A fore-bite of things to come

Michael Johansen
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Fine, I'll admit it: the unexpected noise startled me. I had no good reason to suddenly drop the book I was reading and swat at my own face — a swat that failed to connect with whatever was buzzing near my ear. I succeeded only in knocking my reading glasses off my nose to send them skittering across the wooden floor. My brain had jumped to a false conclusion. The buzz sounded like a mosquito, but within nanoseconds of hearing it my mind summed up all the evidence on hand and came up with exactly the wrong answer.

Item one: the Bight at North West River and Sheshatshiu was still covered in ice, cooling the land around it. True, on that Victoria Day Monday a thick fog rolled off the ice into town, indicating a wide variation in temperatures, but Lake Melville was still saying it was too early for mosquitoes. Item two: the ground was still largely snow-covered and frozen underneath. Little can grow on it yet. Item three: chance of nightly frost remained high and puddles were still freezing over. Item four: willow and alder leaves were nowhere close to opening, which is the event that black-flies have the courtesy to await before beginning their annual reign of terror. Item five: the flying shadow I saw out of the corner of my eye looked far too large to be a normal mosquito, no matter the sound.

My brain's conclusion: Ahhhh! What the hell is it? Get away from me!

Faulty perception often causes such mistakes. If my eyes hadn't lost their ability to focus, I would not only not have had a pair of glasses to knock off my face, I would also have more quickly recognized the blur for what it was: a really big but mostly harmless mosquito. With better eyesight I might have saved myself that self-administered slap on the cheek.

However, in my defence, I had recently spent a couple of months abroad getting to know (among other things) several new types of mosquitoes, all of which were less than half the size of the behemoth that invaded my book time. Travel (I can attest) often provides a renewed appreciation for the familiar things of one's home: like mosquitoes.

There's probably more than one sort flying around Labrador, but that makes no difference because they all do the same things: suck some blood and leave behind an itchy little bump. Outside of Labrador in a country like Indonesia, however, it matters very much what mosquito bites you. Watch for the ones with tiger-stripes: they're most likely carrying one of several diseases, none of which you'd want. Of course, if a mosquito's buzzing around you it's difficult to tell if it has stripes or not, so swat it either way — or try. That reveals another difference they have with the Labrador breed: Indonesian mosquitoes are small for a reason. There are not very many of them, not enough to form the thick clouds that will soon appear in Labrador. Being smaller in number seems to make the tropical insects more wary of being squashed and being smaller in size seems to make them quieter and more agile than their northern cousins. The Indonesian mosquitoes can sneak in for a blood-feast before anyone notices and then dodge all attempts to kill them. They often dine and dash before there's any chance to look at their paintwork, leaving victims with nothing but hope they've been inoculated against whatever bug the bug was carrying.

That makes Labrador mosquitoes the preferred adversaries. Sure, they swarm in the millions, enough to drive sane men crazy, but they're big, slow, and easy to swat. Plus, they don't carry any dread diseases — not yet, anyway. Let's enjoy that while we may.

Life adapts to climate change in surprising ways, but usually either by disappearing or by thriving. Unfamiliar insects (like tics and other bloodsuckers) are gradually moving north, so Labrador's mosquitoes may soon encounter new competition for food - for us, that is. Given their numbers, local insects will likely adapt better to the invasion than local humans, depending on what migrates here. Maybe we should all start watching for tiger-stripes.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in North West River, Labrador

Geographic location: Labrador, North West River, Lake Melville Indonesia

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