AS DAYS lengthen, the outdoors beckons with a siren call of cookouts, campfires, hiking, fishing or just lounging away the long summer sunsets in a hammock. But much in the way those mythological singers lured unsuspecting sailors into the path of trouble, the tantalizing sensations of sun and fun in the wild are luring you into the path of bloodthirsty monsters.
Tiny monsters—but monsters nonetheless.
Arkansas’ healthy populations of both ticks and mosquitoes mean that figuring out a battle strategy for the bugs is key to having fun in the woods and on the water. And with the rise in tick- and mosquito-transmitted diseases in recent years, protection from the biters becomes a more serious endeavor.
No matter what you do, you’re still likely to find a tick or two on yourself, and there’s no way to prevent every mosquito you encounter from biting you. But with the right protection, it’s possible to enjoy the summer outdoors relatively unscathed.
First, Try to Avoid Them
It’s hard to be outside and not be on a tick’s radar, but avoiding deer trails and places that deer frequent lowers the risk a bit. Deer trails are the inverse of a drive-through restaurant for ticks because all kinds of critters—foxes, raccoons, coyotes, rabbits, unsuspecting humans, etc.—use deer trails for the same reasons deer do.
As for mosquitoes … sorry, there’s really nothing you can do to avoid mosquitoes.
Since full avoidance of ticks and mosquitoes is impossible, repellents are a necessity. Thankfully, there are a plethora of proven options on the market, with the more potent products containing either Permanone, Picaridin or DEET.
Permanone is a spray that must be allowed to dry on clothing before use. It can remain effective for up to two weeks and even through washing, but don’t apply it to bare skin. The active ingredient in Permanone is permethrin, a synthetic molecule similar to that found in pyrethrum, which occurs naturally in the chrysanthemum flower. Permanone will actually kill ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, mites and many other insects upon contact.
Picaridin is a synthetic compound that resembles the natural compound piperine, a chemical found in the black-pepper plant. Picaridin has only been available in the United States since 2005, but it’s been widely used in Europe and Australia for decades. Picaridin can be applied to your skin, and it won’t kill pests, only repel them. I’ve not tried Picaridin-based repellents yet, but I will.
DEET has been called the gold standard for pest repellents—it’s what I rely on the most—yet no one is really sure about how it works. Applied directly to skin, it doesn’t kill ticks or insects, but it does seem to confuse them, and in their confusion, they don’t bite. There’s been some concern about the safety of DEET, but research has shown that when used as directed, there’s little risk. Stronger concentrations of DEET correspond with length of effectiveness: 10 percent DEET gives you a couple of hours of protection, while 25 percent gives you about four hours.
Some research has shown that products with lemon eucalyptus have proven just as effective as DEET. Plus, the former smells better. I plan on experimenting with lemon eucalyptus this summer.
Just For Mosquitoes: Thermacell
Thermacell technology is a mini butane heater and heat-activated repellent. Load the fuel, place the pad, click the button—voila—within a few minutes, you’ve got a 15-foot circle of protection with no messy sprays. Mosquitoes hate it, and it’s moderately effective on other flying biters.
From spring turkey season through summer’s camping, hiking and fishing, and even into early autumn’s squirrel hunts, there are two items always in my pack: A Thermacell and a can of Deep Woods OFF with 25 percent DEET, though I may replace the DEET after experimenting with other options this summer.
I still pick up the occasional bite because that’s the price for being outdoors in Arkansas. But thankfully, I can reduce my exposure and concentrate on enjoying The Natural State relatively pest-free.
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