I get regular updates about what the the city calls its “nuisance mosquito control program.” Well, what else can mosquitoes be called, but a nuisance? In one of the great understatements of mosquito control, a recent update reported: “The Insect Control Branch, with the help of Winnipeg residents, has managed to be successful so far at minimizing the current nuisance mosquito population.”
Use of the word “minimize” seems a triffle odd, since I, for one, have yet to catch even a glimpse of one of the buzzing terrors. Not since yellow-fever bearing mosquitoes — which threatened to bring a halt to the construction of the Panama Canal in the early 1900s — were wiped out, has a mosquito control program been as successful as that in Winnipeg under the control of entomologist Taz Stuart.
“The aggressive larviciding program, combined with cooler evening temperatures in June, allowed the Insect Control Branch (ICB) to treat larval habitats in and around Winnipeg,” continued the update. “This process significantly reduced the amount of adult mosquitoes that normally emerge.”
The branch used a deadly force of 160 staff and four helicoptors to check and treat potential larval development sites in Winnipeg, as well as within a 10-kilometre radius of the city.
Apparently, there were eight mosquitoes in a New Jersey Light Trap, which gained the city a Adulticiding Factor Analysis (AFA) rating of “medium.”
I wonder, given the visual absence of the buzzers, how even eight mosquitoes were caught?
For two years, the war on mosquitoes waged by the Insect Control Branch has taken Winnipeg from the doldrums of being considered the mosquito capital of Canada, if not North America, to the ecstacy of becoming a city that has virtually eliminated a pest that had previously defied all efforts of extermination. If any Winnipegger deserves a special medal for valour for defeating a formerly intractable foe, it’s Stuart.
The ICB had earlier warned residents to brace for a mosquito onslaught, but it didn’t come. Stuart had marshalled his forces and they were victorious!
Fortunately, the hot July weather has 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. In 2010, 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.
In reality, since time immemorial, mosquitoes have wreaked 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.”
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 normal in Manitoba — except for the last two years.
While the residents of Komarno (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.
On the other hand, “All hail the ICB!” which has given us a welcome reprieve from the wrath of the winged bloodsuckers.