Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mosquito Swatting

It's said that some early European explorers of northern Canada were driven insane by the inescapable swarms of biting flies and mosquitoes. During my summer in the Yukon, we were better equipped than these explorers could have been, but learning to live with the clouds of flying insects was still an ordeal. Mosquitoes were the main issue in the valley we inhabited. They have many ways of identifying potential targets; for example, they are attracted to carbon dioxide, so unless you can hold your breath indefinitely, there's no good way to hide from them.

If you're moving fast, mosquitoes will have a hard time landing on you, and wind also provides a welcome relief from flying insects. Surprisingly, climbing trees will get you away from all but the most determined mosquitoes, so I suppose they must prefer to hang out near the ground. In general, we used wearable bug nets to keep biting to a minimum; even then, the buzzing cloud that surrounds your head can test the limits of one's patience.

For the first couple weeks, I would swat at mosquitoes, but past a certain point manual control seems pointless. With hundreds of mosquitoes in the air around you, it doesn't make sense to spend your energy going after individuals. That being said, we did have an unofficial competition at camp to see who could get the most mosquitoes with one swat. While I was sitting in the woods watching squirrel territories, I would keep an eye out for groups of four mosquitoes or more that had landed on me close together, usually on my knees where the dark material had attracted them. Over the weeks, I was excited to announce my milestones as I got five mosquitoes at once (a sort of rolling swipe) and then six mosquitoes at once (a fingers-spread swat on the knee). There were a few moments where I might have gotten more, but only numbers that could be verified by mosquito bodies or marks on the hand were counted.

Ultimately, seven mosquitoes at once was my record, which I am pretty happy with. A few weeks later, a grad student managed to take out ten mosquitoes with one swat, and nobody came close to that afterward. The days grew colder near the end of summer and the swarms of mosquitoes thinned out. Perhaps one day I'll again be in an environment where ten or more mosquitoes might land on a hand-sized portion of myself; until then, I must be content to bide my time and train.

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