“What? Are you kidding?”
Winnipeggers can be forgiven for being skeptical about the average daily mosquito count in city traps. But it’s true. The average daily count for female mosquitoes — the ones that suck our blood — on August 9 in all quadrants of the city was a miniscule one, although a location in the southwest quadrant did have a four count, but that was tempered by reports of none in other locations, making the overall average — one!
Winnipeg is the Mosquito Capital of Canada? Humbug! That honour now apparently belongs to Edmonton where the average total for mosquitoes trapped during one week in July hit 1,124. The mosquitoes were so bad in Edmonton that the Eskimo football team had to abandon an outdoor practice, fleeing for cover indoors to escape the tiny vampires.
In Manitoba, residents were bracing for a mosquito onslaught because of the extensive spring flooding, but it never occurred. According to Winnipeg’s Insect Control Branch: “The dry, hot weather conditions in July have contributed to the overall success of the extensive larviciding program by the city of Winnipeg ... The spring of 2011 had a great potential for larval development with receding flood waters and significant rainfalls, but the Insect Control Branch successfully treated all those sites and avoided a large emergence.”
The absence of mosquitoes has made malathion treatment unnecessary, removing the annual debate about spraying buffer zones.
Fortunately, the hot and dry July weather wiped out much of the standing water in which mosquitoes normally lay their eggs. Coupled with the city’s larvacide program, the conditions don’t exist for the buzzing pests to breed. A night outdoors is no longer a mosquito nightmare.
But there’s no reason to become complacent. Last year, the mosquitoes were so bad in this city that Mayor Sam Katz feared it would effect Winnipegers’ quality of life and promote an outbreak of West Nile Disease, which is borne by the Culex tarasalis species of the winged insects.
And, this year is more of an anomaly than the making of a trend, although the city’s Insect Control Branch is obviously getting better at combatting and mitigating the seasonal pest. Of course, that’s with the help of good old Mother Nature.
Since time immemorial, mosquitoes have played havoc in Manitoba upon man and beast.
According to an aboriginal legend, hundreds of years ago there was a famine and offerings were made to the Great Spirit to ease their hunger. Two hunters came upon a white wolverine, “a very large animal,” which they killed. An old woman jumped out of the skin and said she was a “Manito,” and promised them plenty of game to hunt as long as they treated her well.
The famine passed, but the natives came to dislike the old woman because she continually took the best pieces of game for herself. Despite her warning that a great calamity would befall them, they killed her as she ate a piece of meat.
Time passed without any great calamity so the people began to believe the old woman had deceived them. But one day a hunting party chased a deer which led them to the spot where the old woman had been killed. They “came upon her skeleton, and one of them in derision kicked the skull with his foot. In an instant a small spiral vapour-like body arose from the eyes and ears of the skull ... that attacked the hunters with a great fury and drove them to the river for protection ... the air became full of avengers of the old woman’s death. The hunters upon returning to camp, found all the Indians suffering terribly from the plague. Ever since that time the Indians have been punished by the mosquitoes for their wickedness to their preserver, the Manito.”
According to another aboriginal legend, there was originally just one mosquito which was fed with blood by the spirits until his belly became so large that it burst, and from it came forth the myriads of mosquitoes that thrive today.
Henri Julien, a 21-year-old illustrator sent to cover the march west of the North West Mounted Police in 1874, described the “Manitoba mosquito” as the worst example of the species in the world. “They insinuate themselves under your clothes, down your shirt collar, up your sleeve cuffs, between the buttons of your shirt bosom. And not one or a dozen, but millions at a time.”
No Manitoban living today would argue with the observation of Julien — except this year, but remember it’s been an unusual year. Winnipeg has gained unflattering recognition as the Mosquito Capitol of Canada (thank you, Edmonton for usurping this title for at least one summer). Many have suggested that local mosquitoes are so big that they should be declared Manitoba’s provincial bird. Some have even said that local mosquitoes are so big that they can carry off babies.
Rev. George Young (1821-1910), who established a mission church in 1871 in Winnipeg, related that one prairie wit had commented that the local mosquitoes were so big that “many of them weigh a pound.”
The Brandon Sun Weekly of May 8, 1884, told a story about “two Winnipeg gentlemen,” who had returned by train from the Rockies and related that they had been on a mosquito hunting excursion. “They assert that in the valleys the mosquitoes are in full bloom, and so large that they managed to slaughter two only after a desperate struggle. We understand that they brought the carcasses home with them, but we have not learned whether a flat car was found necessary for the purpose or not.”
The newspaper’s editor attributed this tale to the invigorating air of the North-West (prairies), exerting its “influence on the brain.”
Of course, the carrying off of babies by insects rivaling birds in size and the slaughter of two mosquitoes requiring a railway flat car to carry them is pure myth, but no one can dispute the fact that a mosquito plague of Biblical proportions is normally — except this year — the case whenever one ventures outside on a calm, warm summer evening in Manitoba.
While the residents of Komarno — the Ukrainian word for mosquito — have erected a statue in honour of the buzzing terrors, the majority of Manitobans can be forgiven for not holding the same reverence for one of the province’s more irritating signs of summer. It’s great to be getting a reprieve from the winged terrors, but remember there’s always next year. No one knows whether or not the conditions will once again be ripe for a bumper crop of the tiny vampires, which are relentless in their pursuit of hapless victims from which to drain blood.