Bite Me, Winter Edition: A Foremost Mosquito Expert Helps Us Fight Off HWPs* (Horrifying Winged Pests)
Is your skincare routine making you a target for #hwp (horrifying winged pests)? Mine was, until I got a clue. A clue that came from a foremost expert on all things horrifying and winged.
While Zika, West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever get all the headlines (and for good reason - they can be deadly), we FBPers have a much more superficial reason to stop bugs in their tracks: très unsightly bite marks. Plus they totally ruin our fun and sense of outdoor tranquility. How can you maintain a Sun Salutation pose during yoga on the beach, or your chit-chatty poise during cocktail hour, while swatting these infernal critters?
And don't get us started on the tricky feat of shaving your legs around the resulting welts.
FBP needed answers, so we sought out Florida’s top expert for advice.
As managing editor of the Florida Mosquito Control Handbook, as well as past president of the American Mosquito Control Association and the Florida Mosquito Control Association, Dr. C. Roxanne Connelly is Professor and Extension State Specialist of Medical Entomology at the University of Florida, specializing in mosquito-borne U.S. diseases, mosquito control, and mosquito biology. She works with our state’s mosquito control agencies, county health departments, and county extension agents.
She knows her no-see-ums stuff too.
So here are some not-so-fun facts, according to Dr. Connelly:
-From November through April, of the 80 mosquito species that occur in Florida, 40 are active in any given Florida county; from November through April, of the 47 no-see-ums species, 15-20 are active.
-If you live or vacation in South Florida, your pesky pest situation is amplified year-round.
-Coastal destinations are always more active than inland locales. (Dana and I both live on the Gulf Coast. Yay and nay...)
-If a mosquito is biting you, it’s a female. The males and females feed on sugar from plant nectars, but the female needs blood to nourish her developing eggs.
-If you reside near a salt marsh, you are destined for intense year-round issues. Yours truly - an NYC gal - had to ask what a salt marsh is. As it turns out, I live less than 30 yards from a really famous one, which makes my neighborhood ground zero for #hfp in Naples. How do I know this? I boldly accosted a Collier Mosquito Control officer when I spotted him in uniform at my local Panera.
In addition to those factoids I extracted, I also conducted a Q+A with Dr. Connelly. Here you go. You're welcome.
FBP: Why are some people more delicious to mosquitos and no-see-ums than others?
Dr. C: “It’s all about the chemicals of living; every person secretes different combinations of micro-organisms and chemicals. Biters hone in on a combination of chemicals emitted from the body through breathing and sweat - including carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and octanol - seeking their next meal from those who smell best to them. And they can smell you from quite a distance.”
FBP: Several products in my beauty arsenal list lactic acid as an ingredient. Could this be amplifying the attraction?
Dr. C: “I have not found any studies backing up the statement that these face creams or lotions would make someone more attractive. The combination of heat, CO2, lactic acid and other chemicals emitted from humans is what attracts mosquitos - I suspect that the other ingredients in the creams and lotions would overpower the lactic acid, making it not attractive to mosquitoes.”
FBP: Given how hot and humid it gets in Florida, many of us schedule our outdoor workouts during cooler times of day. Is it my imagination that I get more bites walking my dog in the morning then again at cocktail hour?
Dr. C: “It’s not your imagination. The most active feed times for blood-sucking bugs are early in the morning, then early evening. And if you’re exercising, they are drawn to the smell of your sweat, which is mostly water, lactic acid, urea and trace minerals.”
FBP: Are there supplements we can take to make us less attractive?
Dr. C: “The CDC studied this, using bananas, garlic, and Vitamin B as supplements, finding none effective in preventing mosquito bites.”
FBP: What do YOU personally use for protection?
Dr. C: “The gold standard is DEET which is the active ingredient in products such as Deep Woods Off. Formulations containing the ingredient Picaridin are also effective.”
FBP: Why do people swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft?
Dr. C: “That and natural oils may trap the bug on your skin so it cannot fly or possibly bite. They are not repellants, nor are natural and homeopathic products, which do not work either.”
FBP: Wear dark or light clothing? Which is right? I’ve heard it both ways.
Dr. C: “Dark vs. light clothing is another myth, just like supplements. But notably, if you’re wearing contrasting colors like black and white, mosquitos and no-see-ums see you as a big target.”
FBP: My husband never gets bitten. He’s also kinda hairy.
Dr. C: “Hair can act as a deterrent to biting, but don’t forget to apply repellent to exposed areas like where you part your hair and the nape of your neck. Mosquitos are frequent ankle biters too.”
FBP: What about perfume?
Dr. C: “Perfume is not an issue: a fragrance’s ingredients don’t coincide with the actual scents making you an attractive target to mosquitos and no-see-ums.”
FBP's takeaway: Though I’ve never been camping, I’m a fan of Deep Woods Off, even for cocktail hour on the porch. Dana prefers Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard plus Picaridin Towlettes for everyday use, but uses repellant with DEET for her weekly dusk-timed tennis extravaganza. More to come in Bite Me: Summer Edition, and if there’s a product that works for you, drop us a line.