Best 4th of July: Keep Bugs and Ants Away from Your Picnic This Holiday Weekend

With the fireworks of the Fourth of July bearing down on us, Americans everywhere are planning fun holiday weekends, and they've invited friends and family to make the most of the nation's birthday.

But uninvited guests can spoil the picnic. Brazen bugs and flies that buzz around your food can ruin the mood.

Bug expert Michael Raupp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland in College Park, appeared on the show today to tell you what you can do to keep those peskiest of guests from spoiling the fun.

Q: Are the flies that appear around picnics and barbecues dangerous?

A: The actual bug that that generally appears at outdoor summer events is called a blow fly. They're associated with dead animals, and have very pretty metallic blue, green or red colors. Before they showed up at your picnic, they were probably at some point in touch with organic matter – such as a dead animal or dog poop. That means the flies can be contaminated with a number of microbes that can cause people to fall ill. This is how people often pick up stomach illnesses at a picnic.

Q: How can I keep the flies from landing on my food?

A: Be careful where you sit. Don't sit near a garbage can or low-lying vegetation. That's where they congregate. Get a net cover for exposed food. That way, if you're serving buffet-style, your food stays covered.

Q: Which bugs sting?

A: The main ones to worry about are yellow jackets, or honey bees. While it's too early in the season for yellow jackets, honey bees are around, and they like sugar. That means they can climb into your soda can, you might not notice that they're there and get stung in the mouth when you take a sip of soda.

The solution here is to drink from a clear bottle so you can see if anything's in there. Give children juice in boxes.

Bug Questions Answered

Q: How can I guard against being stung?

A: When honey bees or yellow jackets appear at your picnic, they're not interested in stinging you. They are looking for food, or they sting to protect their young or a colony, Raupp said. Use a magazine or the back of your hand to shoo them away. If you are aggressive towards them, they will respond in kind.

Bees and yellow jackets are attracted to blooming flowers, so you should steer clear of them. Also, don't set up near open garbage cans.

Q: What about that most despised bug -- the mosquito?

A: Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid standing water or low-lying vegetation, and don't sit near the edge of a pond. Go to a place where the air circulates and you'll have a lesser chance of being bitten.

Many mosquitoes bite more at dawn or dusk, so be aware, and be prepared with your botanically based repellents, Raupp said.

Web-extra Tips on Bugs and Ants

Learn how to swat bugs -- from science. During a particularly buggy summer, Penn State University fluid dynamics professor Jim Brasseur did some research into the best mosquito-swatting technique. CLICK HERE to see what he found so you can be the most effective human bug zapper in history.

Aside from your hands, there are a ton of products on the market that all say they can keep mosquitoes in check. But which ones really work? CLICK HERE to see our report about the fact and fiction of bug repellents.

Sometimes it's not about dodging the little flying beasts -- it's going on the offensive. In Estonia, participants gathered in the city of Tartu and attempted to catch as many mosquitoes as they could in a designated area. CLICK HERE to learn how the competition came about and if it does the people any good.

If you set up your picnic outdoors, you can expect ants. They're generally harmless, but fire ants – a much bigger kind of ant – can be a problem, primarily across the southern states. If you are in an area that's home to fire ants or an Allegheny mound ant, take special care.

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