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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Mosquitos: Kill Them With Fire

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They say you should write about what you know, and right now (as I finish up a month-long stint in the Berkshires) what I know is mosquito bites. It seems like every time I’ve slathered myself in hydrocortisone cream another bite pops up somewhere else.


Achievement Unlocked: Silliest Possible Illustration

Fall of 2011 was a particularly bad mosquito season in western mass, and I expect this autumn to be even worse. It’s been even hotter than last year, and there’s been plenty of rain. Going through Ecology last fall meant that I spent the better part of the semester covered in itchy welts, and there was no relief until that freak snow storm in October (and thank goodness for that, because winter never really came) killed the last of the swarm.


So, basically:


  • Why the biting?


Some (not all) species of mosquitos feed on blood. Even within these species, it’s always the females that bite; They need the proteins found in mammalian blood in order to produce eggs.


  • Why the itching?


Mosquito saliva contains proteins that keep the blood from clotting, allowing them to feed. After the mosquito has left, our immune systems respond with antibodies. The reaction causes swelling and itching. You can use antihistamines or hydrocortisone to try to dull your body’s immune response, which will stop the itching, or you can make a paste out of water and meat tenderizer, which will break down the offending proteins.


  • Am I going to die?


Probably not. Mosquitos can carry some really nasty diseases like West Nile, but (at least within the United States) most bites are harmless. Anecdotally, I had a doctor tell me last year that “half of the campus probably got West Nile” during that particularly bad  season, but only one student I know of had symptoms that got him tested-and even he didn’t suffer the encephalitis that makes West Nile troublesome. Of course, everyone should know the symptoms and be on the lookout for possible infection, especially in young children and the elderly. You can read about how West Nile came to the US in this excerpt from Carl Zimmer’s A Planet of Viruses.


  • What works to keep them away?


Repellants work by masking the scents that make us attractive to mosquitos. Carbon Dioxide is a big one, which is why pregnant women (who produce more CO2) tend to get bitten more. Lactic acid, which is produced by hard-working muscles, is another, which is why you’ll probably get bitten if you walk out of the gym on a summer day without taking a shower first. People who have recently consumed alcohol get bitten more as well. Certain blood types, immune systems, and even moods may also produce more attractive scents, but there isn’t any evidence that artificial scents from perfumes make you more visible to mosquitos.


I’m going to make a confession: I use DEET. Stomping around in marshes during high mosquito season makes it sort of a necessity, and the Environmental Protection Agency does claim that it’s safe when used as directed. The Center for Disease Control recommends Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus as well, but keep in mind that essential oils evaporate quickly, meaning you’ll have to reapply all day if you want the same effectiveness as a synthetic spray.


There’s been research on mosquito attractants that says Limburger cheese is as appealing to the bugs as human feet are (probably because of the bacterium they have in common), so I guess you could also throw a chunk of that in whatever direction you don’t want the mosquitos to go in. I’m sort of joking, but hey…whatever works, right?

Update: The Oyster Mushrooms Were Delicious

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  • Freshly Foraged Mushrooms
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine 
  • Olive Oil

Sauté until awesome 

Mushroom Hunting Success!

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I’ve just come back from an utterly glorious hike in the Pittsfield State Forest. It was a little over four miles all together, through a nice mix of rugged terrain and rambling foot trails. Though I just intended to hike with my family, it didn’t take me long to start looking for mushrooms.

Artist’s Conk

Turkey Tails

The first picture I snapped was of a Ganodermayour run-of-the-mill Artist’s Conk, so named because you can etch drawings into them that will remain when they dry out. It was high up and pretty dried out already, so I didn’t tug it down to doodle on it. Later in the afternoon I did pry one off for this purpose, but it was pretty buggy and gross.

Also in the “not that exciting” category, some Trametes versicoloraka Turkey Tail Mushrooms.

Despite being a mycological superhero, there are some species I’m not able to identify on sight. That’s why I never feed other people stuff that grows on the ground; Even if I feel pretty safe about it, I’m just not *that* good. For example, here’s a specimen I was less sure about:


I went up to this hoping it was a jelly baby (a very cute fungus indeed), but I know now it isn’t. The waxy body and red stipe lead me to believe it’s a scarlet hood, but I didn’t collect it or take note of what kind of tree it was growing under, so that’s all just guesstimation. For those of you who don’t know, proper fungi identification requires info like gill color, spore print color, stipe (stem) color, cap color, flesh consistency, smell, taste, habitat (down to specifics like nearby trees), and sometimes even spore shape (which requires a microscope) among other things.

I was able to identify the white cheese polypore pretty easily based on scent alone. It’s so sweet! One of the foragers I originally learned from actually called it a “cheesecake polypore”, which doesn’t seem to be the norm…but I think it should be.


The award for pretty picture of the day goes to this Russulapossibly the common and extremely acrid emitica, which had the good fortune of being home to a lovely moth.

There were TONS of that genus to be found. They’re very easy to spot, with their thick gills and stipes that look and feel a lot like chalk. Lactarius can look similar, but all you have to do to a fresh one is bust it open and see if it, you know, lactates. These didn’t. Ergo, Russula.


Lest we forget that mushrooms can be as deadly as they are beautiful, here’s an Amanita (probably a deathcap) that I found. Check out that beautiful veil remnant around the stipe! It’s a perfect specimen.


Last but not least, I did end up finding quite a harvest. I was hoping I’d run into a couple of Oysters, and I did!

I screamed

I love oyster mushrooms, because they can’t be confused with anything even vaguely poisonous. That, and they’re delicious. In other words, the Feltmans (Feltmen?) shall feast this evening. I plan on sauteing them with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. I haven’t had fresh oyster mushrooms since last fall, so I’m very excited.

To end this meandering, meaningless blog post, I’d like to remind you to always forage with a buddy. Mine is pictured below.

Arden Feltman, budding Naturalist