How bad are the mosquito swarms at Alaska's North Slope? The bugs are so hungry they'll suck the blood out of a horse fly. That's just one of the blood-curdling observations made by Ph.D. candidate Jesse Krause, who recently spent two and a half months studying skeeters at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Toolik Field Station.
As Krause explained to the Alaska Dispatch, this year's mosquito swarm is the worst he has seen in the four summers he has spent at the station. The noise of the flying mosquitoes, which he says he got used to after his first year there, isn't evident in this video posted by fellow researcher Shannon Sweet, but you can definitely see the extent of the swarms, which Sweet says cover the "whole horizon":
By the way, these aren't your average mosquitoes. The Alaskan cartoonist Jamie Smith calls the state's bugs the equivalent of Blackhawk helicopters, "big, lumbering monsters that have somehow managed to survive the winter by hibernating." Yikes.
So why is Krause, a student at the University of California, Davis, subjecting himself to these swarms of monstrous, hungry bugs in Alaska? He's actually studying how birds react to seasons. In this case, he's looking at how climate change could affect when spring arrives at the North Slope and how that will affect the birds that migrate there. "The question that we're really asking about is timing," he told the Alaska Dispatch, noting that any changes to the dates insects emerge and plants go green could affect the populations of migratory birds.
The North Slope isn't the only above-average mosquito zone in Alaska this year. Populations are high throughout the state, according to a recent report from the Anchorage Daily News, which says above-average snowfall nine months ago provided perfect weather for the bugs to hibernate through the winter. As the mosquitoes emerged this summer, stores around Alaska completely sold out of bug spray and other mosquito control products.
Luckily, this year's mosquito season might be on its last legs. Alaska.org reports that mosquitoes are "only really an issue for Alaska visitors from the second week in June to the last week in July." I'm sure a few Alaskans around counting down the hours until the buzzing fades into memory for another year.
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