Saturday, September 8, 2007

The evolutionarily superior mosquito

I have come to the conclusion that the mosquito is an evolutionarily superior being.

Superior to what? I’m not sure. But recently they have succeeded in making my life absolutely miserable.

“How are they superior?” you might ask. All they do is fly around, bite other creatures, suck their blood, and die. How sophisticated can they possibly be? All you need is a little deet, some screened in windows and doors and your interactions with them are almost non-existent.

While that might be the typical experience with them at home, that is certainly not my experience here in Senegal.

Have you ever really stopped to think about how powerful they are? I mean mosquitoes transmit the biggest killer of children in the world! They force us to develop new medicines, chemicals, and techniques to eradicate them and the diseases they bring. Sewage systems, DDT, screen doors, bug repellent, citronella candles, bug zappers, anti-itch creams, standing water removal, malaria prophylaxis, yellow fever vaccines… the list goes on.

I’m probably starting to sound a little crazy to most of you at home so let me explain why mosquitoes have recently become a top priority in my life.

Up north they are not anywhere near as bad as they are in other places, like down south, or even in Thies. But maybe that’s what makes these Northern mosquitoes more vicious, cunning, and brilliant? I don’t know. I do know however that because I sat outside at the transit house (on my way back from IST), for an hour in shorts with no bug repellent (stupid now I admit), I now have over 100 mosquito bites on my legs alone. 23 individual bites just on my left hand, and the list goes on. I truly look like a leper. I even took a picture of my legs and have posted it for your enjoyment/sympathy.

Maybe I am evolutionarily inferior. I mean, other volunteers did the same thing and only suffered a few very mild bites on their ankles. Why me? Granted I know that mosquitoes “like” me or whatever, and I made the poor decision to risk being outside without protection, but a month ago it would not have been a problem.

I think that I’ve been lured into a false sense of security living in the desert. I left for IST thinking, eh, there really aren’t a lot of mosquitoes up here. But after a month of rains and flooding it is like a totally different country. All of the sand is covered with bright green grass, the trees have leaves, and subsequently, the mosquitoes are out in full force.

Another example. Last night I set up my bed after dark. This is something I try to avoid because the mosquitoes are attracted to my headlamp and find their way into the net as I’m tying it up. After nodding off for a few hours, I awoke to that horrible whining sound they make as they dive-bomb your ears and face looking for an uncovered place to bite. Thinking that there were just a few stragglers and that I could easily get rid of them, I turned on my headlamp and began the dance. I managed to kill 4 or 5, staining the net and my hands with (what I assume was) my blood. Just to make sure I had gotten all of them I took a quick scan around the net to make sure. Nope. No chance. There were at least 6 just hanging out on the other side of the net…on the INSIDE of it mind you. I don’t get it? How did 10 or 12 of them get INTO my net? There are NO holes, the thing is permethrin treated! Shouldn’t it kill them off? Or repel them at least?

I’ve watched them around nets before. They will land on them and hop from spot to spot looking for an opening. And when you have to slip out to use the “facilities” you better watch out. That’s when then dive right in. And of course when you are actually sleeping you have to make sure that no part of your body is touching the net because that’s when they bite you right through the damn thing.

And they hide out in the places where you’re forced to be still and wait for their bites…aka. the “loo.” Middle of the night, usually with a lamp (which of course attracts them) maybe some standing water (so they’ve been breeding), and obviously, the 20 or so seconds of idle time as you do your business. That is when they attack. Needless to say most volunteers have complained about bites on their bums at one point or another. Not fun.

The thing about them in Senegal is that whereas at home you can usually tell when a mosquito is biting you, here that is just not the case at all. You can’t even FEEL them when they land on you let alone when they’re sucking your blood. The bites are smaller and more similar to fleabites, but if you START scratching…forget it. You might as well carve off your top layer of skin with your leatherman. You’re probably better off.

And that rule about dawn and dusk. Absolute rubbish. I see them and am bitten at all times of the day. They hide out in the shadows, in the shade, where of course WE are all hiding out as well because it’s still sweltering.

It is miraculous that I do not have malaria. After all, it only takes one bite right? Good thing I’m a PCV and have free access to anti-malarials at all times right?

So there you have it.

Senegalese mosquitoes: 123+
Caitlin: 0

You tell me who is the inferior species.
The jury is still out.


Christopher said...

Sounds like you could use a Refrigerated Bio Hazard suite I will check ebay

Ellen said...

I grew up in a swamp, so I kinda feel your pain, but it sounds sooo much worse. Good luck, don't scratch! I'm glad you have medicine standing by.