Camping can be one of the best adventures you’ll find. Fresh air, stunning mountains, spectacular trees and more are all around most campsites. But humans aren’t the only species to be found among them. And not all the other ones are friendly.
Yellow jackets and other species of wasp are common wherever evergreen trees grow. Some make their nests in trees, but many will make a nest under an awning, typically in the late spring and early summer. Many will fly out of the nest in the early morning and back in again in the late afternoon. Often, they’ll make a nest in the ground, visible by a hole about the size of a dime.
They aren’t particularly aggressive, but the colony can get aroused if anyone comes near the nest. When they do, several will fly out at once and the possibility of a sting is high. They’re also attracted by the smell of cooking meat, sugar water (like the small amount on the lip of a soda can), and other human products. If you don’t see them, the odds are higher you’ll come in contact, leading to a sting.
A can of wasp spray is a handy thing to pack, but there are sometimes better ways to deal with the situation.
If the nest is new you’ll find a female dancing around the edge as she builds it. Sometimes there will already be an egg sac or two inside. At this stage it looks like a series of honeycomb cells. If knocked down with a long stick the wasp will usually just fly away and try elsewhere.
After creating the cells, the wasp will wrap the structure in a series of onion-like layers, leaving a small hole. By this stage it’s too far along to deal with safely unless you can spray the opening accurately. Knocking it down will just release a dozen angry wasps.
Mosquitoes are another common pest and though the sting isn’t painful, it’s annoying and can be harmful. The risk of fatal or serious injury from mosquitoes has been overblown by the media, but it’s real and in certain areas, substantial.
Mosquitoes are attracted by the carbon dioxide we breathe out and other factors that are less well understood. Some researchers contend body heat counts, others even suggest the insects can sense heartbeat vibrations. But whatever the real causes, they are not generally under your control.
But there are several products that are effective in dealing with them. Citronella candles help in some cases, but if there’s any wind at all they are usually much less effective. Deet-containing sprays are safe and effective, if applied correctly. Try to apply to clothing rather than skin, and in either case use the minimum. Use a lower dosage spray for younger children.
Similarly, ticks are common in wooded areas. Here again the danger of Lyme disease has been exaggerated, but the risk is far from zero. They tend to wind up on animals – dogs in particular – more than humans. Wear long sleeve shirts and pants that reach over your boots and avoid brushing your hair against bushes.
Depending on where you camp, certain spider species are to be avoided. The odds of getting bitten are low – spiders try to avoid human contact and generally only attack when cornered.
Black widows tend to hide in dark, cool places but basements aren’t common camping excursions and they tend not to inhabit caves. They’re notable for the hourglass-shaped red markings on the underside. Violin spiders are also somewhat shy, but will bite if your hand brushes near them. Stay away from areas where you see funnel webs, particularly in dark, secluded spots.
Check the most common toxic species for the area you intend to visit, dress appropriately and your odds of having your trip spoiled are low.