One of my enduring memories of Africa – one of those odd snippets of past life that remain vivid for no particular reason – involves hunting Cape buffalo in an area hot with tsetse flies, and doing my utmost to remain motionless as a tsetse bored its sizzling stinger into my lip.
During the course of my life, I’ve encountered some serious insect opponents, not least of which were the mosquitoes that swarmed over the army base at Petawawa. They were the size of Stukas, just about as noisy, and aggressive as only Canadian mosquitoes can be.
That particular tsetse is so memorable because, on the other side of a clump of bushes, grazed a moderately sized herd of Cape buffalo, so close we could hear their tails swish. One move on my part and they would either come or go, neither of which was desirable.
Ever since Petawawa, however, with its Canadian Army-issue insect repellant the consistency of 10W-30, I have avoided slathering on anything to keep insects away. Hate the smell, hate the gritty, oily feel of it, and hate the bother of reapplying it as the sweat washes it away. Oh, yeah – and I hate the taste. And the sting as it drips into my eyes. It would also, we found out the hard way, dissolve a watch face and turn the lenses of your glasses cloudy.
That vile army goop came in little plastic squeeze bottles, and we used to douse each other down, front and back, top to bottom. Our combats became stiff with it, and the sand that stuck to it gave us a patchy camouflage effect in those pre-camo days. Naturally, we avoided washing them, and after a few days of Petawawa’s summer heat the whole platoon was, well, memorable.
Any enemy downwind would have instantly known we were there. Obviously, this would be no solution when hunting an animal like a Cape buffalo with a super-sensitive nose.
Sometimes, though, it is imperative to keep the bugs at bay, and you do whatever it takes. Now, 40 years later, it is gratifying to learn that modern science has come up with at least a partial solution.
As with so many technological advancements in recent years, we owe this one to the military, and to an innovative company in Mississippi. Pine Belt Processing, Inc., is a subsidiary of Warmkraft, Inc. At the behest of the U.S military, Pine Belt developed a process called “Perimeter Insect Guard,” by which combat clothing can be impregnated with a permanent dose of insecticide.
Over the past ten years, Pine Belt has treated more than 25 million uniforms. Some of these have been subjected to as many as 50 harsh laundry washes, with no loss of their repellant qualities.
The insecticide is permethrin. For the technically minded, it’s a member of the pyrethroid family of synthetic chemicals that behave like extracts of the chrysanthemum flower, a natural insect repellant. While it is a neurotoxin to insects, it is as demonstrably safe for humans as it is possible to prove. It is approved for use on food, crops, livestock, pets, clothing – even in restaurants and other places where food is handled. It has little absorption by the human system.
Pine Belt developed a method of “attaching” permethrin to fabrics in much the same way as print patterns are permanently embedded. An insect landing on the fabric is either repelled, or killed outright.
Insects affected by permethrin include all the usual suspects: Mosquitoes, flies (including tsetses), ticks (ugh!), chiggers (scratch, scratch), ants, and midges.
Recently, Pine Belt increased its processing capacity, and can now handle civilian orders, too. On bulk orders, the price of processing is two to three dollars per garment. Although it is an industrial operation, and not really set up to deal with individual clients who want a couple of hunting outfits bug-proofed, the company is sympathetic to people like us. Its staff are hunters and shooters and, living in Mississippi, they are all too well aware of the delights of the insect world.
The general manager, Ron Lack, tells me they are happy to do individual orders as a goodwill gesture. And since your tax dollars paid for it in the first place, here’s a chance to get a little back and strike a blow at tsetse flies, mosquitoes, and ticks, all at the same time.–Terry Wieland