Mosuitoes: the perfect swarm

James Fuller was enchanted by the idea of sleeping under the snowy billows of a mosquito net. But then he found out why he needed one…

Illustration by Darren Cheewah

When I arrived in Trinidad, the romance of sleeping beneath a mosquito net put me in mind of cinematic classics like A Passage to India. There was a frisson of excitement as my wife and I slipped under the soft white cotton gauze on that first night.

It was an hour before the first mosquito hit.

Stirred from the inky depths below our rust-springed bedframe, she came upon the unmistakeable trail of fresh blood and thin skin. A white-flecked female needing iron-rich nourishment to feed her eggs, she struck a determined course for the heaving outline slumbering in blissful ignorance. Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, a recent arrival in the Caribbean, was in feasting mood. The scourge of southeast Asia alighted on my skin and sank her proboscis deep into the laughably soft flesh.

It’s not known exactly what attracts a mosquito to bite: carbon dioxide, naturally-occurring ammonia, octenol, body heat, fatty and lactic acids, or a combination thereof – but whatever it is, I have been blessed with the ideal mix. I am mosquito manna.

And so began the first of many sleep-deprived nights, slapping wildly into a whining darkness.

They followed a familiar pattern. Get bitten, gain semi-consciousness, wobble about in the gloom like a New Year’s Eve drunk, stub toes, whack shins and hiss profanities fumbling for the light, bounce around the mattress clapping at blood-engorged insects, get sworn at by wife, check netting for holes, turn light off, kick shoes and trip over fan cord on return journey, fall asleep, get bitten soon after and restart the process. On the worst night I made eight meandering bedroom crossings.

Frequently beaten into a fatalistic mindset, I would choose not to rise after the umpteenth bite, opting to mummify myself with the bedsheets instead. Small thing to the Caribbean mosquito: as I lay like a corpse in a mortuary, they just bit harder and deeper. In the morning, I would stagger from my bed an anaemic husk, welts on my shoulders, neck and ears, and, curiously, one routinely positioned slap-bang in the middle of my forehead.

My daylight hours were no less molested than my night-time ones.

Watching television became an object lesson in concentration, not on the screen but on my peripheral vision, watching for hints of airborne movement. It was never a long wait.

Each evening would see me chasing bloated mosquitoes around the room clapping like a performing sea lion. I lathered myself in insect-repellent, wore light colours, maintained the fan at eye-watering force, or simply kept on the move – making sensible conversation challenging. They seemed impervious to bug spray; I emptied can after can into the air, dropping me to my knees gagging but leaving the mosquitoes flying on oblivious.

I began viewing clothes differently, assessing them for thickness and resilience. I huddled down for an evening’s viewing with more coverage than a medieval knight, sweating like a boxer trying to make the weight.

It was then that I discovered the greatest invention known to man, and my salvation; the mosquito zapper. This tennis-racket-shaped piece of engineering genius transformed my world overnight. The mere press of a button fries any offending insect on contact. Empowered, I strutted about the room swishing my Excalibur and nodding cockily with a bring-it-on smirk. The zapper had swayed the balance.

Never again shall I return to those dark times. But with the netting now stuffed so tight beneath the mattress it feels like we’re trapped inside a teabag, that naive first-night frisson is well and truly consigned to history.