Controlling Insects in a Wilderness Setting

Insect Swarm

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world but not all of them bite humans. The Aedes vexans species, which is found in every U.S. state, does feed on humans however, and there are plenty of them. Only the female mosquito bites, and draws blood, which is needed in egg production.

Mosquitoes are able to zero in on humans, because of carbon dioxide. Some people give off more carbon dioxide than others, and thus the reason some people tend to be bitten more. Size does matter, because the larger you are the more you give off, and the greater mass for mosquitoes to target. Movement, heat, and lactic acid in your sweat also attract mosquitoes and other biting flying insects.

Males tend to be bitten more than females and children are bitten less than most adults. The color of clothing does not appear to have any effect one-way or the other as an attractant or deterrent to mosquitoes. Color of clothing can have an effect on bees however.

Steroids and cholesterol secreted through the sweat glands is also an attractant. The body naturally eliminates cholesterol and depending on how efficient the body is, one person may have more on their skin than another.

Naked and afraid with bugs swarming around you like a cloud. Imagine if you were a participant on the reality television show “Naked and Afraid”. Your first line of defense against bugs, which is your clothing, is gone. You cannot concentrate on survival tasks because of the swarms. How do you even begin to protect yourself?

Covering your skin is important and mud works as good as clothing if it is available. Native Americans and others used mud and animal fats/oils on their skins to repel mosquitoes and biting black flies.

Oil and grease can help as well if you happen to be stranded with a motor vehicle nearby. Survival of course, is all about using what you find in your environment, so it is important that you do a zone assessment to identify what may be available.

Smudge fires work well because smoke will help repel insects. Sagebrush and wormwood is especially effective because they are considered an aromatic. Cedar is also effective so toss on a few cedar boughs as well.

Smoky fires while not good for cooking or heat will produce a cloud of smoke that insects simply cannot tolerate. Green pine boughs can be used as well as any non-poisonous green foliage. Green foliage will of course create the most smoke.

Plants in the Wild

Peppermint can often times be found growing wild, because of its invasive nature the plants previously cultivated will continue to populate an area for many years. Most mint varieties once started will essentially take over an area if not contained in pots.

The active ingredient mentha piperita or menthol can help repel insects. Bruise the leaves and rub on your skin. The active ingredient menthol is cooling to the skin. Menthol is used in vapor rubs to open up sinus cavities and to help with other breathing problems. Mint is also a known remedy for stomach ailments.

Peppermint is a hybrid mint. It is a cross between watermint and spearmint. Mint can easily be identified from its smell.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has been shown to be a very effective insect repellent. You can rub the bruised leaves directly on the skin or infuse in oil and then rub on. It is not likely you would have a bottle of olive oil sitting around however, so simply grab a handful of leaves, crush and rub on exposed skin and then bunch the stems and leaves to hang in and around your shelter.

In tropical regions, citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) is cultivated expressly for repelling insects, in particular mosquitoes. Citronella oil is extracted from the plant and is used in insect repelling candles and other products sold commercially. While not native to many areas of the world citronella grass can be cultivated in certain parts of the country and world as an ornamental grass so it can be found in various places. Bruise the stems of grass, rub on, and then hang the bruised grasses in and around your shelter, and especially near your sleeping area.

Other wild plants known to repel insects include lemon balm, wild bergamot, snowbrush, cedar and sweet fern. There are of course other plants, but the listed ones are the most common and can be found in various places in the country and around the world.

It is important that you have the experience and knowledge to identify plants that can be useful in a wilderness environment. Pictures and descriptions are simply not enough. Pick up a reliable and up to date botany guide and get out into the woods. Nothing is better than field experience, and if you ever get the chance to go out into the field with a plant expert then do so, it may very save your life one day.

Come dressed for the part and be prepared with a few items that can be carried with you. Insect repellent is obviously your first choice. DEET at 30 to 50 percent concentration is recommended because once applied it can provide protection up to 12 hours.

Mosquito netting is also an item that is easily packed or even carried in a pocket if necessary and in tropical regions insect netting is literally a lifesaver. There is the standard netting and then there are hammocks and even small tents with the netting incorporated into them that again can easily be packed.

When using netting ensure you set it up so your body is not in contact with the netting when resting or sleeping. Insects may be able to bite through the net if your body is pressed against it.

You can find netting hats that can be worn throughout the day and night to provide protection. The netting may cause a few blind spots when worn so pay more attention if you are in an area where animal or humans may be a threat.

Clothing, shoes and gear can be treated with Permethrin, which is an insecticide and repellent. Treat the outside of any sleeping gear, backpacks, shoes and outer clothing to repel and kill insects that may come in contact with the items. Make sure you have long sleeved shirts and long pants. Bandannas can be worn to help protect the head and neck as well.

Home Remedies

Some people claim that rubbing cider vinegar on the skin will help repel insects. Some also claim that consuming cider vinegar by mixing with water or juices will do the same thing. Whole garlic is also eaten as a deterrent. The theory is that the acid in vinegar will make its way to your sweat glands and the acid will repel insects. The same theory applies to garlic. Baby oil and imitation vanilla is said to reel insects according to some people.