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Bug Be Gone

Bug Be Gone
by Andy Dappen

It’s happening earlier than normal this summer. We’re receiving word at WenatcheeOutdoors.org from mountain bikers riding near Lake Wenatchee and from hikers visiting the Squilchuck Basin that the vampires are emerging. I’m not talking Twilight, I’m talking about those pesky blood suckers that have you posing testy questions like, ”Why did God create mosquitoes?” Answer: Some mosquitoes are pollinators; many are food for amphibians, reptiles, other insects and migratory birds; and some fish feast on mosquito eggs. The other common question: How do I keep these fiends from feasting on me?

  • First and foremost, cover most of your skin with baggy, lightweight, tight-weave shirts (long-sleeved) and pants. Mosquitoes will bite through T-shirts and cotton sweat pants but can’t bite through lightweight uncoated nylon wind shells which are comfortable to wear in a wide range of temperatures. Specialty sport shops carry fancy wind shells while Goodwill often has cheap yet functional options. Make sure the shells are made of uncoated nylon so they breathe well while you walk.

On your exposed skin (face, neck, hands, and ankles), use bug repellent. Over the decades I’ve tested many types of bug repellents. As a writer who covers this topic every few years, I’ve also researched what other objective testers have discovered. Here’s what I’ve found to be true:

  • To thwart bugs (especially mosquitoes), products using DEET as an active ingredient are still the most effective at repelling all species of mosquitoes as well as many other types of biting bugs. DEET has worked for me in North America, Europe, Africa, and South America. It also seems to work well on all people. It is, however, worrisome to slather a chemical on your skin that dissolves some plastics, discolors many fabrics, and is absorbed into the blood stream. Still, given the choice between being sucked dry overnight, getting malaria (abroad), contracting West Nile disease, or simply going mad, I frequently revert to the plastic-melting compound that actually works.
  • Just because DEET works, the strongest concoctions don’t necessarily deliver the best results. Some tests indicate that formulas using 95 percent  DEET volatilize (evaporate) faster than some formulas using 35 DEET but that have other inert ingredients to slow down the evaporation. Most of the better-conducted tests I’ve read indicate that formulas with at least 25 to 30 percent DEET deliver considerably better results than formulas dipping below these percentages. Because DEET is absorbed into the blood stream, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends formulas with less than 30 percent DEET for children.
  • There are many ‘natural’ concoctions out there using such active ingredients as Citronella or mint oil. I’ve tested formulas with those two ingredients and had crummy results. They deserve a two-thumbs-down, many-welts-up rating.
  • Two non-DEET active ingredients that are getting acceptable reviews from reliable testers are picaridin and lemon eucalyptus oil. I’ve tested Cutters Advanced (using 8 percent picaridin) and it worked but its magic wore off far faster than DEET. It had to be applied two or three times more often than my DEET mainstay and I found that while its effectiveness was diminishing I got bit quite a bit. Natrapel makes a formula with 20 percent picaridin that claims long staying power and that Consumer Report gives good grades.
  • I have yet to test products using lemon eucalyptus oil. If you’ve used these or other formulas with good success, please pass along your experiences.

Long ago I led college groups to Alaska for three summers where we canoed northern rivers. Here are some bug findings from those times.

  • Supposedly by consuming vitamin B or B1 pills for a few weeks, you start stinking to high-mosquito and biting bugs will stay away. Garlic makes this claim, too. Among the students who tried different B vitamins (and garlic) some believed it made them less appetizing, others believed it made no difference. The real test, however, was that all these students grabbed the DEET when the bugs were really bad.
  • The original Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil was touted as a mosquito repellent that some of our college students used with itchy results. They quickly converted to DEET in the field. A newer Avon product uses IR3535, a mosquito repellent that has been used in Europe and is now EPA-approved. I have no personal field experience with the IR3535 formulas but objective product reviews don’t inspire confidence in its effectiveness.

Every few years there comes a new version of a tiny ultrasonic device claiming to emit a high-frequency noise that mosquitoes hate. These devices purportedly create a bubble of protection around you. I’ve tried two of these devices and, even when I placed these transmitters right beside mosquitoes mainlining out of my arm, the bugs were undeterred. I could use these devices to squash the bugs biting me, but a slap of the hand worked better.

Finally, a question for readers. Have any of you use Insect Shield clothing that builds insect repellency into clothing claims to maintain its repellency for 70 washings? If so, how has it worked for you? What items of clothing are most valuable – bandana, socks, hat…? Use the ‘Comment’ field below to weigh in.

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