The tropics are largely green and pleasant lands. Green because the soil is fertile and the climate is conducive to growing things. The region is also hot, and all in all it’s perfect for one of nature’s little demons: mosquitoes.
They’re not funny, mosquitoes; they transmit horrible diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, malaria and the newer ones like chikungunya and zika. But while instances of such infection may be relatively rare in many parts of the world, mosquitoes are notorious mainly for their love of biting humans to suck blood and creating itchy little bumps in the process. Actually, it’s the females that are nasty. In many species the mouthparts of the females are adapted for piercing the skin of animal hosts (you can tell I didn’t write that sentence, can’t you?).
Interesting mosquito fact: they were given that name because in Spanish a fly is a mosca and the diminutive ending ‘ito’ is added to denote that they are smaller than ordinary flies. Spanish speakers add ‘ito’ to the end of a word to make the person or thing sound cute. All I can say is that Hispanics must be very tolerant if it means little fly, rather than little b****ard.
Lie in bed with anything uncovered and sweating and you’re just waiting for the infuriating buzz, like a Second World War German Stuka or a Ferrari at Silverstone, as they swoop upon an ear with the unspoken news that they have already had your elbows and it’s only a matter of time before you feel it.
Oddly, mosquitoes don’t seem to operate on beaches – a major oversight on their part, given the acreage of exposed skin that lies there. But as soon as you set foot in your own home you are welcomed by these tiny guerillas, particularly the top-secret Feet and Calves Squadron, a low-flying outfit specializing in insteps, toes and the backs of legs.
There are many species of mosquito, some nastier than others, and the good news is that the bigger ones also seem to be slower. So they’re easier to spot and to splat. I once met some American tourists in the Caribbean and was comparing notes about the airborne pests. These people were from Missouri, where, they said, the mosquitoes were so big they were known as the state’s national bird.
Many years ago in Italy, on the outskirts of Florence, I was bitten by a mosquito in the most vulnerable of male areas and the injury escalated to the stage where I was compelled to sterlilise a needle in a flame and lance the swelling to release the pus. So is it surprising that I would support a global programme of eradication?
It will probably never happen, though, because in this enlightened age, man feels bad about making anything extinct. And of course there are the inevitable scientific studies that claim if we got rid of mosquitoes it would have serious ecological consequences.
Oh for the dark ages before such things were thought through. I’d be out there with my placard, or in the laboratories, helping the boffins to engineer the destruction of mosquitoes along with other creatures which don’t seem to have any saving grace, such as wasps (vindictive , unproductive , bee-style villains which don’t seem to appear so much in the tropics, although those that you do see are big, menacing things) and cockroaches (name me one redeeming feature).
It would probably backfire, anyway, killing all the weaker ones but leaving a breed of supersquito that would threaten the very existence of man and other soft-skinned animals.
So on we plod with our own individual campaigns, which at least give us the satisfaction of doing a bit of good in our own small way. Personally, I’m waging psychological warfare as well as the physical kind. I hate the way they rise smugly like spotter planes every time I disturb a slightly damp place – laundry basket, towel on a rail etc. ‘Oh, it’s you again,’ they seem to say as they hover above me. ‘Have you not learned that we are the masters of your planet? You will never defeat us, human fool.’
And so I get into the shower and quietly remove the shower head from its bracket to launch a swift, surprise spray attack on a ledge above where the tiles finish and I know they have an encampment. Scientists have probably also discovered that they have early-warning systems and forms of communication we don’t know about, but I wonder if these pointless tiny beasts have been programmed to avoid a hulking great human with the power of flying water at his command and a heart full of hostility towards them. Apparently not, as up they fly and I spray the warm water after them and over them. And if I get one – just one – my campaign has not been in vain.