Those pesky mosquitoes just refuse to be denied

July 17, 2009 

I’m waiting for an explanation of the attraction of a mosquito ringtone. ... Oh, I see.

Although mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever and dengue fever, not to mention that irritating blood thing they do on your skin, teenagers download a high-pitched buzzing because its high frequency is a tone that allegedly can’t be heard by most adults. Thus incoming messages can arrive and only the teenager knows to look without a teacher landing all over them or parents objecting to post-midnight calls.

So in recognition of mosquito ringtones and teenagers’ evasive tactics, let’s check out that insect.

Warning: I can’t shorten the information to Tweeter proportions.

What: 170 mosquito species in North America, some in the Arctic.

Ancient history: Has been around for 100 million years.

Family ties: In the Culicidae family, which includes dipterian flies.

What’s in a word? Brits call mosquitoes gnats.

Record-setting: They are the most important factor in spreading death by disease.

Culinary tastes: Only females go after blood, needing a protein in a blood meal for egg development, not food. Many species prefer small herbivores to humans. Both sexes dine on nectar.

Sight lines: Because they detect humans by movement, we are safe if 30 feet away from a mosquito.

Scent sensitive: At 10 feet, sensitive antenna receptors sense blood near the skin’s surface. High humidity extends their receptors’ range. Carbon-dioxide exhalations and body scent (and warmth) give us away.

Keeping score: According to those in the know, it would take more than a million bites to drain an average-sized human’s blood, and it would take about 20,000 mosquitoes to weigh a pound.

Pseudo bite: A mosquito bite is a misnomer. They pierce, saw and rip to create a blood pool but, technically, don’t bite. Now don’t you feel better?

Scratch, scratch: That welt is an allergic reaction to the saliva that’s injected into the skin as an anti-coagulant.

Fast track: From egg to adult in 4-7 days

Breeder Olympics: Lays 1,000-3,000 eggs in her short (a month or so) life.

Birth control: Start with eliminating standing water on your property.

Predator: Dragonflies’ appetites for mosquitoes provide one natural control.

Upside: Larvae and pupae are a food source for fish.

Winged thing: Wings beat 250-500 times a second. Females’ slower wing beats create a different pitch and attracts a swarm of males. Mating is done in the air but not in excess. One mating yields many batches of eggs.

Pack a bag: While some species travel dozens of miles, most are homebodies and stay within a mile of birth.

Urban myth: Eat a banana and increase your chances of being a food source.

Lighten up: Light colors attract more mosquitoes than dark colors.

Moving target: Mosquitoes fly forward and backwards, up and down and sideways, making them a tiny moving target. In addition, the moving air from your attempted swat can blow them away.

Zapper downside: Bug-zappers kill indiscriminately, including hundreds of beneficial insects.

Killer sprays: Backyards are often sprayed and fogged but both kill useful insects.

In the spotlight: Stars of the 1995 movie “Mosquito!” The plot, such as it is: Alien ship crash lands on Earth. Mosquitoes feed on bodies, mutate and become huge. Chase humans in a feeding frenzy (a generous two stars).

Slap-a-thon: Finland hosts the World Championship of Mosquito Killing. Competitors get five minutes each to mount the death toll with their bare hands. Winners are usually in single digits.

Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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