The Holy Grail

…of mosquitoes.

Some absolutely terrible post processing here which I will have to back and fix, but a wonderful specimen of Sabethes cyaneus mosquito.
He’s biting me, he’s actually biting me I cried exultantly. Tears almost coming to my eyes.

Bit of a story behind this mosquito. I first saw it in Sean’s (smccann) flickr photostream a while back and nearly traveled to French Guiana, just for this guy. A better photo can be seen in his stream here: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/deadmike/4525866850/”>www.flickr.com/photos/deadmike/4525866850/</a&gt;. Then, when I was in Manu national park in Peru, I was photographing some ants when I saw this guy flying around my head, well, this was the first time I’d ever seen this guy and I was so excited. I left my arms ready to be bitten. Well, go figure that the DEET only stops the mosquitos I want biting me! After trying unfruitfully to catch it I finally went back to camp. The next day I looked around but didn’t see a single one of these mosquitoes, so I went back to the same spot, high up in the canopy and there it was, a single one, probably the same! I didn’t wear DEET this time, but still the bloody thing wouldn’t land! I waited until I couldn’t stand the other mosquitos anymore! The next day I decided that I would counter the irony of DEET keeping away the mosquitos I want biting me by bringing my mosquito net to catch this mosquito. So I found the one mosquito circling me. Then I hurled my mosquito net at it, like a fisherman and finally caught it! Believe it or not, even when I put my hand in the net, it still refused to bite me! So, I transferred it into a small bag and refrigerated it to slow it down enough to photograph. Out of 100’s of photos I couldn’t get a single one I was happy with!

This was the only shot serviceable enough to actually post and the mosquito looks like a zoo animal. Once regal and flying around king of the jungle it now has a sad and helpless expression…”Why have you done this to me?”- It’s cries still haunt my sleep. Sabethes cyaneus from Manu national park, Peru.

Then when I tried to show the guide the mosquito since I had played it up so much, I showed him an empty bag. He looked at it confusedly. I looked at it.”I could have sworn there was a mosquito in there…”- just as I hear a buzz by my left ear and he looks around also having heard the buzz. By this time of course it is nighttime. So I wait out on a couch as a vigil to catch this mosquito. Only I fall asleep after waiting for several hours. I wake up and what should I find but several bites, one of which I’m sure belonged to that damnable mosquito!

Rik-rjlittlefield over at photomacrography.net found an article describing the role of the paddles on the legs of Sabethine mosquitos here: <a href=”http://www.springerlink.com/content/p2434240mg774r21/&#8221; rel=”nofollow”>www.springerlink.com/content/p2434240mg774r21/</a>. It basically states that they are used in courtship behaviour, amongst the only courtship displays observed in mosquitos. “A male approaches a female suspended from a horizontal stick, suspends himself in front of her as he grasps her folded wings, and proceeds with a series of discrete stereotyped behaviors that involve proboscis vibration and movement of iridescent blue paddles on his midlegs.”

Close up of the leg paddles.

Finally this brings me to the present day. I see something…”It’s a beetle? No, it’s a fly? No, it’s and with an inward gasp, one of those…those…” I can hardly get the words out. It’s an iridescent mosquito! Just a bright flash of light, a jewel floating in the crown of night, it wafts on the breeze. These mosquitoes have a very distinctive flight, they float…gracefully cresting the currents of air. Once when I was high on the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus my first time the Peruvian Amazon with a half crazed vietnam veteran (story for another time) I likened mosquitoes to dancing fairies, and ballerinas. Never has that comparison felt more accurate than with this mosquito. Compared to the jerky movements of other mosquitoes that zip and zag like rodeo riders holding on to dear life, these are a pleasure to watch. Like the difference between hummingbirds and their clumsy avian brethren.

So I wait, arm outstretched, literally begging to be bitten. My guide is a little perplexed as he sees me whispering “bite me, come on little guy…BITE ME” while I hold out my outstretched arm- he explains later that he had never seen anyone so intent on being bitten by a mosquito, especially one that acts as a vector for yellow fever (“Oh?!”- was my simple response, confused and emphatic)

But it refused, how could it refuse?! I tired and went to bed. The following day, same spot, same time of day it returns and I resume my vigil. “Bite me, come on…BITE ME”. This time though, it takes the bait (me). However it tries to settle on my nose. I try and shoe it away but always, it returns to the same spot and avoids my arm like “yeah, yeah I know what you’re trying to do there buddy and it ain’t going to work”. So I need to get a little inventive. Knowing that mosquitoes locate their prey by a variety of methods including heat, chemotaxis, movement and colour, I decided to make my arm the most favourable position to land. I figured that it was probably trying for my nose because it was sensing the heat and CO2 emissions from my breath. So, I breathed heavily on my arm-HHHHHHHaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…and then waited. It danced in the air to the tune of its own desire and then, miraculously it landed on my arm. HUZZAH!

I waited patiently with a maniacal grin for it to unsheath the 6 stylets from its proboscis and bore its way into my arm. When it was busily engaged, ever so slowly I brought around my other arm, resting my camera on the feeding platform of my other arm and shot off several dozen shots. Getting a look at the shots they weren’t great, I didn’t have a diffuser for the flash, necessary with highly iridescent subjects, but they were certainly better than I had before. “That’s great, this is really just excellent” I congratulated myself on a job well done, the abdomen of the mosquito distending further and further with my blood. “Well that’s enough” I said with tenderness, and exploded the body on my forearm like ripe tomato. “Rest in peace little guy”. Okay, so that last part didn’t actually happen, I let my model stagger away, to act as a vector for further infections…but man was it worth it!!! Slightly less graceful than its entrance, it swayed drunkenly until it made it to the first vertical landing spot to rest and digest the blood meal.

“Good night you princes of Maine…you kings of New England” I said affectionately, strolling off into the night…

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