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The new buzz on mosquitoes

 2022 06 06 mosquitoes         Recently, I’ve had two very odd comments made to me. Actually, the subject was the same but came from two different people: where are the mosquitoes? While this should be a glad tidings comment, they were actually concerned if this meant less food for the birds.

          A recent half-day jaunt through some Canadian Shield countryside should have had me peering through a cloud of these flying bloodsuckers, yet after a few minutes I removed my head net and was basically unmolested. Hmm, indeed, where are all the mosquitoes?

          Well, you want to do a bit of research on your own, here are my top tips to attract ‘skeeters’, in case you have a yearning to do such research.

          Tip one: Wear dark coloured clothing, something black or dark red. Try to look like a bear or wet moose. If you wear pastel colours the attraction factor declines rapidly, so go with Goth.

Tip two: Move around. Mosquito eyesight is not the greatest but they can detect movement. Arm waving is a pretty good start; act like you are directing a helicopter onto a landing pad, only do that really fast! Or do Dumbo ears, waving open hands back and forth beside your head. Good, that’ll get their attention.

Tip three: Make sure that you talk a lot. Say “Arrgh! Darn bugs! Why me? Go away!” Repeat this many times to ensure that your breath is expelled towards the nearby shrubbery. Mosquitoes love carbon dioxide, so the more exhaling you do the better the attraction factor.

Tip four: Have a beer. When combined with Tip Three the increased carbon dioxide levels are irresistible to any passing mosquito lady.

Tip five: To add to the carbon dioxide from simple breathing, that earlier arm waving should now be kicking in with some good lactic acid release, which is a natural by-product of exercising. One and two and here come the skeeters!

Tip six: To really get the mosquitoes in close enough to tally, you are going to have to turn up the heat a bit. Remember, first they see your movements, then they pick up that carbon dioxide scent, and now the heat that you release from your neck, wrists, back of knees and ankles simply screams, “Bite me now!”

So, there you go, let me know how the mosquito population is in your neighbourhood. People want to know.

But, perhaps, you are not the kind of person who wants to see mosquitos close up? That’s okay, not everyone has what it takes to be a field researcher. So here is the other side of the mosquito story, just for you.

You may have heard the eating bananas will make you attractive to mosquitoes or that taking extra B12 will repel them? Neither is true. Both bananas and B12 are good for you, so carry on with them in your diet.

To help you relax a bit, understand that not every mosquito is out to bite you… only the female ones! While both males and females eat flower nectar and pollen, it’s only the females that require extra protein for egg development.

Should you actually encounter a mosquito while out of doors, there are two ways to determine if the offender is male or female. Look carefully at the antennae, as the male’s are fuzzy and the female’s are not. Just like a male moth, the male mosquito uses those hairy antennae to locate females by scent.

The second way to split the males from the females is to listen, very closely to the pitch of the whine of their flight. Females beat their wings slightly faster than males (about 500 times a second) so the sound is higher pitched than the ponderous males.

Of course, if you are of the “I hate mosquitoes” variety, you might want to disguise your scent in some manner. That’s where N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide comes in handy. Never heard of it? Sure you have, probably by its trade name: DEET.

Neither DEET nor any of the other repellents marketed as repellents actually repel anything. This odiferous stuff is not sending them fleeing back to the safety of the dark woods, it’s simply masking your scent so that the flying females pass you by as being inedible. More of a neutralizer than a repellent.

And please take note that insect repellent is not insecticide! How many times, in my career as a park naturalist, did I not only see whole cans of aerosol repellent being emptied by student after student stepping off the school bus, but some were actually chasing a poor lost mosquito, the fog of repellent hitting more classmates in the face than actually landing of the fleeing mosquito. Aerosol repellent: Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Many folks have discovered (re-discovered?) that simple essential oils will let you hide in the open: lavender, peppermint, basil, garlic and eucalyptus are some that can be added to a base oil and wiped on the back of the hands, the back of the neck, and any other open skin areas (but not the face…. never the face).

Of the 3,000 mosquito species that can be found on our planet, only 67 are in Ontario, so the odds are in our favour. And only three species are prevalent, so even more good news.

Enjoy the great outdoors, and stop wondering if there shouldn’t be more ticks around, or why the blackflies disappeared after only 24 hours. Slip on some pastels and have a beer (or not, maybe).

Dave’s Notebook: Interesting how I'm hearing reports of no mosquitoes in some areas, yet quite normal clouds of them in other areas. Lack of skeeters will affect aerial feeding birds as well as lack of pollinated blueberries. Will have to keep an eye on things.

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© 2022 David J. Hawke

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