You might have heard already rumors and first hand stories about the man-eating mosquitos from the North – dark clouds consisting of an indeterminable amount of individual mosquitos that will hunt you on every step. Is it all true or just travel-lore? Well, we say it depends.
It is definitely true that mosquitos can give you more then a hard time on your trip to the North, especially in Lapland. We also have our fair share of own experiences to contribute that would probably qualify as worst case travel scenarios. Luckily we survived them all so lean back and take some advice on how to handle the little nuisances. And no, repellent alone will not be enough if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time! But if you take some preparations you can visit all places in Scandinavia and Finland without any problems.
There are more then 40 types of mosquitos (Culicidae) in the North but only a handful can be considered a nuisance and problem to humans. Apart from mosquitos there are other blood sucking insects like black flies, horse flies and biting midges. Different species cover different niches but unfortunately humans are the preferred blood source for all of them. For all of them applies that only the females are feeding on blood so every blood sucking insect that takes a closer look at you can be considered a female of the respective species. Male feed on nectar. The habits of these insects differ and while some are slow and take their time before they sting, others go straight for it without any hesitation.
- Floodwater mosquito – One of the most annoying types is the floodwater mosquito (Aedes sticticus). These mosquitos are known for their mass production. Females lay their eggs in humid soils and they remain dormant for at least 5 years. In case of heavy rain and temporarily flooded environments the eggs hatch. After going through their different stadiums of larva the female mosquitos need to feed on blood to produce their eggs. This species has several hatching peaks per year keeping them around for many months.
- Snow pool mosquitos – these mosquitos (Aedes communis, Aedes punctor and Aedes cantans) have a similar biology but they have only one hatching period and their eggs require freezing before they can hatch. Their cycle starts usually in spring when snow is melting.
- Black flies – This type of insect (Simuliidae) resembles more a fly but belongs technically also to the mosquitos and counts various species. They are very fast flying insects that have mastered the craft of creeping under your cloths to bite you – unnoticed! If bitten, they leave a small red dot that will start to itch very much after several hours. It’s not dangerous but considerably more annoying then the sting of a normal mosquito. Black flies can be a pain especially close to streaming waters and on lakeshores. They usually produce one generation per summer that can hatch as early as May. In exceptionally hot summers some species can have two cycles. Often they appear in swarms and that is the time when they can really torment people.
- Biting midges – These are the smallest of all biting plagues with one millimeter body length. It’s very hard to spot them and most times you’ll probably notice them when the damage is done. With their size they can find their way through clothes and cut small wounds to get to your blood. Their primetime is in late summer, usually August or even September and repellent does not necessarily work for these insects. There are at least then different species known out there hunting for blood but in general very little is known about these insects.
The reason why mosquitos are appearing in vaster numbers in Lapland is that there plenty of suitable wetlands, bogs and puddles and the conditions are in most cases favorable for the development of all species. Now, before you cancel that trip to the north, be assured that there are good solutions to avoid most disturbances. Mosquitos are not everywhere and especially in urban environments, higher altitudes and open windy places you usually don’t have to worry about them. They are seasonal and also depend strongly on weather conditions. So what can you do, to prepare yourself?
Since you are still here reading this you are on the right track already. Learn the weaknesses and preferences of your opponents and it will be easy to outmaneuver them.
In a nutshell
- Mosquitos prefer shady, wet and humid conditions so lakes, wetlands and forests are their prime habitat.
- Urban environments are usually less likely to have mosquitos and you’ll not need special protection.
- Choose your clothing and gear carefully.
- Repellents can be useful but should not be the only protection
- Open, sunny and windy places have less mosquitos
- Mosquito activity often depends on daytime
- Make sure your camper van or mobile home is properly sealed
Are mosquitos everywhere?
No. Mosquitos need wet and humid conditions to undergo their four stage life cycle (egg, larva, cocoon, mosquito). Larva need water to transform into mosquitos so dry areas and urban environments are normally not plagued. Generally the southern parts of Scandinavia and Finland and especially the coastal areas are also better off. Also mosquitos free are usually the mountain areas and higher planes in Norway and Sweden where conditions are not suitable for them. Real problems can be encountered in Lapland and in all regions with standing fresh water like the lake land area in Finland.
Humans are not the only mammals that are plagued and reindeer have developed a good share of strategies to deal with the annoyance. Usually they move to open, windier places away from water areas and forests.
Are there mosquitos all year round?
No. Individual mosquitos cannot survive winter conditions and all of the X trillion individuals die. Only the eggs survive and first species start to hatch usually when the snow is melting. Spring and early summer are the worst times. Some species have two reproduction cycles per year if the conditions are right or simply start hatching later in the season. So there is not something as a “save season” as long as it is not freezing. In our experience a temperature drop to below 8° C is enough to give you peace though.
Do daytimes matter?
Yes. In our experience the activity of ‘classic’ mosquitos is usually very high in the hours after sunrise and before sunset. Black flies are usually active a bit later in the day. During night time the activity drops usually drastically and some species like black flies are not active at all after dark. Unfortunately nighttime’s can be non-existing during midsummer above the polar circle.
Are mosquitos in Sweden, Finland or Norway dangerous?
No. The upside is mosquitos in the Northern countries are not carrying disease. So, while their bites and stings might be an annoyance they can not really harm you unless you decide to spend some quality time half naked in an infested area. Usually before that happens you have long started to run.
Let’s assume you want to set out for your hiking trip this season and venture right in the lion’s den in Lapland.
Clothing – The first thing you want to plan properly is your clothing and gear. Always bring something with long sleeves, long pants and socks. If you don’t need it fine, if you need it and don’t have it you will regret it big time. Clothing should be loose and made from a material that is dense enough that mosquitos cannot bite or sting through. If it is too tight mosquitos can sting into your skin. Jeans or similar fabrics from cotton, cloth and wool are not mosquito proof. Some native outdoor companies have specialized to make their gear (fjällräven G1000) mosquito proof. We don’t deem it necessary to buy all your wardrobe new but take at least a solid trouser and a robust jacket. In general all waterproof clothing will work – Goretext too but be aware that certain repellents (e.g. containing DEET) can harm the membrane. When you have your outfit ready make sure that you have no loose ends. Especially black flies have mastered the art to identify every hole in your suit of armor – so put that shirt in your trouser. A hat on your jacket can save your neck too.
Mosquito hat – If you consider longer outdoor activities in problematic areas you might want to get yourself a mosquito hat. If you have ever tried picking berries or lure fishing while being in a cloud of mosquitos you’ll appreciate this gimmick. You’ll probably loose some style points but hey, that three reindeers probably don’t care. Especially if you do not like rubbing your head in chemicals this can be a great way to keep your sanity. They are fairly in expensive and there are several options. If you bring your own hat you can simply buy a net or you can buy integrated combinations of hat and net. The truth will be that you’ll probably not need it too often but even if it saves your day once or twice you’ll be grateful to have it.
Repellents – The variety of chemical repellents is almost as plentiful as the mosquitos itself and you can buy them in sticks, sprays or scents. Some work great (for some time), others will not. The most effective ones are those containing DEET. The downside is DEET-repellents are a chemical cocktail and not suitable for children under 3. However, even if you have reservations against these chemicals (we do for sure) you might find yourself very soon in a situation where you’ll take a bath in DEET without hesitation. One brand that works with the domestic pests is called OFF. It is available in most local supermarkets and food stores in the northern countries. There is a version for children too but in any case make sure not to spray it anywhere near the face. Better spray your hands first and rub it on the places you want to cover. Other options as scents or sound emitting options can ease the nuisance in the best case but in our experience it will prevent the other 50 percent of biting you. And 50 percent of an indefinite number can be a lot.
Thermacell Repeller – Yes, it works wonders! And no, this is not a product placement and we really mean it. Well, technically this counts as repellent too but since we learned to appreciate this device we’ll give it a more detailed description. Imagine it as device similar to those you plug into your wall socket at home that feature the little mats you have to replace once in a while. The repeller is designed for outdoors and uses a gas based heater that “burns” a synthetic copy of the natural repellent allethrin (chrysanthem). There is no noise, no smell, no DEET and it sets up a 20m2 mosquito free area around you – sounds almost too good to be true. Well, the biggest downside is the price. The device itself will set you back around 40 Euros. The real money however, goes into the refill cartridges and mats. One cartridge lasts around 12 hours and a repellent mat 4 hours. A refill package containing 4 cartridges and 12 mats will be around 30 Euros. So if you plan a longer trip you can do the math. The second downside is, that the “designed for otudoors” means that you can ONLY use it outside. The chemical it releases is mildly toxic so you must not take it into your camper van or tent.
If you plan a lot of outdoor activities over several weeks this might ease your life considerably and be well worth the money. You can put it beside you while fishing, berry picking, kayaking or while enjoying your meal at the campfire. It’s not exactly the purist’s device but if you want to spend some quality time without that hat and gloves you might consider it. In our experience it is often enough to run it half an hour a day during dinner or especially mosquito active daytimes. You can buy the device and refills in all mayor supermarkets or fishing and outdoor shops in Scandinavia and Finland.
Vehicles – If you have a camper van or mobile home you may wake one night to the buzzing sound of uncountable uninvited guests. Usually one mosquito around the bad can give you a hard time sleeping but a hundred will give you the creeps. Especially in older models, there are sometimes leaky spots where they can enter. And with spots we mean also places that you would normally not likely consider like the air filter, side mirrors or window seals. A good strategy for such a scenario is to have some spare mosquito net fabric that you can use to improvise if necessary. You can buy that in every bigger hardware store around the Northern countries.
When everything else fails – Imagine you headed off into the deep wild of a national park in Lapland for overnight stays in wilderness huts taking only the essentials. Unfortunately you loose your only repellent and left the mosquito hat in the car too – of course. Your clothing is made of tight merino except for the jacket you brought but the temperatures make you melt pretty quickly in the latter. The only way back takes you literally through 20 kilometer of mosquito infested swampy marshland. What can you do?
Well, first of all we have done that for you so no need to repeat it. Such experiences will harden your character – ours is pretty tough in this regard. The best way to get out of such an unpleasant situation is to keep your cool and move – literally. As long as you move at a steady pace, the majority of mosquitos will not keep track with you and as long as you do not stop you should do at least ok. And by stopping we mean even that mandatory toilet break once in a while. Unfortunately 20 km in rough terrain can be demanding and eventually you will need a break at some point or take a closer look at that map again. Consult your map (mandatory for such an endeavor!) for open and elevated places. If you can take your route through spots that are exposed to wind you might find some peace at some point. If everything else fails and you need that break keep your body in constant movements, even if it is only a few steps back and forth. Keep in mind that the mosquitos are only an unpleasant nuisance and cannot really harm you.
No. As a traveller in the North you might deem them as a curse but they also play a very important role in the ecosystem. They are an important source of food for many other species, especially for fish. So if you worship that arctic char or brown trout you might be thankful that they can grow to such an extend due to an abundance of food. And hey, if Lapland would be free of mosquitos, probably more people would have colonized it to a greater extend. So your unspoiled nature experience would have to take place elsewhere.