How Did Native Americans Prevent Mosquito Bites?

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Tony Maples Photography


Mosquitos are a fact of life in Texas. We have 85 species of them living here. They constantly annoy us by flying around our ears, and their bites itch horribly. While modern folks are lucky enough to have DEET, fancy mosquito netting, and thick clothing, Native Americans had no such protections. Instead, they had to rely on natural solutions in order to protect themselves from mosquitos.

Here’s how Native Americans protected themselves from insect bites.

  1. Smoke from campfires
How Did Native Americans Prevent Mosquito Bites?

Photo: @SnappyPete via Twenty20

Any self-respecting camper or BBQ-er will tell you that smoke keeps away insects, including mosquitos. Native Americans knew this too. Their campfires served many different purposes, including cooking, communication through smoke signals, and keeping away flies and mosquitos.

While we certainly don’t recommend building a fire every time a mosquito bothers you, it may be worth getting a little closer to a campfire when the bugs are bad at night.

  1. Smearing mud on themselves
How Did Native Americans Prevent Mosquito Bites?

Photo: @porstocker via Twenty20

That’s right. Native Americans would smear mud all over themselves in order to protect against mosquitos. Mosquitos have a harder time penetrating the mud with their “beaks,” and they don’t like the smell.

Taking advantage of a mosquito’s sense of smell was a standard tactic used by Native Americans. Besides using mud, they would also rub rancid animal fat on their bodies to create a physical barrier and create such a stink that the mosquitos would stay away. A tribe in Texas even used alligator fat!

Alligator hunting is strictly regulated in the state of Texas, so rubbing alligator fat on yourself to keep mosquitos away probably isn’t an option. Smearing mud on yourself is slightly more viable, although your campmates may not like that very much.

  1. Creating poultices from plants
How Did Native Americans Prevent Mosquito Bites?

Photo: @Mehaniq via Twenty20

Similarly, many Native American tribes would mash up certain plants into a paste, which they would then apply just like mud or animal fat. The plants used were strong-smelling plants like mint and Western yarrow. Again, the strong smells from these plants tended to drive off mosquitos.

Another plant used to ward off mosquitos was sweetgrass. Interestingly enough, recent tests have shown that sweetgrass is as effective as DEET at keeping mosquitos away. If you don’t like chemicals, you may want to try applying sweetgrass oil instead of DEET.

  1. Avoiding mosquito-infested areas.
How Did Native Americans Prevent Mosquito Bites?

Photo: @Phix79 via Twenty20

Native Americans knew that mosquitos don’t like windy places. Choosing to set up camp on the top of a hill, instead of in a valley, made a world of difference to them. They also made sure to camp in dry areas, avoiding still water.

This tactic still works today. Ensuring that your campsite is in the right spot makes the difference between having a good trip and being bitten all night long. Avoid valleys and low-lying areas, especially swampy regions or other places with standing water.

People have been dealing with the annoying mosquito for thousands of years. While modern technology gives us an advantage, we still have at least one thing in common with Native Americans. Whether we are eating a deer with our tribe or having barbeque with our family, no one likes a mosquito bite.