies away. Deer flies arrive later in the season and provide a painful bite but not as bad as a horse fly bite.

Black flies swarm in early spring. A friend said black flies were in thick swarm around me. I did not receive a single bite. When black flies first emerge, they do not seem to bite. I need to study that more. Maybe males emerge first. They do not need blood for egg development. When tiny black fly females arrive, they crawl around on skin looking for edges like hairline or bite at clothing edges.

When I wore a swimsuit, black flies couldn’t find a place to bite except at the suit’s edge. I treated that edge with repellent and I remained bite free while fishing. Large numbers of these small humpbacked flies landed on me and crawled about but they are so small I did not feel them. We do not feel their bite either. It is not until later that bite sites become red, itchy, and painful.

Avoid insect repellent chemicals as much as possible. Many repellants are not healthy for us when applied to skin. Place repellent on clothes. When biting insects are numerous, keep your body covered for protection and apply a safe repellent to limited exposed skin. Insect head nets are better than chemicals for protection.

Be careful not to get the chemical on the palms of hands because it will get on things you touch. I touch plants, insects I study, frogs, or other life. I do not want to injure anything I handle or leave chemical traces on leaves that are beneficial for insects to eat. Apply repellent to the back of hand and wipe it on face or neck. Do not spray your face because some might get in eyes. Avoid applying to forehead. When you sweat, it will to run into your eyes.

Mary Miller, who worked with me at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, taught me that wearing a bracken fern worked well to keep deer flies from biting and swarming my face. These flies circle our heads and are disturbing beyond their bite. Pick the fern and place its stem in hair or hat. The leafy portion of the fern rises above your head. Flies swarm that instead of our face. It is a simple repellent.

Wearing cologne, perfume, or hair gels attract biting insects and even irritated stinging wasps. We might want to smell great for people but it will attract unwanted insects. It has been difficult to get some students to appreciate the natural world if they use hair gels. They are bothered too much by insects to enjoy the outdoors.

Some people have their own natural repellents. My youngest daughter and I are not bothered by insects as much as Karen and my older daughter. I think it is because Julianne and I have more vitamin B. The four of us were hiking Five Lakes trail near Strongs in the UP and it was 80 F. Karen and Jenny Jo wore sweatshirts with hoods and covered all but face and hands. Biting insects were so thick around them they could not enjoy the hike. Julianne and I wore light weight clothes with skin exposed and insects were not thick around us.

A world of natural chemicals in nature niches attract, irritate, or repel insects. Plant chemicals protect them from insects and we extract those to use as commercial repellents. Native Americans historically rubbed sweetfern leaves on themselves because the chemical in leaves repels insects.

Biting insects are most problematic from May to late June. It is wonderful to be outside but bugs can drive us indoors. Find ways to be outside during all seasons. Staying in open sunlit breezy areas works well to avoid biters. Shaded wet areas have more mosquitoes. Camping in mid to late summer and fall has fewer irritating insects and makes for a better family experience.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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