Monday, August 10, 2009

North Woods Mosquitoes and Bats

Did I ever mention that we have mosquitoes in the North Woods of Wisconsin? Now that we have had some much needed rain, they are out with a vengeance. Actually, during the daytime outside they are not too bad. I attribute that to our farm buildings being pretty open with the West wind blowing over acres of open pasture.

It is in the evenings, when dusk settles over the farm and the winds die down that things turn ugly, especially in our old farm house's upstairs bedroom. Trying to read or blog at night can be a pain in the neck. I don't know how they get in, especially so many of them.

The sounds at my keyboard are something like: Click, click, click, slap, SLAP.... click, click, ..... Zzzzzzzzzz, swish, slap, swish, clink .... "Shoot. That was the last of the coffee. Darn it. Where are the paper towels?"

Did you know that in the early 1800's malaria was not uncommon in Wisconsin? Thankfully, that isn't the case any more. But late summer is the season for West Nile Virus borne by the buzzing hoard. WNV is nothing to mess with for either man or beast. We can vaccinate the horses against it, but us humans are left to fend for ourselves.

So, I've instituted measures to combat the bastions of boudoir bugs. Last year, Deb found a used bug zapper at a garage sale, and we had it hanging out on our back porch for a while. It is the kind with a black light encased in an electrified wire gridwork that electrocutes anything that ventures toward the light. Recently I decided to move it into our bedroom and hang it from a gate pin.

Sure enough, every once in a while, I would hear a very satisfying "Gzhzhwhaack".

To me, at least, it was satisfying. All cats and dogs have now taken leave of the room whenever the thing is plugged in. Deb always wanted the dogs and cats off the bed at night anyway, I guess. (But I kinda miss them.)

Soon I was waking up to a substantial pile of moth wings and other unidentifiable body parts on the bedroom floor under the zapper, which served to add to my daily barn (and now bedroom) cleanup chores.

It didn't take long, though, to conclude that the mosquitoes are more attracted to me than to the light. So I did some further research and found that professional scientists trap mosquitoes with dry ice traps. Mosquitoes are attracted to sources of carbon dioxide more than light. That makes sense. That's why I was zapping more moths than mosquitoes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use light traps baited with dry ice and claim to catch 65,000 mosquitoes per trap per night in some areas.

Now you'd think that a dairy state that makes lots of ice cream would have plenty of readily available dry ice. Maybe so, but there just aren't any dairies or creameries this far north.

Then I read that you can use CO2 cylinders instead, but when I went down and told Deb about the exciting news, she put the kibosh on the plan. For some reason, she thinks I was planning on asphyxiating us in our sleep.

Well, that left me with a dilemma right back on itchy square one.

Then, I was talking to my retired logging buddy, Jack, and he asked me why my arms and cheeks were so lumpy and bloody. I told him that I was having somewhat of a mosquito problem in our bedroom.

He said, "You know, my grandpa used to work for the logging companies up here, and would tell me that mosquitoes were a problem in the camps at night until Old Sven was hired on as a camp cook. Sven would take his big 20 gallon cast iron pot and hang it from a tripod out in the middle of the barracks at night. Then he would put about a gallon of ox blood inside and paint the inside with it. Then he'd quickly put a lid on it and beat a hasty retreat. After an hour or so, he'd go back out and the pot would be covered with mosquitoes with their beaks stuck through that pot. All he had to do then was take a ball peen hammer and clinch over their beaks on the inside. He swore those mosquitoes couldn't bother his men anymore."

"Jack, I have to admit, there are times that you're more helpful than at others."

Then, last night, while sitting at the computer in our bedroom, I thought that I felt a particularly large mosquito swish by my ear.

Wrong! It was a big brown bat. All right! A bat in the bedroom!

According to the University of Florida Extension Service, "During the summer, when pregnant and nursing female bats have especially high energy requirements, each bat may consume as much as two thirds of its body weight per night. This would be the equivalent of a 150-pound human consuming 100 pounds of food per day!"

I know that some people fear bats, and I know that they can be a big problem if they occupy attics in large numbers. One of my early childhood country life memories was watching my Uncle Orin and Cousin Tom sit out on their back porch with shotguns shooting bats as they emerged from around the chimney.

But I lost all fear of bats from my caving days down in Missouri. A ton of bats would fly past us and never once touch us down in those caves.

Gazing at bats in flight is said to be a pleasant pastime in China: "Older residents of China cherish their childhood memories of summer evenings when neighbors would sit beneath a tree in their common courtyard, enjoying a cool breeze while chatting and drinking tea. Their children ran around chasing bats that swooped and flitted overhead, some of the more mischievous flinging their shoes at the bats in hopes of catching one. The bats actually seemed to enjoy this game of catch-me-if-you-can."

They even dedicated a 1992 stamp to this, entitled "Five Blessings Upon This House".

On that stamp, you see the kids chasing five bats. In Chinese, the word for bat and the word for good luck have the same sound: fu. Wu is the word for five. The five bat Wu Fu symbol appears frequently in Chinese literature and art. Each of the five bats in the symbol represents one of the five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and metal. Or one of the five happinesses: health, wealth, long life, good luck, and tranquility. They even use stylized good luck bats on their postal lottery card.

I didn't have five bats (yet), but at that moment, I was happy accepting any one of the five happinesses from my boudoir bat.

But alas and alack, Deb seemed to be of the school of thought that bats and humans should not cohabitate. "Get rid of it. You're going to get rabies if it bites you. The bat droppings transmit histoplasmosis, you know. If you'd just break down and use my Skin-So-Soft, it would put you out of your misery."

Aargh. There are certain lines I just will NOT cross. I spent a lot of years building up this tough old hide of mine.


  1. Sorry you have such a mosquito problem and WNV is a scary problem here too. Have you heard of this little qizmo?
    I don't know if it works or not, but it would be neat if it did.
    This site has a lot of good ideas.
    It would be great if we could have our own house bat as a pet. I wonder if they could be potty trained? LOL
    Mosquito netting is an option I tried and it does work. Good luck finding a mosquito repellant. I have heard of people using dryer sheets in their pockets. That might be better that Skin So Soft for you?

  2. We too have tons of mosquitoes. They LOVE my husband, so all I have to do is stand close by him and they would much rather have his blood than mine. I think I am with Deb on the bat having to go. Good story.

  3. While I don't want either anywhere in my home, I'm not scared of the bats. Well, I'm not scared of just one, anyway. I think they're fascinating creatures! The mosquitoes would drive me crazy, though.

  4. Your post was greatly entertaining tonight. Now you manly men need to just suck it up and put on the skin so soft. But I was also remembering you made some catnip elixer or something did you not? Maybe you bought some of it at the pet store. I think the cat mint smell or chemicals kept the mosquito's at bay.

    Now that bat!!! AWESOME!! I wish I could say a bat came into my room.

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  6. Oh I laughed out loud! A bug zapper in your room?! Hilarious! You got the best mosquito beater ever though with the bat! Very funny stuff!