Australia is renowned for our dangerous wildlife – snakes, crocs, sharks, cassowaries and spiders – but this post is dedicated to our less deadly but far more annoying inhabitants: bugs.
Let’s start with the humble house fly, bush fly and blow fly.
Back home in Melbourne, the flies are black and not very plentiful (unless you’re having a BBQ). Since we’ve been on the road, we’ve noticed flies of various colours – green, black, brown, orange and even a bit of purple and blue. In a few places we visited, there were so many flies around that Dave would end up chucking a spaz because the flies would get stuck in his beard and buzz around, and while we were bushwalking near Winton, a fly flew into Juz’s mouth!
Whenever we found ourselves amongst a lot of flies, we’d look forward to sunset because they’d all piss off. Unfortunately we’d only get a few minutes of respite before the mozzies showed up.
Annoyance level: 2/10 if there’s only one, 8/10 if there’s more than five.
Bloody mozzies! There’s nothing worse than lying in bed trying to go to sleep at night and hearing that high pitched whining sound go past. If you’re camping near water or swampy marshlands, there will be mozzies. These bad-boys are most active around dusk and dawn, they love humidity but hate strong wind.
Mozzies aren’t just annoying, they can make you really sick. While malaria was officially eradicated from Australia in 1981, Ross River Fever and Dengue Fever are definitely still around. Because mozzies drink your blood, they can transmit these nasty viruses from person to person.
After spending a lot of time camping and hiking through all different environments, you start to get used to having the odd mozzie bite here and there. That said, nothing prepared us for what happened while we were camping at Quongdong Point near Broome. The mozzies came out earlier than we expected and we were surrounded by swarms of them. Unfortunately, we had the back doors of the Troopy open and didn’t get them closed in time. We were trapped in the Troopy with hundreds of mosquitoes with no bug spray. After two hours of swatting, squishing and splatting, we were sweaty, bloody and exhausted. The mozzie massacre came to an end, but we didn’t escape unscathed….
Needless to say, we now always carry a can of bug spray.
Annoyance level: 8/10 but increases if there’s more of them.
Also known as sandflies or gnats.
We thought mozzies were the most annoying insects in Australia until we met midges for the first time. They’re so tiny – about the size of a grain of sand – that they’re almost invisible. They live around the same sort of places as mozzies and like the same warm, humid conditions. Fortunately, the midges that bite humans aren’t known to carry any diseases.
We went fishing one afternoon near Cairns airport with some mates. Suddenly, Dave started getting really, really itchy around his feet and ankles. He thought he’d been bitten by mozzies, but the lumps that quickly appeared were irregularly shaped and about the size of a fingernail, and the itchiness associated with the bites was almost unbearable. After about an hour of wanting to rub a cheese grater on his skin, the itchiness finally subsided. Juz didn’t walk away unscathed – she took two steps into the mangroves and her legs were covered in tiny insects. It was only for a few seconds but for the next three days, her thighs and ankles were spotty and unrelentingly itchy. She tried everything – calamine, vinegar, metho, nail imprints, Stingose, lavender oil – nothing helped.
We reckon midges are the most annoying insects in Australia for a couple of reasons. Firstly because they’re an invisible enemy that attacks and leaves before you even realise that you were a target. Secondly because their bites are itchy as hell.
Annoyance level: 10/10 – they’re just shit.
Also known as Horse Flies.
These nasties are about the size of a blowfly, but tougher. Even though they feed on the blood of humans and livestock, they don’t transmit diseases. March flies are most active during the day. They enjoy warm, sunny weather and their favourite colour is dark blue. Dislikes include strong wind and insect repellent. They don’t move very fast, but they’re persistent and will keep trying to bite you until you smash them.
While camping with some friends near Albany in Western Australia, we were inundated by march flies and decided to have a competition to see who could squish the most. Dave stopped counting at 30, but the marchies didn’t stop coming!
Annoyance level: 6/10
We’ve seen green ants, black ants, red ants, white ants, bull ants, and even purple ants. Everyone can understand to how annoying ants can be. They pounce on any titbits of food lying around, especially anything sweet. They’ll also bite or sting you if they feel threatened – even some of those common black or brown ants that end up in our homes.
In the northern areas of Australia, green tree ants are everywhere. When you get too close to their nest, they rear up on their back legs and start flailing their front legs at you. We reckon that if you had a really sensitive sound recorder you could probably hear them yelling at you to back off! These feisty little dudes will even drop onto you from their tree if you walk under them. After they bite you, they swing their butt around and squirt arse juice (formic acid) on the bite. It’s not overly painful, but its stings and it’s really annoying! If you’re into revenge, grab one by the head and bite its green rear end off. Juz says it tastes like lime…
If you’re looking for an ant that can inflict some serious pain though, what you need is a bull ant. The sting these nasties deliver is very painful and can last for quite some time. Best to stay well away from these aggressive ants. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.
Annoyance level: 9/10 if they’re biting you, 7/10 if they’re on your food, 2/10 if they’re just doing their own thing.
How to avoid annoying bugs:
- The easiest way to avoid these annoying pests is to stay cooped up at home, but then you wouldn’t get to see all the amazing things our country has to offer!
- Before you park your vehicle and set up camp, always check for ants on the ground AND above you in the trees.
- Remember that the closer to water you are, the more likely the chance of mozzies and midges. It might be worth setting up camp a little further from the water and trying to place yourself up-wind of the water.
- Wearing pants and a long sleeve top helps keep the biting and stinging insects off your skin, but it’s not ideal when the weather is hot. Also, remember that most insects seem to be attracted to darker coloured clothes.
- Most houses and tents have fly-screen doors and windows, so use them! We generally sleep in our Troopy when we’re camping, so Dave knocked up some nifty magnetic fly-screens so we could have the side windows open overnight.
- When you’re walking around checking out the sights, you could always wear one of those hilarious fly-net hats. They might make you look like an amateur bee-keeper, but they’ll definitely keep the bugs out of your face!
How to keep them away:
- Use repellent – the DEET sprays are the most popular and effective, but a lot of people prefer more natural options.
- Use bug spray – we learnt this lesson after the mozzie massacre at Quandong Point and since then, we always have a can handy. The easiest way to make sure insects don’t get to spend the night with us is by spraying inside the Troopy with an odourless bug killer, like Mortein NaturGard. It has over 90% natural ingredients so it’s tough on pests, not on people. Mortein also have surface sprays for crawling insects like ants, spiders and cockroaches!
- Having a good size campfire usually helps deter at least some of the nasties. If you chuck some green leaves on the fire to make it smoky, it will work even better. Also, mozzies don’t like it when you put a handful of sage or rosemary in the fire.
- It might sound silly, but try to avoid deodorants and perfumes that smell like fruit or flowers. Insects like the smell of fruit and flowers and will be attracted to it.
- We always light mozzie coils and/or citronella candles before sunset. We find them effective and they smell nice. If you have a big area to protect against bugs, consider the Mortein NaturGard Auto Protect Outdoor Insect Control System (what a mouthful). It also smells like citronella and protects against mosquitoes and flies. The system does require batteries but once you set it, you can forget it until it’s time for bed.
- Try eating some garlic and vinegar, or rub them on your skin. This not only keeps bugs away, but people too.
- Be selective in your choice of a light source. Yellow light globes attract fewer insects than normal ones and bug zappers make some cool sounds, but burning bugs don’t make any cool smells.
- If you don’t have a set of chopsticks and the patience of Mr Miyagi, go buy yourself a fly-swatter. They’re cheap and fun!
- When all else fails, flail your arms and legs around like a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man…
If they get you:
- Don’t scratch! It might seem impossible, but scratching often irritates the bite or sting making it last longer. The more you scratch, the worse the itching gets because you’re actually spreading the poison!
- Try using an anti-itch product like Stingose or calamine lotion – Juz went through a bottle in a couple of days. We tried one product that was a 2-in-1 repellent and stop-itch cream which worked really well and smelt like ti-tree.
- This kind of goes without saying, but if you have any sort of strange reaction to an insect bite or sting, go see a medical professional.
- Other creative remedies include the hot teaspoon, the slap, using your fingernail to make a cross in the bite, vinegar, skin toner, metho, or even taking an anti-histamine.
So that’s our list of annoying bugs that can bugger off – what annoying bugs have you come across and how did you deal with them and their bites?