A mosquito bit me on the eye the other Saturday evening. Not on my actual eyeball, but on the soft flesh just at the corner of my left eye. Unfortunately, I’m pretty allergic to the little blood suckers, so by the next morning, I looked like I’d been in a bar fight … and lost.
I also got about a dozen and a half more bites on my arms and legs. It should be noted that none of the other six people who were with me got bit at all. Not a one. Probably because I was there.
Welcome to summer in the swampy, damp South where every fallen magnolia leaf, empty bottle cap, and abandoned kiddie pool is teaming with mosquito larvae. Where scratching yourself in public is not only acceptable, it’s a way of life. Where people willingly spray poison onto their flesh just to keep from getting the bites that result in the telltale whelps.
(Actually, mosquitoes don’t bite. They suck. But I think it sounds better to say “bite.”)
So what is it about me that makes me so darned attractive to the little buggers? I’d like to say it’s because I’m so sweet, they just can’t resist the sugar that courses through my veins. Science, however, tells me otherwise.
Skeeters are attracted to the carbon dioxide that we breathe out. Just exhaling is enough to put a target on my back, or ankle, or eye, as the case may be. They also like lactic acid that humans produce when they exercise, but if you know me at all, you know I’m not out there producing much of that.
It could be my sense of style. Yes, my clothes. You see, I tend to wear a lot of black and red, which are both colors that stand out against the background. Mosquitoes have poor vision in their tiny, beady little eyes, so if you stand out they make a beeline (a skeeterline?) for you.
And it might just be dumb luck. You see, some scientists believe that genetics determine whether mosquitoes will bite one person and not another. Thanks, Mama and Daddy.
While I was icing my eye, I got to thinking about ways to avoid getting bit. Talk about a day late and a dollar short. Nevertheless, the next time I venture out into nature or even onto the patio, I’ll try to remember a few of the following things.
Wear light colored clothes. Summer is the time to bust out that white linen anyway. And if your clothes have long sleeves and long pants, all the better. Skeeters can’t suck your blood if they can’t get to your flesh.
Use a mosquito repellent. Now I have an aversion to spraying poisons like DEET on my bare nekkid flesh, so I prefer to use a natural spray. Avon’s Skin So Soft has long been the Southerner’s mosquito repelling friend. Plus, you have the added joy of sharing your bug battle stories with your nice, local Avon lady if you have one. Citronella oil (yes, that’s the plant my hometown of Citronelle, Alabama is named for), lemon oil, and eucalyptus oil are all supposed to work as well.
Sit in front of, under, or near the fan. Mosquitoes are notoriously weak flyers, so any amount of moving air can thwart them on their way to nibble at your exposed bits. That’s why you don’t get many bites while you’re sitting on the windy beach, but when you sit out in the still, swampy night air they all but carry you away.
Speaking of the night air, dusk and dawn are prime feeding times for our buzzy little friends. That’s why it’s best to just stay inside until feeding time has come and gone. And here’s something interesting — only female mosquitoes bite. They need our blood in order to produce their eggs.
Eliminate all standing water. Mosquito eggs need water to hatch, and those biting babies can be flying around in as little as 24 hours. So every old tire, every flower pot, every mud puddle is a potential breeding ground. If those eggs dry out, though, it’s death to the larvae. Death. Hot, dry death.
The next time I hear that familiar, annoying whine in my ear, I’ll be ready. I’ll be the one reeking of essential oils, holding my breath, wrapped up like a mummy and hogging the fan. And even though they say that the quinine in tonic water doesn’t actually repel mosquitoes, I’ll probably be having one or two gin and tonics … you know … just in case.
(Have you gotten your copy of my new book, They Call Me Orange Juice? If you’re in Birmingham, I’ll be doing a book signing and maybe a reading on July 26 from 4 – 8 p.m. at Little Professor Book Center on 18th Street in Homewood. I hope you’ll come! I’d love to meet you! And you can always order a copy from Amazon if you’re not in town.)