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SKEETER NEWS: How DEET Works | High Sierra Backpacker


Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 27 September 2018


How DEET Works

Scientists investigate how DEET confuses countless critters,
Rockefeller University, September 26, 2018.


“...shown that DEET acts not by repelling bugs, but rather by confusing them, messing with neurons that help the animals smell their surroundings. Moreover, the effects of DEET are not limited to insects: spiders, ticks, and many other pests also act strangely in the chemical's presence.”

“...DEET may be less of an insect repellent and more of an invertebrate confusant.”

“First developed in the 1940s, DEET can be found in most bug sprays used today. Research has shown that, in flies and mosquitoes, the chemical works by interacting with odor receptors that are unique to insects. This research, however, cannot explain how DEET exerts its effect on non-insect species.”

“The Vosshall lab previously demonstrated that DEET keeps mosquitoes away by interacting with odor receptors in a way that confuses the animals' sense of smell. ”

"The one common theme in all of these organisms is that DEET is doing something to affect odor perception--it's like sensory system sabotage.”



Recent Scientific Research on DEET

A fascinating array of scientific papers and research.

Impact of insecticides on the cognitive development of 6-year-old children,
INSERM, July 10, 2015 

For a very informative article on the various insect repellents,
see Insect Repellent Active Ingredients on Wildbackpacker (removed-not found).

Skin-Applied Repellent Ingredients,



High Sierra Backpackers!

Mosquitoes and Seasonal Temperature Shifts: Backpacking the High Sierra.




Research & Reporting

ALL Skeeter & Tick News, Research, & Information


Important Recent News & Research


Mosquitoes Defy DEET


SKEETER NEWS 2018: Warming Climate Spreading Skeeters, Ticks, & their Diseases

Aggressive nonnative mosquitoes spreading across state carry disease risk

Global Mosquito Movement, Asian tiger mosquito on the move

Mosquitoes Resist Genetic Manipulation



Dealing with Massive Skeeter Populations

Mosquitoes and Seasonal Temperature Shifts:
Backpacking the High Sierra




The Bottom Line

Finding the Sweet Spot between Springtime Heaven & Skeeter Hell

The Season
Dealing with Skeeters is required for all backpackers from the first exposure of wet soil under retreating snow at the crack of the rising temperatures of Spring until the high mountain meadows finally dry out. The mosquitoes are the dominant form of life in the High Sierra during the early stages of Spring.

The Spring Thaw Surge
Although during Spring we enjoy the massive, “bursting-forth,” of life as seen in the birds wheeling above the bursting-out of massive meadows of green grasses sprouting rainbows of multi-colored wildflowers being eaten by every type of grazing animal, dotted with stands of whitebarks protecting scattered litters of chipmunks, squirrels, and baby birds, all running around together as a pack of children, in their shared clumped stands of whitebarks, as the falcons, coyotes, bears, and cats prowl sky and terrain hunting them all. The bears are also mucking vast populations of insects and plants out of the burgeoning meadows, while anything that grazes is living in their Springtime Heaven. It’s an amazing explosion of life capturing the heat and moisture of the warming year. Observing this phenomenon is worthy repayment of the time and trouble spent to access, investigate and observe it. Yet for all of this beauty, there’s a bite. A buzzing bite. Everything I mentioned are all under attack, and all are getting tagged by the cloud of mosquitoes they are all operating within.

All of this activity is shrouded in a thick fog of relentless mosquitoes during the height of the Spring Thaw. As the retreating snow brings rising waters, temperatures, plants, and animals, so too it brings massive rising clouds of the Winged Hazard, rising in unimaginably thick clouds out of the saturated soils and muck exposed from under the first retreat of the snowbanks, as soon as the temp rise to within their birth range.
From these first phases of the Spring Thaw, we backpackers cannot eat, breathe, talk, walk, or conduct any activity at all without being fully engulfed in a huge, aggressive, and persistent, living, dense cloud of hyper-aggressive mosquitoes. Any exposed skin will be attacked en masse.

This, “super saturated,” situation persists until the super saturation of the soils end as the main body of the Spring Thaw passes down through the mountains, which moderates the skeeter populations in relation to the level and extent of soil moisture.

The backpacker’s problem boils down to the conflict between our accessing the beauty, activity, and amazing displays of Nature’s amazing power we get to see and experience during Springtime’s, “explosion of life,” phase, vs. the torture of the massive mosquito population, who are also at the heights of their terrible power and dominance during this particular phase of Spring. Spring is the best of times, while Spring is the worse of times.

Over the years I’ve devised approaches to the seasonal evolution of skeeters in the Sierra that allow me to travel, camp, and observe this grand early seasonal spectacle of, “Fighting, Fucking, and Feasting,” of both the celebration and struggle of life and death, of life eating itself to survive, taking center stage right in front of us, that the height of Spring in the Sierra is.

We want to avoid getting eaten during the frenzy...

Heaven and Hell
It’s a heavenly grand time, if you’re properly prepped for it. It is a living, breathing hell, if you are not. Backpacking the High Sierra through the wet and cold quagmire of early Spring is hard enough, terrain-wise, but doing so while undergoing the full effects of the, “mosquito torture,” offers exquisite levels of physical and psychological pain on top of normal backpacking stresses.

High Sierra Beauty during the height of the Spring Thaw is a beast that makes us pay a price.

Don’t underestimate them. The skeets have an uncanny way of, “getting to,” our psychological irritation point, as well as delivering physical irritation, especially when we are fully aware that we are just now getting into the, “middle,” of them, and we realize that there are literally billions of them, if not trillions, over the next 100 miles of trail we are covering down to Tuolumne Meadows during a fine Spring run from Tahoe to Whitney.

Thank god we have the clothing, chemicals, and camp techniques required to maintain full defensive protection on the trail and in camp. From behind our well-designed and executed skeeter defenses we’re going to observe the fog of mosquitoes we’re hiking through in the same way we observe the trees, the fish, and the birds. Otherwise, they will eat us alive.

A big part of our success relies on us understanding that we’re going to get, “tagged,” that we’re going to get speared by a whole lot of skeeters hiking early in the Season in the High Sierra, even with the best protection, plans, and skills. They will take their toll.

Nonetheless, we’re going to see the height of that year’s mosquito season, if we’re beginning our Tahoe to Whitney hike in early Spring out of the Tahoe Basin. We’re going to get tagged, even with the best of defenses. The bottom line is the skeeters will always get through our defenses, but not enough to do anything but keep us, and our skeeter defenses, sharper.

Backpackers without proper defenses are going to get tortured.

But, by making our start out of Tahoe during early Spring, though we’ve got to endure the height of skeeters, we’ve also put ourselves into perfect position to watch the evolution of the physical, biological, and weather transitions the Sierra goes through between Spring into Summer that year, as over the duration of our hike we’ll be hiking through the height of Spring Thaw’s slow, steady transition into Summer conditions as we hike down the Sierra Crest to the Whitney Portal over the next fifty days.

That’s a nice slice of life to walk through, observe, and experience.

Over the course of our trip we may be able to note both the highest point of the early season’s mosquito populations, as well as that year’s, “drop-dead,” date, the date when the average soil moisture in High Sierra meadows drops below the level required to support mosquitoes.

We can observe one year’s complete trajectory of the rise and fall of mosquito populations in the High Sierra, across the length of one of our Tahoe to Whitney hiking trips, if we time it, “correctly.” Some folks would call this, this, “early,” timing, “wrong,” preferring to start later in Spring, after the skeeters have diminished a bit. That timing also puts us past the main burst of Spring for everything else, too.

Timing the beginning of our hike through the Tahoe Basin just as the main river fords come back down to fordable status, which is, “typically,” sometime around late June or early July, and we’ll hike out the Whitney Portal sometime around the mosquito’s, “typical,” Drop Dead Date of August 15.

Egads. What pleasure out of pain is forged hiking early Spring backpacking trips across the length of the High Sierra Crest.

End of the Snowpack
The timing of when the mountains finally dry out happens at different times every year, depending on the details of that year’s weather progression. How deep was that Winter’s snowpack, when and how strong a Spring Thaw is happening, and how evolves the progression of Spring temperatures and storms?
All of these factors, the answers to those questions, including the activity level and intensity of local T-storm and downpour activity during late Spring and early Summer, all affect the time when the soils in the High Sierra finally dry out, what I call the mosquito’s, “Drop Dead Date.” It varies year to year.
The Drop Dead Date is typically happens during mid August, which I specify as being August 15, during a, “normal,” year, whatever that is nowadays. But, I consider August 15 to be the, “average,” Drop Dead Date.

During wet years, after heavy Winter and/or Spring snow years, the mountains manage to stay moist and carry mosquitoes all the way through Summer. Skeeter populations during these moist years have a new Drop Dead Date. That’d be when the Fall temps drop low enough to kill them all, at the end of Summer.

No Skeeter Domination
During dry years, such as the record drought year of 2015, we barely have enough melt water to push high plant nor animal fertility during the “height,” of Spring, nor feed our typical massive-high skeeter populations, even during the height of the dry Spring Thaw of 2015.

Skeeter Cycle
So yeah, we can see the High Sierra is experiencing a wide range of potential seasons. This makes good observation of the current trajectory of conditions vitally important for having the correct gear and expectations for the current status of the environment.

Therefore, looking at this information we can see that the time of year, and the particular character of the year we are having, gives us some ability to predict the level of mosquitoes we’re going to encounter, and the levels of caution, clothing, and chemical protection we’ll be required to deploy.

I can’t begin to tell you how important getting our mosquito protection, “right,“ is going to be to how we subjectively judge and, “experience,” our experience. I take it as a matter of right and pride to be a human who can operate effectively and comfortably in the mosquito deluge of Early Spring in the High Sierra.





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