Sweet summer. The days are longer, the shorts and flip flops appear, and barbecue grills become weekend gathering spots. But, summer can also mean the arrival of unwanted seasonal pests. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to thwart summertime bugs, whether you’re gathering for a backyard cookout, heading out on a hike, or planning a weekend camping trip. Here’s what you need to know about summertime bugs, including tips on preventing bites and stings.
Know the Main Offenders
Hovering flies waiting to descend on picnic platters and gnats making a beeline for eyes and nostrils are troublesome pests, but some summer bugs aren’t just annoying, they’re also hazardous to your health. Here are a few seasonal insects to keep on the radar:
Wasps and Hornets
Unlike bees, wasps and hornets can unleash multiple stings on their victims. These common summer insects often build aerial nests in places like deck railings, porch awnings, and hollow tree trunks. While bug repellents are not effective against stinging insects, wearing light-colored clothing and avoiding fragrant perfumes can help to reduce the chance of being stung by wasps or hornets.
Biting flies—like horse flies and deer flies—can ruin evenings at the ballpark, beach days, and summer picnics. Bites from these winged pests are the result of blade-like mouth structures designed to draw blood. Although a bite can be painful, it will usually clear up in a few days. Like wasps and hornets, light-colored clothing can help to deter biting flies, along with DEET and picaridin-based insect repellents.
Ticks are among the most efficient carriers of disease, and unfortunately, they can pose a threat to outdoor lovers of all types. Exposure can occur at any time of year, but ticks are more active when the weather is warm, and typically pose the greatest risk between late spring and early fall.
Ticks are typically found in tall grass, underbrush, and wooded areas. When they’re searching for a new host, they often position themselves along well-trodden trails. Insect repellents with DEET have been proven effective against ticks, and clothing treated with products containing the insecticide permethrin can also deter the arachnids. After spending time outdoors, be sure to check clothing, skin, and pets for ticks. To kill ticks that might be clinging to clothes, use high heat in the dryer or hot water in the washing machine.
In most of the country, mosquitoes are only an issue during the summer and fall, but in the southernmost portion of the United States, the pests can be prevalent almost year-round. While most mosquitoes only cause itchy bites, the blood-sucking insects can also spread viruses.
In the continental United States, West Nile Virus is the most commonly spread by mosquitoes, but the insects can also transmit lesser-known viruses like St. Louis encephalitis. Luckily, several repellents have proven effective against the bothersome insects, including products made with DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Chiggers are actually immature mites, and the tiny pests can cause intense skin irritation when they latch onto humans. Instead of feasting on blood, chiggers feed on skill cells, releasing digestive enzymes capable of causing inflammation. They typically congregate in overgrown grassy areas, along streams, and in berry patches. Repellent products with DEET and clothing treated with permethrin can help repel chiggers. Plus, you can ward them off by wearing long sleeves and tucking your pants into socks or shoes.
The Lowdown on Bug Sprays
These days, there are a wide array of bug repellents on the market, from products using synthetic chemicals to more natural options made with plant oils. In terms of chemical-based repellents, DEET and picaridin have both been proven effective. Initially developed by the United States military in the 1940s, DEET is among the planet’s most widely used repellents and is effective for deterring a range of insects, including ticks, mosquitoes, and some types of biting flies.
However, DEET can damage gear, and the chemical does not readily degrade in naturally occurring bodies of water, meaning it can also harm aquatic ecosystems. Like DEET, picaridin is another chemical option. It’s a synthetic form of a natural repellent found in pepper plants. Picaridin has been proven to deter biting flies, mosquitoes, and ticks, but unlike DEET, it’s virtually odorless and will not damage plastic or synthetic gear.
Besides DEET and picaridin, plant oils are also commonly used in insect repellents. Synthesized plant oils, including IR 3535 and lemon eucalyptus oil, are still considered chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency and have been proven effective at deterring mosquitoes.
There are also several other natural (or non-synthesized) products made from plant oils such as citronella, lemongrass, and peppermint. Just be aware that these products are not regulated for efficacy and are typically less effective than chemical products. The Centers for Disease Control recommend selecting a repellent with one of six ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), and 2-undecanone.
Protecting Your Yard
In the backyard, irritating insects can ruin everything from dinners on the patio to impromptu baseball games. Fortunately, there are several tips are tricks to keep pesky summer bugs away from backyard gatherings.
Eliminate standing water in the backyard. Bird baths, kiddie pools, and rain-filled fire pits can become breeding grounds for irritating insects.
Keep trash and recycling bins tightly sealed to deter flies and other summer bugs.
Insect repelling plants like citronella, lavender, marigold, and lemongrass can help dissuade irksome insects from crashing summer gatherings.
Birds and bats consume vast numbers of infuriating summer bugs. Consider installing a bird feeder or bat box to attract these natural predators.
Tips for Campouts, Picnics, and Days at the Beach
Family picnics, lazy beach days, and campouts under starry skies are all summer highlights, but bugs can be a deal breaker. In addition to slathering exposed skin with insect repellent, there are a few other ways to ensure summertime bugs don’t ruin seasonal excursions:
When selecting a campsite or a picnic spot, select someplace dry, and keep an eye out for standing water.
Whether camping out for the weekend or just stopping for a picnic lunch, keep dining areas clean. After eating, clean up right away, wash dishes on the spot, and dispose of trash in a sealed container.
Some insects are attracted to fragrant personal hygiene products like deodorants, soaps, and shampoos. When you’re headed into the great outdoors, leave behind the perfume and body spray, and try using unscented hygiene products.
If you use sunscreen and insect repellent at the same time, be sure to apply sunscreen first. And don’t forget to use a waterproof insect repellent.
Devices like insect-repelling lanterns (using allethrin), along with citronella candles and sage sticks (burned in a fire) can also help deter summer bugs at campsites or picnic spots.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.