Get the gator oil, all you fine young cannibals. The ‘skeeters’ have gone wild.

Early French and Spanish explorers who punched their clocks and set out to ramble through the upper Gulf Coast of Texas left stories of encountering fierce and, at times, foul-smelling natives.

These Indians, some of whom were named the Atakapa, were said to eat their enemies which is only understandable given the band’s name was a Choctaw derivative for the word “man-eater.” The foul-smelling part — something one might handle in exchange for not being dinner — was from alligator and other types of animal grease and oil to ward off mosquitoes.

The chemical mixture DEET would certainly work just as well as alligator oil, one would assume, yet I had no idea yesterday morning when I left home and crossed the Neches River for Orange that I would be swarmed by mosquitoes. I mean, it’s February, you know.

The salt marsh mosquito. Look for the white-banded legs. Yeah. Photo - Jefferson County Mosquito Control District

My part-time work requires casual business attire of which I am relatively certain one would find unattractive with a heavy smearing of alligator oil. Now I could have found alligators with a little scouting yesterday, as I was in Orange County, Texas. The county bordering southern Louisiana has plenty of marshes and an abundance of river bottom, the latter due to the county being bordered to the west by the Neches River and on the east by the Sabine. Although one might find an alligator with a bit of hunting it doesn’t mean that one should just walk up to one of the fearsome-looking and rather dangerous reptiles, stick in an oil spout and expect the gator’s bodily fluids to freely flow. Or at least that wouldn’t happen without a serious tussle with the animal.

Of course, stopping into a corner store and purchasing a can of Off for an inflated price would be a lot simpler solution and one much safer than trying to drill for alligator oil. Yet I didn’t plan to stay out of my car for a very long period of time so why bother with the time and money spent? Well, maybe to prevent having the mosquitoes bite the crap out me would be one consideration.

The upper Texas coast and that of Southern Louisiana is currently experiencing an outbreak of mosquitoes due to the drought-relieving rains and warm winter weather of late. Being bitten by swarming mosquitoes isn’t a pleasant experience. I know, because the damn things have bitten me all my life growing up in Southeast Texas. But their bite also isn’t like the sting of a wasp or yellow-jacket. I’ve had more than my share of those bites too.

Growing up, I used to sit enthralled seeing the city’s red Jeep come through my neighborhood with a fogger in the back of the vehicle puffing out great clouds of DDT. Sometimes kids would jump up and follow behind the Jeep and its magic skeeter-slaughtering clouds. Of course, we knew nothing of the harmful effects which we would learn later about the chemical. Then again, neither did we know much — or at least think much — about the diseases spread by the pesky little mosquitoes.

Stories of malaria were, to me, just another war story my Uncle Ted told about his time during World War II landings in the Pacific islands. Yellow fever was a disease that killed a bunch of folks building the Panama Canal. As I got a little older in childhood I started hearing stories about “sleeping sickness” which mostly killed horses but would take a little kid’s life every now and then. It would be much later that I heard of “West Nile Virus” and just how much havoc the mosquito once wreaked upon our area of the Texas Gulf Coast and the world at large. For instance:

For a little historic perspective, about 100 residents of Beaumont and Sabine Pass — in my county — died from an 1862 outbreak of Yellow Fever. The late Southeast Texas historian W.T. Block wrote that the epidemic emanated from a Civil War blockade runner that had made it into the estuary of Sabine Pass.

If there is good news about the influx of skeeters as of late it is that most are the pesky “salt marsh” mosquito which are not carriers of West Nile. The Jefferson County Mosquito Control District says the medium-sized brown mosquitoes are distinguished with white bands on their legs. The mosquitoes are

 ”  … very aggressive biters, both day and night. The eggs are deposited in rice fields, fallow fields, & pastures in any depression that will hold water, including hoof prints. These mosquitoes are attracted to Beaumont and other areas in the western half of the county by the glow of lights at night, which are easily seen from as far away as Fannett or China (Texas) We try to intercept these mosquitoes on the edge of town as they migrate in. Residents can do nothing to help us control this species.”

Personally, I try not to look at the mosquitoes any longer than it takes to swat or smash them. I therefore don’t search for bands on their legs. Also fortunate, they seem to be pretty slow and are pretty easy to slap away.

On the list of supplies to take along on my next trip for work will be the can of Off. I can it place the needed spray in the trunk right next to that cold-weather blanket that I don’t need. I guess if all else fails, perhaps then might be the time to search for a gator.



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