The Biscayne Times

Apr 20th
One Bite At a Time PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wendy Doscher-Smith -- BT Contributor   
July 2013

Summer is here, and so are the the winged pests that gobble us up

IPix_AllAnimal_7-13’m sitting here with peanut butter smeared on a portion of my right, upper hamstring, vanilla-sprinkle-cookie-scented antibacterial hand gel tingling near the inside of my right knee, oh-so-minty toothpaste gel dabbed dangerously close to my crotch… and still I itch.

There is a baking-soda-and-water paste caking on the side of my right knee. I just dipped a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol and applied it to a neighboring area.

Yesterday I tried drops of apple cider vinegar on my right wrist and forearm. I slapped a strip of sliced American cheese on my calf. Aspen, one of my dogs, stealthily snagged it off of my leg before I could truly determine its efficacy.

I am not vying for a spot on America’s Top Herbalist Panacea Concoctor. Nor am I writing a thesis titled “Dieting Through Osmosis: Topical Application of Fatty Foods as a Cure for Obesity.” I’m trying to relieve my bug bite aftermath.

I did something stupid the other day. I went to a waterside area near dusk sans bug spray. I felt the bites, I swatted, but I stayed. Parts of my body now resemble a Seurat painting. Chances are, if you leave your house this summer, you will encounter insects. As commonplace in Miami as the sun itself are biting insects, and they are hungry.

You don’t even have to leave your property to become a tasty dish. Just take a slight reprieve in your yard, maybe near that newly installed, fancy birdbath/fountain. It’s pretty. It gives the garden that needed lift, and it seemed like a good idea. Listen to the gentle whirr of the motor, see the lily pads lazily float by the grinning frog sculpture. Ah. This is the life. This is…buzzzzz... ouch…smack… a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

This is Miami, stupid. And during the summer, this is all of our lives. Our fate is, in part, in the hands (if they had them) and wings of insects. We are living pin cushions.

Bugs like me. I’m always the first one to get bitten. I’m the bait, the cover for everyone else. While my friends prep the canoe or stake the tent, I swat at myself. I’m sweet. I’m Vitamin B deficient. And mosquitoes, for one, relish that. If I had an online dating profile, I’d get hundreds -- thousands -- of gentlewoman female callers. (They’re the biters.)

Getting enough Vitamin B is a good preventative, but it won’t stop the onslaught. Luckily, remedies extend way beyond drugstore aisles lined with calamine lotion. I’m talking everything from cottage cheese to witchcraft to religion (Saint Rita is the patron saint for gardeners) to pennies (but only the old ones made from copper will do) to hairspray. Mouthwash, tea tree oil, hemorrhoid cream… the list goes on. (It makes me wonder: Did I use the correct cheese on my leg. What if I needed feta?)

Here is my much anticipated and highly acclaimed Guide to Top 305 Summer Biters: Who They Are, What They Want, and How To Defeat Them. After my recent attack and resulting treatments, I feel qualified to tell you what to do -- er, to make suggestions.

Firstly: The mosquito. It’s not like the mosquito would ever win any popularity contest, but once summer descends upon Miami, enveloping residents in its steamy embrace, the mosquito becomes Public Enemy #1, topping the 305’s Most Wanted Biter list. Besides causing itchy, red bumps, some mosquitoes also carry West Nile virus, malaria, eastern equine encephalitis, and dengue fever.

And this summer, the mighty gallinipper may also pay us a visit, thanks to the heavy rains from Tropical Storm Andrea, which set the perfect scene for gallinipper egg hatching.

The gallinipper, or “mosquito on steroids,” is the size of a quarter, can weigh 20 times what a regular mosquito weighs, and can deliver a much nastier bite. If a gallinipper uses you as a landing strip, you’ll likely know it, as it has been compared to a small bird. Quick! Alert Hitchcock!

But gallinippers are not the only winged critters to worry about. There are more than 2700 species of mosquitoes in the world. Of the 80 species found in Florida, 33 are pests and 13 species can transmit disease. They release saliva into the bite area, causing a reaction. However, the mosquito’s bite and resulting itch is far from the worst of it.

Mosquitoes have friends, and they all party in Miami. Humans do. Apparently the insects got the message, too.

Chiggers, for one. They deliver a double whammy by elusively biting sensitive areas. Chigger larvae are smaller than 1/150th of an inch. Thus, unless you are making a new camping chic fashion statement and strut around with a magnifying glass medallion, you won’t see them.

But they still suck. Oh, do they ever. Chiggers, like spiders, are in the arachnida class, and go through a few stages of development. The one that concerns us is the larva stage.

It is during this stage that they must gain strength before morphing into nymphs and, eventually, becoming adults. But they need our help. And, unlike other charities that offer you tote bags or calendars for donations, these critters just take, take, take! Like so many small creatures determined to make up for their tiny stature, chiggers suffer from a Napoleon complex.

Chiggers make quite the impression on us (literally), leaving behind bright red, incessantly itchy dots on the groin or the back of the knees. Unlike the (comparatively) lazy mosquito that takes its blood breakfast, calls it a day, and then lounges by the pool in a woven hammock, chiggers are industrious and love to burrow into tight areas such as waistbands or under socks, where tasty and unsuspecting ankles lay in wait.

Chiggers are a threat to us when we are in damp, grassy areas. Larval chiggers attach to us and, unlike mosquitoes, don’t suck our blood, but -- and somehow, I find this even more disconcerting -- stick us with a tissue-dissolving substance. Then they drink our tissue.

And of course there are the no-see-ums, a.k.a. “flying jaws.” Like mosquitoes, the no-see-ums basically sit on us and then drink our blood, which they require to grow their eggs. Tip: They like lactic acid, so lay off the booze.

And how did my remedies fair? After trying the previously mentioned methods, I bathed with half-a-pound of baking soda, which helped. But then my feet and back itched. Maybe they felt left out. Everything worked a little. However, it was the drugstore visit for cortisone cream that won.

So you may want to remember that. Or start unrolling penny sleeves.


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