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