Mosquitoes. You either hate ‘em or really, really hate ‘em. Perhaps no other animal represents balmy Richmond summers than these winged creatures. Although we think of them as a nuisance, they need not be. A few thoughts on how to best deal with them.
“A man thinks he amounts to a great deal, but to… a mosquito a human being is merely something good to eat”
— Don Marquis, American writer
Mosquito is a Spanish-derived word meaning “little fly,” but, as I’m sure you will agree, these little creatures are usually a rather large pain the ass. The fun of a many a wonderful evening spent in the back yard relaxing with loved ones quickly deteriorates when these omnipresent insects pierce, not our hearts, but our humidity-drenched flesh. They literally suck the life from our very bodies, the little vampiric shits.
Although I am a vegan, and one with an unashamedly soft spot for all animals, no other creature wanes my patience more than the diminutive and diabolic mosquito. Just as I did when I was a child, I instinctively swat to kill when one lands on my (rather handsome, if I do say) person. But these creatures, just as all creatures, are not to blame for their ways: blood-sucking or otherwise. They are the product of what evolution made. And evolution did a very curious thing to mosquitoes.
To supplement their protein consumption to produce eggs, females developed a taste for mammal blood. Humans, as it so happens, are the most prevalent mammals for many female mosquitoes (only lady mosquitoes will suck you dry; insert sexist analogy here). Even though we cannot blame them for their behavior, and thus should not punish them by splattering their guts on our skin with swift and decisive slap, we can still tell them to bugger off.
We are all familiar with mosquito repellents: OFF! is one of the most ubiquitous on shelves. But this, and other similar products, contain a chemical that some are a bit leery of: DEET.
It’s is a synthetically-crafted oil that was developed by the Army in WWII to prevent mosquito bites on soldiers. Some maintain that DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide to be precise, but you knew that already, right?) is not as healthy for the skin as natural remedies (although current research gives natural solutions a slight health advantage). Despite the benefits that man-made chemicals can have, don’t for a minute discount the efficacy of natural remedies in preventing mosquito bites.
Citronella candles are very popular, and a fairly effective way of using natural products to stave off mosquitos. But did you know that what seems to be the most successful natural method to stave off mosquito presence is the use of lemon eucalyptus oil? A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Oil successfully provided 120 minutes of mosquito protection. That’s, like, two hours, man!
Another common, and successful, mosquito-repellent is catnip. No joke. Researchers at Iowa State University found nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip (Nepeta cataria), to be about 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET. If showering in catnip doesn’t sound appealing, a homemade natural oil concotion may make life mosquito-free:
Home-made Insect Repellent
- 2 1/2, teaspoons total of any combination of the following essential oils: cinnamon, lemon eucalyptus, citronella, castor, cedarwood, myrrh, palmarosa, pine, rose geranium and/or rosemary.
- 1 cup 190-proof grain alcohol (available in liquor stores)
- Place ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. Transfer to small bottles for storage. To use, rub a small amount on any exposed skin (test first to be sure your skin will not be adversely affected by the repellent, or inspire spontaneous human combustion).
- Experiment a little to find which essential oils work best with your body chemistry. If you’re lucky, you also will like the way they smell; otherwise, add a few drops of peppermint oil to fine-tune the fragrance.
Sprinkle some catnip in the liquid for good measure and, voilà, you’re done!
Post Bite Aftercare
Unfortunately, even the most deftly concocted and rigorously applied repellent will not repel all mosquitoes, incessant bastards that they are. There will undoubtedly be a fair share of mosquito bites to contend with this summer. But you do not need to drench yourself in chemicals to reduce itching and improve healing time.
Here are a few solutions that you can make without leaving the house:
- Banana peel: Rub the inside of the peel directly on the bite.
- Aspirin and rubbing alcohol: Crush the aspirin, add a few drops of rubbing alcohol, and apply to the bite.
- Salt and water: Moisten the bite area and rub in a touch of salt.
- Soap: Rub a dry bar of soap over the bite.
- Meat tenderizer (with papain) and water: Papain breaks down the proteins in the mosquito’s saliva. Just make a paste and let it sit for a few minutes.
- Baking soda: Dissolve 1 teaspoon in a glass of water. Dip a clean cloth into the solution and apply to the bite for 15 to 20 minutes.
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Although we must share the world with mosquitoes, we need not kill them indiscriminately. We can enjoy our summer without their presence. A few natural ingredients here and few household items there, and the once “predators of the sky” become only as bothersome as a little bitty fruit fly.
photo: out of ideas