And the black flies, the little black flies
Always the black fly no matter where you go
I’ll die with the black fly a-pickin’ on my bones
In North Ontario, io, in North Ontario.
-Chorus from “The Blackfly Song” by Wade Hemsworth
It’s definitely that time of year — bug season. I was out canoe-camping with the family last weekend and, once again, forgot how annoying blackflies and mosquitoes can be this time of year. We spent most of the time hiding in the bug shelter and lathering on the DEET. My wife and I escaped with only a few bites. But my daughter, Kyla, counted a total of 21 bites on her body and our dog was covered with bites, from her floppy ears to shaggy tail. Poor Ellie.
The question is, our some people (and dogs) more susceptible to getting bitten then others? Here’s a few facts I dug up to help minimize the displeasure of getting blood sucked from your body.
All blood-feeding insects find their prey by body temperature, activated by lactic acid produced by muscle movement and the carbon dioxide emitted when you exhale. They absolutely love warm sweaty skin on a cool day.
Warm days, however, seem to confuse them. All species also dislike pouring rain, cold days when temperatures reach below 10 degrees Celsius and blowing winds; the blackfly in particular is not a strong flyer and can only reach a top speed of one km/h.
Dark colours attract more than shiny bright colors. Wearing blue jeans is just asking for it; lime green neither attracts them nor keeps them at bay; and hot pink works great.
Bug hats, or better yet, bug jackets are an essential part of your equipment list from the first week in May until around the second week in July. Bug repellent is also a must. My preference is Bens.
There are lots of formulas out there, but the best is anything that contains lots of DEET (Diethyl Toluamide). The chemical is mostly effective in keeping blackflies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and ticks away from your exposed skin. I wouldn’t squirt too much on, however. The stuff also works well at stripping paint and melting plastic. I remember back during my tree-planting days for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Northern Ontario, we were told never to put DEET on our hard hats. One worker ignored our supervisor’s rule one day and soaked his helmet. He got caught when the foreman saw thousands of dead blackflies stuck to his bright yellow hard hat. To show the reasoning behind the rule the boss smacked the hard hat against a rock. The plastic headgear cracked right down the middle. After witnessing that, I’ve kept to only putting small amounts of DEET directly on my skin. Usually I just spray the chemical on my bandana wrapped around my neck. I also make sure to keep my shirt-sleeves and pant-legs tight with elastic bands.
Repellents containing citron, like Avon’s Skin-So-Soft hand lotion are more gentle to the skin and are almost as effective as DEET. They usually don’t last as long though. Taking vitamin B tablets three months prior to your trip has also been proven effective. Eating lots of citrus fruit and garlic, and avoiding bananas, are other suggestions to think about. Even applying a combination of spices – cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme and allspice – to your skin may work. That’s what I do for my dog. I combine the spice kit to her belly and place my bandana around her next with DEET sprayed on it.
Best of all is After Bite. It works great for reducing the itching and swelling.
My all-time favorite weaponry against bugs is my Eureka VCS Bug Tarp.The bug shelter is a regular rain tarp with a fine mesh netting attached to the four walls. The whole outfit weights about three pounds for the larger size and two pounds for the smaller version. It also uses no-see-um netting, which makes the price is a little high but far more effective against “punkies.” The netting is attached to the four walls by plastic clips, making it possible to detach that section and just pack the tarp along during less-buggy conditions.
My regular canoe-mates teased me to no end the first time I brought the tarp along on our annual Spring fishing trip. They said I was a sissy. However, when the bugs got really bad and I went inside my bug proof shelter to cook up dinner in peace, they pleaded with me to be allowed in. Payment was a shot of brandy each and an immediate apology for calling me names.