Bug Wisdom

[JUN2019] The main nuisance insects here are mosquitos and deer flies (nothing to do with deer ticks, which can carry lyme disease). Black flies do turn up briefly in mid-May but only for a few days. Mosquitos arrive in late May or early June, with deer flies usually a week or two later. They begin to decline around late August.

Mosquitos tend to flourish during a warm and damp summer, while deer flies seem to be at their worst in hot and dry conditions (isn’t it delightful how they cover off the two main summer weather realities!) but both will be around in some numbers regardless of the conditions.

What follows are some of the main things I’ve learned about these bugs over the past decade or so of summers up living up here… no guarantee its accurate, scientific or complete.

  • They say that white and light clothing is less attractive to flying insects. My experience shows this to be quite true, particularly when it comes to what is worn on your upper body. My guess is that dark clothing makes you appear to the bugs more like a mammal—which will be furred, and that fur is usually medium to dark shades—and thus looking more like a meal opportunity.
  • The density of bugs will differ amongst various types of forest areas, and may also vary depending on how much breeze is present, so take note of where is better/worse.
  • If you become exasperated with bugs, it almost always attracts more (I think because of your movement and the increased heat and breath expulsion). And… you will be attracting them not just to yourself but to anyone nearby you!
  • Personally, I’m not a big one for applying insect repellent to my skin (have you seen what high-% DEET repellents can do to plastic?!) If bugs are that bad, I am more likely to wear a head net over my hat or even a full bug-shirt. In addition to being less invasive, these options keep on working with near 100% effectiveness, and soon repay their cost.
  • I don’t have any personal experience with the electronic gadgets people set up on stands or strap to their arms (e.g., thermacell) but some of my guests have told me they work.


It’s the classic sound of summer camping in Ontario, a high-pitched whine of a mosquito. What they lack in brains and stealth, they make up for in sheer numbers.

  • They seem attracted to heat (I am guessing that’s why they’re often flying around our ear openings) and to expelled breath (i.e., carbon dioxide). Of course, these factors make you more of a target when you’re exerting yourself. I have also seen people get fed up with having a few mosquitos around, and all that happens is that their upset and un-calmness attracts more!
  • They’re easy to kill, with even a light swat, as soon as you feel them land. Though I sometimes get entertainment from slaying them in mid-air by clapping my hands together or using one hand to quickly clasp them out of the air and crush them in my palm—which also makes a great reaction/dexterity exercise as I age.
  • They seem to be worst around dawn and dusk, and in particular what I call the “witching hour” sometime around 7-9 PM. On the up-side, on hot summer days there is often a delightful lull of activity during the early/mid afternoon period.
  • Repellents (e.g., “Off”)  do tend to stop them from landing and biting, but they lose effectiveness over time… some (like the natural ones) after as little as 30-60 minutes… and require reapplication.

Deer Flies

Compared to mosquitos’ helicopter-like manoeuvring, deer flies are more the aerobatic fighter jets… though they get stuck in doing circles and are much less likely to land.

  • They’re attracted to movement. After all, they’re looking for a deer… or some animal of similar size… to come along so they can take a meal. When walking through the forest they can seem relentless, sometimes as if they have a tag-team agreement so when you leave one fly’s zone another picks up the chase! But when you become stationary (e.g., lying on a hammock) they are much less of a bother.
  • Wearing a hat to cover your hair cuts down enormously on the nuisance factor, especially one with a brim that goes all the way around (e.g., “Tilley Hat” style).
  • Unlike mosquitos, they don’t so readily land and bite, though when they do you’ll know it.
  • Also unlike mosquitos, which are an easy swat, deer flies need a good strong whack to kill them.
  • Repellents don’t seem to have much effect, perhaps because they are more likely flying circles around you than actually landing on your skin.

And finally…

There’s a joke about campfires, that no matter where you sit the smoke seems to come to where you are. Dunno why, but it seems true more often than not. But the up-side is that smoke helps keep the evening mosquitos away.

A recent innovation is the “bug racquet”, which looks like a small tennis racquet and contains batteries to electrify the grid of wire in the racquet head. It doesn’t cut down much on the insect population (“one down, four-hundred and seventy trillion to go”) but can be tremendously satisfying, especially with deer flies which enjoy flying circles around you.  I have two such racquets available for loan to guests 😉