That’s the total number of mosquito bites I received last week in Hawaii. Nineteen, despite trying to apply IPM with physical controls (long sleeves and long pants every single day—as a result of which I was bitten on the face, neck, fingers, and feet), cultural controls (dumping out any standing water and avoiding being outside from 5-8pm), and finally, chemical controls (some all natural insect repellent that gave both me and my husband headaches).
Of course, I started thinking evil thoughts about mosquitoes long before reaching 19. I’m not lucky enough to get small, well-behaved, M&M sized bumps. My bites turn into painful, raised hives, 1-2″ across, that itch irresistibly, swell into water blisters, and leave bruises (especially when I don’t touch them) that hang around for months afterwards.
I hate mosquitoes. They, unfortunately, can’t get enough of me.
At 4 a.m. one morning, I awoke to the sound of tropical birds, soft rain, and the unquenchable itch of the many mosquito bites that had woken me up. As I lay there awake, willing myself not to scratch, I found myself fantasizing about creating a highly contagious mosquito virus that would scramble the DNA of all the little bloodsuckers. (Someone has beat me to it.)
Mosquitoes are not native to Hawaii, so I didn’t even feel too bad as I imagined wiping out every last mosquito on the bloody island. If that didn’t work, my busy mind considered engineering super flying geckos to eat more mosquitoes, or (more realistically) setting out a sacrificial dish of blood as a trap and directing a concentrated stream of DEET straight into the writhing mass.
(I’m actually cringing a bit writing this, now that I’m no longer unbearably itchy.)
At that point, I realized that there was a definite limit to my compassion for animals, and that I had definitely reached it.
As a vegetarian, I don’t eat animals. When asked why, my standard answer is that I like animals more than I like to eat them. This is generally true. The friendships I’ve had with my companion animals have convinced me that if I can be healthy without meat, I’d rather not have all that death on my conscience. My choice not to eat meat has very little to do with the environment. Instead, it’s about the relationship I want to have with the animals that I share this planet with.
But the truth is that I don’t like all animals, I don’t feel equal amounts of compassion for all animals all the time, and there are circumstances under which I would be willing to hurt or kill animals. Disturbingly, those circumstances are easier to reach than I anticipated. Under the veneers of language, philosophy, and morality, my brain still has a primitive us vs. them mentality.
Sometimes I wonder if my vegetarianism and compassion for animals is a product of a sheltered suburban existence in which I am almost never in competition with other animals. I live on a second story, in a fairly dry environment, surrounded by miles of asphalt. We have had minor issues with ants and carpet beetles, but no centipedes, fire ants, wasps, black widows, or anything dangerous. If we had those, I am 100% positive I would not be looking for a peaceful and compassionate way to co-exist.
Does it even make sense to choose not to eat meat, yet mercilessly poison an entire ant colony with borax (after, admittedly, trying deterrents and other less extreme measures)? How close am I, are all of us, to being red in tooth and claw when our safety, territory, or even comfort are threatened?
The relationship between humans and other animals gets a big check mark in the it’s complicated box.
I’m curious how you navigate conflicts with other animals, especially if you follow a compassionate diet. Can you uphold that compassion when there’s a direct conflict of interest with another animal—mosquitoes, but also decidedly cuter, more empathetic animals like squirrels and mice?
Jennifer Mo is a concerned global citizen and a long time cat/book/tree person. You can follow her green journey at It’s Not Easy to be Green.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard