Relatively nonlethal, mosquitoes are the reigning champions in the "Most Annoying Bug" category. But researchers working in the Alaskan tundra know that mosquito swarms are anything but benign.
Jesse Krause, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Davis, knows firsthand the horrors of the swarm. Krause recently spent 78 days working at the Toolik Field Station on Alaska's North Slope, where the mosquitoes were "pretty god-awful," according to the Alaska Dispatch.
Visiting the region to study the effects of climate change on bird migrations, Krause told the Dispatch that this swarm (see video, above) was the worst he'd seen in four summers.
Mosquito "swarms" occur across Alaska in the spring and summer when the hungry insects hatch. Seasonal swarm strength is dictated by the weather, and conditions this year may have been particularly favorable for the state's insects, according to Alaska-based radio station KTNA.
North Slope mosquitoes are notoriously aggressive and large, according to The Seattle Times. The region's "skeeters," as they are commonly called, have been known to drive the direction of caribou herds and feed on animals as diverse as rabbits and frogs. (Krause told the Dispatch that the bugs are so ruthless, he once saw a pair of mosquitoes feeding from a horsefly.)
In videos and photos taken by Krause and his colleagues, the vast number of mosquitoes is compounded by the sheer size of each insect. On Facebook, friends of the researcher noted the images were so terrifying, they appeared photoshopped.
"Those are not edited. Does it scare you more, now?" Krause told one commenter.
GrindTV Outdoor spoke with the operations manager of Toolik Field Station, Mike Ables, who noted that the swarm can be disconcerting for unwitting tourists who have to stop to, say, change a flat tire.
“They’ll have to put up with them for 40 minutes until they get their tire changed,” Ables said. “It’s not going to kill them, but they’re just going to have to endure them.”
Krause and his colleagues tried to prevent bites by dressing up in long sleeves, pants and mesh helmets and covering themselves in bug spray, according to the Dispatch. Complete coverage is key, as the bloodsuckers will “crawl up your sleeves." The mesh over their faces serves a dual purpose: to protect from bites and "to filter the air."
Not that there aren't some fun moments within the swarm, too.
"We have some electric fly swatters up here. It is very satisfying to use them," Krause said on Facebook. "Although it is an exercise in futility based on the number [of] mosquitoes. We were wondering if the electric swatter would short out when all the mosquitoes become imbedded [sic] in the wire mesh."
The Alaska Public Lands website notes that with around 35 species, "the mosquito is the unofficial state bird for a reason!" When they're at their bloodsucking-best in June, the site recommends bug repellent and light-colored clothing. Topical antihistamines or aloe vera may help relieve the itch if these precautions prove unsuccessful.
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