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World’s worst biting bugs: how to avoid insect attack

Don't be bugged by bugs! Mossies, midges, no-see-ums, ticks and sand flies: how to avoid these little biters on your holidays.

Mossies, midges, no-see-ums, ticks and sand flies; many a traveller has suffered at the proboscis of these little biters, which can turn an otherwise pleasant place into an itchy nightmare.

Skyscanner takes a look at some of the world’s most uncelebrated biting bugs, tells you how to avoid them, and where in (or out of) the world you can go to for an insect-free holiday, if you prefer not giving blood.

Highland Midge

As a company built in Scotland from webcode, the Skyscanner team are all too familiar with the mighty midge, which are estimated to cost the Scottish tourist industry many thousands every year through lost revenue. Though just a couple of millimetres long, it’s the sheer volume of these little critters trying to get their nozzles into your face, up your nose and in your ears which can make sitting outdoors unbearable at times, especially if you’re camping on the west coast of Scotland.

How to avoid midge bites:

Midges prefer damp, calm, overcast days, and are most active at dawn and dusk so never go outside unless it’s past late morning, before late evening, and it’s dry, windy and sunny. If you feel you must go out, smother yourself in repellent; anything containing DEET will do the job, as will the now famous Avon Skin-So-Soft – originally designed as a ladies’ bath oil, it was discovered to be effective at dissuading midges too, so much so that even the British Royal Marine Commandos use it (perhaps they just like to keep their skin soft?). Also – be sure to check the local midge forecast


Found in warm regions throughout the world, the mossie is a life-long enemy of man. At its most dangerous, it can be the vector of malaria, yellow fever, filariasis, dengue fever and Japanese B encephalitis and hence you should take all precautions to avoid being bitten in places where these diseases are prevalent. However, even in non-malaria zones, the high pitched buzz of a mossie dive bombing you is infuriating and can lead to an itchy bite, or even worse."

How to avoid mosquito bites

When outside, cover arms and legs, although the mossie’s long snout can penetrate loosely woven clothing. Burning mosquito coils or using plug-in vapour deterrents will help repel the little critters, as well wearing repellents with a heavy dose of DEET.

Unlike the Highland midge, mossies are happy to enter indoors to get their fill of human blood and will lie in wait on walls until the lights go out and then feed on their sleeping victims. Before you go to bed, ensure windows are shut and do a thorough check of the walls and ceiling, slaughtering any mossies you find, mercilessly.

Sand fly

A small, often stripy, biting bug, sand flies are found across the world from New Zealand to New Delhi. Their tiny size has given them the nickname ‘no see ums’, but don’t be fooled by their petite nature; sand flies deliver a potent bite said to be several times more itchy than what the average mosquito inflicts. More seriously, they can be vectors of leishmaniasis – a potentially serious flesh-eating disease.

How to avoid sand fly bites

The wisdom is similar to the avoidance of mosquitoes and midges; cover up, wear insect repellent, burn insecticide coils and sleep under an insect net with a very fine mesh in tropical and subtropical zones where the sand fly is prevalent.


Ticks lie in wait in dense undergrowth, long grasses or ferns, waiting for mammals to brush past whereby they attach themselves to the host and begin to suck their blood. They can be found in most wooded or grassy areas throughout the world. Ticks can be carriers of small bacteria which cause Lyme disease, although the disease is relatively uncommon in the UK. It can take several days for a tick to finish feeding, during which its body swells to several times its original size, before detaching itself and dropping away from its host.

How to avoid tick bites

When walking through suspected tick terrain, wear long sleeves and trousers, pull your socks up stylishly over your trouser legs, and apply some repellent. When you get home, do a thorough tick check of your clothing and body. If you find a tick on yourself, use a pair of tweezers to grip the head firmly, and gently twist anti-clockwise to pull the tick away, being careful not to remove the body and leave the head imbedded. So to recap: Long sleeves? Tick. Socks over trousers? Tick. Repellent? Tick. You’re all set.

Bug-free holidays – 7 places with few biting insects

If you’d prefer not to give blood to bugs, creepy crawlies and other biting insects, where can you go on holiday to avoid them? Well, unfortunately, very few places in the world are completely free of such pests, but here a few suggestions where you can largely avoid being eaten alive.

1. City Breaks – although not completely devoid of insect life, you’ll generally find that most dense urban areas are less prone to plagues of ticks, midges or mosquitoes than rural zones.

More: City breaks

2. Head High – the ‘mosquito line’ is the altitude above which mosquitoes don’t live, so the higher you go, the further you get away from biting insects. Therefore anywhere high in the Alps, Pyrenees, Rockies, Andes etc should have a low pest count.


3. Go to the snow – you never hear skiers or snowboarders complaining of mosquito bites or midge attacks, so wait until winter and you can pretty much guarantee an insect-free holiday.

4. Stay indoors – generally, insect attack can be avoided by remaining indoors, an ideal excuse to stay in the pub.

5. Scuba dive – you won’t find biting insects under sea, so coral reefs provide a bug free zone. Unfortunately, you’ll have to come up for air eventually, and don’t forget that there exists other things that can bite you under the ocean which may be of greater concern.

6. Antarctica – although Antarctica’s largest true terrestrial animal is the wingless midge (which is a whopping 6mm long) it lives among penguin colonies and is unlikely to trouble polar visitors.

7. Space – the final frontier is still insect-free, though as soon as we get our first moon colony up and running, insects are likely to find their way up there too. However, space doesn’t come cheap – the Russians will take you to the International Space Station for around £15million and we’re still waiting for Virgin Galactic, the ‘world’s first space line’ to launch, though they are taking bookings; tickets start at $200,000. Unless you’re a millionaire, you may just want to settle for a bottle of insect repellent after all.