Beating the mosquito

28th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

What's worse: their bite or that damn high-pitched buzz while you are trying to sleep? We take a closer look at the insect vampire.

Mosquitoes really know how to make your skin crawl

Members of the family Culicidae, mosquitoes have a pair of scaled wings, a pair of halteres (balancers or stabilisers), a slender body, and long legs. The females of most species are the troublemakers; they are the blood suckers and can lay 100 to 300 eggs. The males' only crime is to help create more of these she-devils.

The female lifespan varies from 3 to 100 days, while the males last 10 to 20 days.

There are 21 species of mosquito in the Netherlands and 1,200 worldwide. They are active during the summer and autumn. Given the precarious weather conditions in the Netherlands, many like nothing better than hanging out in bedrooms where they are safe from the elements, and the females have one or more passive victims to choose from during the night.

The good news is that unlike their cousins and elsewhere, Dutch mosquitoes are not carriers of diseases like malaria and West Nile Virus.

Why they bite?

A chauvinistic answer would be: well, they are just being women!

The real reason is they need protein for egg development. The normal mosquito diet consists of nectar and fruit juice, which has no protein, so they drink blood. The unusual victims are animals, such as cats and dogs. Humans just happen to get into the line of fire occasionally, or repeatedly if you are tasty enough.


Most female mosquitoes have a needle-like mouth piece (proboscis) that stabs through the skin to inject saliva that is teeming with digestive enzymes and anticoagulants. The proboscis is serrated rather than smooth to reduce nerve stimulation on the skin being pierced. This allows the mosquito to drink the blood in peace and get away before the "donor" becomes aware of making the contribution.

By the time you feel the itch of the swollen puncture wound or hear the high-pitched buzzing made by the mosquito in flight it is too late.

Why me?

Mosquitoes locate their victims primarily by scent. They are particularly sensitive to the carbon dioxide in exhaled breath, and to various substances in sweat. They can also home in on body heat. The hotter the night the more sweat you exude and the more chance of attracting any mosquitoes in the vicinity.

Of course, some people are more appealing to mosquitoes than others. Being male, being overweight, and having type 'O' blood may increase the risk of being bitten, according to experts.

Mosquitoes, unlike females of the human variety, are partial to sweaty feet. "Bacteria transforms the sweat into a chemical substance that smells rather like cheese," entomologist  Willem Takken of Wageningen University said in a recent interview with newspaper 'De Telegraaf'.

Dictionary Mosquito/es - mug/muggen Mosquito net - Klamboe Fly catcher/swatter - vliegenvanger/mepper Electric fly swatter - elektronische vliegenmepper Bite - beet Itchy - jeukerig
Counter measures

Leaving as little flesh as possible exposed is effective — but only to a point. Mosquitoes have no qualms about getting in under your trouser leg or under your skirt. And hiding under the sheets in bed isn't practical on summer nights in 20 degree plus temperatures. You are more likely to be shedding sheets and your PJs.

There are several unpleasant ointments you can use when outdoors to keep mosquitoes at bay. The best defence in the home is not to let mosquitoes inside in the first place.

Many stores in the Netherlands (including HEMA and Blokker) sell a variety of nets and screens to cover open doors and windows. Such purchases are well worth it. A mosquito net around the bed will help you get a good night's sleep.

The Dutch term for such nets is Klamboe. They don't have to be ugly. (Check out the selection at the Klamboe Unlimited store on Prinsengracht 232 in Amsterdam.)

You can also try  a wide range of scented candles and electrical noisemakers that are said to repel mosquitoes. But experience has taught many an expat in the Netherlands that not all mosquitoes have been informed of this.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in still standing water. Has your home a flat roof where water gathers? Get rid of the liquid and you will cut down on mosquito menace to you and your family.

But as canals, lakes and ditches are common in the Netherlands you are likely to be living near a mosquito nursery. Keeping the windows closed can help, but what do you do in a heatwave?

Mosquitoes will occasionally brazenly follow you in through the front door so don't imagine you are living in an impregnable fortress.

Make your home unpleasant for the mosquito by creating a draught, either by opening windows or with a fan/air conditioning. Mosquito adults love still air as much as their babies thrive in still water.  

It's behind you

It is often said that turning off the light in a room will deter mosquitoes from entering through an open window at night. It doesn't.  "It is a stubborn mosquito myth. We can say a hundred times that it isn't true, but people continue to believe in it," said Takken. "Very many insects are attracted by light, but they aren't mosquitoes."

If you have one mosquito in your bedroom, Takken's advice is to let it bite. then she will retire to a dark corner and the buzzing will stop.

When you have more than one in the bedroom, you are better off with the protection of a klamboe. If you don't have one, go on the attack. Turn on the light, grab a weapon and scan the walls and ceiling for the bugs. Don't forget to check the frame of your bed and the surface behind your head. Mosquitoes out for blood generally stay close to their victims.

Electric fly swatters - give the mosquitoes a buzz

Zap or Splat!

The final issue to consider is your choice of weapons. A rolled-up newspaper is cumbersome and slow. Don't take a big swing at your prey; she will be gone in a blink of an eye. Strike in a short, quick move.

Give yourself the best chance by buying an electrical bug swatter. The tennis racket-shape allows you to cover more surface area and better direct your attack. And best of all, electrical swatters are clean — a newspaper can leave an unsightly, bloody mess on the wall.

Have you got any hints on how best to deal with mosquitoes? Send them to us at 

3 August 2006

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Life in Holland, mosquitoes + the Netherlands

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