The Bugs of the Hiking World

As the hiking season commences, so does the “Bug Season.” Here is a list of a few of the bugs you might encounter, and how to treat their bites and how to avoid them all together.

1.) Black Flies:

These insects are typically small, black or gray, with short legs and antennae. They carry numerous diseases on their bodies including river blindess (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_blindness). Male black flies feed on nectars, whereas females feed on both nectar and blood. They feed in the daytime, which means you will not be bothered by them at night. If you are out on a windless day, then watch out! Black flies will be out in abundance. However, if it is breezy, black flies will lay low.

It is very difficult to keep black flies away. Unfortunately, they are sometimes attracted to DEET based products. Permethrin products that are typically used for repelling ticks may work, but since they can only be applied to clothing, their utility decreases.

Keep in mind that black flies swell during the wetter months of spring and summer. Therefore they will be around between the months of April and July. And they tend to be a huge nuisance in mountainous areas.

Black flies normally bite thinner skin such as the nape of the neck, or the ears. The bites are shallow and result in swelling and itching at the site. Enough bites can lead to symptoms of “Black Fly Fever” which consist of headaches, nausea, fever, and aching joints. If you are allergic to the black fly, then you will experience wheezing and or hives.

To treat a black fly bite, try putting ice on the site to reduce swelling, and follow with a good cleaning with soap and water. Afterwards, apply an over the counter topical treatment cream that has an antihistamine in it. You can also use calamine lotion to reduce the itching. Try not to itch it too much (no matter how much you want to!) so as to not tear the skin.

2.) Mosquitoes:

The dreaded mosquito! These insects breed in shallow, standing water pools so avoid them as much as possible. They carry numerous diseases on their bodies, for example malaria (http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/).

Like the black fly, male mosquitoes will feed on fruit nectar, whereas females must feed on blood before they can lay their eggs. Their bites result in the raised, red bump we are all so accustomed to.

Mosquitoes typically bite at dusk or nighttime when they swarm and they are the worst during the late spring and the summer months.

Swelling occurs due to itching, and the redness will appear within a few hours after the bite.

In order to treat a mosquito bite, do not itch! Apply an over the counter topical treatment to reduce the itching. Try to get one that has an antihistamine in it. Calamine lotion works well, as does a hydrocortisone cream, and even baking soda! There are many plant based oils that you can apply as well, so look for ones with lemon grass, cedar, geranium, and citronella.

Wear light colored, long and lightweight clothing. Light colors are repellants against pesky mosquitoes.

3.) Deer Flies:

 Deer flies have patterned gold or green eyes, and  dark bands across their wings, making them easy to distinguish among other flies. Male deer flies collect pollen, and the females feed on blood. The deer fly is a vector for diseases, like anthrax.

The deer fly bite can be extremely painful, and an allergic reaction to the saliva can follow. Redness and itching are common.

They are often found in damp areas in the forests, so look out before sitting on any damp logs!

Treating a deer fly bite is similar to treating a black fly bite. Do not itch it, and apply a topical cream. You can also ice the bite to reduce swelling.

4.) Midges or No-See-Ums:

 These annoying insects are Midges. They are most commonly called No-See-Ums because they are so small that you can barely see them, and they are small enough to get through screened windows.

Like the rest of the insects mentioned, the female midge feeds on blood. No-See-Ums also breed near water. They live in shrubs and near damp areas.

The bites are similar to mosquito bites. They are red and itchy. However, I have found that the bites stay red for many days longer than a mosquito bite. I have some midge bites on my feet that I got over a week ago, and they are still very red and itch a little. Whereasthe mosquito bite I used to have on my hand went away after three days.

Treat midge bites the same way as mosquito bites, and DON’T ITCH THEM!

So, moral of this post? Stay inside. No! Just kidding :). Go out and experience the world.

I hope this information helps you to avoid these bugs and, if you get caught with a few bites, how to deal with them.

Happy travels!

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