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Slap. Bam. Swish. Thud. That was the soundtrack to my bedtime a couple of weeks ago as I killed mosquitoes in my bedroom. I caught them between two hands, smushed them against the wall, and swiped at the ones on my high ceiling with an extendo-handled feather duster.
Finally having killed all visible mosquitoes, I checked to see that the towel I’d stuffed under my bedroom door was in place, crawled under the covers, and turned out the light. Buzz…I wiggled one hand up toward my chin where it would be ready to strike and then waited. The whine drew closer. I felt the faintest brush of wind on the downy hairs of my neck. Then tiny feet on my skin.
Using all my willpower, I waited until I felt the first prick of the mosquito’s proboscis before I slapped. This gave me a better chance of trapping her under my hand, which I then wiped sideways until I felt her little body roll under the pads of my fingers. Gotcha! I thought, and took a few deep breaths to invite sleep to descend.
Buzz…another. And another. Even after my bedtime killing spree, mosquito after mosquito came out of the dark. Desperate, I threw off the covers and descended two flights of stairs to the basement. Minutes later, my two-person tent was perched on top of my bedspread (it fit perfectly!) with sheets and pillows inside. I climbed in, zipped the door shut behind me, killed one last mosquito who had snuck into my fortress, and slept peacefully until dawn.
The mosquitoes are bad this year. Some people say that they are the worst they’ve ever seen, but I think that’s a case of faulty memory and shifting baseline. The past two springs were unusually dry, and that gave us a bit of a reprieve. Do you remember 2014? That was the first spring after a Polar Vortex winter, and also the year that water levels in Lake Superior and Pigeon Lake began to rise. That spring was at least this bad.
The good news is that our wet spring seems to be turning into a dry summer. Maybe the outbreak won’t last too much longer? The average lifespan of a mosquito is three to six weeks. At least the dragonflies have finally hatched!
In my car, with the vents on high to keep the mosquitoes from mobbing me, I took some macro photos of the little daggers. According to iNaturalist, they are the very common Inland Floodwater Mosquito, Aedes vexans. “Vexans” is right. They vex people on every continent except Antarctica and South America. After mating and consuming a blood meal, the females lay their eggs on moist soil right above water line. Then the eggs wait (maybe for several years) for big rains to flood the eggs and trigger them to hatch. My lake was about a foot higher than last year due to snowmelt.
After a couple of dry years, there were probably lots of eggs just waiting there in the soil. But after this first flush, my hope is that our dry weather will dampen their success for the rest of the summer.
My second reason for optimism is that another common species—the cattail mosquito—has probably decreased in numbers after our last two years of drought, according to a story by Minnesota Public Radio. So their typical peak—around the Fourth of July—might be less. I’m crossing my fingers, but not holding my breath. I’m also taking action.
I thought people might get a kick out of my tent-on-the-bed story, so I posted a photo to Facebook with a request for other people to share their hacks. The first advice I got was to cover the heating pipes where they open to the outdoors. Turns out, that was the root cause of my continuous stream of mosquitoes. With those covered, mosquitoes can only enter through the front door like everyone else. I put my tent away and got out a fan.
Since mosquitos can’t fly in the wind, fans can be effective. Carol points a fan at herself when she sits outside. Some people, including me, place a fan right inside the front door pointing out, so that the breeze will prevent the mosquitoes from coming in.
James Bailey, the former development director at WOJB Radio takes the prize for super fan. He installed a high-powered fan outside, directly above his front steps, blowing down. He explained, “Made to cool a radio transmitter, such as WOJB's 100,000 watt unit on Larson Hill, it comes on any time we throw an outside light switch inside next to the door.”
Covering vent holes, air conditioners, doors, beds, and yourself with netting also help. I never leave the house without my bug jacket anymore. DEET and other concoctions can help, as well as wearing light-colored clothes.
Electric mosquito zappers, which look like tennis rackets, were mentioned over and over. Other people simply left the state. Some just left their house…one of my neighbors wrote, “I decided to sleep outside because there were less skeeters outside than in our house!!!” I’m not sure if he was joking or not.
My friend Stacy Craig, a Unitarian Universalist Minister and apparently also a super-human, wrote that she has “mastered the ability to sleep while getting nibbled by mosquitoes.”
Several people mentioned dragonflies. “I've been training my local flock of dragonflies to provide air cover. Results have been mixed,” wrote my photographer friend Keith Crowley.
A little amazement can go a long way, as well. Did you know that a pair of mosquitoes must buzz in harmony before they can mate? Next time you hear one, think about that romantic duet for a second…before you squash them.
Emily Stone is Naturalist/Education Director at the Cable Natural History Museum. Her award-winning second book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is available to purchase at www.cablemuseum.org/books and at your local independent bookstore, too. For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Our new exhibit: “The Northwoods ROCKS!” is open now! Our Summer Calendar of Events is ready for registration! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and cablemuseum.org to see what we are up to.