Finding a way to energize your insect war stories

Updated 8/11/2011 6:52 AM

Today, I want to talk about mosquitoes. I could talk about financial reporting, but you're depressed enough. So, I'm back to mosquitoes. But I just don't know what to say about them that's worth putting in the paper. That's something of a familiar seasonal dilemma for us editors. We want to be central to what people talk about in the suburbs, and we know that at this time in a hot, wet summer, people just about can't stop talking about mosquitoes.

But we're not always sure what to say and write that we haven't said many times before.

We have personal stories, to be sure. I could tell you, for instance, as I tell my neighbors when we brave the early evening humidity to walk our pets around the block, that I feel like I'm the featured drink during Free Slurpee Week at the Mosquito 7-Eleven. Or, as my wife and kids are more fond of saying, my bare head is an expansive landing pad and the first blood sucker to touch down just keeps waving the rest of his buddies on in. And you, like my neighbors, will probably jump in with your own analogies, your own chronicles of numbers killed per minute, welts on your arms, legs and neck, and minutes spent in the garden before you were forced to retreat back inside.

How, we editors often wonder, do we turn this kind of anecdotal sharing into engaging reading?

It can start with a curious reporter, like Daily Herald senior writer Jamie Sotonoff. Last week, Jamie, like almost any suburbanite this summer, came to wonder why the cicadas seem so loud this year. Is the population larger than usual? Is it a special year for cicadas? Is it just our imagination? So, she did her research, talked to some experts and found that no, it's not the size of the population; no, it's not so much a particular year on the cicada cycle; and no, it's not our imaginations.

The cicadas are indeed louder, but they're the same old cicadas that have been hanging around our houses year after year. It's just that they're, well, excited. The cicada libido, it turns out, gets from high heat and humidity what we humans get from springtime in Paris. And, as with us, that makes them sing.

And not just them. Katydids, crickets and, yes, mosquitoes, are all out partying like its 9:09, too, Sotonoff found, and the result is the nightly tumult with which we are all familiar. True, the electric hum of the mosquito doesn't add a lot to the evening's concert, but at least, thanks to Sotonoff's story, you may now know a little bit more than you did before about why the nights are so loud and the evenings so swarming with pests.

There are, of course, serious stories about mosquitoes and other insect pests that go beyond anecdote. We carry reports annually about the importance of eliminating standing water where they breed, about the routine ointments, sprays and treatments that repel them, and, most important and most timely in late August, about the West Nile and other health dangers they pose. We'll surely be carrying more of those as well in the waning weeks of summer.

These aren't necessarily the stories that will help you rescue your 401(k) or determine which political leader can best help you rescue your 401(k), but they have a peculiar value of their own.

They reinforce your own observations. They help you better understand what's happening in your neighborhood. And, perhaps best of all, they give you a little something extra to add when you venture out to share insect war stories with your friends and neighbors.

Jim Slusher,, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.