Bug traffic control

Sixty mosquitoes in the trap by morning was the county rule if you wanted your property fogged. Had I known the official count, I could have saved him the bother, slapped at least that many and shoved their little corpses into a zip-lock storage bag to show the bug officer when he arrived. But what I said was, “Sure, go ahead, hang your trap, you’ll see beyond the shadow of an infestation that I’m under siege.”

I’d unintentionally come across one of those magnified color photos of a mosquito perched like a drilling rig on a micro-acre of flesh, its abdomen bulbous and red with the blood of its victim.  I flipped the page but the image stuck, and since then when I scratch my head the picture occasionally replays and puffs itself up in my brain where it has been archived. 

Now that it’s summer, a few bites and itches might seem trivial, but according to the World Health Organization, these tiny insects are the most deadly creatures on the planet, responsible for over a million deaths annually, most of their victims carried off, though not literally, by malaria. Despite our government’s clandestine deployment of a fleet of military drones, it’s still the sound a mosquito makes in a calm twilit room that to this day inspires within me a kind of frenetic terror.   

In the United States, the West Nile Virus makes headlines. The death toll here from this bird-related fever is infinitesimal compared to worldwide malaria fatalities, but the news gives me pause none-the-less as I venture into the great outdoors when the little buggers are especially active – usually near dawn and again around dusk. Science also tells us that mosquitoes transmit the virus to humans mostly from infected birds. So far this year, 22 states (including Colorado) have reported infections in people, birds or laboratory-tested mosquitoes, and five of these states are within spitting distance, though even if mosquitoes are responsible for ruining your summer outings I would advise against spitting.  

It’s the moisture that attracts mosquitoes, a habitat where the adults lay their eggs       that quickly become larva and then pupa and then adults which in turn lay their eggs that become larva and then pupa and, well, you understand the cycle.  A yard like mine can breed thousands of mosquitoes in as little as 14 days when optimum conditions exist.  A better way to say this might be that more people get slap-happy when the weather turns wet and warm.

My neighbors keep a feed lot for cattle, and they maintain a cow pond. I keep a small irrigation pond too, but it’s their 10 acres of irrigation water that spills over their sloped acreage only to gather and stagnate in the bar ditch along my property line. They might think they’re raising cattle, but just let them spend a night in my mosquito nursery and we’ll see who manages to fall asleep faster.

That night, long after the bug police set their trap and left, I listened to an incessant whine in my bedroom, and I thought of scooping the enemy squadrons out of the air with a net and shuffling them into the trap. I almost got up to do it, too, until I realized some of the legitimately incarcerated mosquitoes might escape while I fumbled with their cell door. Maybe it was just sleep deprivation, but I suspected a county expert could tell the difference between the stupid ones that just blundered into the trap on their own and those that had been confined there against their will by my subterfuge. I turned on the bedside lamp and smashed the nearest one against the wallpaper. The bloody spot that used to be a mosquito reminded me of a crime scene. 

Eventually I slept, covered from head to toe by a thin cotton sheet, despite the heat. I got up early to examine the trap, to do an unofficial pre-count, but the inmates wouldn’t hold still. I may have stood too close and they smelled breakfast.

Around 9 a.m. the county truck pulled into my driveway. 

 “Glad you’re here. There’s a bunch in there. Or should I be calling the bunch a swarm?”

 “I’ll take a look” was all he’d say. 

He walked over to the trap and placed it in a plastic bag, which he preceded to load into his truck.

 “Aren’t you going to count them?”

“We’ll do that back at the lab. Ought to be able to give you an evaluation before the end of the day.”

Then he drove off.

A moment of silence returned to my yard just before a tiny airplane passed overhead. I couldn’t help glancing up, and I swear I would have swatted it out of the sky had my authority been that far-reaching.

David Feela

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows