Humans may be one of the biggest and baddest predators in the field, but even we can suffer at the hands - or pointy parts - of the tiniest creatures: insects.
Anyone who's spent any time in the great outdoors - hunting, fishing, camping, hiking - has surely had to deal with the inevitable unpleasantries of sharing the field with any number of tiny pests. Those stinging, sucking and biting creepy crawly insects can turn an outing into a miserable experience if we're not prepared. It's just a part of the game.
It's a good idea to do a quick reassessment before any outing, of the most common insects and arachnids we might encounter when heading into the wild.
You probably know the characters on this list already, but it's never time wasted to run through them again each year. It's also a good time to take stock of your inventory and methods of thwarting your bug enemies.
I'd argue that ticks are the most despised of all of the insect threats to humans. They are often the hardest to detect and carry some of the most frightening of diseases. Tick-borne diseases include but are not limited to Lymes disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and now the Powassan Virus. These diseases can lead to serious physical problems and even death.
There is a tremendous amount of online information on ticks. It would behoove every outdoorsman to, at the very least, religiously practice the most basic of tick prevention and follow-up behaviors, as outlined in this tick infographic.
My tick prevention inventory includes a set of high quality tick tweezers (about $11) or give the new Tick Twister a try, a small LED flashlight (helps when looking through hair or in low light conditions), quality tick sprays with DEET for on-the-skin application and permethrin for clothing (please see this video for a primer on permethrin effectiveness) and, depending on what the outdoor activity is, appropriate clothing choices.
However, the most important tool in thwarting ticks, in my opinion, is awareness and thorough follow-up in briefly spot checking yourself occasionally in the field and thoroughly upon returning home.
Mosquitoes are the insect equivalent of the menacing horde, often attacking the exposed outdoorsman like squadrons of blood sucking kamikazes. Slap one and another is quick to takes its place. Rarely will you be bothered by only a mosquito or two.
Like ticks, mosquitoes are also notorious disease carriers. Worldwide, mosquitoes are responsible for spreading more disease and causing more human deaths than any other insect family.
Fortunately for those of us in the USA, mosquito-borne disease in this country is fairly uncommon anymore. For most of us, mosquitoes are more often an irritation - granted, often an extreme irritation - and nuisance.
As far as mosquito repellents, DEET continues to be the most popular topical product (it works!). There are other products on the market, both natural and lab-made, to consider as well. Picaridin and metofluthrin are two other chemical repellants that have had positive results. Eucalyptus products and those that rely on thiamine (vitamin B1) are two popular natural deterrents.
Recently a friend shared an experience with an all natural mosquito repellant that she and her husband had excellent results with. Allow me to share her direct quote:
"During our 2-day hiking trip in the Sparta area, we stopped at a cute little gift shop and picked up this natural bug spray: Insect Veil Spray, made by Sweet Grass Farm. We put it thru a test on a very dense vegetative 6 mile hike, along the Kickapoo river. The smell was fresh and yummy. I emerged from the hike with zero bites. My husband left one arm untreated. He had four mosquito bites on his untreated arm, and nothing on the treated areas. YAY!!!!
Ingredients: water, soybean oil, essential oils of catnip, cedar, wintergreen, and lemongrass. Upon further research, the two key ingredients here for repelling are the catnip oil and soybean oil."
But there have also been many times when nothing more than a bit of mosquito netting has made life in the field bearable for many outdoorsmen.
There are around 40,000 species of spiders worldwide. Of course most of them pose no threat to humans. In the U.S. there just a few that outdoorsmen would do well to be aware of: the widows, the brown recluse and wolf spiders.
Widow spiders are perhaps the most notorious of the poisonous spiders, with the black widow being the most infamous. Back in the days before modern plumbing became the norm, everyone knew to scan the outhouse seat before doing their business. Widow spiders were well known to favor outhouses and similar dark environments.
Their venom is also reported to be 15 times stronger than rattlesnake venom, though human death is rare in those who have been bitten.
There are several species of widow spiders throughout the U.S., and not all have the iconic red hourglass on their abdomens. Learn to identify those that are common to your area.
Brown recluse spiders also have an extremely toxic venom. They're also known as fiddleback spiders because of the distinct violin pattern found on their back (technically, the cephalothorax, where the legs attach).
They frequent human structures like homes and barns more than they are found in the field. So, it's not a bad idea to follow your grandparents' advice and shake your boots out before putting them on.
A friend of mine was bitten by a brown recluse this ast year. Fortunately his reaction to the bite was fairly minimal, and he "only" felt some initial nausea and a slight fever. The bite area took weeks to heal though.
Wolf spiders are the third common venomous spider species in the U.S. that outdoorsmen should be aware of. They are good hunters and are often found in leaf litter searching for prey.
Their bite is generally no more irritating to most humans than a honeybee sting. I've been bitten and, while not pleasant, it required nothing more than a quick wash and the application of an ice cube. But everyone reacts differently to such things, so it's best to be aware of them.
The best advice for avoiding venomous spider encounters is to know what the little beasties look like and what kind of habitat they prefer. Scan the spot where you plan to sit down to wait while squirrel hunting, for example, and check your blind upon entering. Common sense things like that.
If you do get bitten by a venomous spider, wash the area, apply ice, self monitor yourself (the bite area, your heart rate, nausea, etc.) and seek medical help.
There are, of course, a whole lot more unsavory little fiends out there than these few bad guys. If you've ever had a centipede crawl up your leg while sitting at the base of a tree, or picked up a cottontail rabbit covered with fleas, you know there are a lot more than this partial list.
We'll get into more insect predators in our next installment. We'll be looking at:
- Biting midges (no-see-ums)
- Ants (fire ants)
- Hornets and wasps
- Giant waterbug
- and more...
These are probably the most common insects that most outdoorsmen and women in America will encounter. Again, a little forethought and planning can help avoid some minor irritation or even something more serious and health-threatening.
Until next time, be prepared when you enter the field.
Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.