Guess it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the mosquito looms large in Native American mythology.
Sort of like the mosquito looming large in my bathroom right now.
I just climbed on the toilet to try to kill it, but of course, it zoomed straight down, practically begging me to lunge for it, break my ankle and spend the rest of the summer lolling on the porch, one big, sweaty, allyou can-suck buff et. Try the shins; they’re fabulous!
Still, I know that even if I remain on my feet, handy with the swatter and doused in DEET, this is a war we humans cannot win because we’ve been fighting it longer than we’ve been fighting anything else, except the cable company.
Consider the fact that all the ancient legends I’ve unearthed about “How the Mosquito Came To Be (So Annoying)” happen to start with a giant beast intent on eating the population alive.
In the Iroquois version of this myth, two towering mosquitoes hang out on both sides of the main drag — a river — eating canoeists whole. When the tribesmen (and, in particular, the canoeists) finally have had enough, they summon their mightiest warriors to kill or be killed.
Be killed they are. Half of them die in battle. The remaining braves redouble their efforts and spear the giant skeeters over and over. Then, for good measure, they tear ‘em apart. At last, the giants are dead.
Or are they?
Well, if they were, this myth would be called “How the Mosquito Disappeared and We Moved On to How the Buff alo Got Its Wings,” right? (Right.) What really — mythologically — happened is that out of each drop of the dead beasts’ blood came a buzzing, vengeful mosquito junior, intent as ever on eating the population alive.
Which sounds about right to me.
The Northwest Indians have a myth that’s almost litigiously similar, except that instead of a giant mosquito, the beast starts out as a giant cannibal. When at last the locals pin him down and burn him up, they stir his ashes, and guess what each of the resulting sparks becomes?
Sorry. That was the mosquito on my keyboard typing.
Anyway, shows how much he
knows; only grandmas draw blood. Females need the protein to feed their eggs. But for flying power, they — and their husbands — drink from flowers and rotting fruit. They’re sugar fiends.
They’re also about the most extreme animal, besides humans, in terms of good and evil. “They are an incredibly important part of the food chain,” says Jon Day, a professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida. Birds, bats, fish and even other bugs pop them like pistachios. No mosquitoes, no snacks.
On the other hand, mosquitoes are also responsible for more deaths, through malaria and other diseases, than any other living thing.
And while it always feels as if they’re aiming for us humans, mosquitoes actually aren’t picky. They’ll bite anything with blood, even alligators — around the eyes, where their thick skin can’t protect them. They bite snakes between their scales. In the tropics, some mosquitoes bite fish. They wait for a dorsal fin to stick out, and then they enjoy a drink on the beach. (Or near it.)
Having just tried to clap to death another one of these fiends, I have the sneaking suspicion it is now sitting between my shoulder blades, right below where I can reach, having the last laugh. But even though it is eating me alive, I am consoled by one fact:
Thanks to some brave Iroquois canoeists long, long ago, this is now a much slower process.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of
“Who’s the Blonde That Married
What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate
Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything
You Know You Know — But
Can’t Remember Right Now” and
“Free-Range Kids: How to Raise
Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without
Going Nuts with Worry).”