10. Culicidae – love story

We spent our honeymoon in India where the bedtime ritual wasn’t quite what either of us had in mind. Whether the bedroom had an octagonal bed (very confusing in the dark) or a twin-seat swing (no idea), each night before turning out the light I would inspect the walls and ceilings for intruders, dispatching them with an expertly-wielded rolled-up newspaper. After this heroic exercise, conducted brazenly with little or not clothing, I would turn out the light and return to the sheets where my beloved would welcome me in a fond embrace, the daring hunter returning to the hearth, two hearts beating as one. But then breaking off she would whisper urgently, “Did you hear that?” An undeniable shrill whine. And so would follow round after round of the bedroom farce until, exhausted, we would fall asleep, only to wake up in the morning to find ourselves peppered with tell-tale spots.

A sharp-tongued mosquito

Mosquitoes, members of the family Culicidae, have been getting the better of mankind for a long time, and in the process, have been the cause of considerable human misery. In parts of the world that are warmer than Scotland they carry fever-inducing flaviviruses such as the dengue, Zika and yellow fever viruses, or are vectors for parasites such as the protozoan Plasmodium that causes malaria, and for filarial worms that produce elephantiasis. As the females drill for our blood with their sharp-tipped mouthparts they spit out anticoagulant to stop the blood from clotting, and in the process induce an allergic reaction that produces the spots and itching. And along with the saliva come the pathogens, disease and death. The one I caught was sheltering in a sea cave and looking innocent, apart from its diamond-tipped proboscis!

I had always imagined that the mosquito’s annoying whine was just a consequence of its rapid wing beats, which it is, but it’s also more than that; the frequency of the hum is a love song that allows the sexes to find each other. As the relationship develops they each modulate the frequency of their hum until it matches that of the partner, harmonically rather than exactly, two hums humming as one. Perhaps it’s something to do with age, but after two decades of marriage, the only whining noise I hear these days has a much lower pitch …..

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