Insect Season Has Arrived!

With the changing of the clocks, it is now the official start of the DofE expedition season (hurrah!!!) however this is also the time where some of our least favourite insects start to emerge back into the world – and many of them are looking to bite you! We look at some of the most common insects you’re likely to come across on your expedition, and some tips and tricks on what to do if you get bitten.


Midges 

What are they? The great Scottish midge is a sight to behold, with swarms appearing ready to gobble you up, or at least that’s what it feel like when you’re trying to take off your shoes in your tent doorway, swatting them away mercilessly before commando-rolling inside and shutting the door in one swift motion. Let’s be honest the last bit of that usually doesn’t happen, and you end up with a tent as full of midges as there are outside, and now you’re stuck with them….

Where are they found? Midges begin to emerge across the UK from April / May and stay to about September / October, depending on the conditions around. There are roughly 30 different species, and only the females’ bite. They prefer cool, calm, shady, and damp areas, so think in the shade around pools of water. These conditions are most often found in early morning or late evenings so avoid sitting around too much at these times where you can. If you can’t do this then aim for somewhere in direct sunlight, and a slight breeze too will help a lot!

How do I avoid them? You can also help yourself by covering up as much as possible with long- sleeve tops and trousers. Midges are also less attracted to lighter coloured clothing! Past this you can get an inexpensive headnet that will keep midges away from your face – we cannot recommend these enough (you could even take a couple of spares for those in your group that forget them). Ok so they are not the most practical of items, and you might need to stick on a head torch as it gets a wee bit dark because of the mesh, BUT it is possible to drink through these! Alternatively you could also look to use some midge repellent. There are several different types out there, with the more natural ones using citronella as the active ingredient. You can buy these as a small spray or as candles etc. if you want to protect a larger area in more comfort. Above this there are those with stronger chemicals such as Smidge, which uses Saltadin as the active ingredient. Smidge was designed at Edinburgh University, who no doubt will have ample access to midges to test out their formula! Above these there are sprays that contain DEET (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide). DEET is a strong chemical which is not great for midges, but also not great for skin or plastics (e.g. in clothing, tents, water bottles…). If you have sensitive skin then it’s best to avoid these where possible as it can cause your skin to dry out. However it is usually super-effective against midges and other insects so it might be worth trying it out to see if it works for you.

What if I get bitten? If you get bitten the first rule is don’t scratch! I know this is easier-said-than-done but often they will disappear within a few hours if left alone. If you scratch then this leads to your body creating an inflammation that it then tries to fight, which then swells and becomes itchy! There are soothing crème’s that may help to reduce the need to itch, and some have started to use little electric clickers which are supposed to remove the itchiness too, though the effectiveness of these depends on the willpower of the individual as much as the clicker.

Useful Resources: The Smidge midge forecast gives great details on what the “midge conditions” are like, and can be a great tool when planning walks or expeditions!

 


Ticks

What are they? Ticks are small insects which are related to spiders and mites. There are several different species of ticks living in Britain, but the most common to bite humans is the Sheep Tick. Unfortunately the name is a wee bit misleading as these ticks actually feed on many different animals. They can start really small, with the larvae about the size of a pin head, growing to a nymph which are roughly the size of a poppy seed. The final stage of a tick is the adult, which can be much bigger. It is most likely to be the nymph that will bite you!

Where are they found? Ticks are most likely to be found in late spring through to early autumn, and usually come into contact with humans in areas of long grass or shrubs, especially if other animals (e.g. sheep or deer) are in the area. As you disturb the long grass you are likely to catch their hooked front legs (known as questing). Ticks don’t necessarily bite immediately, and often make their way to a warm damp part of the body (think armpits, behind the knees…) to tuck in. As they start to feed, their bodies grow considerably in size, some as large as a small pea. This can take up to 7 days at which point the ticks will release and fall off – however it is likely you’ll notice it before it gets to this stage!

How do I avoid them? Avoiding ticks is reasonably straight forward, covering up with long clothing and tucking trousers into socks will help a lot. After you have passed through long grass it might be an idea to quickly brush down your clothing to dislodge any ticks that have transferred across to you. If you want to take extra precautions then using insect repellent can help – those noted earlier would be effective against ticks too. Avoiding areas of long grass / shrubs, especially if it’s around areas where other animals have been, is also a good tip - though this might significantly limit the places you can go walking!

What if I get bitten? Don't panic if you get bitten. Take your time to remove a tick carefully will reduce the risk of infection on many levels. Avoid using alcohol or cigarettes (really!) to “burn” them off, as this will likely make the ticks sick-up the contents of their stomach back into you, leading to an increased chance of gaining an infection, which is really not what you want. Find a tick removal tool in your first aid kit (you should have one in here all summer for just this occasion!), hook the tick under its head (the bit attached to the skin) rather than its belly, then SLOWLY pull it out. There are many different type of tick removal tool such as the tick tweezer and tick card, just find the most suitable one for you! Some will say to slowly twist the tool as you pull out, which can also help release the ticks grip, but if you’re unsure then best to just pull out straight.

Unfortunately sometimes bits of the tick will break off and stay embedded in your skin. It is really important to get as much of this out as you can, and use an anti-septic wipe to disinfect the bite as soon as possible afterwards too.

Up to about 15% of UK ticks now carry Lyme’s Disease. I’ll not go into the details but safe to say it’s not something you want to catch. Ever. If you think you might have an additional infection, or just want to be safe, head to your GP surgery at the earliest opportunity after your expedition, explain the situation, and ask for a blood test. It’s better safe than sorry.

Useful Resources: Useful information about ticks, as well as links to videos on how to remove ticks can be found on the Lyme Disease Action website. 


Horse Flies

What are they?Horse flies are big flies that like to suck up blood. It’s only the females that such blood, but it’s difficult to distinguish between a male and female without some experience.

Where are they found? As with other insects, horse flies like damp / moist areas, preferably with a reasonable shade. They use chemical cues and visual cues to locate a host, so will use the emission of Carbon Dioxide as a long-range cue, while using motion and dark colours from shorter distances. Once they have landed the females use small blades to slice open the skin and underlying tissue and then soak up the blood that flows to the area. I would personally describe it more like a sawing motion and you will likely feel some or all of this cutting action and can swat them away from here (though it is a little late).

How do I avoid them? To avoid them is difficult as they can be found in open meadows, in woodland, and general lowland terrain. This does mean that higher ground may be safer, but this is not always the case! Covering up your skin is a good option, as is using repellents as we discussed earlier.

 

What if I get bitten? If you’re bitten the best thing to do is to clean the wound. It might be worth applying a small plaster to the area, however it is likely that the bite will become itchy over time (with or without a plaster) and so it may be better to let the bite breath. Watch that you don’t start to scratch the bite as you could open yourself up to secondary infections.