PAT NEAL’S WILDLIFE: The wilderness can be downright buggy

IT IS DAYLIGHT in the swamp.

There is a buzzing sound as the insects of the forest awakened.

The first to be noticed is the smallest, the no-see-um.

You might not think a bug that tiny could be a bother, but you would be wrong.

These tiny, almost invisible insects can occur in swarms so thick they make breathing difficult.

They get in your eyes and ears while biting you, sucking your blood and leaving patches of itchy welts all over your hide.

Once the sun warms the forest floor, you don’t worry about no-see-ums any more.

The larger insects awaken.

Maybe it is our unusually wet summer, but some of this year’s mosquito crop is big enough to shoot with a shotgun.

That is a desperate measure that could be risky in a crowded campground.

It would be a futile effort anyway. You’d run out of shells before you ran out of mosquitoes.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, you’re liable to forget all about the mosquitoes once the black flies hit. They are a little black bug about the size of a housefly with one big difference:

Black flies bite.

Still, none of our insect pests can match the deerfly for sheer evil genius.

Though a deerfly is larger than the biggest housefly, they are able to fly silently, land lightly and start feeding immediately.

Once a deerfly gets you in its sights, your little outdoor outing just took a turn for the worse — because there is seldom just one of the little devils.

They hunt in teams that wear down the victim.

So when you take off your hat to swat a deerfly, chances are another one will bite you on your bare head.

So you try to hit yourself in the head with your hat, but deerflies can take a punch and the first one you swatted is back in the air.

The deerfly circle until they can approach you from behind.

That’s when you need the buddy system, someone to watch your back.

I once saw some cranky campers who were swatting each other with tree branches to keep the deerflies off each other.

The bugs were fierce.

Battling deer flies can call for desperate measures.

The tree branches kept getting bigger until the booze hit and the campers were beating each other with clubs.

Squashing one of these engorged bloodsuckers is a disgusting experience that is not for the faint of heart.

Just remember, it’s you or the bug. Chances are you’ll do the right thing, even if it makes you look like a biohazard.

Still there are worse bugs.

You’d know that if you ever kicked into a black hornet or a yellowjacket nest.

They will show up later this summer.

The experts tell us not to panic when being attacked by hornets. These are the same experts who tell us not to panic when you get lost or drop your car keys in the outhouse.

I’ve never seen anyone not panic while being attacked by hornets.

There was a troop of Boy Scouts coming down the long, dry switchbacks into what has to be the buggiest hole in the Olympics, Grand Valley.

There in the trail was a big underground nest of hornets that were tired of getting stomped on all summer.

The first couple of Scouts made it through fine.

By the time the slower Scouts came limping along, the enraged cloud of hornets was ready for them.

They suffered a brutal attack that sent them screaming down the steep trail.

That had to be an unforgettable wilderness experience.


Pat Neal is an Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist.”

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or e-mail at [email protected]

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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