If you had asked me a little over a year ago, when I was safely ensconced in Manhattan, about threats I couldn’t see, I probably would have said carbon monoxide. Nuclear radiation. Big Brother, maybe. Ask me now, and I’ll tell you no-see-ums.
Why is it that only insects and birds get named for their behavior or appearance? We have silverfish, walking sticks, and, of course, flies. And then there’s the fly’s nemesis, the flycatcher, a bird that, yes, catches flies. The yellow-bellied sapsucker has a yellow belly and sucks sap. And woodpeckers – don’t get me started on woodpeckers. (Although, while I presume that swallows do swallow, I don’t think there’s a causal relationship.)
In the mammalian world, though, there’s the anteater, and that’s as far as I get. There are descriptive adjectives, as in duck-billed platypus and laughing hyena (who just got a glimpse of a duck-billed platypus), but how did we end up with a pantheon of animal names so far-removed from the animals themselves? Why is a long-neck a beer and not a giraffe?
If only a no-see-um were a beer!
If you’re lucky enough to live in a place that doesn’t have no-see-ums, let me assure you: you can’t see ‘em. They’re these nasty little specks who make themselves known to you only by biting, and their size-to-pain ratio must be the biggest on the planet. If mosquitoes, which are much larger, bit commensurately, they’d feel like Rottweilers.
Our damp, cold spring has produced a bumper crop of no-see-ums, along with mosquitoes and every other kind of blood-sucking insect. It’s gotten so bad that it has set back our chicken coop construction. We’ve begun experimenting with industrial-strength insect repellents, but I’d much prefer to find a way to get rid of the things altogether. On the fire-with-fire principle, I’m thinking carbon monoxide or nuclear radiation.