Thursday, July 25, 2024

April Showers Bring May Bugs

T.S. Giilck

giilck trilium270It’s that time of the year again… to face the irritating fact that will ‘bug’ most people all summer. There really isn’t an effective way to deter our detestable biting insects.

I was reminded of this pesky fact over the last week while working at taking trillium photos in various wooded locations in the area.

If you’re going into the woods to see the trilliums, one of my favourite spring activities, or to hike, pick wild leeks, bird watch, or whatever you like to do, encounters with bugs are part of the natural consequences.

This year, the black flies are out somewhat early, and have come from being annoying but mostly benign pests to seriously annoying little biting bast@*%#s in the span of a few days.

Unfortunately, I’m too stubborn to avoid going into the bush until the little rogues die off in our first heat wave. So that means I’ve come up with my own strategies to cope.

One of the best is to head outdoors with someone who the insects find tastier than you. I’m a pretty good bug magnet on my own, but they absolutely adore my wife. Having her come into the forest with me makes for a much more serene outing, marred mostly by her swatting at the bugs and the associated grumbling.

I think I’ve heard and tried all of the diet-based suggestions too. Don’t eat bananas is one. Some pseudo-scientific self-experimenting has indicated that’s a crock. Avoid certain fruits – also a crock.

What I do know is that bugs like bright colours. Don’t wear yellow, orange or blue in particular. I’ve gone through the bush wearing blue clothes, and, once, a yellow shirt, that left me a little short of blood.

I’ve had a certain amount of luck over the years with the ubiquitous green and brown ‘work’ pants and shirts. They’re light, breathe decently, and the neutral colours don’t seem to catch the fancy of the tiny vampires… err, bugs.

I’ve also had some luck with bug jackets, pants and gloves… although they’re uncomfortable, hot, and stifling.

The best thing I’ve found, though, is derived from the expertise of the aboriginal people of the far north. During the nearly three years I lived in the Northwest Territories, my wife and I had a close look at their techniques for dealing with bugs… and does it ever work.

The Gwich’in and Inuvialuit peoples make a type of lightweight hooded jacket they refer to as ‘covers’. The ones we purchased are made of a linen-type material that is extremely light-weight and is extremely comfortable, even in hot weather, with a bit of breeze. They fit somewhat loosely to very loosely, and the materials and colour patterns somehow seem to baffle the bugs to a large extent. Nor are they prone to biting through the material.

The hoods are perfectly suited to keeping biting insects out of your hair as well, although your face does remain somewhat exposed.

Since I’ve adopted the jacket (the like of which I haven’t seen available in Ontario), my problem with insects has diminished to levels where they’re hardly bothersome if I’m wearing it. With it, I’m no longer whatsoever reluctant to head into the most bug-infested regions if I choose too.

The ‘cover’ is also multi-purpose, as it makes for an awesome sun jacket at the beach as well, protecting me from sunburn as I choose.

Anybody who sews could easily make one of these with a little study and practise, and they’re far more aesthetically pleasing than a bug jacket.

So if you see someone wandering the woods in a black and white ‘hoody’ who isn’t being carried away by the bugs, that’ll be me.


If you want to be comfortable doing photography of wildflowers such as these trilliums during black fly and mosquito season, the right approach is crucial. I rely on the traditional garb developed by the aboriginal peoples of the north. After much experimentation, a lightweight traditional ‘cover’ or hoody is the best thing I’ve found to keep me comfortable. T.S. Giilck photo

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