The weather on Lac Kipawa in western Quebec is as fickle as the winds that blow across the blue water. One moment it can be seriously sunny and within the blink of an eye black clouds are circling overhead threatening to pelt you with hail, rain, and a bolt of lightning. It doesn’t take long before you get used to keeping an eye on the horizon so that you can high-tail it back to camp to beat the impending doom of crazy thunderstorms coupled with gale force winds. After a few days of this a seasoned veteran of the north woods can grow accustomed to the forces of nature, make the necessary adjustments, and plan around the unpredictable weather and still get in some productive fishing time. Just when you think that was the most difficult situation you would face the buzz of mosquitoes can be heard in the air. They usually become active about two hours before the sun goes down and reach a crescendo of mosquito mobilization at nightfall. The buzzing of insects by the millions consumes the north country after dark in the months of June and July. There simply is no escaping them on the shore without stout winds or heavy rains. At this northern latitude they have little time to breed to make little mosquitoes for future generations; worse they need your blood to regenerate.
Jeff, Smitty, and I were staying at a camp on the western shores of this large lake. We had picked the outfitter randomly. To our surprise the camps were in severe neglect. The beds sagged like hammocks, your rump hit the floor when you sat on the couch and the understuffed chairs, and the kitchen table wobbled under the weight of a lantern. The most horrid flaw in these camps were the dozens of holes where mosquitoes could enter at night. Cracks around doors, between the windows and window cases, in the floor, and holes in the screens gave these blood thirsty critters more than ample opportunity to enter our temporary domicile. The first night was classic. Throughout the entire night I could hear Jeff slapping and Smitty swearing at the bugs. When we got up in the morning Jeff looked like he had the chicken pox. At first I couldn’t find Smitty. After a long search I found him buried under his sleeping bag and a couple of old rugs-apparently his last ditch effort at an attempt to get away from the mosquitoes. I hadn’t fared much better, my strategy was to stay up all night and kill as many as I could. It was kind of like Custer’s last stand. They kept coming and I kept slapping. Eventually dawn came and they retreated, but only temporarily until the next night.
That morning we were all pretty crabby from lack of sleep and we agreed that after we returned from a few early morning hours of fishing we would try to seal the little bastards out. We actually called them much worse than little bastards, but given this is a family oriented story I cannot repeat our real language. Now, keep in mind, we had one thing working for us. Jeff, the engineer in our group, never traveled anywhere without a roll of duct tape that was the size of Rhode Island. So, as we saw it, even if we had to envelope the entire cabin in duct tape we should be able to accomplish our goal-mosquito proofing the cabin. We taped up screens, doorways, floor boards, cutouts where plumbing exited the cabin, window trim, the base of the toilet where daylight crept through, cracks in the siding, and any other place where a mosquito my be able to crawl in. Given the duct tape was the kind that is silvery gray and the massive amounts that were stuck to various surfaces, the interior of the cabin looked like the inside of a TV dinner or at least what I imagine the inside of a TV dinner to look like. We believed we had conquered or foe.
The oldest known mosquito was found trapped in a piece of amber and carbon dated to be from an era of about 79 million years ago. This relic was found in Canada, a place where mosquitoes are still abundant, even in the frozen tundra of the great north. There are over 3,000 species of mosquitoes on our planet, most of the females of this group use blood as a nutrient necessary for egg production. Although it is not exactly like giving blood to the Red Cross, we all have the comfort of knowing that we contribute to the general well being of the mosquito population and to their future generations.
Mosquitoes are truly fascinating insects. Amongst their many different species that have evolved to living in all but the very harshest environments from deserts to tundra. There are only a few very dry or very cold environments that do not host this ancient critter. Male mosquitoes live a short time in their mature form, feed on nectar and plants, and do not bite. The female mosquito may live from 3 to 100 days, depending upon the species, and she deposits eggs either in a watery environment or in a place that will eventually become a watery environment, again depending on which species is doing the egg laying.
The larvae have mouth brushes through which they can consume bacteria and algae. The larvae metamorphose four separate times, each time shedding an exoskeleton, and eventually become the mosquito pupae. Like the larvae the pupae must come to the surface to breath where they use a snorkel like appendage that pierces through the water surface. They do not eat during the pupae stage and soon turn to adults.
The adult male usually congregates in large swarms. Because the different mosquito species overlap, a male mosquito must find a mate of the same species by the exact tone of her wings flapping. A mosquito can flap its wings from 400 to 600 times per second. Mosquitoes are rather slow, even with the rapid beating of their two wings and can fly at a top speed of only 1.5 miles per hour.
The female needs a host for blood as part of her reproduction cycle. She locates her host by following CO2 in the air (the gas animals breathe out during respiration), the smell of lactic acid on the skin, and with infrared seekers that can detect body heat. Humans, all mammals, birds, and even some insects can serve as blood host for the female mosquito. Some mosquito species lay their eggs in the autumn and after surviving frigid winter temperatures the eggs hatch in the first warm days the following spring.
Mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths than any other living species. Malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, equine encephalitis, and West Nile Virus are all carried by this pesky insect.
The mosquito is likely here to stay. It precedes human existence and will probably outlive our species as well. As long as there is a blood host it will survive. It is the true Dracula of the animal world.
That evening we went in search of Walleye. When we returned we anticipated a nice quiet atmosphere without that all to familiar sound of the mosquito. As we were mixing the first celebratory drink a buzzing could be heard, then another, and then several more. The whole damn place was full of mosquitoes! It took us a while to figure this ambush out and by the time we were down to our last pint of blood Smitty deduced that we had never gotten all of the mosquitoes out from last night. In fact we had likely sealed them in. We spent the rest of the night, rolled up magazine in hand, clubbing the heck out of every mosquito that dared show its face. By about 2 AM we were confident that we had gotten the majority and crawled into our sleeping bags. We slept soundly for three or four hours until the door blew open and about 50,000 more entered en masse.
The next morning we diligently destroyed every mosquito before, during, and after breakfast and went on our morning fishing run. The bright blue sky, brisk wind, and warm weather lasted four or five minutes and we were soon battling a gale in our open runabout with a ten horsepower motor. The waves were crashing over the side of the boat and we knew we had better head for camp before we became a headline in News of the Weird (dumbest anglers category). We arrived back at our camp twenty minutes later soaked to the bone and anxious to get in some dry clothes. I undressed quickly as I was concerned about hypothermia. During a few moments of nakedness, between wet and dry clothes, I received approximately 5 billion mosquito bites. Damn! I should have brought a bottle of calamine lotion.
After another two hours of killing mosquitoes and duct taping we decided it might be nice to at least try some fishing. After all that was the original purpose of our journey. The day had brightened in the late afternoon. We thought a steady breeze would hold the bugs off as we fished the rocky shoals for hungry walleye. It should be a perfect evening.
No sooner had we gotten to a sweet basin of rocks where the walleye should bite the wind died down. The setting sun brought on dusk and with the darkness hoards of mosquitoes. Even our bug shirts seemed incapable of withstanding the onslaught. We were in a battle for our lives. The only realistic solution was to head for the middle of the lake. Surely they would not find us there. In our uncontrolled haste we forgot to pull the anchor and realized we were dragging it along behind us. We stopped, the mosquitoes caught up, and we were right back to where we started. Seeing the proverbial handwriting on the wall we headed back to camp hoping that our earlier efforts had paid off and we could enjoy a couple of adult beverages and perhaps a little home made music.
Back at the camp we lit the lantern. I was busy mixing drinks and Smitty was tuning his guitar. In the background I could hear the buzzing melody of a mosquito. I could feel a vampire in our midst.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in June 2010.