BY DODI KINGSFIELD, TECHNICAL SERVICES SUPERVISOR, FREELANCE WRITER & AUTHOR
By the time this article hits the press, black fly season should be in full swing. Those annoying little insects that are barely visible on spring days, yet make you aware of their presence by leaving bites around your hairline and neck as you plant the garden. Black flies mark the beginning of the outdoor bug season starting in May and ending in the fall. For the signs of indoor bug season, look for ants and spiders that move about the house in April when it gets warm outside.
With all these bugs suddenly coming to life, there also arrives the potential for health risks: Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever from ticks, West Nile virus from mosquitoes, infections from spider bites or allergic reactions such as anaphylactic shock from bee stings. As a parent, our responsibility to our family is to protect them from harm, which requires creative methods of bug protection. One can choose from a litany of chemical products that potentially expose young children to toxic substances or combine more natural methods to create a safer, cleaner environment inside and out for our entire family.
Bugs are not quite the enemy, but to combat an enemy one must know their habits. By knowing where biting and stinging insects like to hang out, you can avoid the bug’s environment and consequently, avoid getting bit or stung. Mosquitoes favor hot weather and love standing water like a marsh or puddle. They prefer evening hours and stick around all summer long. Ants come in many shapes and sizes: carpenter ants, black ants, and those little tiny ants that come in mobs of a zillion after crackers my kids drop on the floor. For as many varieties of ants there are, there are even more spiders. Gentle spiders like the daddy-long leg pose no threat. But wolf, tunnel and even the fuzzy black and white jumping spiders can leave behind a nasty welt if you don’t check under the covers before climbing into bed or the putting on the shirt that was on your bedroom floor for the past week. When Fido comes in the house after playing outside, check him thoroughly for ticks and fleas. These tiny insects live in the woods and high grass areas, and hitch rides on passing animals and kids. Check warm, dark places, behind ears, hairlines, armpits and intimate areas where ticks like to migrate to. As the weather warms and flowers bloom, the stinging insects come looking for food and places to start building a nest for the upcoming season. They will hang out in the eaves of your house, porch, shed or garage, in playground equipment, and even in the crannies of your outdoor furniture. Honeybees and bumblebees prefer flowers found in gardens and trees, pollinating as long as there are flowers to pollinate. By developing an awareness of insects and their habits, you can develop an awareness of what insects are around you. Now you have to know what to do about them when they are there.
Since the presence of bugs are inherent to the season, the prevention of bug bites and stings is key to more enjoyable summer days and nights outdoors. There are internal and external approaches to preventing bug bites. Many of the foods and nutrients we ingest naturally repel insects such as onions, garlic, thiamin, and zinc. Externally, we can prevent attracting bugs by not looking and smelling like a flower. Lotions, perfumes and cosmetics all contain scents that attract insects. Bees and other stinging insects love the color yellow, so wear white or light colors if possible. Wearing light fabrics in long sleeves and long pants protects the exposed skin from bites. A hat, socks and even mosquito netting to protect the neck may be in order, depending on the intensity of the bug population. Alternatives to chemical bug repellants available on the market are herbal tinctures containing menthol, eucalyptus, pennyroyal or catnip, natural creams and ointments or Avon’s Skin-So-Soft. Pin a satchel of bug repellant herbs to your child’s coat or belt for extra bug bite prevention. For backyard protection, plant or hang insect repelling flora like the mosquito plant, a pitcher plant or tansies. Burn citronella oil in candles or tiki torches during evening hours around the yard in safe areas or use electronic bug zappers. Backyard campfires usually create enough smoke to keep pesky mosquitoes away. Stay away from known bee or wasps nest and avoid killing any stinging insects, which could cause a swarm; nests must be eliminated and may require the use of experts. Always check the kids and pets from head to toe before bed for ticks and check their beds for spiders that like to hide in dark places.
While fighting bugs all summer seems like a fruitless effort, elimination of their nesting and hiding areas goes a long way when using natural bug protection methods. Drain any standing water around your home particularly puddles, catch basins, and ditches. These are areas harboring mosquito larvae. For areas not drainable, add bleach to the water to kill the larvae. You can also fight mosquitoes with one of their natural predators, bats; by putting up bat houses in your backyard. Cut the long grass around the kids play area and near the dog kennel where fleas like to live. Pick up outside the home and garage and eliminate stacks of wood, piles of rock and other hideaways for insects to make a nest. Spray your eaves and around the foundation of the home with borax solution to protect against ant infestations. Powdered borax sprinkled around the doorways and windows also helps repel ants. Next time you wander through the exotic fruit section at the grocer, pick up one or two of those big bumpy ugly looking oranges called Osage oranges. Place them in your cellar on a shelf for the season and you’ll be hard pressed to see a spider roaming around in the basement. Some bug infestations can be too big a job for the ordinary person and may require the use of professional exterminators. Discuss your expectations regarding the use of kid and pet-friendly bug repellants up front and shop around until you find someone willing to work with your family’s needs.
Whatever method of bug protection you choose for your family, it’s good to know there are natural alternatives that are safe for your kids and the environment you live in. So eat your garlic today and bite back this summer, before the bugs get you!
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes childrens and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org.