An Unmistakable Buzz

I had to stop and think about it before I went on my walk this morning.  It’s just that it’s kind of buggy out there. But I tried to look on the bright side.
Not every one of the over three-thousand species of mosquito is a biter.  Plus, the males don’t bite at all.  Mosquitos are essentially tropical, but in the northern hemisphere there are more of them.   That is to say, there are fewer species, but more of the ones that are here.  And Northern mosquitos are not sissies.  It is said that they buzz louder and itch more than others. 

If you lived in Canada, things would be worse.  I remember donning a bug veil in Newfoundland (which I swore I would never do, but itching beats vanity every time) to find that I was not alone in there.   The exsanguination was beyond belief. I thought I was going to need a transfusion. And plastic surgery.

The further north you go, the stronger and peskier mosquitos get.  Canadian scientists have clocked some at 9,000 bites a minute.

Why are we such an important part of the mosquito diet?  A million people die of mosquito-born illnesses every year.  Malaria is a legendary killer.  Sad to say, it’s our own fault.  If there were more species available to bite, the insects would bite them.  We’ve crowded too many species out and driven too many to extinction. We’re one of the mosquito’s last resorts. If the bugs had their way, they wouldn’t bother with us anyhow.  Our blood is low in an amino acid they need to build their eggs. They’re just stuck with us.

The trouble starts with their spit. It has a little anticoagulant in it so that your blood doesn’t clot and block the little mosquito mouthpart as it drinks. It’s an awe-inspiring mouth, consisting of four sets of tiny little saws along with a saliva injection system. Thin enough to insert into your skin, it is often often not even detected! The anticoagulent is what makes the itchy welt.

Scores of scientists study the mosquito because it has such an effect on public health. The problems affecting mosquito predators are worrisome. Will the mosquito keep us from enjoying the outdoors? Will another species spring forward to fill the gap that former predators have left? Will we again resort to the kind of pesticide application made famous in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring?

What about those “bug zapper” things that make barbecues so exciting when they sizzle and snap? Please don’t buy one. They usually only attract the mosquitos without harming them, and kill otherwise beneficial insects in the bargain. Wear long sleeves. That’s what I did. It was a lovely walk.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist



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2 Responses to “An Unmistakable Buzz”

  1. Ratty Says:

    Nice post on a much needed subject. I’ve been thinking a lot about mosquitoes for the past week. My brother came for a rare walk on the hiking trails with me, and we were looking at the little squiggly things in the water. I pointed them out to him, and he asked me what they were. I explained that they were mosquito larvae. I’ve been thinking about mosquito defense ever since.

    I’ve always thought maybe bug zappers attracted more than they killed.

  2. ccinnkpr Says:

    I agree with you about bug zappers. I’m considering investing in one of those mosquito magnet things, though.

    The mosquitos in the Northeast U.S. apparently think I’m pretty tasty. I’ve met few people who attract them more than I do (although I confess to trying to sit close to those who do!). It was quite a surprise when I visited Vieques last year to discover that the mosquitos down there completely left me alone. I only know they were around because one of the women I was with was getting badly bitten. I guess tropical mosquitos have different tastes from their northern cousins.

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