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Navigating the Bloodbath of Mosquito Season

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The morning of the reaping, I was so smug.

I thought: Have fun at your meetings, suckers of the corporate macrocosm, for I have chosen the life of a voyager. I set off into the outdoors to report for a future column, details I will reserve for now. The journey involved hiking less than 2 miles through Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, Florida. A dream way to spend a spring day in Florida. Right?

"Bring bug spray," warned my photographer colleague. "Mosquitoes are present during the rainy season, May through October," read a website about the park.

Sure, of course. I'd been on this scenic island trail before, and anyway, it was only April. Everyone knows mosquitoes never veer from their day planners.

I donned hiking pants and boots, but by 9 a.m., it was already in the 70s. I wore a tank top and shoved a long-sleeved shirt in my backpack. I spritzed with what I thought was a suitable bug repellent. At the trailhead, I tapped the little walking man on my Apple Watch, more smug than ever. I stopped to read factoids about gopher tortoises, peering around for eagles and osprey, breathing in the salty beach air.

A skeeter landed. I swatted, spritzed again and went deeper into the pine forest. No BUG deal, har-har.

 

About a half-mile in, the coven detected my presence the way one might clock a charcuterie table at a party. They were on me in hordes, making moves out of a science fiction novel. This is according to the University of Florida's extremely informative guide to mosquitoes, from a section titled THE BLOOD MEAL (their caps and words, not mine, I swear):

"After locating and landing on an attractive host, the mosquito probes the skin with her mouthparts (known as a proboscis) to find a capillary in the skin. She pierces the skin with her serrated proboscis, not really biting, but sucking blood. She injects a pain killer, present in her saliva, which makes the piercing less noticeable."

First of all, thank you for calling me attractive. Second, mouthparts? Gag. Third, if I'm reading this correctly, mosquitoes saw into our dermis and... lace us with Advil?

We're fortunate in the United States to have avoided major swaths of malaria. A dangerous outbreak of dengue fever is currently spreading across Latin America and the Caribbean; more than 4.6 million people have been infected so far in 2024, already ahead of totals for 2023 and prompting a rush for a new vaccine.

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