Unwanted Picnic Visitors

This coming Sunday (June 18th) is National Picnic Day, and what better way to celebrate than by talking about unwanted picnic visitors (we’re specifically talking about the creepy crawly kind… what did you think we meant)? When we think of picnics, we think of ants, but there are lots of other insects that are likely to pay you a visit while you eat and drink outdoors.

Ants are the iconic picnic crashers. Most ants don’t sting, and the ones you’ll most likely encounter will be “black ants.” They want to take advantage of our exposed foods and messy habits. Unless you’re actively eating something, it’s a good idea to keep all foods stored in airtight containers, and the colder you keep them, the better. Before setting up your picnic space, take a good look around for fire ant mounds. Fire ants are notoriously aggressive, and one of the few that will sting, and it won’t be any fun trying to shake angry ants off yourself, your spouse, your child, or your belongings. If possible, find a bench or picnic table to elevate your belongings off the ground and make it harder for ants to pillage from your food supplies.

Yellow jackets and paper wasps normally drink nectar from flowers and feed their young a diet of animal protein. At a typical American picnic, they can get both of these things without much effort. Cut fruit and sugary beverages are highly attractive to wasps. Ideally, sweet beverages should be sipped through a straw. Yellow jackets and wasps often go spelunking in soda cans, only to become soaked and entrapped. Unsuspecting people then take a swig of their drink, and the panicked insect stings them in the lips, mouth, or tongue. Even in non-allergic people, swelling around the face and throat can cause difficulty breathing – so always use a straw! I have seen yellow jackets trim lunch meat off of the edges of sandwiches, so keep your foods contained until they are ready to be consumed.

Honey bees also like sweet drinks and can be attracted to floral fragrances like those found in perfume. Take it easy on the strong scents and the bees will be less likely to investigate you. A bee may land on your clothing and become trapped or pinched which may result in a sting.

Day-biting mosquitoes are another picnic pest, and the one of concern is the Asian tiger mosquito. They’ll prefer to nip you in the shade, but these hungry bugs are not so easily deterred by a little sunlight. Prepare yourself against these flying syringes by using a repellent with an EPA-registered active ingredient – the most common one on the market is DEET. They also make repellents for clothing, so be sure you know which type you’re using so you can apply it correctly. Repellents designed for clothing are not meant to be sprayed directly on bare skin. Light colored clothing will make you less noticeable to mosquitoes and long sleeves and pants will provide you with a layer of armor against prodding proboscises, as well as sun protection. There are also repellents that contain sunscreen if you’re not thrilled about wearing long sleeves in the sweltering heat of summer.

If you’re allergic to the venom of ants or other stinging insects, be sure to have an epinephrine device nearby at all times, preferably on your person. Be sure you know how to use it. Some require only one step to activate, while others require two. Make sure it is not expired, and be sure someone else knows where it is in the event that you can’t tell them. If you’re not allergic, you might consider carrying some sting relief swabs instead. If we could predict when we’d get stung, we’d never get stung, right?

I’ve made the simple act of picnicking sound like a dangerous excursion into untamed wilderness, but keeping yourself comfortable and safe while outdoors is an easy task with the right preparation. Go enjoy a picnic for Father’s Day and admire nature (and its bugs) from afar, just be sure to plan accordingly so that your picnic is as enjoyable as it can possibly be.