Going Batty, Helpful Hints on Beating Summer Bugs

By Andrea Frascione, staff writer

N-B., CANADA (RPRN) 7/06/2009 – You are relaxing peacefully in a hammock amid a beautiful, lush forest replete with moist, sweet-smelling coniferous vegetation when along comes a hoard of mosquitoes to interrupt your slumber! Little did you know that you could have prevented such a disturbance by following a few helpful (natural) hints in beating summer bugs.

Pascal Landry, a certified forest ranger for the past five years, also works for a peat-moss farm during the off-season in New Brunswick, Canada.

Landry told RPRN,‘‘The worst danger about North America’s growing mosquito population is that there are more potential carriers of West Nile virus and other diseases than ever before. In recent years, there has been much more precipitation in springtime, causing more puddles and stagnant humidity in the forests, resulting in more apt locations for mosquitoes to populate.’’

While insect repellent products such as Muskol, Off! and Watkins can be effective for a couple of hours, they are simply a band-aid solution and not a permanent answer to reducing the huge population of mosquitoes that invade our parks, preserves and camping grounds every year. The reason repellents work is that they contain a chemical called deet – alright if used sparingly, but in excess can be damaging to the skin, not mention our lakes and rivers once we wash the stuff off! Remember: anything sprayed or rubbed on the skin’s surface eventually seeps into the bloodstream, just as anything flushed down the toilet or run down the drain winds up in our water systems.

Insect repellent alternatives may be concocted naturally using essential oils and active ingredients of essential oils. An essential oil is defined as any oil extracted directly from a plant, carrying the odor and other characteristic properties of that plant. Some examples of naturally derived essential oils by category are:

· Tree: eucalyptus, cedar

· Plant: almond, rose, chamomile, citronella

· Herb: anise, basil, bay leaf, coriander, dill, mint, peppermint, spearmint, thyme

· Spice: caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, pepper, turmeric

· Vegetable: celery, citronella, fennel, ginger, parsley

· Fruit: grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange

The most commonly employed essential oil derivative in repellent recipes – other than citronella, of course – is that of the eucalyptus tree. Its oil is extracted by distilling the fresh leaves, which emit a therapeutic, lemony scent. Eucalyptus oil is also one of the most powerful known antiseptics for medicinal purposes – even today. It disinfects as well as soothes and protects the skin from bites and other skin irritations.

Making your own mosquito repellent is quite simple, given the proper ingredients and ratio. Mix one part essential oil with 10-20 parts carrier oil. Carrier oils include olive and sunflower oil. Alcohol, such as vodka, can effectively replace carrier oils, if used sparingly. All-natural readymade alternatives include Citronella Mist from Herbaria Soap. It claims to be effective and safe for all-day repetitive use.

For homemade citronella candles, all you really need is a heat-proof container (such as an empty tin can), a block of paraffin wax, a wick and something to centre the wick, such as a pencil to tie the wick around, in order to lay flat on top of the container. Once the wax is boiling, add a couple of drops of citronella oil into the mix, pour into your container, centre the wick and wait until it cools into a molded wax candle. You’ll know the wax is set when the translucent liquid becomes opaque.

For those living in the country or suburbs, a surprising way to reduce the pesky mosquito population is by the installation of bat conservatories on your property. Though it may sound time-consuming and rather complicated, building a bat house can be fairly simple. But, if the idea of welcoming bats – of all things – to your backyard is adventurous enough for you, then Gaiam makes a good one for a fairly reasonable price. Bat Conservation International explains everything you need to know about this misunderstood species, and then some. Below is a quick how-to guide for building a bat house:


4’x4′ one-half inch plywood

2 pieces 1″x6″x8” pine or cedar

1/8 inch mesh (plastic netting) 7’x36″

Brown or black latex paint

1 tube acrylic caulk


1. Measure and mark all wood and cut out all parts.

2. Cut six pieces of netting 14″x21″ and one piece 16″x30″. Staple smaller pieces to partitions, and larger pieces to inside surfaces of the back. Be sure netting lies flat and does not protrude.

3. Screw the back to the sides, ensuring to caulk first. Ensure that top angles are the same.

4. Attach 5″ and 10″ spacers to inside corners.

5. Place a partition on spacers to within one-half inch of roof. Place 20″ spacers on partition, screw to first spacers (through partition). Do not block side vents.

6. Repeat for remaining partitions and spacers.

7. Screw the front to the sides, top pieces first (caulk first). Be sure top angles match and sand if necessary. Leave a half-inch vent space between top and bottom front pieces. A bar clamp may be useful if sides have flared out during construction.

8. Attach roof supports to the top inside of front and back pieces. Be careful that screws do not protrude into the bat chamber.

9. Caulk around all top surfaces, sanding first if necessary to ensure good fit with roof.

10. Screw roof to sides and roof supports. Caulk around outside of roof if needed to seal roosting chamber. Paint exterior at least twice with brown or black paint.

The finished bat conservatory can be installed at a minimum height of twelve feet. If you don’t particularly feel like sharing your moonlit evenings on the porch with your new nocturnal friends, be sure to install it at the opposite side of your house. Building plans for a slightly more complex, more sophisticated ‘rocket’ version of bat house are available on the Hinterland Who’s Who website. HWW is a long-standing government initiative affiliated with the Canadian Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Additional tips to avert mosquitoes include wearing light clothing, as black or dark clothing and foliage attract them. Avoiding wearing perfume, or using aromatic shampoos or fragrant deodorants can help detract them as well. Rid your yard of stagnant water: they thrive on excess moisture. Avoid eating foods that are high in salt or potassium, as the lactic acid emitted by your skin after consumption attracts bugs. Just remember the funny song ‘Yes, we have no bananas’!

Do not burn candles or other heat source, unless it emits citronella vapors or smoke. While heat attracts mosquitoes, smoke deters them. If you are making a campfire in the forest, use damp wood or the bark from conifers – the moisture inherent in these species will create enough smoke to temporarily rid you of your tiny enemies and make spending time outdoors more enjoyable. Happy camping!

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