L in the Southeast

L in the Southeast
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
November 04
Retired PR Director
I am a retired Public Relations professional who now writes purely for fun and catharsis. I covered most of my memoir-type pieces in the first three years here. Lately I have dabbled in politics, current affairs, pop culture and movie reviews. Life is my muse.


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AUGUST 2, 2012 12:51PM

Mosquitoes–170M Years of Misery

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"One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes," reports Jerry Butler, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Florida


Mosquito biting from HowStuffWorks


Lucky me!  For once I am in the upper 10% of a category of humans.  Mosquitoes are so enamored of my essence, they hunt me down like stealth bombers and select my hide out of a crowd. I cannot go from my front door to the mailbox without having my blood sucked, unless I first cover myself in DEET.

There are many reasons I was happiest living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the 15 years I was privileged to live there, but the lack of mosquitoes topped the list.  I thought I’d gone to heaven.

As a child in Illinois, I remember being routinely asphyxiated by clouds of chemicals that spewed forth from big-assed trucks driving slowly down our elm-lined street.  According to the adults in the family, the spray killed the armies of voracious mosquitoes that terrorized all moving, respiring, blood-filled beings during the dog days of summer.

I’m here to tell you, some of those nasty bastards eluded the spray.  I could hear them giggling as they honed in on the backs of my knees, for some reason a most delectable target.

Other than providing an abundance of sustenance for the lower quarter of the food chain, the only reason mosquitoes exist is to drive living vertebrates starkers and less often, to make them sick with diseases like malaria and the West Nile virus.  They need to ingest mammalian and avian blood in order to produce the eggs they lay in every puddle of stagnant water they can find.

Why me and not my neighbor, who can stay outdoors for hours on end without a single bite?  Experts say it is about 85% genetics.  Thank you so much Mom and Dad!

With all those millions of years to evolve, mosquitoes have developed highly efficient sensors they use to make their menu selections.  They can detect carbon dioxide, which is contained to varying degrees in the exhales of all breathing things, from as far as 100 feet away.  They also seem to be attracted to individuals who have higher amounts of steroids and cholesterol on the surface of their skin.

“Mosquitoes also target people who produce excess amounts of certain acids, such as uric acid,” explains entomologist John Edman, PhD, spokesman for the Entomological Society of America.

Heat and the lactic acid produced from our sweat glands make us even more attractive when we try to enjoy outdoor activities that require us to move.  And the white or lighter colored clothing we are encouraged to wear to stave off the heat act like airport runway landing lights for the mosquitoes.

The saliva in the mosquito's mouth serves her purposes of stealth because it acts as an anesthetic.  Often the victim doesn’t feel the presence of the pest until his body sends histamines to the location, which causes the itch. In my case, if I don’t treat the bite immediately with a dose of an antihistamine, the swelling will continue to ten times the normal size and become black and blue and yellow and green.   I am more allergic to the bite than most, it seems, and the tortuous itch lingers for more than a week.

The average life span of a female mosquito is 3 to 100 days. the male lives 10 to 20 days.  There are more than 170 species of the nasty critters in North America alone.  And, like humans, some “skeeters” are more equal than others.

My son played professional baseball for several seasons with the Northern League’s Saint Paul (Minnesota) Saints.  When his aunt and I flew in to watch him play the first time, he had failed to warn us that the state bird of Minnesota is said to be the mosquito!  They are that big.  So big, they are less able to sneak onto a target without detection; their hum is much too loud.  But what they lack in sneakiness, they more than make up for with their vicious bite.

I’m not sure if I believe in Heaven or Hell after death.  I lean more toward the belief that those two concepts exist right here on Earth.  But if I’m wrong and there is a Heaven, I hope to God the mosquitoes will reside in the other place.


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As I read this, I can tell histamines are rushing to my ankle. Actually, I'm rather fortunate to be among the 90% for whom mosquitoes aren't particularly attractive. But occasionally I'm attractive enough.

Entertaining and informative post on one of creation's less appealing characters!
Nice story but I feel like scratching something now.
This is VERY interesting as I'm one of those people. Newer technology has helped. I will tell you what my dad always told me, "You are too sweet for the mosquitoes to resist!" Excellent post, Lezlie!!!!
Well, you're in good company. I hate the darn critters!
Procopius: Yes, you are fortunate. And I envy you big time!!!!!! :D

K-KornerSoapbox: Histamines can be imaginary, too. Trust me, I know.

Maureen: Oh, the fleas! I was at Club Med in Mexico once and was practically eaten alive by sand fleas. Those bites HURT first, then itch. I never go anywhere without Benadryl in my purse. And, I avoid the outdoors during the peak biting times as much as I can. I haven’t had a reaction like that since I started actually managing my reactions.

Bamy: That’s the same thing my Grandpa used to tell me. Some consolation!

joyonboard: The worst part is members of the 90% who aren’t that bothered by them think I am obsessed with them and look at me like I have two heads.
Yeah, got to love them blood suckers!! At least if you hear the buzzing, those won't bite ya, the ones you got to watch out for are those damn ones that make no buzzing sound!! HISSSS!! SCRATCH MY LEGS!! HISSS!!! :D
I feel for you, I used to be the one they adored. It worked out well for those I was with because if there was a cloud of them, no one else got bit if I was around. I too used to get huge welts but it seems I was the only one in my family that got them.

I no longer have that appeal for them since my 30's and I don't know why. The only thing that changed was I started taking a lot of vitamins and someone told me that did it, but I couldn't say if that was true or which vitamin is doing it. I'm grateful because we just had our first confirmed case of West Nile last month. Scary stuff.
Ach, squitters. As soon as I venture outdoors, their little telegraph system kicks into high gear and they flock in from miles around. For someone who likes walking in the woods, this is a major disincentive. I have to admit, though, it hasn't been too bad this year, what with the drought around here drying up their little nesting grounds.

As for the chemicals, we had an outbreak of equine encephalitis in the mid-1970s that killed upward of a dozen people. The authorities' answer was airborne DC3 pesticide assaults that might have done more harm than good to us and the environment.

Anyway, I can sympathise.
Tink: They are stupid critters, to use your favorite word. :D

Bleue: That’s interesting because a doctor in Mexico told me to take Vitamin B (I forget which number—B6, B12???) to repel the sand fleas that were tormenting my legs.

Boanerges1: The drought being reported for Georgia is actually mostly affecting the southern part of the state. We have had many, many thunderstorms with torrential rains here in Atlanta.
I am happy to report that I am one of those annoying folks that the pest leaves alone. I use to sit on the river bank at night, fishing with my buddies and while they spent all their time cursing and slapping the mosquitos that clouded around their heads. Yes, I laughed at their misery. I'm a bad, bad, man.
David: Grrrrr. It's a good thing I am crazy about you, 'cuz this might make me hate you. :D
It's nice to be attractive and selected but NOT by mosquitoes. Bees seek me out me more than mosquitoes do, and I don't know what to make of that. I'd rather be left alone by any critter. I'm sorry for your pest plight, Lezlie.
Fusun: I have only been stung once -- by a wasp. It was almost as painful as childbirth, I swear!
I used to be unattractive to mosquitoes and now I'm full of appeal. I don't know how that happened. I was bathing my dogs on Saturday and came in with over twenty-five bites, and that's WITH repellent on! I'd love to know what caused the change...and yeah, now I'm scratching.
Bell: Ouch. That represents sheer misery to me. Try Benadryl.
Tell me about it. I just returned from two weeks in the coastal forests of Maine. Up there, they travel in clouds, not alone. I have bites between my toes.
greenheron: Ugh! The ones on the fingers and toes drive me up the wall!
Well your first problem is your name. L in the Southeast? I mean you could try living in Nevada or some such place where your antagonists are a little less populous.
Tim4change: Believe me, if I could return to the desert I would. :D
You and me both, Lezlie. I hear mosquito school kids learn the best places to bite from wall posters made from a nude photo of me obtained in a manner I don't wish to even try to imagine, even while drunk. I hate the little bastards. Really really hate 'em. I REALLY do!
When, many years back, I stopped eating/drinking sugar, the little buzzers left me alone.

Matt: Once again, we are simpatico!

Jon: Gosh, I wish that worked for me. I rarely eat sugar.
I am one of those people, too. Lucky us.
Interesting post, and congratulations on the cover! ~r
I tried DEET once and it repelled me from myself. Have you tried one of those "hi tech" devices ( such as the OFF clip on) as a repellant. Based on what I've read, the OFF type devices are most effective when you are not moving.
I do not recall the exact CDC statistics, but it seems as though there is a low probability of becoming extremely ill from West Nile virus, unless your immune system is already compromised. Nevertheless, considering your history with the little critters, it is worrisome. Check out the CDC page.
I loved this. I have been trying to figure out why I get bit...I thought it might be estrogen. You put together a lot of the facts. Thanks.
Joanie: Thanks!

THE RANGER1¨ My problem is I am always moving when I’m outside. I’m not one to just sit outside and read in the summer. Too hot, humid and buggy here. Thanks for the suggestion.
snarkychaser: I'm glad you found it useful! Thanks.
You need some bats. Lots and lots of bats. They eat millions of them little buggers every night.
I sympathize. I've been a magnet every since I was a kid, although it does seem to have gotten a bit better as I've gotten older. The only relief I've found is to put the bites under a stream of really hot water for as long as I can stand it.
Skeeters LOVE me. I guess I'm a delicious skeeter treat.
But I walked through swarms of them in China without so much as a nibble and avoided the bites of huge Alaskan ones which attack in formation, by taking strong doses of Vitamin B-1 twice a day.
Its water soluble- doesn't build up in your system.
This was very entertaining and illuminating...as I scratch a few of my own bites. And worry about the puddles in my driveway serving as water beds for mosquito sex this very minute.
jlsathre: So you replace one discomfort with another? How long does that relief last?

Enemy of the State: Yep, that’s what the doctor in Mexico told me to do. I might start that up again. Thanks!

dirndl skirt: We had a violent thunderstorm this afternoon that toppled a 100 year old oak onto my neighbor’s house. I’m sure we’ll have a brand new batch any day now.
It's hard to believe that 10% figure Lezlie, unless the mosquitoes I'm acquainted with are a particularly desperate variety. No question they're one of the great banes of human existence. And you can add dengue fever to the list of horrible diseases they spread. I was just reading somewhere that they are reckoned to have caused close to HALF of all human deaths.

Just checked. It's in the July 9 New Yorker but you can only get a small piece of the article online.

You can develop immunity too. My grandfather worked in the forests for most of his life and he was immune by the time I got to know him.
Abra: I think the key word in that quote is "highly." I would expect the number of totally immune people to be rather low. As many times as I've been snacked on in my life, I would think I would be immune by now. I wish!
The only good skeet is a dead skeet. I think the Orcon Man coined that one.
Malcom X: Whoever said was spot on!
Thank you-they have become lethal here in Eatern MA-typo I will leave alone-as EEE has been detected in many towns all the way down to Cape Cod. Kids are in at dusk, as we have had 3 deaths in the last two years and two permanent brain injuries.
huh...always wondered bout that,i sit out every night and get no bites.....but my wife is driven indoors after only twenty minutes or so.....told her to learn how to growl...
I read this enjoyable -- and oh-so relatable -- post yesterday without time to comment. Sorry.
I feel your itch!
I too was so shocked to spend time up North, in Southern Canada, that first summer I went and find that Georgia was a piece of cake, mosquito-wise, compared to those loud, huge, buzzing creatures up North.
And it's not the loud, huge Canadian boyfriend I had at the time I'm talking about (he was just chronically buzzed all summer). : )
The lack of bugs is one of my favorite things about living out here. The cool evenings even when 100 degrees during the day is another...
I think my wife is also in that 10% and I'm not, which (for her sake) I shouldn't be so smug about. However, when we visit our relatives in Louisiana, I think that 10% becomes 100% and I become a skeeter hors d'oeuvre, if not an entree.
Your opening sentences cracked me up! I'm right there with you in the 10%, though luckily I don't have the really strong allergy to the bites you seem to have. Still, what a pain in the butt. I had my fill of mosquitoes when we were in Tuscany this summer. A villa in the Italian countryside seems so romantic...but those bugs take it down several notches.

Still, I have to say, I don't wish the mosquitoes eternal damnation; they can't help who they are, just like I can't help eating cookies.

...And now to get paranoid about whether or not I secrete a lot of uric acid.... :-)
I’m sorry I’m so late responding to these later comments…

Deborah: Thanks.

Jay: That’s frightening. No wonder parents aren’t letting children play outside much anymore!

Steel Breeze: Now maybe you will be more sympathetic?

JT: LOL! You are in rare form. I loved those cool evenings, too.

Cranky: I seem to be the appetizer!

Alysa: Thanks for laughing at my feeble quips. I have to say I most certainly DO wish the mosquitoes eternal damnation! I’ve had just about enough. :D