Heading to a barbecue, concert, or other outdoor event this weekend? After an unusually rainy spring, and with warm weather in many places, mosquitoes are out in force. Are there ways to avoid getting bitten? It turns out there are, even if you don't want to use insect repellent. (Some types of insect repellent are effective against mosquitoes and some absolutely aren't.)
Here are seven simple, science-based things you can do to cut down on mosquito bites. They won't completely eliminate them--very few things can--but you may find they make a surprisingly big difference:
1. Eliminate standing water.
The reason mosquitoes bite you over the entire course of the summer is that there's a constantly renewing supply of them. Most types have a relatively short lifespan and they spend their lives near where they were born. On the other hand, females lay over 100 eggs at a time. So anything you can do to interrupt that cycle will reduce the general mosquito population around your home and decrease the chances of getting bitten.
Mosquitoes always lay their eggs in standing water, so the less standing water there is for them to use, the fewer of them will be around. So get rid of any rainwater that's collected in the bottoms of outdoor chairs, in outdoor containers, or anywhere else. On Maine's Little Cranberry Island, which was badly mosquito infested, there was an island-wide effort to remove standing water wherever possible. According to some residents, that one change made a huge difference.
2. Avoid dusk and dawn.
These are the times of day when mosquitoes are most active--what one friend of mine calls "mosquito-o'clock." You can lower your chances of getting bitten if you avoid spending time outside at these times of day.
3. Wear light-colored clothing.
Mosquitoes have very poor vision and they'll be able to see you better if you're wearing dark or brightly colored clothes. So make yourself hard to spot by wearing light ones. A serious hiker I know reports that hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (the subject of the book and movie Wild) routinely wear loose, thin, light-colored long-sleeved tops and pants. That keeps them cool while making it hard for mosquitoes to bite them. It saves them from having to slather insect repellent on themselves all day every day for the five months it takes to complete that hike.
4. Soak up the sun.
Mosquitoes don't like to be out in bright sunlight, so you can avoid them by stepping away from cool, shady, and especially humid areas. (If you use this tactic, make sure to cover up or wear sunscreen.)
5. Take it easy.
Mosquitoes track us down because they're attracted to the CO2 in our exhalations. If you could spend your entire time outdoors without breathing, they would bite you a lot less. The next best thing is to relax and take it slow. You won't breathe as hard and you'll give the mosquitoes less of a trail to follow.
Of course, you may want to exercise outside. If so, keep in mind the mosquitoes will have more trouble finding you if the workout you choose moves you from place to place, such as running or walking fast.
6. Take a cool or lukewarm shower.
In addition to CO2, mosquitoes are also drawn to sweat and body heat. This is one reason some people get bitten more often than others. You can decrease your mosquito appeal by staying clean and as cool as possible.
7. Plug in some fans.
Ever notice that you rarely get mosquito bites in breezy weather? That's because, among their other deficiencies, mosquitoes don't have much wing power. Depending where you are, it may not be practical to find a breezy spot or create an artificial one. But if you can, not only will you stay cooler, you'll get fewer bites as well.