June 03, 2013
A Few Words About Bugs and Bites
By David E. Petzal
In order to hunt animals it’s generally necessary to tolerate the outdoors, which is usually too hot, too cold, or too wet. That you can live with. But the worst part of the outdoors is bugs. I do not like bugs. Bugs, however, like me a great deal. Here are a few observations on the subject.
Chiggers, or redbugs, inhabit the South, along with pellagra and okra. They are insidious little bastards who burrow under your skin and inject some kind of disgusting chemical that liquefies your flesh, which they then slurp up. Up until the invention of Permethrine, every one who stood in a Dixie swamp or field was fair game for redbugs, and once they bit you, the bites swelled up and itched like fire. The common cure was to paint the bite with clear nail polish which caused the little monster inside to suffocate. Now, however, if you spray Permethrine on your clothes, the chiggers leave you alone.
Mosquitoes and ticks are no fun, but like chiggers, you can keep them off with Permethrine and Deet. If you would like to see mosquitoes at their most impressive, visit the Arctic or Subarctic in summer. There you’ll encounter them in clouds, literally, and if you don’t have a headnet you’re in trouble because they’ll go up your nose and in your mouth and in your eyes. I’ve fished Kasba Lake in the Northwest Territories, and while the lake itself is bug-free, if you fish the feeder streams you’ll encounter mosquitoes in numbers beyond counting. I dressed in chest waders, a rain jacket, gloves, and a headnet with not an inch of skin showing, and so they didn’t bother me, but if you have to take a leak you are in deep trouble, and if you have to go Number Two, God help you.
The fishing at Kasba, by the way, is incredible.
The worst of all bugs is the tsetse fly, which is found in subequatorial Africa. The tsetse attacks either individually or in division strength. It bites with a proboscis that is designed to penetrate the hide of African megafauna, and it’s like getting jabbed with a red-hot needle. If the fly happens to hit a nerve, the experience is unforgettable. There is no way to keep the little bastards off, and they can bite you in places that seem impossible to reach, such as under your belt.
In the early 1980s I was hunting in Zambia in fly country with a PH who wore short shorts and no underpants, and whose equipment hung out as a result. One day, as we were tooling through the dambos, he leaped almost clear of the Land Rover and shrieked like a woman. All I could think was, a snake got him, and he’s going to die, and I don’t speak the language, and we are both in a hell of a lot of trouble. However, it was a tsetse that had gotten him in one of his testicles.
Some people are allergic to tsetse bites. As you are bitten more and more, the bites get bigger and bigger as you grow more and more sensitive to them. They itch like mad, and the only thing you can do is take antihistamines. Tsetses can also give you tripanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, but your odds of contracting it are negligible, and if you do, it can be cured, but only if you go to a doctor right away. More than one PH has gotten it, put off getting treatment until the end of hunting season, and died as a result.
However, nothing is all bad, and tsetses kill native cattle, which means that game can live in fly country because the cows can’t.