June 30, 2008

The sting of summer

I got my first mosquito bite of the season yesterday, on the outside edge of my 
pinky finger, left hand. You know the spot. It's a favorite with mosquitoes. The 
bite itched intensely for a few minutes, then disappeared.

It's been said that air conditioning and mosquito control made year-round living in 
Florida possible. But the little salt-water mosquitoes down here are wimpy 
wannabees compared to the blood-sucking vampire helicopters up north. We used 
to come in covered with bites, one big welt, from a tramp in the Michigan woods 
of my boyhood. Limbs splashed with the carnage of battle. My friend Gary used to 
let one alight on his arm, then stretch his skin so taught around it that it couldn't 
pull its proboscis out. He'd watch it fill up with blood until it exploded. Or so he told 
me. I tried it. The sucker filled up to massive dimensions... and then flew away. 
I'm still pretty gullible. That was quite the bite.

But mosquitoes were minor league compared to the deer flies. Where mosquitoes 
are subtle and indolent, deer flies are blatant and swift. They come screaming in 
like F16s and their sharp bite registers instantly and outrageously. In a fit, you'll 
smack your own face (literally adding insult to injury) long after the little demon 
has already circled around, an instant later, for a go at your ear. There were 
whole sections of trails that the deer flies simply owned. If you weren't clothed 
from head to toe (a burka may have worked), your only hope was to run, arms 
flailing, through their hood, as fast as possible. Which, like trying to outsmart the 
rain by running through it, seemed to produce shortened, but accelerated, 

We do have fire ants. I thought I was immune by now, not having noticed a bite in 
some time. But I must have parked my bike on one of their outposts at the beach 
a couple weeks ago. I was chaining the bike to a no parking sign when a swat 
team scrambled up my leg. They're fast, in an earthbound, methodical sort of 
way. By the time you've felt the first sting, you're likely to acquire a few more 
before they're all brushed off. Maddened swarms have been known to kill small 
animals and seriously harass cattle. They dig in with mandibles, then inject, with a 
tail sting, a shot of Solenopsin, a toxic alkaloid venom. The sting commonly 
produces a small, painfully itchy pustule that can break open and drain, crust over, 
break again, and drain some more. It should be pointed out that the ants attack 
when disturbed; they don't hunt you the way a mosquito or deer fly would. 
Though that may strike the victim as a distinction without a difference.