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Winning Against Bloodsucking Insects

Birding / Hiking / Adventuring Roadtrip Info


Nov 2018
We are enthusiasts, not experts - read disclaimer.

Step one: Read the section on bugs in my essay about hiking in the summer.


Summer is when bugs are a problem in Florida.


Where are the bugs?

Mosquitoes -They like access to water and shade. They die from drying out. Forests that periodically have standing water after the rain (so all but dry forests or pine forests that have no leaves to catch water) tend to have clouds of them. Walk fast and you can outrun them - if you're with someone else you can see the human shaped cloud following like a 3rd hiker. Stop and you're going to be enveloped. Also anything near wetlands. At night it's all shade so you just have to have habitat in the area.

Ticks - We've only really run into ticks when we've been off trail, on a trail that's not maintained to the point it basically IS off trail, on a trail that's been so flooded they climbed us not to drown. Ticks don't jump so if your shoes have been treated and you only walk in short grass you're in good shape. There have to be mammals around to have a population so urban trails are less likely and the further south you go the less likely you are to run into them. That might be because there is less forest generally. I never even thought of them for years hiking central Florida state parks until I got hit badly - now I pay attention. In general if you're walking with plentiful deer and grass taller than sock height you should be extra aware in summer.

Deer flies / Horse Flies - my experience has been that they're in forests with deer but it needs to be in a generally wild area - not an isolated forest. They don't like to hang out in full sun but after they find you they may follow you in full sun. Some people are much tastier targets than others. Most deer flies seem to be these guys - yellow flies, doctor flies especially. I wrote a separate article about them here.

Oddball stuff -

On some coastlines and at dusk near some mangrove swamps you can get enough "no-see-em" which I think are a kind of sandfly. They can be extremely unbearable and hit you in a cloud. I think there may be different species because some leave huge welts while others it goes away faster than a mosquito bite.

There are other bugs that I don't know what they are but they're never really enough of a problem to figure it out. Repellent works but we always just called them gnats or no-see-ems when I don't think they were all the same. Sometimes in summer if you walk without normal shoes (so flip-flops) there are things that bite but you just forget they are there. Chiggers are a thing and I'm sure I've been bit but again it's not something that was troublesome enough to worry about.

There is a type of giant mosquito we only noticed once - the galliniper- it bites THROUGH clothing and it feels like someone gave you a shot. It's pretty uncommon. They're slow and easy to kill.


Ticks are usually around in summer but they can get you any time of year. Deer flies start end of April and go away as summer wanes. Mosquitoes stay around until it gets good and cold a few times though they might hide out more often when it's colder so it seems like they are gone. Also fun fact - after a big hurricane they can literally be blown away. No mosquitoes for a long time after hurricane Irma - it was great!.


Protection / how to beat those f*ckers!

- Level One: Repellent lotions/sprays

Most people start with repellent. There are natural things with some merit but if you are dealing with clouds of mosquitoes let's just talk about going big: high dose Deet or Picaridin - they're about the same effectiveness. 20% Picaridin is the max, 30% and above Deet is good though you can go up to 100% and it just lasts longer. So go "deep woods off" not something with "family" in the name if you're going into deep woods. I've noticed Deet has a slightly more toxic feel to it and it can smudge/melt plastics a bit. So I tend to go with Picaridin and I just always carry it in my pack. 

For mosquitoes if you COVER yourself in the stuff and you're in a thick cloud of mosquitoes standing still - you will still get bitten, just not as much. It's mostly bearable - or you'll be totally fine if it's not dense with mosquitoes. They say it will keep ticks away from your legs. Deer flies it only works for the first like 20 minutes and even still they might still bite. So for me that's not enough - I add some clothing to the mix.

- Level two: Pyrethrins are amazing

Permethrin/Pyrethrins are derived from chrysanthemum flowers. I used to garden and add marigold seeds to keep pest insects out - the smell of the stuff reminds me of that. If an insect touches clothing that was sprayed with Permethrin up to 6 weeks ago they are either stunned or drop dead. I'm very sensitive to chemicals but I don't notice this stuff at all unless you get it on you while it's wet and spraying on something. There are two applications for this stuff

1) Clothing

As I mentioned above if you spray or soak some of your clothes in this stuff it will last for 6 washes or 6 weeks. I soak or spray long nylon pants, socks, shoes and hat. Usually ticks start low and climb up your body until they find a spot they like. If your clothes are treated they don't get far before falling off. Never had a tick with treated clothes. For deer flies: what attracts them is moving dark objects. One trick people use to manage them is to get a sticky yoga ball an hang it from a rope to move in the breeze to clear an area out. So the trick I like is to make a nice clear target they like - a dark hat - and cover it in Permethrin. Normally they bit the shit out of me but leave Cari alone. After doing this - we went to Lower Suwanee National Preserve where her hat was COVERED with them. Mine - none. I often hear them zoom in then either leave fast or just silence. Super effective.

2) Thermocell or some smoker coils

A Thermocell is a little pad soaked with pyrethrins in front of an element that's heated up by a butane canister. It doesn't get very hot and it's not an open flame - not quite sure how that works but the heat it does have emits a bit of smoke that is the pyrethrin. So what happens is you have about a 15 foot range where every bug flies away ASAP. I actually use one to clean out a garage that tends to get a lot of wasps. The down side to them is that you have to be sitting still so it's best for camp sites or hunters. Also I've read that it's bad for young fish but that hasn't come up as a possible issue for me yet. Look online for cheaper ways to do refills than what they ask - it's affordable for what it does but they are making a crazy profit from it at your expense IMHO.

- Level Three: Clothes and nets

Lots of trails have very little chance of ticks or biting flies. So you can wear shorts just fine. But deer flies for me tend to bite the legs, and ticks as said above tend to go for your legs on the way up. So I wear crew height socks and nylon pants or at least convertible shorts that you can zip legs on to if you have problems. Add permethrin and it works pretty great. Sometimes I don't bother with repellent but mosquitoes can still go for your head and arms. I don't go all in and wear long sleeved shirts but you could. Also I read Les Stroud (Survivorman) say once that he used mosquito nets to keep out bugs. You can get one that goes over your hat and you're in the clear. I have one but I've yet to actually use it.

I'm sensitive to chemicals so I get it if you want to avoid them. I just dislike fly and tick bites more. One path to think of is that if a chemical is dry it's less likely to mess with you - you can put deet on your collar rather than your face for example and dry permethrin is very different than wet ones. If you want natural repellents there are alternatives but I don't have much experience with the ones that are probably best. Also I get sick from the smells of some of them. So I'll leave it to you and a web search. I have wanted to try Beauty berry. Native Americans used it, it grows where you tend to have the most mosquito problems, it's very easy to spot, and some articles I've read showed it to be pretty effective. Some stuff is snake oil.


Not blood sucking but noteworthy while we're talking about insects:

There are all kind of things that will bite you if you try to hold on to it, crush it, or go digging through dead wood piles. But it's pretty easy to avoid all that. Scorpions I've seen in dead wood, under logs, and crawling into rural mailboxes. Never been stung but it's not that big of a deal. We have black widows and they can show up anywhere (seen one on a beach, seen one set up shop on the handle to a busy office). But again - don't mess with them and no troubles. Also not very common. There are a couple spiders that hurt to be bitten by but I've never had a problem. Most of our honeybees are "killer bees" at this point but if you don't get close to their hive they just see you as a tree. I'd garden with 100's of them around and I was never stung. Golden silk spiders are sedate and really pretty despite being quite large. Their only problem is that in forests with lots of mosquitoes they like to put up huge webs at face height across hiking trails. It's to the point that you have to walk moving a stick in front of you like a blind person often. I've gotten webs to the face many times and have yet to find one that didn't manage to run for the trees before going away with me. The only place I ever see wasps is in human built structures like trailheads. I've yet to ever been bitten - it takes a lot to really make them angry. Velvet ants or cow killer ants are noteworthy because they are so pretty you might be tempted to pick them up. They're fuzzy and orange and are actually flightless wasps. You often see the wandering around on sandy trails and hot roads. They're paper wasps so pretty good and painful though I don't think they've ever killed a human or a cow. Fire-ants probably should be moderately scary but they are so common it's hard to really think of them that way. Because of them whenever I stand still on sand I always look down to make sure I'm not in an ant pile. If you've never experienced it what happens is usually they all climb on your shoes and legs and on cue they all start stinging at the same time through your socks. One definitely gets your attention but it's a mad dash to get your shoes off and pick all of them off as they're madly trying to murder your shoes. If you never stand still without looking down you're fine. I've gotten bitten once in the last 200 trails. Cicadas - on some of what I'd call the wet forests in mid summer there can be so many that their volume you almost have to shout over. It's very impressive. Despite that I've only seen a dead one a few times and a live one once. They look like enormous house flies but they don't bite people.

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