Summary ꙳ Objectives
▹ Not many insects are liked. However, they are a crucial component of any ecosystem. We also forget that they lie at the base of the food chain. Without them, there would be no 'us'. We're losing them at great speed, one of the major causes being the use of chemicals, including our own bug sprays.
So when it is safe it is safe to do so, choosing to make our own wildlife-safe bug barrier is a good way to contribute to helping them while protecting us from those who want a bite of us!
With this activity, we highlight the importance of bugs and share natural recipes that keep them at bay. Enjoy! ツ
Type » Activity
Level » Foundation
When? » Spring ⋆ Summer ⋆ Fall
Where? » Prepare indoor, enjoy outside!
Time » 10 mns+ — Note that one of the recipes need to infuse for 2-3 wks, but other than that there is not much to do other than shake and wait until it's ready...
Themes & Skills
Entomology ⋆ Importance of Insects ⋆ Toxic vs. Natural Protection ⋆ Pollution
Essential oils or fresh herbs (see the resp. recipe). A good essential oil to have all year on is Lavender—an all-time favorite of ours!
Recall why bugs are important. Then, enjoy experimenting with natural ingredients to prevent them from biting you!
Disclaimer. Tips below are based on our own experience. You should always check with a registered health practitioner for advice specific to you. Even natural essential oils can have a contra-indication on certain medications you may already be on.
The Importance of Bugs
Insects can be found in every environment on Earth and are crucial components of many ecosystems, where they perform many important functions including soil aeration, nutrient cycling, pollination, decomposition.
Many are scavengers (e.g., beetles) feeding on dead animals and fallen trees. Doing so they recycle nutrients back into the soil. Without insects to help break down and dispose of wastes, dead animals and plants would accumulate in our environment and it would be pretty messy. As decomposers, insects help create topsoil, the nutrient-rich layer of soil that helps plants grow. Burrowing bugs, such as ants and beetles, dig tunnels that provide channels for water, benefiting plants… Some are also critical in medicine (maggots, leech).
Insects are too often underappreciated for their role in the food web. But know that they are the sole food source for many amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
The scientists who study insects are called entomologists. Much scientific work is needed to understand and protect our bugs... A recent estimate puts the number of insects to around 40 million, and with around a million only having been described (and classified). In the United States, the number of described species is approximately 91,000.
And then there are the 'annoying' mosquitoes, midges, gnats and the like... How important are those? First, a lot of animals feed on them. They’re also pollinators. Unfortunately, some of them spread diseases, such as malaria in tropical regions. In the Northeast, we’ve also seen some cases of the West Nile virus. So it is important to know how to protect ourselves from these peculiar beings...
When it is safe to do so (no risk zone), we can also choose to do it naturally. If you are in a region where it is known that there is no risk of getting infected by a nasty virus transmitted by risky bugs, we certainly encourage the use of wildlife safe solutions. Why? Mainstream bug repellents, including permethrin, DEET, are extremely toxic contaminants and kill more than just mosquitoes, but also a wide range of insects (and can be even lethal to birds and other mammals).
We’re losing insects at an increasing speed lately. Evidence of this has been reported in many countries. For instance, Germany has observed a 75% loss of its flying insects over the past decades, the U.S. has lost 28.1% of its bee colonies during the 2015-16 winter. And with these losses whole ecosystems and wildlife are affected - this includes us, humans... The least we can do is to relieve them of our harm when we can.
Bug Repellent Recipes That Protect Both Us & The Bugs
Here are 2 recipes and 1 tip that we like. The deep wood recipe takes a few weeks to prepare as it relies upon the infusion of herbs. But it is very effective for those merciless areas deep in the woods or in wetlands. The quick & easy recipe is versatile and can be used in different ways. And then there is our little secret and magical oil...
★ Recipe #1 ▹ Quick & Easy
Bug repellent oils include basil, cinnamon, chives, cloves, coriander, lavender, lemongrass, lemon balm, mint, rosemary, thyme, and sage. Any combination of those is likely to work well.
Here is a synergetic blend that we like:
- Thyme (4 drops)
- Lemongrass (8 drops)
- Lavender (4 drops)
- Peppermint (4 drops)
It's worth preparing this blend and taking it with you as it can be used in many different ways.
In buggy season, put 2 drops of this mixture on a cotton ball or a tissue and have it near your bed, so that you can enjoy a mosquito-free night. We find that the best oils for this are the lavender and the red thyme.
Cut long strips of paper, put few drops of your mix on these strips and hang it over doors and windows, and bugs will think twice before entering the room.
Added to a base oil (5 drops per 1 teaspoon of base oil), such as a dry grapeseed oil, and massaging it into your skin, will both relax you and protect you.
Apply some of this mix on the bottom of your pants, and in your hiking shoes and it will help to keep your ankles safe...
★ Recipe #2 ▹ Deep Wood Protection
Here is a Vinegar tick and insect repellent recipe that we like to use when going deep in the woods (which basically happens every other day in the Summer). It stinks a little when you apply it, then it fades off and its protection is well worth the few minutes long odoriferous inconvenience.
- A quart size or a larger glass jar with an airtight lid
- 1 32 oz bottle of apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons each of dried sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, & mint
Preparation (2-3 weeks)
It is basically a concoction of vinegar infused with herbs, spices or garlic. It was believed to have protected users from the Great Plague during the medieval period.
1. Put the vinegar and dried herbs into your container.
2. Seal tightly and store in a place that you will see, as you will need to shake this concoction every day for the next 2 or 3 weeks.
3. After the infusion time is complete, strain the herbs out and store in bottles. Keep them in a cool place, preferably in your fridge.
How to use it (Dilute first!)
Using it on the skin, dilute the concoction first: in a spray bottle (or a tincture bottle), dilute half water with half of the concoction. Then use it as needed, simply spraying it.
★ Last Minute Repellent ▹ Lavender essential oil to the rescue!
We carry around a little bottle of lavender essential oil. This is the by default essential oil that some of us (French) swear by.
Lavender oil is believed to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to heal minor burns and bug bites. Although the plant is edible, the Lavender essential oil, in contrast to the plant form, is toxic when swallowed. But the essential oil itself can be applied neat on the skin. Again, everybody is different so check first before applying a large amount of the oil on yourself!
It's a pretty cool essential oil to have with you when you travel: we spread a few drops of it on the beds we use, and it seems to repel undesired room-and-bedmates. It's a soothing oil and supposedly helps to regulate sleep, which can't hurt when you're totally jetlagged!
Naturalist & Traveler Notes
▸ We favor safe and organic bug prevention solutions. This being said, we are not doctors! And we actually always consult our doctor before traveling to remote wildlife areas new to us. It should be a rule, to systematically check before you go what bugs are likely to be a health risk in the area you’re visiting (ticks, mosquitos etc). Check with your doctor, and prepare yourself accordingly. This includes being properly vaccinated and medicated.
▸ Packing the right repellents is key. We recommend environmentally friendly options although aware that some people will want to take the strongest DEET. Then do ask what are the products restrictions at the destination (e.g., DEET is a poison that is known to pollute streams and is prohibited in some areas).
Inordinate Fondness Multiplied and Redistributed: the Number of Species on Earth and the New Pie of Life. Brendan B. Larsen, Elizabeth C. Miller, Matthew K. Rhodes, and John J. Wiens. In The Quarterly Review of Biology 92, no. 3 (September 2017): 229-265. —Phys. Org article highlights ▹ A New Estimate of Biodiversity on Earth
More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. Caspar A. Hallmann, Martin Sorg, Eelke Jongejans, Henk Siepel, Nick Hofland, Heinz Schwan, Werner Stenmans, Andreas Müller, Hubert Sumser, Thomas Hörren, Dave Goulson, Hans de Kroon. Published: October 18, 2017.
Ten years after the crisis, what is happening to the world’s bees? Klein, Simon Klein & Andrew Barron. Published: May 7, 2017.
West Nile Virus (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
DEET Brain Effects In Animals Warrant Caution
Permethrin —Pesticide Information Profile (Cornell EXTONET)
Lavender —Description, Uses & Side-effects (WebMD)
Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. Valerie Ann Worwood (1993, Paperback)