Swamp Angels


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"Mosquito 2007-2" by Alvesgaspar - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mosquito_2007-2.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mosquito_2007-2.jpg


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In the 1800’s, mosquitos were so annoying and ubiquitous year round that the South Florida locals took to calling them “Swamp Angels”.  No one had ever heard of mosquito repellant so folks tried a few home remedies to ease the situation.  The first was to “adjust their attitude”.  If you expect the Swamp Angels to be there, you’re not so bothered when they are .  Totch’s advice was to wear light colored, loose fitting clothing, including long pants and a long sleeved shirt.  Swamp Angels are drawn to dark areas so light clothing keeps them away.  The clothing should not be too thin so that the mosquitos cannot bite through the shirt or trousers where they lay against your skin.  This is good advice that we can use today on our adventures.

The worst time for mosquitos is daybreak and at the end of the day, just before daylight is gone completely (“Just before black dark” according to Totch.)  Also, a full moon will bring them out.  You should avoid moving around at these times.  My paddling buddies and I usually head for our tents to avoid them and the sand fleas (we call them “noseeums”) that come out at about the same time.  Totch and his contemporaries carried mosquito netting and would do much the same when they could.  

Camping on the windward side of beaches also helps as mosquitos and sand flees have a hard time flying in a breeze.  However, camping on the windward side can be a problem if the wind picks up significantly.  And never camp in the scrub if you can help it.  When not actively looking for a blood meal, mosquitos rest on grasses and in the brush.  You stir them up just by being there.  (Photo below: Tom, our resident bug magnet.  The swamp angels loved him!)

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On my last trip to the Ten thousand Islands we camped on Pavilion Key.  First I set my tent up back away from the beach in a shady area, near some trees, surrounded by grass.  Bad idea.  I moved my tent to the leaward side of the key where my buddies were camped.  There was no wind there and as the sun dropped and the bugs came out, my friends decided to move camp to a rather confined area on the windward side of the key.  I left my tent where it was and carried my chair to the windward side where it was bug free.  Over the next few hours the wind picked up significantly and my friends had to nail down their tents and gear and worry about the wind driven, in-coming tide.  I went back to my tent on the leeward side, climbed in, and enjoyed a peaceful, bug free night.  

I have paddled in the Ten Thousand Islands, the Everglades and the Florida Keys in January, February and March.  And I have paddled the length of the Suwannee River, the Ochlockonee River and the Big Bend Saltwater paddling trail.  I have never found mosquitos to be  more than a minor irritant, easily handled with proper clothing, a little bug spray and a good tent to escape to at sundown and sun up (sand fleas are much more bothersome).  However, these months are in Florida’s “dry season”.  The wet season starts sometime around June first.  The wet season brings mosquitos out in hordes, especially the first rains in late May or early June.  What happens is the mosquitos lay their eggs on the grasses in marsh areas.  These areas dry up as the dry season progresses.  The “cold” of December and early January kills off most of the mosquitos which is why we aren’t bothered so much by them.  Then in June the rains come, the water rises in the marshes, covering the marsh grass and the waiting mosquito eggs which all hatch at about the same time sending swarms of swamp angels out looking for a blood meal.  It’s a good idea to stay out of these areas in the summer months.  That and the fact that it’s too damned hot and humid!

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Florida is all about water.  There is standing water everywhere and every county has a mosquito control board who’s only job is to keep the mosquito population under control.  These controls were not available in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and don’t exist today in the more remote wilderness areas we like to paddle and camp in.  Totch reported that in early summer he could wipe his palm across his forehead and come up with a handful of dead mosquitos.  I can’t imagine living like that.  Makes me feel kind of wimpy.  These folks were a really tough, special breed of pioneer people, tougher than just about anybody I know.  Im just glad that, because of some modern tools and despite my wimpishness, I am able to enjoy these remote and wonderful parts of the earth.

 © Don Yackel 2017