Of Pine Cones and Mosquitoes

The women on their daily walk switch from Chinese to English when I stop to chat. One day the topic was pine cones as one woman was carrying home one of the large cones that fall to the ground. They quoted another Asian neighbor: “She says if you put pine cones by your door, you won’t get mosquitoes in your house.”pine cones

Hmm, I thought, something to do with the cones that fall into our yard from our neighbor’s tree. Better than leaving them on the ground to be chewed on by the dog. And mosquitoes are becoming more of a problem in Los Angeles, especially with the appearance of species that can transmit deadly diseases like yellow fever and dengue. The Department of Health asserts that, while the mosquitoes themselves are here, the viruses are not. So far. West Nile Virus is here however.

If you grew up as I did in New Jersey, mosquitoes are part of your childhood memories: that high-pitched whine in your ear when you were trying to sleep on a sticky-hot summer night, mosquito bites that you scratched and scratched until they bled, slathering on bug repellent every time you ventured out-of-doors. Before much of the swampy areas of The Meadowlands was filled in to provide land for stadiums and outlet centers, and communities began instituting heavy-duty spraying programs, people used to joke that the mosquito really ought to be designated the state bird.

Once, a group of friends was planning a visit to a person’s home in Toms River, a community on an inlet of the Jersey Shore. In those pre-cell phone days, the home’s residents instructed us to stop at a nearby gas station to call from the pay phone and alert them to our arrival. They waited by the front door when we pulled up to the house. We jumped from the car and ran as fast as we could to the door which was opened just enough to let us in. I seem to recall there were still some mosquitoes that made it inside.

Mosquitoes didn’t always like human blood, according to an article in The New York Times. Referring to a research study first described in Nature, they used to prefer furry animals to humans. Their switch to humans is “an evolutionary adaptation,” which researchers believe is connected to an “odor receptor gene.” Apparently, we smell better. But because this evolutionary development has gone on for eons, I suppose it’s too late to try to reverse it by just giving up the use of deodorant, body lotion and perfumes. Perhaps we should switch to pine oil.

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