What do you think about when you hear the term, ‘Mosquito’? Most of us see them as pesky little insects that give a very itchy bite and are downright dangerous in some circumstances.
But did you know that in the whole scheme of things the mosquito plays quite an important role.
This is what Outdoor Skills Expert, Tamarack Song has to say.
Song of the Mosquito: How to Live in Balance With This Honored Guardian of the Wild Places
No other animal in the Wilderness is more joked about, cursed or feared than Mosquito. After all, she is known to spread disease, suck veins dry and drive otherwise sound people to delirium. Yet there is another side …
A couple years ago a reporter from a big city newspaper called me to get some information for an article on Mosquito control and mosquito bite prevention. He also interviewed an academic bug expert, whose quote, “I wouldn’t go (Tamarack’s) route,” ended the reporter’s resulting article.
Why are there such entrenched camps around how to relate with this fragile, weak-winged being we call Mosquito? And what might we do to honor her as a fellow creature and occupy the same space as her? Before we explore those questions let us find out just who this notorious and embattled six-legged is.
To many of us who live both in town and in the farther places, she is a nuisance; to city governments she is another pest and disease carrier to target with a vigorous “control” program. Humorous postcards in just about every vacation region claim that she is the state bird. To the manufacturers of Cutters and Off she’s the greatest thing since cockroaches. To many wilderness trekkers she’s a spoiler who clouds the sun and rivets the skin by day, then by night relentlessly drones her nauseating whine at maddeningly close quarters. To Native People she is honored sister and animal guide who heralds the coming of the Green Season. She is a guardian of the farther places, helping assure that their beauties and mysteries be preserved for those who Walk in Balance.
But why Mosquitoes? Why not something more cute, or at least less hurtful? Many of us who state that we love nature are referring to the noble, the inspiring, the photogenic. Usually not Mosquitoes. We have a cultural aversion to insects in general, and biting insects in particular. Yet insects are the most numerous, varied — and some say the most beautiful — of animals. Mosquitoes themselves are often resplendent looking; many have iridescent wings and some have other frills such as red-striped legs.
Let us again turn to Native wisdom for another perspective: In the Hoop of Life all is sacred; Mosquito is as well a child of The Mother, thus no more or less important than are we. Mosquito is as vital and noble and beautiful as Hawk or Grandfather Pine, so she is accorded the same respect and admiration.
She plays an important role in the food chain; her often abundant larvae are food to fish and invertebrates, and she is fare for Birds, Bats, and Dragonflies.
Still, when we are harangued by these pesky little blood siphons we can well find it hard not to develop an attitude and start swatting and spraying. They can keep us indoors and put a damper on otherwise enjoyable outdoor activities. So what do we do, especially those of us who wish to live more respectfully and responsibly?
We may try one of the naturally-based repellents which have come on the market in recent years; they may be citronella or citrus oil based.
Megadoses of vitamin B-1 appear to work for some; others favor garlic capsules. The most curious repellents I have come across are Avon’s Skin-so-Soft and Bounce Fabric Softeners pinned to clothing. None of the above, however, are near as effective as Cutters or Deep Woods Off.
Yet there is a natural approach as effective as those chemical stews, but it is so little known and hard to bottle that it can’t be bought. It’s one we live.
The clues to that Balance lie in knowing Mosquito. She is a fragile creature, a weak flyer sensitive to dryness and paranoid of tight places and anything oily. She is much like us in the ways she is drawn to food–color, appearance, smell. She can smell the carbon dioxide in our breath and the carbon dioxide and lactic acid that emanate from our skin; she can see our silhouette, movements and the color of our clothing and can sense our body heat.
Some of us ring our dinner bell louder than others because we have a mouth watering combination of the above signals. The key to DEET-free outdoor living is to eliminate or disguise as many of those signals as possible and to confound Mosquito over the rest. The following list contains some suggestions which have overlapping effect; select a combination which best fits your person and situation. They work synergistically; several together can be as effective as a synthetic deterrent.
Mosquito Bite Prevention
- Stay in the breeze. Mosquito can fly only eight m.p.h., so it doesn’t take much to waft her away.
- Create a breeze. A 50 yard dash will leave the swarm lost and confused. Repeat as necessary.
- Choose a high sunny location. Mosquito dehydrates easily, so seeks shade and low areas where the humidity is higher. If all else fails, climb a tree or perch atop a rock.
- Wear long, loose-fitting garb to keep Mosquito from biting through to skin. Earth hues disguise us in the Woods; green is best, brown rates second. White masks your silhouette in the open. Blue is worst; Mosquito mistakes it for a flowering plant from which she draws sustaining juices. Red flags her in also, as well as other insects. (Below-waist colors aren’t as critical; Mosquito will bite regardless.)
- Air out outdoor clothing so that it does not harbor attractive odors.
- Drape a Fern frond, long hair or something similar over head and face. Mosquito doesn’t like close overhead shadows or feeling boxed in while feeding.
- Go slowly, remain calm. The more we sweat, breathe and agitate, the more Mosquitoes we will attract and from a farther distance.
- Walk first in line. The cumulative draw of a group of people is felt more the farther back in line one is.
- Eat raw garlic. The essence laces breath and exudes from skin pores, masking your lunch call.
- Eat foods and drink aromatic teas indigenous to your area.. You’ll then smell like you belong. (I learned this from the local Natives, who did it to camouflage for the hunt.)
- Avoid stimulants and sugar. They rev up the metabolism, which sends out louder invitations.
- Oil your skin. Mosquitoes are obsessive about keeping their wings grease-free.
- Apply an aromatic oil such as Cedar (or other conifer) or crushed orange peel, onion or garlic. Give special attention to the warmest, leanest parts of your body — neck, armpits, ears, wrists — wherever blood vessels are close to the surface.
- Teas of the above will work also, but lose effectiveness when they dry. Sweat keeps them active.
- Smoke skin, hair and clothing. Make a small smudge fire (see box), hold clothing over smoke and work into hair.
- Avoid scented personal care products and laundry detergents. They are seductive perfume to Mosquito when activated by body heat.
- Choose midday or after dark to be out. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk.
- Choose a cool over a hot day, a sunny over a cloudy day, a low-humidity over a high-humidity day.
For Your Camp
Welcome Dragonflies and foster ponds — their breeding ground. They can consume their weight in Mosquitoes in a half hour, they’ll fly miles for the meal, and they can spot the buggers 50 feet away. Immature Mosquitos, called wrigglers, are water dwellers and the favorite food of Dragonfly larvae–also water dwellers. Old favorites like Bats and Purple Martins include an average of only a couple percent Mosquitoes in their diets.
Keep a section of yard open to sun and breeze.
When On the Trail
- Follow the guidelines under Location in choosing your campsite.
- Make a smudge fire to create a dense, cool, low-hanging smoke (see box). When smoke hangs around, the Mosquitoes don’t.
- Sit tight. If the Mosquito population is light to moderate, those in your immediate vicinity will soon satiate themselves (or get massacred — your choice) and you’ll be left with just the occasional drifter to feed.
- Brush them off. Our most common Mosquitoes take several seconds after landing to bite, so keepin’ them hoppin’ with a periodic sweep can be a temporary fix.
A Mosquito bite itches and swells as the result of an allergic reaction to the anticoagulant in her saliva. The most effective treatment I’ve found is to alternately compress and release the bite to cause the toxin to disperse. This works for the bites of most other insects as well.
Dehydration may magnify bite reaction; be sure to hydrate well before hitting the trail and also carry along adequate drinking water.
Perhaps the fact that I’m still alive and sane after years of outdoor living (without commercial repellant) in Skeeter Country is some testament to the fact that this mosquito bite prevention approach does work. And yet I like a few Mosquitoes around; they help me to slow down and they bring me teachings that touch many areas of my life. I am proud and honored to live in their domain and call them sister.