“Animal magnetism” describes that je ne sais quoi that allows certain people to consistently charm and attract others. I have it, sort of, in a way. However, it is not my fellow humans to whom I am irresistible, but mosquitoes.
Picture this: a group of people are sitting chatting, many are wearing dark colours, some have exercised and are sweaty, beers are being chugged and wine quaffed. It’s hot, so clothing is minimal and the fan is on.
In the corner, closest to the fan, I am sitting. You can barely see me though, even though I am wearing pale grey, clutching my mineral water, and sticky with two sorts of mosquito repellent, not to mention an oil burner which is sending out honking great wafts and citronella and eucalyptus.
The reason you can’t really see me is that I am obscured by a frantic swarm of mosquitoes: the woman next to me is wearing micro-shorts and a spaghetti strapped top. She has been playing squash and is slightly sweaty. Her firm young arms are bare and succulent. But the mosquitoes ignore her utterly.
My dress in all-enveloping but it is thin; mosquitoes are biting me through the fabric, they are crawling up the sleeves and the skirt to access that parts of me not slathered in Tabard and Peaceful Sleep. They are burrowing through my hair to bite my scalp, delving down my neckline, flying into my ears, buzzing around my eyelids.
I think you have the picture now. Suffice it to say from mid-September to April I am under constant attack. I know insects are a summer plague we must all endure but one look at the blotches and blisters, the scabs and swellings, not to mention sheets that are polka-dotted with blood thanks to mosquitoes who sneak under the sheets to get at the elixir that runs through my veins, would prove I am somewhat more plagued than most.
But am I really? Or am I just more allergic to the anti-clotting agent in mosquito saliva? Some people are bitten and barely suffer at all – a spot of spit will fix it. Or a banana peel, or a tea bag or calamine lotion. With me, the bite will swell immediately, become unbearably itchy [forget that old wives’ tale that it won’t itch for long if you don’t scratch it] and often start seeping a clear fluid.
Later they become hard, small and red. Very often blood blisters appear. And if I scratch them they will bleed copiously – hence the disturbing state of my sheets. No matter how many sprays, oil burners and lotions I use, a determined mosquito will not be put off.
I have read many are desensitised to all but the most deadly repellents. I also read that, with time and exposure, we also become desensitised to the effects of the bites. How long though, I ask – after 56 years of exposure I am as sensitive as ever.
Research shows that thee are indeed some people who are far more attractive to mosquitoes than others so, for your convenience, I will share my discoveries with you:
1: Mosquitoes love CO 2 apparently. So if you are big, fat, or have just done heavy exercise and so breathing out more CO 2, you can expect to be a target. Mozzies can sense your breath from 50 metres away and will come running. Figuratively.
Okay, well I’m fat so even if I haven’t exercised I am breathing out more CO 2 than the skinny lass in the hot pants next to me, which is why the wretched bugs are buzzing around my head and trying to make sorties up my nose, source of the intoxicating scent. Solution? Lose weight; don’t panic. No dirty phone calls involving heavy breathing.
2:If you have type O blood you’re pretty well screwed – it’s champagne to mosquitoes. The blood type they find least appealing of all is type A.
I have type A blood. My daughter has type O. They’ll ignore her Bollinger for my brackish tap water any time.
3: Mosquitoes have a well-developed sense of smell, and are attracted by the aroma of uric acid, lactic acid, ammonia – all more likely to be excreted when you are hot and sweaty, like after exercise.
I don’t exercise. Makes no diffs.
4: Drinkers, especially beer drinkers, are more likely to be bitten. Not only does booze elevate the body temperature and make you sweat, but it seems mozzies like ethanol.
I don’t drink. Oh wait, does non-alcoholic beer count?
5: Mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothes. They find black and navy blue far easier to see than white and pale colours. [Since they are nocturnal this seems counter-intuitive but who am I to argue with the pronouncements of the Smithsonian?]
After my dad died I took the Greyhound bus to Grahamstown and my luggage was stolen. All my dark clothes were gone in one fell swoop. But the mosquitoes love my pale blues and greys and lavenders.
6: They like a higher than average body temperature – which is why they will get up close after you have exercised or had a hot bath.
My average body temperature is 1.5 below ‘normal’. I know this because I am a Catholic and took my temperature daily for 15 years. Don’t ask.
7: Skin bacteria also plays a role. No matter how clean you are there will always be bacteria on your skin and various species of mosquito prefer various types of bacteria – some prefer the bacteria of the groin and armpits, for example, while others go for hands and ankles – the ankle has the added benefit of being near the foot with all its fragrances of sweat and between-the-toe bacteria.
Frequent and vigorous application of Peaceful Sleep really does help here but adopt the belt and braces method and anoint yourself with Tabard as well. I hear good things about a product called Bugg’er Off but have not been able to find it anywhere in the Republic of Rosebank.
8: But at least over 85% percent of the way mosquitoes react to you it determined by genetics. Your genetic make up will influence your size, the acids and microbes on your skin, and your blood type.
As Larkin [?] said: They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad;
They May Not Mean to But They Do.
For example, my skin in its natural form has a slight odour of honey. Very nice, you may say, there are far worse things to smell of. Yes indeed, but…
Allegedly, it is only the females who bite and not for sustenance but to provide protein for their eggs. Females are also the only ones who make a noise – or so they say. The male prefers to waft around silently, feeding on flower nectar.
Which makes me a real couples destination. While Mum is sucking out protein for the offspring, dad is going moggy on this honey-smelling skin which, no matter how hard he slurps, contains no nectar.
So try as I might, what with cold showers and ice packs and pale clothes and no booze, I will continue to charm and attract mosquitoes who regard me as their summer highlight and come for miles around to get some of the good stuff from Aubrey, no matter what delectable sweaty, beery or nubile distractions surround me.