Volume XVII, Issue 36 # September 3 - September 9, 2009

Where We Live

by Steve Carr

The Sting of Summer

Mosquitoes will win, but not without a struggle

Mosquitoes are a plague on us all.

Even bats — which have recently been linked to Ebola and other killer diseases — serve a beneficial purpose, pollination. Even better, they eat mosquitoes. Mosquitoes stand almost alone as a creature that causes nothing but harm.

Mosquito-borne illnesses are a King-Kong killer on many continents, laying waste to humans and animals alike. Malaria transmitted by mosquitoes is still one of the world’s biggest killers. In the U.S., the little devils are responsible for transmitting encephalitis to us humans and heartworm to our dogs and cats. About the only good news is that they can’t transmit AIDS.

Mosquitoes don’t infect you through the transfer of tainted blood. They do it with their spit, which they use as the lubricant for drilling into skin. It cools the drill. That’s what transmits diseases like malaria and West Nile virus.

Like airborne jellyfish, mosquitoes need water to breed. We conveniently provide the maternity wards. Every yard has some wet place where a mosquito can lay her eggs. For all their love of water, mosquitoes don’t like to go off shore. That’s why boating is still the best mosquito repellant I know.

Mosquitoes will no doubt outlive us all. They have buzzed the earth for over 100 million years.

I lived for many years in the Southwest, where, because of the lack of water, the bugs just get one dance. There is no next generation until the summer rains come the following year. For 15 years, I camped out several days a week without a tent in southern Utah; rarely were bugs of any kind an issue. Now mosquitoes bring me my share of troubles.

I have always had lots of fish-crows living near my house. For years, I awoke each morning to find six big crows sitting casually on my fence at the top of our cliff overlooking the Severn. They would chat animatedly, like old men out in front of the general store. Every day. And they really talked. I have no idea what they said, but I often heard them laugh.

Then, in a matter of a few short weeks, they were gone. They got nailed by West Nile.

After three years, they are finally making a comeback. But they are all young crows. The old boys have passed. Mosquitoes killed my fish-crow friends.

Basically, it’s mosquitoes against anything else that runs on blood.

That’s creepy. They’re like ravenous little vampires awaiting the night so they can strike. They hover annoyingly in the air around you as the sun sets, as if they were waiting for the dinner bell.

But there’s no eternal life for mosquitoes. There’s just a bite.

Waging — Not Winning — War

Do I just give up and go inside? Or do I put on bug spray? I was working in a wildlife refuge many years ago and used a heavy-duty bug spray; within two weeks it melted the plastic band on my watch. That can’t be good. I have tried to steer clear of that stuff ever since, because it, too, goes directly into your blood.

Is there any relief, short of boating?

Science offers insight, if not solutions. Don’t go outside after eating bananas; people who eat bananas are more likely to get attacked. So are kids. Blondes are preferred over brunettes. And just like vampires, mosquitoes go into a feeding frenzy under the full moon.

Mosquitoes hunt by sight, but they don’t see very well. They can’t distinguish a person from a tree except through movement — or until they get close and then cue in on both the infra-red warmth from our bodies and the chemical signals it emits, like maybe carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Scientists still aren’t sure.

Citronella won’t prevent you from being bitten, but it will keep mosquitoes from coming back because it irritates their feet.

But don’t despair. You can outrun mosquitoes because they can fly only about one mile per hour. And many people make a good living feeding off the mosquito. People make and sell: mosquito traps; power traps and power-vac systems; bug zappers and no zappers; glue boards and strips; electronic swatters; mosquito guards; mosquito larval killers; and my favorite, the Mosquito Deleto.

Mosquitoes will no doubt outlive us all. They have buzzed the earth for over 100 million years.

Maybe their job is showing us that every paradise comes with a nasty bite.