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more on horseflies and other nasties

An earlier article on horsefly bites has been getting a lot of attention so I thought I would expand further on the endlessly fascinating subject of being bitten.

Horseflies can fly into a boat and though you are on the water and in a breeze they hide low around your legs to avoid getting blown away. They then attack. Horseflies are pretty stupid and slow- you can kill them easily as they stay feeding after they have inflicted their bite. Better late than never.

Do horseflies attack everyone equally? I think they do. The thing is- if you have a thin tight shirt they will bite through it- so wear a thicker shirt or an undershirt beneath a baggy thin top shirt.

If you keep walking or moving horseflies tend to not strike nearly so often as when you are sitting. So if walking in shorts cover your legs with a scarf or sweater when you sit down for lunch.

Mosquitoes are supposedly, according to some research, to home in on CO2 emissions and not heat. I have observed that they tend to ‘pick’ on one person in any group. That person is usually either the youngest, healthiest, the cleanest or the fattest, or the one with smelly feet. And if you’re young, clean, healthy and fat with stinky feet- woe betide you in the wilderness!

We can surmise the reasons easily: over eons mosquitoes have developed clever sensory apparatus. My guess is CO2 is just one of a gamut of sensory skills they have. They sense heat- hence going for young people or smelly footed ones  (a hot foot becomes a smelly one), they sense blood more easily in healthier people and cleaner people.

Having spent a great deal of time in some very heavily insect infested areas from south east Asia to northern Canada I can pass on some of what keeps me from being bitten too often. I have spent time in jungle houses with people who have malaria and I've avoided it, so far, so this advice may actually prove very useful.

1.   Avoiding being bitten is far better than any kind of internal medicine. To avoid being bitten, cover up with baggy clothing and wear a head net if necessary. Wear a bug jacket if you have to- this is a net jacket  that covers everything.

2.   Get a decent mosquito net, or better, sew a head net to your sleeping bag or sheet inner top – add ties so that it can be attached to a hammock or tent and hang down over you.

3.   Everywhere you can buy those green anti-mosquito coils. They work best in pairs- but if there is no air circulation you will get up next day with a headache.

4.   Plug in heaters which are loaded with a tablet of insect repellent are also great in infected hotels- again it’s a toss up between limiting further insect access or getting enough air to breathe. I’ve found sometimes it’s just enough to shut the bathroom window and door.

5.   Half an hour before sleep go into your tent and blast it with full strength aerosol insect killer- the highly nasty stuff. By the time you go to bed the damaging stuff will have settled. On a short trip you’ll be fine. You can do this in hotel rooms too.

6.   On hiking trips I don’t really wash that much. I get fairly grubby and I don’t use scented soap. This patina of filth (hands and face cleaned only) seems to direct mossies to my cleaner pals. No science but it works.

7.   I also stand in the smoke of wood fires whenever I can. You see native Americans doing this all the time. Not only do you not get bitten at the time, you also carry the wood smoke smell which deters them later on.

8. I never wear open sandals at night- always get bitten down there otherwise. Worst is being in an outdoor restaurant with your feet being eaten at the same rate as you are eating the house special.

9. Deet really works. 50% is fine and doesn't dissolve your watch strap or kill your eyes when it gets in them- as it will when you sweat- unlike 100% strength. You can mix deet with vaseline to get it to stay longer on the skin. What I do is simply drench my cuffs and shirt collar and hat- since my only exposed areas are hands and face and I'd rather not have deet directly on them. Deet'll wear off all too quickly but it's good to have some around.

Thus armed you will be fine: let battle commence!



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