Surviving the summer mosquito scourge

Few things can throw a wrench into summer fun more than the dreaded mosquito. From their annoying buzz to the females' penchant for blood, mosquitoes are the scourge of the season.

McClatchy Tribune illustration

Few things can throw a wrench into summer fun more than the dreaded mosquito. From their annoying buzz to the females' penchant for blood, mosquitoes are the scourge of the season.

In case you haven't noticed -- or have spent the past few weeks holed up indoors -- mosquitoes are brutal out there, in places, this year, thanks to a June that once again has lived up to its reputation as Monsoon Month.

And standing water is fertile ground for breeding mosquitoes.

They're not so bad in city limits, where an aggressive spraying program allows residents to spend time outdoors without getting eaten alive. Get out in the country, though -- especially if there's not a breeze -- and the mosquitoes often are bad enough to pick you up and carry you away.

While mosquitoes are a nuisance to everyone, they're especially problematic for people who make their living outdoors and have to work outside nearly every day -- even in the most bug-infested conditions.


With that in mind, we talked to a handful of natural resources professionals to see what they do to endure the mosquito onslaught. While none of them had any magical solutions, they've all managed to survive the mosquito scourge in one piece.

Here are some of their tips for coping.

Harvey Tjader, Bemidji

His official title is ecological classification specialist for the Department of Natural Resources' Northwest Region, but Tjader, whose job requires him to catalog plants in a variety of habitat types, also could be called a mosquito survivor.

He endures them nearly every day of the summer.

Like the Bushmen of the Kalahari who have trained themselves to walk across hot coals, Tjader said his best defense against mosquitoes is just to ignore them.

"One of my strategies is to let the first 20 mosquitoes bite me and just have their fill, and then I become a little bit desensitized to them," Tjader said with a laugh. "It's a mind game. If you allow yourself to get freaked out by them, then there's no hope."

Tjader, who's worked in forestry for 32 years, said he rarely wears a head net or gloves because he has to be able to identify plants by sight and feel, and the gloves and head net just get in the way.


"My main technique is just to focus on my job," he said. "I tell the people that I'm out in the woods with, 'If you're being bothered by mosquitoes, you're not focusing enough.' But it really becomes a challenge."

While Tjader occasionally uses repellants, he said he shies away from products containing DEET, a chemical known for its ability to keep mosquitoes at bay.

"If I used it whenever I'm in the woods, I would be exposing myself to an extreme degree, and I just feel a little bit uncomfortable, so I try to use some of the more natural repellants," Tjader said.

Lately, Tjader said he's been using Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, a product he learned about from a review in Backpacker magazine. Besides repelling mosquitoes, it's also effective against deer ticks, another hazard in his job. It has to be applied about two or three times as often as products containing 30 percent DEET, Tjader said, but the tradeoff is peace of mind.

And sometimes, he said, there's no option but to use repellants, as was the case earlier this week while working in Lake of the Woods County.

"I don't know if I would have gotten through those two days without some mosquito repellant," he said. "I think the whine almost bothers me the most. You have to stay strong in your mind."

Cami Dixon, Devils Lake

A biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake, Dixon spends a fair bit of time in the field among the mosquitoes, as she did Thursday morning while conducting bird surveys.


Dixon said she has no "brilliant" techniques for coping.

"The thing that we really do is we wear long sleeves, especially when we're doing surveys in the mornings and are out in the grass and kicking up the mosquitoes," Dixon said. "And boy, they seem to really have hatched out in the past few weeks and have really been a challenge."

Repellants, she said, don't' seem to be of much help.

"So, literally, we go back to the traditional things like wearing long-sleeve shirts," she said.

Steve Crandall, Arvilla, N.D.

Manager of Turtle River State Park near Arvilla, N.D., Crandall said the park occasionally uses an ultra low volume sprayer to target adult mosquitoes in the park and also applies larvicide to areas of standing water as much as possible.

But the park has neither the manpower nor the budget to spray for adult mosquitoes more than every second or third week, Crandall said, so park employees usually use repellants containing DEET when working outdoors.

"We haven't found anything that works really great that doesn't end up with some amount of DEET," Crandall said. "I try not to use it, but if you're out around dark in the evenings, you almost have to."


He also has used Off personal fans and the ThermaCell mosquito-repelling appliances (see related story) with some success.

Crandall said the park, when it sprays, tries to spray for adult mosquitoes Thursday nights, when weather conditions allow, to minimize the impact on campers and improve the odds of a mosquito-free weekend.

The park, he said, doesn't allow campers to fog their sites.

Stuart Bensen, Erskine, Minn.

A longtime DNR conservation officer, Bensen said he prefers not to use repellants containing DEET, even though it's effective.

"If I don't have to use it, I won't," he said, adding he prefers applying the repellant to clothing rather than directly on his skin.

The threshold for using bug spray, he said, is if he has to swat the mosquitoes away more than every 3 to 4 seconds. He's also worn head nets -- "they obscure your vision somewhat but they do help," he said -- and long-sleeve shirts but adds he still gets bitten anyplace skin is exposed.

The buzz, he said, is the worst.


"For me, if there's a mosquito in my house, it drives me nuts," Bensen said. "I won't even have the window open with the screen on."

Bensen, who said he learns to appreciate windy days this time of year, treats his driveway and the perimeter of his yard with a product called Bayer Mosquito Killer, using a fogger that sprays the product 40 to 50 feet.

The smell's not bad, either, he says -- kind of like peppermint candy.

"I'll spray the area down, and I'm usually good for two days," he said. "It's very effective. Windy days will literally blow in more bugs and by natural dispersion, they'll come back in."

As a conservation officer, Bensen said he's also seen times when mosquitoes weren't all bad.

"We've had people over the years run into the woods" with officers in pursuit, Bensen said. "And they always come out."

Randy Prachar, Middle River, Minn.

Manager of the Thief Lake and Roseau River wildlife management areas in northwestern Minnesota, Prachar said years like this force employees to pick and choose the kind of work they do on a given day because the mosquitoes are so bad.


"Other than bug nets and repellent, we pay attention, to the degree possible, to wind conditions on any given day," Prachar said. "We may actually avoid doing certain jobs on still days and in sheltered areas, whereas on windy days, those same jobs would be higher on the priority list.

"There are times when we don't have any choice, and tasks need to be done regardless of the conditions," he adds. "But the bottom line is that the sort of mosquito numbers we currently have on the landscape does factor into daily work decisions."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
What To Read Next
Get Local