One of the pitfalls of spending a lot of time in the Alaskan wilderness during the summer months is that you’ll get well-acquainted with our state bird: the mosquito. While this joke is often used in a tongue-in-cheek manner by locals, it’s true that you can expect to see (and feel) plenty of mosquitoes when you take to the trails. The mosquito population is going to be high in Alaska this year.
How many mosquitoes can I expect, exactly?
While it’s impossible to get a completely accurate count of the mosquito population in any given year, researchers estimate that Alaska is home to about 17.5 trillion mosquitoes during the summer. Yes—trillion, with a “t.” That’s 96 million pounds of mosquitoes. Those numbers are based on research by Derek Silkes, curator of insects for the University of Alaska Museum of the North.
He came to these numbers based on a paper written by a Swiss scientist who determined British spiders ate almost as many pounds of insects as the weight of all people combined in Great Britain. The purpose of the study was to show the astronomical number of insects that spiders will eat in a given year. Silkes investigated the numbers for Alaskan spiders, and discovered spiders in the state probably easily catch and eat more pounds of insects each year than the combined weight of Alaskan citizens, probably in the neighborhood of 6.79 billion pounds.
What can I do to protect myself?
An overabundance of mosquitoes can quickly turn a fun backcountry experience into days filled with swatting and scratching. Considering the mosquito population is going to be high in Alaska this year, what can you do to shield yourself from mosquitoes and discourage them from biting you?
First, you can definitely use bug spray with DEET to try to keep bugs away. Not all mosquitoes are going to be completely turned off by bug spray, but it’s at least a simple step you can take to protect yourself against some of them.
You can also wear long-sleeved, relatively loose-fitting clothes to protect your skin. While bugs are able to get through certain skin-tight clothing materials, they’ll have a harder time getting through thicker clothes that aren’t pressed right up against your skin. You’ll still have your hands and head to worry about, but that’s better than having completely bit-up legs and arms. Fortunately, we don’t get a ton of oppressively hot days during Alaskan summers.
At your campsites, you can keep a bonfire going, and if you wish, you can bring along citronella candles to burn around the site. Flames are a natural insect repellent—they don’t want to burn up in the fire themselves, so keeping the fire going will help you to keep the insects at bay.
These are just a few strategies you can follow to avoid having significant issues with mosquitoes and other bugs when you’re out in the Alaskan backcountry on your next tour. For more