Bloodsuckers of the Tropics, and How to Defeat Them

Bugs are the disclaimer of the rainforest. No matter how beautiful the flowers or breathtaking the vistas, a nasty bug bite can suck the life out of a trip just as its deliverer has sucked the blood from your vein. That being said, there is no reason to deny oneself the wonders of the rainforest for fear of bugs, because there are ways of outsmarting even the nastiest of the nasties.

  • Permethrin
    Permethrin is a neurotoxin that kills most insects on contact but is harmless to humans once it dries. It is readily available at many sporting goods stores and tends to come in pump spray bottles. I’ve used Permethrin multiple times successfully, against mosquitoes in Costa Rica and bed bugs in Spain. Before you leave on your trip, take your clothes and/or sleeping bag outside and coat them in Permethrin. Avoid touching them until they are dry. Permethrin is effective against bed bugs, mosquitoes, and ticks and can withstand multiple washings.
  • DEET-Based Sprays
    I grew up with DEET, and it has served my family well in years of camping. Mosquitoes and other flying insects hate the stuff, and it also masks the scent of human sweat that attracts them. Different brands employ different percentages of DEET, and the higher the percentage, the longer the protection lasts. However, it should not be applied excessively, as it can have toxic effects on the skin and cognitive function. Use as directed.
  • Eucalyptus Oil
    The parking area at my apartment had a nasty flea infestation this past summer, and in the four months I waited for the manager to call the exterminator, I went out and bought a bottle of lemon-scented eucalyptus oil. It worked like a charm (when I remembered to use it). When I went out to conduct a white sock test, fleas continued to jump on my socks, then retreated immediately. Mosquitoes, ticks, and lice also hate the smell of the stuff, and though it may be used as a more “organic” alternative to DEET, it is still recommended to wash it off after use.
  • Wardrobe Choices
    The less skin you expose to biting mouthparts, the better off you’ll be. Breathable, long-sleeved shirts and similar pants add one more challenge for freeloading bloodsuckers, especially when coupled with one of the above sprays. Hats, too, can protect you from unwanted advances from above. When picking clothing, it’s best to avoid bright colors that stand out from the foliage and provide a more visible target for aerial bugs. This is why greens and khakis tend to be the explorer’s choice of colors, though khaki and beige make it easiest to spot and remove crawling parasites, like ticks and terrestrial leeches. Always important on extended treks into the jungle is to remember to seal the openings. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants, and of course, as regards your traveling companions, if you see something, swat something!