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How to Live with Insects in Jungle

FINCA TATIN, Jungle near Livingston, Guatemala- When living in the rain forest you live with insects. The human no longer sits alone on an “I eat you but you don’t eat me” pedestal when in jungle climes. In the jungle, the human is food — food for insects. How do you live with insects in [...]

FINCA TATIN, Jungle near Livingston, Guatemala- When living in the rain forest you live with insects. The human no longer sits alone on an “I eat you but you don’t eat me” pedestal when in jungle climes. In the jungle, the human is food — food for insects.

How do you live with insects in the jungle?

You can fight them with repellent, you can dodge them with mosquito nets, take malaria provolaxis, but, ultimately, you cannot travel through the jungle without being bitten by insects hundreds upon hundreds of times. The only thing you can do in the jungle is to live with insects, accept being bitten, and deal with it. Get use to being the feast.


Legs that have been scratched in the Guatemala jungle. Just about anybody would look like this if they scratched their insect bites.

But there is a trick to living with insects in the jungle, there is a simple trick to make the bites less itchy, it even keeps them from rising up to the surface:

The trick to is to not scratch.

Don’t scratch your insect bites in the jungle.

If you do you will quickly look like one giant mumpy sore.

It was a mystery how the people who live out here in the Guatemala jungle seem to be unaffected by insect bites. Even people who were born elsewhere and moved into the jungle seemed unfazed by the rapture of blood sucking insects. The people who live here do not complain about the bugs, they do not have bumps all over them, no red spots, it is almost as if they are not even being bitten at all. They do not use repellent, they are definitely not taking malaria meds, they seem immune to mosquitoes.

In a way, they are.

The people who live out in the jungle are bitten by mosquitoes like everyone else, they just don’t scratch them.

When the tourists complain incessantly and end up looking like a polka dotted table cloth in only a couple of days of staying here while the people who live here seem unaffected their is a reason: the visitor’s scratch, the locals know better. Both are patterns of habit.

If you don’t scratch, you won’t itch (as much).

If you don’t scratch a mosquito bite, it goes away with very little affect. The people who live here are not covered in mosquito bites because they let them be — they don’t scratch, rub, or further proliferate the annoyance of the mosquito, sand fly, or horse fly.

People in the jungle live with the insects in the jungle — mosquitoes, sand flies, and other insects that bite humans are a normal part of life.

——————-

I found myself idle scratching my knee the other day. I did not think to check my fingers, once I started scratching it felt so good that I gave in for a moment. I scratched.

Within a few moments my entire knee swelled up in a mass of red bumps. More than 50 in all. I looked down, amazed: a moment before my knee was plain skin color, there was no indication that I was bitten by insects there multiple times, but now it was covered in bumps — and itched real bad.

They were sand fly bites, which, in my opinion, are vastly more uncomfortable than that of mosquitoes.

I scratched, I made my sand fly bites exponentially worse. If I continued doing this, I would be as bumpy as a back country road. I feel the bumps on my knee, they are all raised and swollen. I look down in surprise.

I realize that I cannot scratch here in the jungle, no matter what.

Related articles: Skin Care in Jungle First Priority

Guatemala Travelogue Entries | Guatemala Travel Guide | Guatemala Photos

Filed under: Central America, Guatemala, Health, Rain Forests

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3421 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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13 comments… add one

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  • craig | travelvice.com June 19, 2010, 11:50 pm

    I recommend carrying a quantity of loratadine (10mg, once daily) or cetirizine dihydrochloride (10mg, once daily). They’re anti-allergic (antihistamine) pills that really help when the bites are spread over an area too inconvenient to treat topically.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com June 22, 2010, 2:51 pm

      This would be good to carry, will add it to the medical gear.

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  • craig | travelvice.com June 19, 2010, 11:53 pm

    Ask the locals what they’re using, if anything at all. In the Caribbean it was a lot of oil on the legs — though most still looked pretty ravaged from years of bites.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com June 22, 2010, 2:49 pm

      I highly doubt they use anything to ward off insects. I know that the people who work near me don’t. Problems with the insects seems to be more of a tourist problem, the people here are use to insects biting them.

      It is funny though, the mosquitoes seem to really like the tourists better. Maybe the smell different?

      I am also becoming more accustom to the insect. They really do not seem too bad any more.

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  • Leslie June 20, 2010, 12:17 am

    While working in the jungles of Belize we use Benadryl extra strength itch spray. It was meant to treat poison oak and Ivy but worked wonderfully on pesky bug bites. Maybe you can try hunting some down? If not give me your address and I can send you some 🙂 Take care of yourselves down there!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com June 22, 2010, 2:44 pm

      Thanks Leslie,

      We are just getting use to the insects here — no use fighting them. They are really not too bad. Not like the Amazon, for sure. It is definitely not difficult to just tolerate the more onerous elements of the jungle here.

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  • Emery June 20, 2010, 11:45 am

    You might also try your basic rubbing alcohol. That always helps me with mosquito and ant bites in the wilds of suburban Dallas. The Benadryl spray is almost 75% alcohol, and I think it’s the most important ingredient. I’ll also second Craig on the antihistamines. I’m riddled with itch-inducing allergies and wouldn’t go anywhere without them.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com June 22, 2010, 2:39 pm

      Rubbing alcohol could be good to repel insects. It could also be good to prevent various fungi as well. Thanks, good advice.

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  • Itchy and Scratchy August 16, 2010, 11:35 pm

    OMG just reading this article makes me want to rake at my extremities. I’ve been to Mexico before during the rainy season and got mobbed by blood suckers. It was so bad that on top of the bumps I developed hives because of all of the toxins injected into my system. Being an American tourist with little exposure to this type of environment, I dug into my skin with my finger nails…for hours. I absolutely could not stop. I would wake up at night in a scratching frenzy not being able to cover enough area. I would rake away at my knee until my shin itched so bad that I couldn’t ignore it any longer, and then some other body part would scream to be scratched. This went on all the way until I got to a dry climate back in the U.S. Although I was miserable, there would be times where ripping at a very itchy area was about as of good of a feeling that I’ve ever felt. My only regret was not thinking to bring up a fork and some sand paper to my room in order to really get a good scratch in…

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com August 17, 2010, 12:00 am

      Haha, this was a good addition to this article. You hit on a good point: for many people it feels good to scratch insect bites.

      It really does. I just scratched one.

      But if I am going to live here in the jungle, I know that I need to give up the pleasure of the scratch.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com August 17, 2010, 12:03 am

      Haha, this was a good addition to this article. You hit on a good point: for many people it feels good to scratch insect bites.

      It really does. I just scratched one.

      But if I am going to live here in the jungle, I know that I need to give up the pleasure of the scratch — least I will be covered in one big bite.

      After nearly three months of living in the Guatemalan jungle, I have found ways to live with the insects. The mosquitos and horse flies are still present, but there bites don’t seem to impact my hide in the least. I seem to have become immune to receiving the raised bumps from insect bites — I have adjusted to living in the jungle.

      Walk Slow,

      Wade

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      • Bob L August 18, 2010, 7:49 am

        I am beginning to wonder about bug bites…..

        I have a friend that lives in mosquito and black fly country and spends a lot of time outside. I watch him getting bit, but he never seems to have bug bites visible, and never scratches. When I go over there, I get attacked and end up with tons of bites that just have to be scratched. But I have noticed that if I spend a lot of time outside, after a couple of months, I don’t seem to get the welts or have to scratch. I still get bit I suppose, but I don’t react as much.

        So, I wonder if the body becomes accustomed to the little buggers such that it does not react as badly…..

        So…. the solution to bug bites is more bug bites.

        Bob L

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        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com August 18, 2010, 9:37 am

          This sounds odd but I think it may be right on. It seems as if a person can build up a tolerance to insect bites. I look at my body now and it is difficult for me to find a single mosquito bite. When I first arrived in the jungle, I had them all over. I know that I am being bitten by the same amount of mosquitoes.

          The body seems able to adapt to insect bites, ready to adapt to the jungle environs.

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