Bugs and Bites at Camp


An excerpt from The Family Camping Guide

Mosquitos, Black Flies, Deer Flies and Deer Ticks

I recall one weekend camping near MacTier, not far from the Legion at – of all places – Mosquito Lake. At least that’s what we knew it as locally. It was accessed just off of Joseph Street and was a curious body of water only because it’s surrounded by a thick layer of floating vegetation.

Anyway, a friend and I took our motorcycles up, rode in as far as we could on the road then hiked the remaining distance around to the far side of the lake. We selected a rocky outcropping as a campsite and settled in to watch the sun set. About 7pm, the mosquitoes became so thick that if we inhaled too deeply we’d actually suck in bugs!

We reasonably assumed that once the sun set the bugs would ease off as is typical. It didn’t happen. The bugs got so thick that we had to drown the fire and retreat into the tent. We could actually hear them buzzing by the thousands outside the tent. By morning we each had dozens of little, scratchy red bumps all over our bodies and the sunrise brought little in the way of relief. It was heavily overcast and humid. The mosquitoes just kept coming.

If we wanted to eat we had to start a fire, so we did. The smoke helped to drive off many of critters, but it just about choked us. After breakfast I drove back into town and bought a big bottle of bug repellant and that seemed to help considerably – at least with bites. The mosquitoes would still buzz around and go into our ears or eyes. It was just awful and we finally broke camp and went for swim over in Stewart Lake – it was a tremendous relief.

The reason this story stands out for me is that its level of bug severity is rare. It’s the only time I ever let bugs get in the way of doing what I had originally planned. The vast majority of the days I’ve spent camping are nothing like this particular and singular experience.

A reminder that Ed Horner is not a medical professional. Any advice offered herein is anecdotal and should be used only as a reference for further investigation by the individual. Always seek professional medical attention when it comes to your health and safety.

Mosquitos and Black Flies

So, let’s start off by recognizing that you can’t make bugs go away and if you decide can’t live with that then you need to alter your plans and location to avoid high bug season. Typically, this is May and early June in areas of Ontario north of, about, Gravenhurst. Southern areas tend to be less buggy during this time, but that’s only my observations and experience talking.

  • Set up camp in a breezier area and avoid marshes, wetlands and stagnant bodies of water

  • Camping near the shore of a lake isn’t too bad, as the breezes tend to blow the bugs around too much and they seek shelter in the grass and vegetation

  • A sunny site, tends to keep the mosquitoes at bay more than shady areas

  • A smokey campfire absolutely helps – if you and your camp neighbours can stand it

  • Be sure the bug screen panels on your tent are intact and that zippers close properly. Mosquitoes find their way through any little crack in your tent defences.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine (October, 2013) mosquitos remains have been found in solidified amber that are estimated to be at least 46 million years old. These flies have been around a long time and don’t seem to be going extinct any time soon.

Adult mosquitoes are the problem of course, particularly the females, as they are the ones that bite humans and drawn our blood. Apparently without blood from a mammal, the mosquito can’t reproduce. The male of the species feeds on flower nectar. Surprised? Me too, but it’s true.

Many years ago most of the private and publicly owned campgrounds used to get the “Mosquito Guy” to come around with the propane powered fog machine and chemically fog the property to help kill mosquitoes. It definitely helped, the chemicals also harmed or killed birds, “good” insects and contaminated any edible berries in the area.

As far as I know, provincial authorities no longer fog their campgrounds, nor does it recommend fogging your campsite on your own. If you decide, against all reason, to fog your campsite, check with the park manager before doing so, as there may be a specific bylaw which prohibits your doing so. Also be sure to check with your campground neighbours, because the fog drifts around and they might not like it.

When it comes to personal bug repellant on your body, you still can’t beat DEET (,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamid). In 2002 Health Canada banned DEET solutions greater than 30%, citing health reasons. If used on children a DEET concentration of 10% or less is recommended. In any case, do not use DEET on infants.