Friday, July 19, 2013

Of Mosquitoes and Moose: Part 2: Mosquitoes

Alaska is famous for animals big and small, and perhaps the most noteworthy large and tiny are moose and mosquitoes. June is the time we see a lot of both here at the cabin. We kill swarms of the latter but enjoy watching the former. Here follow some anecdotes about them this year. This article is about mosquitoes; the prior one is about our neighboring moose.

Mosquitoes in Alaska are something of a marvel to me. How can something with no exoskeleton survive winters at 30 below zero? REI offers nothing that competes with the winter resilience of these survivors.

This spring, our lake didn't even thaw until May 30. (We kayaked through ice floes that day, feeling like Ernest Shackleton). Still, the newest generation of mosquitoes emerged, en masse, like something out of the Book of Revelations, only two weeks later, and were the worst I had experienced in the past five summers. They were fast and aggressive, biting me through my gardening gloves and pants and hair, flying freely into and within the cabin, and even penetrating the mosquito netting under which we sleep. My husband slept wearing a head net, a cap, long sleeved T shirt and pants – under the full bed mosquito net. I awoke with welts on my scalp under my hair.
Bed under mosquito netting;
lights powered by solar/wind

We had Florida guests for a weekend during this period and the husband, by his own admission, emerged from the guest cabin looking like the “Elephant Man” - he was so swollen from insect bites (although he admitted that he didn't appreciate why we had a mosquito net over the bed (“in Alaska?”)

City newspapers described the summer's vicious infestation throughout the state. Store shelves in Anchorage were depleted of every box, can, spray, and bottle that might possibly relieve the situation. June, 2013 was exceptionally bad, but as a note to potential tourists, June is the worst month for mosquitoes. If you plan to visit the Alaska woods, consider a trip earlier or later. The worst of their activity lasts 3-4 weeks.

My husband dresses like this for four weeks

Most descriptions say that mosquitoes tend to be highly active in the mornings and evenings. That seems to be true according to a human clock, even in a place like Alaska where “dawn” and “dusk” mean 3 am and midnight. When we wake up, between 6 and 8 am, the pests are thick upon the window screens, so the first thing we do every morning (after starting the coffee) is to light a mosquito coil on the front porch, right next to the crack in the door, and to light a smoky fire in the fire pit in the front yard, where the prevailing morning breeze invariably wafts the smoke from the lake over the gardens and cabin area, lulling or killing the bugs, I'm not sure which. Each endeavor is a sacrificial gift to every other human in the vicinity, because the act of standing still to light the fire invites a hungry horde that has been waiting for a warm blooded victim to sustain  the next generation of mosquitoes. For our goal, it is smoke, not heat, that we strive for. To accomplish this, we dump leaves and damp or dirt covered roots on the flame, over and over through the morning. This is a great way to dispose of spring yard debris, and also to thin the insect population by a few million. We also run a propane powered Mosquito Magnet in the damp, shady area near the lake pump. This machine is pretty darn busy in its own sphere, and when we dump the net of its dehydrated population, the chickens are delighted. It is the avian version of a high protein Atkins Diet.

When I sit down on the back deck for a cup of juice after weed whacking to reduce the "hiding places" for mosquitoes, I return with an angry circle of those displaced insects snapping around me. Like nurses at an ER door, the chickens greet me on the deck, and with quick, quiet, efficiency eradicate the offending creatures who threaten me with bodily harm.

The rabbits really suffer from the mosquitoes. Their delicate inner ears, eyes, noses, and right behind their heads are scratched and scabbed. We weed whacked and raked an extensive area around their hutches.  The area drains well.  But let's face it; they are sitting targets. We ended up installing flower boxes outside each hutch, with marigolds which are reported to deter mosquitoes, but it is either too little, too late or the best decorated rabbit hutches you will find. Weak comfort. Next year, we'll need to do something else. Maybe fans for all of us? Timing considerations on breeding? A bug zapper or food additions? We'll put our thinking caps on.

Fortunately, a generation of mosquitoes apparently lives only about 3 weeks, and the onslaught markedly recedes by the end of the month, and reaches co-existent levels by mid-July. It is no fun to be out in the woods in the meantime, but, in compensation, perhaps, we don't have to deal with other pests, like termites, ants, snakes, rats, or cockroaches any time of year. As I write this, it is mid-July, and like a woman who has given birth, the painful memories are receding.

1 comment:

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