Thomas Jaggers: August 1, 2015

In his book, The Arctic Prairies, Seton dedicated a whole chapter to the plagues of mosquitoes and blackfly that infest this area, so permit me one blog entry to do the same.

Mosquitoes are one of the few forms of life on this planet in which I see no good, especially as I seem to be one of those people to whom they are particularly attracted. Wikipedia tells me that this may be because I have type O blood, am a heavy breather, have a lot of skin bacteria, a lot of body heat, or am pregnant – though I am not sure which one of those applies!

Either way they are the one blight on this beautiful area in the summer months of June and July. Every time you step outside you are almost immediately surrounded by insects, the female of which are the ones that bite, who proceed to attack any bare skin, or failing that, attempt to pierce through your layers of clothes. My shoulders have been bitten through a (admittedly thin) fleece jacket and long-sleeve t-shirt. As we walk across the land here – attempting to find places where Seton, variously, left a cairn, had lunch one day, or shot a musk ox – walking through the low bushes and along caribou trails, we raise clouds of insects into the air, eager for a meal. We are all protected, wearing gloves and head nets, but even so a few find their way inside the nets or underneath gloves and pants. How Seton and his colleagues managed here without such protective gear, I do not know!

At one point two days ago, as I made my way down to a point on the Thonokied River from where Seton took a photograph, I turned the camcorder on myself and took a video-selfie (a velfie?) of myself in head net with mosquitoes and blackfly buzzing around – there must have been 15-20 mosquitoes in front of my face landed on my net and another 20-30 buzzing around in front of me.

Aylmer Lake is about 30 miles east to west and 30 miles north to south at its longest parts, and has an area of about 986 square miles, and it seems that every square foot of land around the lake and on the islands is similarly infested. And yet so far we have seen hardly any wildlife – a few gulls, a few smaller birds, and a couple of Arctic ground squirrels but no larger animals such as caribou, wolf, musk ox, fox – and so it seems hardly believable that there should be so many mosquitoes. They have an adult lifespan of about two weeks here in the wild, and so I can only imagine that the vast, vast majority of the mosquitoes never get to feed at all. Some types of mosquito have to get a blood meal before laying eggs, but alas, it seems that those here do not need such a luxury – the females lay eggs after one or two days, and so continue the population, wait in vain for a meal for a few more days and then die. How strange life can be!

As we travel the length and breadth of the lake in the Lodge’s motorboats, we have spent hours on the water, motoring along at anything up to 30 mph. There, in the middle of the water, blown by the wind and sprayed by the water, we are mercifully free of mosquitoes and blackfly. Those are my favorite times of the day!

-Thomas

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