Insects and me

My long history with insects has mostly been one of unrequited love. They always seemed to want to crawl all over me, but the feeling was not mutual. My earliest memory of insects was playing placidly in our leafy suburban backyard and suddenly being engulfed in a globular swarm of gnats. I couldn’t have been more than four or five. I remember staring fasinated at a conglomeration of hundreds of tiny living beings acting in concert.  I ad mired their ability to form a cloud and move it around, right up until they decided to move it around my curly-haired head. I opened my mouth to cry for Mommy and it was promptly invaded by six or seven of the suckers, and they didn’t taste good. So before I tell my tale of the tennis scorpion I wanted to make it clear that I am not 100% anti-insect. I have had many awesome interactions with beautiful ladybugs, butterflies, water-walkers and exquisite dragonflies like the one I shot (with a camera not an AK) in our rear patio.

But quite frankly, the majority of my insect memories rotate around cockroaches, spiders (serious aracnaphobia), bees and wasps, mosquitos with dengue fever, slugs, worms, bluebottle flies, fleas, ticks and my least favorite, the scorpions. Unfortunately, all of the above are found in our garden of eden on the Ecuadorian coast, so one must take precautions.  The following story of man versus mosquito was published on April 29 this year in my weekly column in Spanish in El Diario, the daily newspaper here in Manabi.


Man vs. Mosquito

In our lonely retreat, protecting my tiny family (my wife, myself and 2 cats) has become a long-term war against multiple invisible enemies. While we are holding our own against the killer virus, there is one battle I am consistently losing.  Man vs. Insect; specifically that most insignificant insect, the mosquito.

Because I consider myself a Buddhist, in philosophy if not in practice, I try to value and nurture all forms of life, but I have to admit – I hate mosquitos. I don’t understand why they exists apart from torturing humans and spreading disease. I had dengue fever twice, and have no desire to repeat the experience.

It should be no contest, the super developed brain of homo sapiens, on top of the planetary food chain, vs a tiny pest with a brain smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. But again and again, the tiny insect outsmarts the clumsy giant mammal.

They know how to hide under beds and in dark closets.  They can camouflage themselves behind hanging objects and in front of dark surfaces.  They infiltrate in the twilight and hide until we are sleeping or distracted. They are so sensitive to our nervous systems that by the time the human brain sends the slap message to the hand, they are long gone.

Preferring prevention to killing, we tried making our house anti-mosquito. We put nylon screens in all of the windows and sliding doors. Unfortunately the cats love to climb the screens, creating holes big enough for skinny mosquitos to penetrate. We removed all standing water, but were stymied by the “oxygenation pool”, alias mosquito nest, which the public water utility helpfully located directly below our patio.

So it comes down to hand to hand combat. Turns out, snatching mosquitos out of the air is  difficult unless one is a master of martial arts. Actually crushing one in a smear of blood is satisfying, but the process of hunting and slapping results in more bites than kills. So taking it to the next level, we introduced advanced human technology – an electrified tennis racket. Again, an occasional satisfying “BZZZZZP” but mostly wild swings and misses or times the tiny mosquito seems to fly right through the racket. At one point, convinced it was broken or discharged, I tested the wires and almost electrocuted myself.

So on to the big guns – chemical warfare. We bought an aersol bomb from a multinational conglomerate – experts in killing. The can was covered with warnings in to never use it in enclosed spaces, or near pets or small children, or get it in your eyes or food or lungs. I lay in bed, pretending to sleep, with the can of insecticide clutched in my hand, waiting. I saw it fly by and shot a good long spray in its direction. I heard it by my ear and sprayed it directly into my own face. By the time I stopped I had emptied half the can, had a headache, a cough and stinging eyes, but I was sure I had finally won. Then the mosquito flew slowly by, mocking me.

My new plan is to harness the power of nature.  According to Google, bats, birds and frogs all love to eat mosquitos. I wonder how the wife and cats would feel about a dozen pet frogs.


About dowbrigade

Semi-retired academic from Harvard, Boston University, Fulbright Commission, Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manta, currently columnist for El Diario de Portoviejo and La Marea de Manta.
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