COURTESY IAN RUSSELL / WHYFILES.ORG
A male Toxorhynchites mosquito flies on a tether near a microphone that is recording his wing-beat frequency. Researchers were studying how the insects signal each other through variations in their wing beats.
Huge, helpful cannibal mosquito kills forest pests
You're the first one up -- the shower's yours! But when you pull back the shower curtain, you're greeted by what looks like a giant mosquito on steroids.
You freeze. It freezes. You close the curtain and stop for a reality check: Surely it's just too early to take a shower. Why, you're still in the middle of a nightmare.
But the giant mosquito won't leave, so you begin looking for something to defend yourself with.
Wait -- don't swat!
That mosquito is not interested in you or your blood, it's a cannibal to other mosquitoes. The larvae of these "cannibal mosquitoes" give this group of insects (in the genus Toxorhynchites) their fearsome name. The larvae eat the larvae of other mosquitoes, then grow up to be nonthreatening adults that prefer to sip nectar and other plant juices as they cruise the forests, or your porcelain fixtures if they mistakenly land in your home.
The adults seem to love showers, toilet bowls and other moist areas. The muggier your bathroom, the better.
Although it might be an Alfred Hitchcock moment the first time you encounter one of these giant insects, you can gently coax them away or just share the space with them.
Given the dangers that mosquitoes have carried throughout history (dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever, for starters), a cannibal mosquito seems like something we could learn to love ... or at least tolerate.
They were introduced to Hawaii in the hope that they would be the answer to our need for pesticide-free mosquito control. "And they are doing just that," says Neal Evenhuis, chairman of the Bishop Museum's Natural Sciences Department. "They're doing fine in the hills, wiping out mosquitoes in the rain forest."
This is great news for the native birds that have been in decline since the introduction of other disease-carrying mosquitoes in the 1800s. But the news is less hopeful for humans in urban areas.
These mosquitoes aren't dumb. They can support their families just fine away from the city, raising their young in some of Hawaii's most beautiful forests without destroying other life.
But maybe there's room for the occasional lost cannibal mosquito that finds its way to our homes. All they need is a little understanding from us humans when we encounter them. Who knows? Maybe they'll like us enough to return to urban areas.
As the days shorten, some of these plants are giving us a show throughout the night. This climbing Mexican cactus gives us a reason to linger outside a bit, before giving in to the fading sun at summer's end. Our family spotted some emerging roadside blooms along a winding Maui road on the drive to the airport last week. In Honolulu the quarter-mile "hedge" of fleshy, green, meandering growth at Punahou School and on the stone wall around Liliuokalani Church in Haleiwa draws visitors and residents alike.
Ruddy turnstones? Phil Bruner of Brigham Young University-Hawaii is interested in hearing from anyone who has seen a banded ruddy turnstone ('akekeke) returning to the islands from Alaska. Call 293-3820 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
teaches botany, ethnobotany and environmental science at Chaminade University. Her column runs on the last Monday of the month. E-mail her at email@example.com