Updated: Jul 8
When I tell people that I sit in the forest for hours at a time in the Maine woods I often receive a response of disbelief and shock. They say, "What about all the ticks?" People have so many fears of ticks and insects that they avoid going into nature altogether. With some helpful information to know ahead of time, spending time in nature can become less fearful and more fun!
Tip #1 - Become Educated about Them
Reading articles like this or others about how to protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes is a great start. There is so much fear around ticks, mosquitoes, and the illnesses they carry. This article is meant as an alternative to that fear-based thinking. When people learn to respect the value that ticks, mosquitoes, and insects have on planet Earth, they can begin to change how they think of them. Rather than associating them with what you dislike, how about learning to appreciate them?
Mosquitoes play a huge role in our ecosystem. Their main food source is actually flower nectar, not blood. So, they help with pollinating plants. The adult and young nymphs provide a tremendous food source to many animals. Think about the frogs, tadpoles, dragonflies, snakes, birds, and rodents that all depend on mosquitoes for their sustenance.
What about ticks? How can we see any value in their existence? They are not insects, but arachnids, like spiders. They do serve a purpose in the food web. Many animals include ticks in their diet, such as turkeys, bird, rodents, and reptiles. Ticks also carry disease, which serves a purpose of keeping the population in check by only allowing the fittest animals to survive.
Tip #2- Wear the Right Clothing
Choosing the clothing you wear can make the difference between enjoying the forest or being annoyed with the bugs. Wear light colored clothing so that you can easily see any ticks on you. I've also read that mosquitoes can only see dark, so light colored clothes may help prevent their visits. Wear long pants and sleeves, even in warm weather. I notice that more clothes prevent them from biting. Finally, tuck your socks into pant cuffs to prevent the ticks from climbing up your legs.
Hats are a great way to reduce the insect population around yourself. The more areas of our body that are covered, the less skin that is available for them to bite. You can also wear bug nets around your head or upper body. These are really helpful when the black flies come out in Maine in early Spring.
"It is our collective and individual responsibility to protect and nurture the global family, to support its weaker members, and to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live.” — Dalai Lama
Tip #3- Use Insect Repellent
I usually don't use any repellent unless the mosquitoes are so thick and I cannot relax. A repellent with 20% of Deet or picaridin is safe for skin and clothes and is a perfect percentage to ward off ticks and mosquitoes according to the Environmental Working Group, EWG. That website has many great choices of approved repellents. They last for many hours with one application, and they are a much better alternative than getting tick or mosquito borne illnesses. Essential oils, such as oil of lemon eucalyptus can also help, but they don't last as long.
Tip #4 - Perform Tick Checks
Ticks wait on blades of grass for an animal to cling on to. Usually, I find them on my pants crawling up to find a place to attach. I stop every 5-10 minutes while outside, especially if it's grassy, to check for ticks. At the end of each day my family performs our ritual tick checks on each other. This involves nudity and some silliness. It's actually fun for us. If you don't have others to help you look, you can use a mirror and a good light to find ticks before you go to bed.
Tip #5 - Know the Right Location
There are many tips on knowing the land and forecasting where the ticks and mosquitoes may be before you decide when to go into nature. Ticks seem to be more populated in grassy areas. On our property we keep that grass paths mowed short, and this definitely makes a huge difference in avoiding ticks. in the forest, I almost never get ticks.
Mosquitoes are very active in areas with standing water because that's where they breed. So, avoiding wetlands can be helpful if you don't wish to encounter any. Mosquitoes are active in between dusk to dawn, so the daytime is a better time to avoid them. I always seem to get most of my mosquito bites early in the morning when I'm working on my garden or in the evenings around the campfire. They also tend to like warm, still, and humid air. If there is a breeze, mosquitoes will not be around at all. So chose the windy day to walk in the woods.
Tip #6 - Live in harmony with them!
Making the decision to not consciously kill insects, spiders, and ticks is a step towards showing respect and compassion for all living things. I truly believe that when we make a commitment to be kind to animals and plants, they will return the favor. When you see a tick or mosquito, notice your reaction. Are you angry or do you feel hatred? These animals are here for a greater lesson for us. Perhaps they are here to teach us kindness and non-violence. The reaction we have towards a person, event, animal, or words is inside us. The anger we feel when a tick is on us, is not in the tick. It is within us, and the tick is here as a reminder for us to heal that part of ourselves that is not in peace. Most people would agree that there is an alternative to being angry and violent. This may sound harsh, but the violent energy within a person that kills ticks is the same energy as a murderer (on a much smaller scale). Think of the person that chooses not to kill mosquitoes and ticks. What would it feel like to have that sort of outlook?
Remember we are all part of Mother Nature!
Going into nature is such a pleasure to experience. If we can accept the insects as a valuable part of the forest or environment, then we can learn to appreciate them more. Because practices like Shinrin Yoku or forest bathing involve quite a bit of still time in nature, the mosquitoes and ticks may be more of a concern. Following these guidelines mentioned in this post should help you enjoy your experience more while being in the forest. I hope you get out in the forest this summer and enjoy your peaceful experience co-existing with the insects.