GET OUT: Of Blood and Bugs

By on July 12, 2016

Summer skeeters hasten hikes and make for slaphappy camping.

Left: A wise young man uses random articles of clothing to protect himself from the swarms by Two Ocean Lake. Right: The Shoshone Geyser Basin plays host to beauty and bugs. Bottom: Yellowstone’s Thorofare is where flesh eating creatures abound. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Left: A wise young man uses random articles of clothing to protect himself from the swarms by Two Ocean Lake. Right: The Shoshone Geyser Basin plays host to beauty and bugs. Bottom: Yellowstone’s Thorofare is where flesh eating creatures abound. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Summer is finally here as people begin to embark on missions that seem so glorious and carefree. Old friendships are rekindled, inspiring the possibility of fresh adventures to new places. The thing that we most often forget this time of year has to do with a tiny little creature that may not block the view, but can sometimes inhibit the lifestyle: mosquitoes. Existing in more than 3,000 distinct species, worldwide, this thirsty pest has the ability to gulp up to three times their weight in blood.

These things thrive in places where we love recreating on hot summer days, occupying water in the first 10 days of their two-month life. Female mosquitoes are a bit of an exception, and can live up to six months.

For those fast hikers that want to attempt to escape, walking over 1.5 miles an hour (average speed of a mosquito) may prove a successful getaway to outrunning these things. Unfortunately, if there is one, there are many more. They can smell human breath and feed 24 hours a day. If you don’t feel like offering your flesh up for feasting, you have very few options. You can either not breathe, or try wearing light clothing, as these winged pests are drawn to heat.

Some swear by bug repellent. I’m a bit tentative to contribute to a future rendition of Silent Spring. Plus, no spray has really worked well enough for me to actually swear by.  When I wallow in mosquito land, loose clothing proves slightly successful. A headscarf addition to the wardrobe helps keep the bites away from my neck and ears. Yes, I look a little bizarre when I’m hiking this time of year but at least I’m happy and, for the most part, bite free.

I’ve had my fair share of mosquito-driven areas that look so lovely upon arrival only to find myself challenged with endless bombardments of these pests. The top areas I’ve found for buzzing entities this time of year include the following. So take note, and beware:

Grassy Lake Road – Beautiful lakes and campsites abound on this little thoroughfare to Idaho, but most of them are empty this time of year for a reason. When you park, you’ll hear the sweet music of things attempting to suck your blood, and you’ll be tempted to quickly drive on… indefinitely.

Thoroughfare – Backpacking in Yellowstone always sounds like a great idea, especially when it’s hot and the snow has melted. Unfortunately, this area is a prime habitat for things that want to use you to move on with their lives.

Wind River Range – These small sects of endless pools, ponds, and lakes offer a wonderful meet-and-greet ground for mosquitoes to connect, propagate and hit you with force. Although bivvying is a light and fast way to go in the Winds, traveling in this mindset this time of year may cause one to succumb to bites on parts of the face the unassuming sleeper may expose.

Two Ocean/Emma Matilda This place has gorgeous wildflowers. The price? A few ounces of blood. I’ve seen people wrap their faces in scarves in the parking lot to survive the walk, barter for bug spray from fellow parking lot loiterers, or just drive away as fast as they can. While this area hosts beautiful hikes, it might be best hold off on visiting this area.

As swollen and annoyed as you may be from swatting at mosquitos and itching your skin till it bleeds, these bugs actually do a few good things. For one, if you’re a birder, they are an important food source for all classic migratory birds. For all of you orchid enthusiasts, huckleberry lovers or goldenrod collectors, write a simple “thank you” note to mosquitoes. Though they don’t actually gather pollen, they carry it from one blossom to another, thus helping the plant thrive to its fullest potential and produce the most prolific amount of berries (or other forest delicacies).

During this fleeting summer that we’re in a race to enjoy, have some empathy. The pesky biters are females trying to get the protein out of your blood so they can produce eggs, so give the gals a break. They’re just trying to survive amongst the Jackson summer chaos and, well, we all know it’s a short summer of opportunity. PJH

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