The world’s No. 1 nuisanceFor a long time I pondered the worth of the mosquito, and then while in college I read Mark Twain’s “Letters From The Earth,” and in the section called “The Damned Human Race,” Twain asked the same question about the housefly. He didn’t come up with a definitive answer either, except to point out that God had a strange way of doing business in allowing the housefly to wreak havoc on other animals of the earth.
By: Bernie Kuntz, Outdoors, The Jamestown Sun
For a long time I pondered the worth of the mosquito, and then while in college I read Mark Twain’s “Letters From The Earth,” and in the section called “The Damned Human Race,” Twain asked the same question about the housefly. He didn’t come up with a definitive answer either, except to point out that God had a strange way of doing business in allowing the housefly to wreak havoc on other animals of the earth.
Mosquitoes have been present for more than 200 million years, and according to Cutter’s, makers of mosquito repellent, there are some 2,500 species of mosquito worldwide, including about 150 varieties in the U.S.
For some reason, mosquitoes become more abundant and voracious as one travels north. While mosquitoes have pestered me from Vietnam to the Carolinas, the very worst infestations I have seen have been in northern Canada and Alaska.
One time many years ago a partner and I fished a small lake for large rainbow trout in Saskatchewan during the height of mosquito and black fly season. We wore headnets, and I had on a red-and-black wool plaid mackinaw. My partner told me at the time that the back of my jacket was completely gray in color with mosquitoes!
Mosquitoes bothered the men of the Lewis and Clark expedition too. All the way up the Missouri River and down the Yellowstone they complained about the mosquitoes being “very troublesome.” The offspring of those mosquitoes are still very plentiful, I can assure you, as they have attacked me from the Musselshell country on the upper Missouri to Rosebud and Pompey’s Pillar down on the Yellowstone.
One of my favorite stories about mosquitoes comes from Ernest Thompson Seton, the renowned naturalist, who kept a record of mosquito numbers on a journey he made to the far north in Canada. His tale is found in an old book in my collection entitled, “On Your Own In the Wilderness,” by Bradford Angier and Col. Townsend Whelen, Thompson counted 400 mosquitoes on the back of a companion’s coat on the 9th of July. He then began to establish a standard in gauging their numbers as he proceeded northward.
Seton would hold up his bare hand for five seconds and count the number of mosquitoes on the back of his hand. At first there were five to 10. But every day added to the number. In mid-July on Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, where the Peace River continues down to the Mackenzie and on to the Arctic Ocean, he counted 50 to 60. Several weeks later on the wet and treeless tundra, the figure rose from 100 to 125! Mosquitoes settled on his tent in such numbers when the wind was not blowing hard that Seton estimated 24,000 were lurking on the outside of the canvas, while as many more hovered about the door!
I had a similar experience many years ago while camped at Cormorant Lake, Manitoba. Mosquitoes by the thousand were sitting on the mosquito netting of our tent, and their high-pitched whine was clearly audible. I have seen daunting numbers of mosquitoes at times in Saskatchewan where I have fished for more than 40 years. A dozen years ago I was on a Dall sheep hunt in the Nahanni River country of Northwest Territories. We spent a night at base camp before getting flown out into the mountains by Super Cub, and the camp staff mentioned several times that 1998 was “a very good mosquito year.” I noticed that mosquito netting covered the beds in the cabins, and in the evening when we checked rifles the mosquitoes came out in force. I cannot imagine what a “bad mosquito year” might be in that part of the country!
In Alaska, where some joke that the mosquito is the “state bird,” they have pestered me from the Chugach Mountains to the Alaska Range and north to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. In 2001 I hunted moose in the Tikchik Lakes country of southwestern Alaska, and the mosquitoes were so bad that if I hadn’t been wearing a headnet I think I would have lost my mind!
In any case, mosquitoes are the cause of more discomfort than any other single form of animal life that I can name!