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, exposure.

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.