‘Incredible,” she said. “It’s evening, we’re eating outside, and there are no mosquitoes. We’d never be able to do this down east.”
“It’s Victoria’s secret,” I told her. “If the rest of the country knew how few mosquitoes we had, we’d be overrun. By people.”
When Nature Boy and I moved to Victoria from Small Prairie Town, Alta., we marvelled at the lack of window screens on houses here.
We didn’t realize the reason until the following summer. Victoria, we discovered in our own screenless home, boasted many annoying flies, huge spiders and endless trails of tiny ants, but few nippers and biters.
Hooray! Nature Boy cheered, and promptly went out and fired up the barbecue. He’s one of those useful people the rest of us like to keep around in mosquito-infested territories. The bugs love him above all other warm-blooded animals within carbon dioxide-sniffing distance. It’s part of his animal magnetism.
We’d discovered another reason to be smug about living here.
But we don’t talk about our scarcity of mosquitoes. Not only would the rest of Canada not believe us, but we wouldn’t want to call down the wrath of the gods by boasting of our good fortune or anything.
Of course, Victoria does have mosquitoes. Enough mosquitoes exist in these parts to pollinate the wild orchids that bloom in our forests every summer and to feed our healthy populations of dragonflies. The Electronic Atlas of Wildlife of British Columbia, or e-Fauna B.C., specifies four groups of mosquitoes that call B.C. home.
Some of the species prefer feeding on birds and amphibians, but those that get blood from any warm-blooded animal concern us humans most. Not only are they the most likely to spoil a picnic or a hike, but these generalists are prime disease carriers. They take in blood-borne pathogens such as West Nile virus when they feed on the blood from one kind of animal — a crow, for instance — then share the microbes with the animals and humans that provide subsequent blood meals.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, no cases of West Nile virus were detected in B.C. in 2012. The rest of Canada saw 433 cases reported, and the U.S. saw almost 5,400 cases.
And with researchers at the University of British Columbia announcing a new vaccine against the virus this week, the spread of the disease may soon slow.
However, the vaccine won’t lower mosquito-bite counts. For that, you need the polite, ladylike kind of mosquito found most frequently here.
Only female mosquitoes bite. Fortunately, most winged ladies found in Victoria lack the go-for-the-jugular, bite-’em-and-bleed-’em instincts of their aggressive mainland cousins.
Here, a mosquito bounces around a room for days before she finds you. And when she finally (enough already!) settles on you, she wanders around looking for that perfect spot in which to insert her proboscis and suck up the protein meal that allows her eggs to develop.
Although I’ve learned I needn’t (much) fear being jabbed by a local mosquito before I take defensive action, I still conduct the evening bedroom mosquito hunt. For I am conditioned by years of prairie living to respond automatically to their high-pitched whine in the dead of night. To be awoken suddenly by a mosquito is unpleasant, but to suffer the slap, sting and ringing ears that result from trying to clobber it against my head is a sure way to ruin a good night’s sleep.
If you’ve strolled through Francis/King Regional Park’s swampy nether regions or wandered around Cattle Point Park a few days after an early summer rainstorm, you may have encountered mosquito swarms. I even recall one damp summer when the coastline in East Sooke Park was home to a mosquito variety that behaved in uncharacteristically (for the region) fast and unfriendly ways.
No, it’s not that Victoria lacks mosquitoes. It’s that the regular Victoria-garden varieties we encounter most often are usually, well, rather ineffective.
But don’t tell anyone. Let’s keep Victoria’s secret secret.