“This is my first trip to Costa Rica and I was eaten alive.” How many times have I heard this statement? It is a possibility that there are more species of insects in Costa Rica than anywhere on the planet, but they are not much of a problem to those living here over time. You might see a “gringo” who has just arrived covered with bites, but you rarely see a Tico (Costa Rican) with bites. Even a Gringo who lives here over time seems far less bitten. Maybe it is the onions and garlic that is found in most dishes.
Anyway, “something bit me last night?” I will mention the most common biters that cause itching. These are the little black ants that are about 1/2 of a centimeter long, the large and especially the small mosquitoes and the purrujas or no-see-ums.
The little black ants are everywhere, on walls, plants, on the lot you may be looking at to buy. Warning! Never stand in the same spot on a lot or on a pathway. When you look down you may see a swarm of ants crawling all over your feet. Suddenly you panic, try to sweep them off and too late, it seems they all bite you simultaneously. Sometimes spraying with a water hose will get them off faster but do not not expect to be bitten by a few. Same with your hands: touch a plant and you can expect to find your hands are harboring a few ants. Now if they bite, try not to scratch or the itching will drive you crazy. Sometimes I have found that applying some of the red dirt near to where the ant bit you takes away the itch immediately. You may need to moisten the dirt to apply it. A veterinary cream called Panalog may also take away the itch. Otherwise, it will itch, you feel a need to scratch until it stops itching, and then the itching returns hours later. This scenario may happen for several days.
There are a number of other biting ants. One is very tiny, yellowish and appears almost transparent. I believe it is in the fire ant family. It feels like a pin point that keeps stinging/itching for an hour or so. This is the ant the Ticos most like to avoid. Another ant is the leaf cutter ant. Do not allow these to bite you. They will draw blood and hold on with a seriously strong death grip. This is a female to be wary of. All the males, having bred with the queen are dead. Finally, the army ants are said to bite. Best to no get in their way and leave them to the business of cleaning up dead insects and ant eggs. Costa Rica has many ant species; I am just highlighting the most common biters.
Next on my list are Purrujas, no-see-ums or sand fleas. These little guys are found along the beaches, the coastal highways or near the mangroves. They like to come out at dusk and can hang around all night until the heat of the days chases them back into hiding. Once you find you are in an area of no-see-ums you can get bitten unmercifully. Plan on itching for about three days. Sulfur powder sprinkled on your clothes or ankles helps to deter these no-see-ums from biting. Also, if you know you are going to a coastal hotel or restaurant, always wear long pants and long sleeves. Again, panalog may deter them or stop the itching once you are bitten.
Final on my list are mosquitoes: very small aggressive ones called Sancudos, normal mosquitoes and those that carry disease such as malaria and dengue. However, because Costa Rica has a fairly well-balanced eco-system not totally spoiled by chemicals, the bats, snakes, frogs, praying mantis, and birds do a remarkable job of containing the populations of mosquitoes. For example, a small bat can catch and eat 600 mosquitoes per hour. Yeh! Again, garlic may be the reason Ticos and those living here over time are rarely bitten.
Whether you are renting, house sitting, or just visiting there are several remedies that either help with the itching or in preventing bites in the first place. To prevent in the first place, keep your lights off as much as possible, sprinkle your clothes with sulfur or pyrethrum powder, or avoid restaurants or hotels near the beach. Find a Costa Rican rental away from the beach. Other solutions include applying Cedar oil, rubbing alcohol, rosemary oil, Mexican vanilla, citronella oil, Avon’s “Oh so sweet”, and or cactus juice lotion.
You’ve been bit and now you want to stop the itching. With your fingernail, gough a line through the bite and cross that line with another line crisscrossing the first one. If that is unsuccessful add more lines creating a latticework pattern. Solutions that might help include: rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, aloe vera gel, lemon juice, lavender oil, a baking soda paste, or sticky toothpaste.