Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Spring has definitely sprung!

What beautiful weather we have been having lately. Like the early ice-out this year, everything else seems to be about three weeks early. Trilliums are starting to flower, a few black flies have been spotted and the trout are biting, according to customer reports.

If you are planning a trip to Algonquin Park in the next few weeks, you should be prepared for black flies and possibly a few mosquitoes. In a recent newsletter from our friends at Black Feather, bug expert and Black Feather director Wendy Grater offers some great advice on dealing with bugs. Here it is:

As the trilliums start to bloom and buds turn into leaves, the blackflies and mosquitos of the north woods start to make their return.  All mosquitos are not created equal.  Of Canada’s 74 species, some are extremely aggressive and annoying, others less so.  Aedes vexans, for example, is a small, in-your-face mosquito that comes out a week after a heavy rainfall, day or night.  Other species, such as Culex tarsalis, are less aggressive.  Sneaky but easily disturbed when biting, C. tarsalis will attack your ankles and backs of hands while you are not looking. Only the female mosquito feeds on blood, which is a vital source of protein for egg production.  The so-called ‘bite’ is actually a puncture by her proboscis.   
What is the best protection against this relentless little insect?  In Canada, a product can be registered as an insect repellent only if it provides greater than 95% protection for at least 30 minutes to an approximate area of an average human forearm.  If it meets this standard, Health Canada issues it a Pest Control Product number.  
Products based on a synthetic chemical that we know as DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) offers long periods of protection.  The mosquito hones in on carbon dioxide, heat and lactic acid that we produce.  DEET has been used for the past 40 years and is the best protection against mosquitos.  Since the mid 1950’s, DEET has undergone extensive testing and billions of applications.  DEET is available in varying concentrations.  A 30% product would provide about 6 hours of protection, and is best for most adults.  There are guidelines for the use of insect repellents for children under the age of 12.  As a precaution, wash off insect repellent when you come indoors and do not use a DEET based repellent on your pets! 
b) Natural Remedies
There are a number of natural insect repellents, using such things as eucalyptus oil, citronella oil and soy bean oil.  The word ‘natural’ suggests a gentle, toxic-free method of protection, but the effectiveness of natural products still relies on chemical action.  Some plants are toxic and many used in repellents contain volatile plant oils.   Algonquin Outfitters note: many of these are quite effective but generally do not last as long as DEET-based products. Trial and error or expert advice are the way to go here. I personally find products containing tea tree oil and eucalyptus to be reasonably effective.
c) Homestyle Remedies  (ie:  Wendy’s tricks after 25 years in the wild!!)
There are several ‘home’ remedies:  ingesting foods high in sulphur, coating your skin with petroleum jelly, eating onions, eating garlic.  Its safe to say that the amount of garlic that you’d have to eat would leave you friendless long before you repelled any mosquitos.
Some personal things that you can do to minimize the amount of bugs around you:
- avoid wearing dark colours - these attract bugs
- avoid eating bananas
- keep cool - heat and sweat attract bugs
- don’t breathe!  - C02 attracts bugs!
- don’t use perfumed shampoos, soaps or makeup (try citronella-based shampoo & body washes)
- use bug jackets or at least head nets. Algonquin Outfitters note: these products are a physical barrier against bug bites. If you live and/or work in bug country, you definitely need a bug jacket. We carry a wide range and are big fans of the Original Bug Shirt.
- seal pant legs and sleeve cuffs to shut out insects
- impregnate a bandana with DEET or Citronella and tie around your neck
- sit (or stand) a minimum of 3 metres (10 feet) away from the next person.  Space allows air to circulate, decreases the amount of warmth and CO2 around you.
 Canoe tripping in bug season can be quite enjoyable if you are prepared to deal with our flying friends. You are guaranteed not to see many other people, that's for sure!

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