Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mosquito Coast

Rudolf Tomasello Photo from Town of Jupiter Website

     It seemed inevitable.

     As kids, my neighborhood gang was bound to do a few foolish things at least once or twice before we turned eighteen. 

     Our biggest “stupid kid trick” involved fog trucks.  These were trucks with mosquito misting systems attached to them that went all around North Palm Beach (and throughout most of Florida, I've heard) during the rainy season to try to keep the mosquito population down.

     Fog poured out the back.  That looked cool to us and we, totally ignorant of what was being sprayed, rode our bikes in and out of it, reveling in the novelty. It smelled odd, but the billowing white clouds were irresistible. Parents yelled, kids were sent to showers and then to bed. We gradually got the idea that riding through mosquito fog was not the brightest idea we’d ever had.

      South Florida has always had a mosquito problem.  Muck and marshes were, and are, perfect breeding grounds. After daily summer afternoon thunderstorms and the occasional hurricane, standing water adds to the problem. Those mosquitoes aren't just irritating, they can spread disease and they had to be dealt with swiftly.

     The Mosquito Information Site (yes, it really exists! Here’s the LINK!) states that many European explorers wrote about having to “sleep on the beach covered with sand” to escape the hordes of blood-sucking menaces.  There was even a Mosquito County created in 1824. You know it today partially as Orange County – home to Mickey and Minnie. It was split into several different counties over the years.

     The Mosquito Information Site says the first mosquito association was formed to do battle against the formidable foe in 1922. Good thing, too. The Spring, 2011 Lake Ida Current quoted long-time resident Haide Zelder as claiming that in the early days of the Delray/Lake Ida area, mosquitos were “so big and black, like a swarm of bees; we’d have to run!”

       I’ve heard rumors that in Jupiter as well as Delray (then Linton), settlors were careful not to leave their homes without long sleeves. In those days before mosquito repellants, it took mere moments for insects to swarm and land on unsuspecting skin to feast.  All mosquito feasting is not in the past, though.  I recently heard about two friends who, while visiting the Florida Oceanographic Institute on Hutchinson Island, were repeatedly bitten. The husband posted on Facebook, “It’s safe for everyone else to visit. My wife and I made sure the mosquitos have already been fed.”

Photo from ilovenewton.com

    Now that I have you itching in sympathy for our ancestors who braved the hordes, I’ve got to let you know that not only does Florida still use fog trucks, but we now have mosquito control from helicopters, too. There’s some controversy as to whether or not the spraying causes damage to other, less irritating, Florida wildlife.

     I can honestly tell you, I haven’t ridden my bike through mosquito fog in years. Of course, not having a bike may have something to do with it. As a child, I was always fascinated with the fickleness of the mosquito. The female mosquito will feast on a poor innocent person while nearby, someone else sits relatively unscathed. I’m one of the latter. Perhaps there was a benefit to riding through the mosquito fog after all.* 

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

*NOTE: I AM NOT ADVOCATING PLAYING IN MOSQUITO FOG. I really do NOT think it's responsible for my natural mosquito repelling ability. The fog is a pesticide and it's really not a good thing to play in, or allow your children to play in or around.


  1. It wasn't just the mosquito trucks, the city buses' exhaust at times was quite the kid magnet as well!

    1. It truly is a miracle our generation made it to adulthood!!

  2. Imagine my surprise when I opened the Sun Sentinel this morning (July 29, 2012 page 13A) to find an article titled, "Key West buzz: Mutant Mosquitos" by Michael Haskins. Hadyn Perry of a British biotechnology company named Oxitec wants to use genetically modified mosquitoes to help battle the spread of the irritating insect. He wants to release sterilized males to gradually reduce the birthrate. As always, nothing in Florida is easy. Critics launched a counter attack to get the release blocked. The mosquito battle continues...