My friend Perelman tells this story about his dad. In World War II, he was stationed on an island in the Pacific. He was trying to sleep when he heard two mosquitoes talking. The first one said, “Should we eat him here or take him home?” The second one said, “Nah, if we take him home, the big ones’ll get him.”
Mosquitoes are thin.
Mosquitoes are rude.
They feast on your skin
For take-out food.
The following account is in contrast to some previous telephone calls. To wit: I talk with Ken who gives me excellent directions to trailhead for our summit hike. At one point I ask him what the altitude of trailhead might be. He instantly replies, “The altitude is 1850 feet, more or less.”
“More or less? What do you mean more or less?”
“Well, the parking lot is slanted, so, y’know, more or less.”
An important piece of information when spending time in the mountain forest has to do with mosquitoes and how much of an issue these New England varmints might be. Ken says, “They’re not bad at all. Even though it’s been a rainy summer, the mountain has stayed relatively dry. They are having a hell of a time in the valley, but not much of anything up here.”
Trailhead in Vermont is about half way up the mountain, or in our present context, midway between “hell of a time” and “not much of anything.” As we sometimes do, Lisa and I scout trailhead the day before our hike. We like to get started at daybreak and if we can save some scouting time on the day of our hike, all the better. So today, the day before out hike, we have found trailhead. Might as well have some lunch.
We choose to have a midday meal at the picnic table on the other side of the parking lot from the ranger station. We remove our lunches from our packs and begin. Removing our lunches is like setting off an alarm and broadcasting, “Blood! Gitch yer human blood, right here at the picnic table!” And here they all come. I’ve seen denser swarms of mosquitoes, but this picnic lunch is no picnic. We quickly eat and get back into the car. We imagine how much worse it must be in the valley.
Mosquitos are like family. They’re annoying, but they carry your blood.
Some years ago I climbed Vermont’s Mount Ascutney during mosquito season. Having learned my lesson during this very season in the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota, where we couldn’t even pitch a tent without donating quarts of blood, I had my mosquito net with me here in Vermont. Even though there were no bugs at trailhead, I rolled my sleeves down, tucked my pants into my socks, put the net over my head and hit the trail. As I was preparing, I noticed some other hikers at trailhead eyeing me sideways, not yet decided on just how funny looking I was. I’m not sure but I think one guy who was dressed like a model in the hiking magazines glanced at me and sneered. No matter.
It didn’t take long to climb up into the mosquito zone. And by “mosquito zone” I mean the dense and ferocious zone. But there I was, safely protected in my anti-fashionista, dumb-looking mosquito net affixed over my head. I passed two hikers who said, “That looks like a good idea. Where did you get that?” Another hiker complimented me, “You’re the only smart one out here,” and then used a very bad word in describing the mosquitos.
Soon enough, the model, who had hiked on ahead of me, came running down hill. Running down hill with a fashionable pack on his back. Looking awkward. As he passed, he screamed to me, “I’ll give you twenty bucks for that net! I’ll give you fifty! I’ll give you one hundred dollars if you just give me that net! He continued screaming and running, all because of some silly little bugs.
natures’ way of feeding mosquitoes
During one backpack trip on the Appalachian Trail in New England, I emerged from my tent in the morning to face, lined up, waiting, a number of mosquitoes, each holding up a number like in a deli line, pushing and shoving each other, scowling. It was actually embarrassing.
My friend Marc explains to me that in New England, entomologists in conjunction with cardiologists are working on the problem. Not how to get rid of mosquitoes, but rather how to train the mosquitoes to suck fat instead of blood.
My friend Bettina, whose skin is perfect, suggests applying a layer of Neutrogena Body Oil to the skin after a shower. She says that it works to keep the mosquitoes away. I’m thinking, “I’m in the wilderness of Vermont, hours away from plumbing. Shower? Dear girl, it works for you because when you shower, you are inside your home.”
Mosquitoes originated in the Pacific Northwest after Cannibal Giant was tricked into falling into the fire by Raven. The ashes drifted off in the smoke and became the mosquitoes.
Besides feeding mosquitoes with the flesh of my soul, I have learned a bit about these ubiquitous critters. First, mosquitoes, as might be expected from the name, are actually not native inhabitants of Moscow. Those would be moscowitoes. Next, I discovered that entomologists call them Culex pipiens. If we regular mortals spoke Latin, we’d call them Aedes vexans which, if we spoke English, would mean “Repugnant pissants.”
When we use the word mosquito, we are referring to any of about 3500 species of two-winged insects. We in the United States are the proud home to about 175 of these species. You can rest comfortably, while they feed on your blood, knowing that very few of these species actually transmit disease.
Human sexists can have a field day with this one: Only the female mosquito is hematophagous, Greek for “blood eater.” When this bitch bites, she sucks up almost three times her body weight in blood. Greedy little sucker. I dated a girl like that once. During this bite, she secretes saliva to dilute the blood, making it easier to suck. It is this saliva which produces the itch on our skin, and in a very few species, transmits disease. Other than in those few cases, these little blood eaters are really nothing more than an obnoxious annoyance. Boy-bugs, you sexists, feed peacefully at nature’s juice bar — sucking nectar and other juices from plants.
Obnoxious annoyance? Perhaps mosquitos are more bothersome than that. Yeah, they are. Maybe we should attempt to kill the little bastards, especially when they are bothering us in the wilderness. What pests! Let’s just make them gone. No more swatting, biting, itching and bitching, and ugly splotches on the skin. No one would miss them. Right?
Whoa, hold on to your feather boas and let’s get some perspective here. A female Culex will lay about ten litters in her lifetime, with a maximum yield of about 500 eggs per batch. These numbers add up to parenting roughly 5000 kids. How many children do we humans have? One point eight seven on average. On a summer day, a one-acre body of stagnant water can yield up to four million mosquito hatchlings. Are we just a wee bit outnumbered? Scientists who go around estimating things estimate that the weight of all the mosquitoes in the world exceeds the weight of all the cows! That’s a lot of little bucktoothed vampires.
For each human being who lives in the United States, there are an estimated 42 000 mosquitoes who live here with us. Killing these buggers is not only arrogant, but obviously futile. To wit: Let’s say you can actually swat to death 30 bugs during your dinner. First, this would be a very busy dinner. But most importantly, that leaves — how many? — 41 970 who still have your number on speed dial.
Also, kill too many mosquitoes and we seriously reduce the available diet of many species of fish, dragon- and damselfly, beetle and bat. Everything is connected. Reduce those food sources and the food supply of owl, snake and hawk diminishes. Uh-oh. We hikers like to watch hawks. We also like it that snakes and owls keep the population of backpack-gnawing rodents under control, more or less.
On the other hand, while the average life span of a human is somewhat around 71.5 years (79 in the United States,) a mosquito will live about three to four weeks, which is more than 1100 times shorter than us. Ha!
Eliminate these creatures and not only do we eliminate lots of beauty from the world, but there go the natural predators of rodents and other ground dwellers who, like mosquitoes, can be pests to us humans. Eliminate owls and we may be overrun by insects, rodents, birds and beetles, not to mention crows and rabbits and cats and woodchucks. This place would be a real animalian mess.
Looks like our conclusion is thus: We gotta keep the mosquitoes. Without them, the balance of predators and prey would shift off kilter and we would have to contend with other annoyances, likely much worse. We would unleash a dangerous number of new pests.
When assessing the extent of a burn on the human body, there is a handy gauge called “The Rule of 9s.” The Rule of 9s expresses the percentage of area burned. Each major section of the body roughly corresponds to multiples of 9 percent of total body area. Each arm is roughly 9% of total body surface, each leg is 18%, the chest and abdomen, 18%, as is the back and butt, the head is 9%. The remaining 1% is the unimportant stuff like the genitals.
Several days into my aforementioned Appalachian Trail hike, I sat contemplating my many mosquito bites. While I applied the Rule of 9s to myself in terms of how extensive my bites were, it came to me that the mosquitoes demanded a reassessment of the system, and they had made it simple. No part of my body was safe from assault. With the prompting of these voracious little pissants, I redefined this estimation system to be the “Rule of 1.” The 1 was my entire body region. All of me. 100% of my surface area was the affected domain.
Let’s just say that you want, for some reason, to attract mosquitoes. Do any or all of these things…
. wear yellows, reds and blues, the colors of the flowers, sun and sky
. Use and wear lots of fragrant potions like shampoo, cologne, deodorant and soaps
. be active when the mosquitoes are active, at dusk and dawn
. become agitated and generate heat and sweat
. if you are in a group of single-file hikers, be third or later in line
. hang out in still air, especially in shadows
Now let’s just say that you want, for some reason, to avoid and repel mosquitoes. Do any or all of these things…
. move slowly rather than in quick jerky movements
. wear greens, browns and other dark colors, the colors of the Earth
. air out your clothing
. drink teas made from local aromatic herbs
. stay quiet and protected during dusk and dawn
. build a small fire — mosquitoes abhor smoke
. burn damp or green forest stuff to create a small, low-hanging smoke
. rub some local conifers on your skin and clothing, thus transferring bug-repelling oils to your body and to the material
. grow your hair long — I don’t know why this works
. climb a tree
. run, or fly, faster than they can fly, which is no more than 1.5 miles per hour
Even though mosquito is the Spanish word for “little fly,” mosquitoes are insects, not flies, although flies are insects too. I would like to drive home why, in the grand scheme of things, we have mosquitoes and other insects. Remember, they were not placed on Earth to bug you, you self-centered boor. You have nothing to do with their existence. Here we go. Insects…
. are very important plant pollinators, especially of fruit and other crop plants
. provide honey, shellac, wax and silk
. help control other pests
. provide food for many birds, fish and other animals including humans
. are used to treat diseases in humans
. provide information on heredity, evolution, biochemistry and other sciences
. are good indicators of levels of water pollution
. can be fascinating to watch
. inspire poets, writers, photographers, designers and students
Go thank a mosquito today!