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The bugs are back with a biting vengeance in Alaska
Anchorage Daily News


June 14, 2005

Anchorage, Alaska - They buzz and bite and swarm. They drive people indoors, torment gardeners, stampede the tourists.

It's the Incredible Return of the Bugs, sequel to last spring's fierce hatch, and many people say they've never been pricked and pestered with such vengeance.

We're talking jillions here: mosquitoes, aphids, dragonflies, midges, gnats, hornets, beetles and assorted creepy-crawlies with all those weird Latin names.

But then, don't we always say that?

"I wouldn't get into a panic, thinking, 'Oh my god! Something has happened in the environment that's going to overwhelm us!' " said Fred Sorensen, coordinator of integrated pest management for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in Anchorage. "Or that they're getting more aggressive. It's not like they've turned feral. They are already. It's just that there are a lot more out there."

No one keeps statistics; there's no "bug index." But many people insist they've never seen the like. Walk through the brush, and you get aphid dandruff. Mosquitoes battle all attempts to plant, weed and prune.

It feels like war, and by most accounts the bugs, especially mosquitoes, have won.

"They're horrendous," said Matanuska-Susitna resident Bea Adler. "When you're in an area that's got no relief in the form of concrete or pavement, and it's just greenery, you are food. ... I spray myself down with bug repellent and go outside and start, and as soon as I disturb some dirt they're on me."

The backyard delphiniums will have to wait, said Gretchen Nelson, a school librarian who lives next to Ti- kishla Park in East Anchorage. "I'll start gardening, and it's like - veerroom! - the fighter jet mosquitoes. It's not the big slow bombers that overwinter in the snow."

Anchorage geologist Kevin Frank said building a dock at his cabin on West Beaver Lake was horrible. "Somehow they always know when your hands are full," he said.

Tourists at Earthquake Park were seen running back to their bus, batting the air and holding their heads. Mosquitoes shut down a family fishing trip to the Little Susitna River last weekend, said Bear Valley resident Jackie Morrissey.

"There were about 1,000 of them, probably in each swarm," said her 8-year-old daughter, Haley. When it was all over, the third-grader from Denali Elementary School counted 132 bites on her body - 47 on one arm alone.

Outdoor workers may have it worst of all.

"There's pretty much a black cloud around as you walk - they're everywhere," said Mike Wintch, who maintains trails and campgrounds at Nancy Lake State Recreation Area.

"We're loading on the DEET and wearing head nets and wearing gloves. Campers that are coming up, they aren't even getting out of their RVs. ... We had two trail volunteers come up and quit after two days because they couldn't take the bugs another day."

There is a bright side. Not all species of mosquitoes target people, and only females need that blood meal for their eggs. So at any moment, most skeeters ignore you.

"Think of all the bats and swallows and birds and fish," Sorensen said. "This is the food chain, and they are going to benefit from all these mosquitoes. It's all cumulative. It's just going to be a banner year."



Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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