We’ve been having Indian summer here in the South, which has allowed me to continue my afternoon jogs through the neighborhood wearing only shorts and a t-shirt.
Though I haven’t needed protection from the autumn chill, I do wish I had something that repelled the clouds of gnats that have emerged from a nearby tree stand. These tiny insects assemble into large mating swarms at dusk, and become so maddened by desire that they fail to notice the lumbering human who comes huffing into their midst.
Nothing like a big, sweaty fat guy barreling through your free-floating love-in to spoil a tender moment. Just as the guys have convinced the gals that they’re interested in a committed, exclusive long-term relationship — in gnat terms, about 30 seconds — the mood is ruined.
I hate to inconvenience any living creature (except perhaps those I eat) so I try to watch for these gnats and avoid them when I can. Trouble is, they’re so small as to be practically invisible to the naked eye. Unfortunately, they can still be easily detected by the other senses.
If you’re mouth-breathing your way through the second mile of your run, it’s not uncommon to suddenly find yourself with a maw full of small bugs. Were I halfway through a marathon, I might appreciate the protein boost. But since it’s just a short jog, I’d rather not be consuming the unintended appetizer so close to dinner.
And they don’t just get into your mouth. Some species, called “eye gnats,” are actually attracted to your eyes, feeding on the lachrymal secretions we know as tears. Others head up your nostrils, while their friends go in your ears.
I don’t know how many gnats I’ve absorbed into various head holes in the last few weeks. I bet it’s a lot. And I bet some of them are still in there.
So I must acknowledge that today, I am not working on this blog post alone. I don’t want to be so species-centric as to ignore the impressions that others involved have of this phenomenon. I think it’s only fair that the gnats have their say, and so am turning the rest of this piece over to them.
EYE GNAT: Thanks for the opportunity, Davis. A lot of people barely acknowledge our existence and, if they do, it’s only with a wave of their hand trying to disperse us from their face. We’re eager to tell our side of the story, and appreciate this chance.
You humans see us as pests, and yet we’re actually a very important part of the ecosystem. Our life isn’t much — we hatch from larva, we fly around a while, we mate, we die — but it shouldn’t be judged from the perspective of someone who has access to hundreds of cable channels. Just like other living creatures, we have good times and bad.
As my name implies, I have a thing for eyes. I love all colors and all lash lengths. I don’t care if you have poor vision or the eyes of a hawk. As long as you’re still moist enough to be secreting tears, I’m there.
What I like most about what your scientists call “lachrymal secretions” is the salt. If you’ve ever tasted your own tears, you know how flavorful they can be. We don’t have access to a lot of salt in the natural world.
My turn-offs include too much eye makeup (especially blue eye-liner, which I’m allergic to) and contact lenses. We can work our way in behind regular eyeglasses, but contacts are just too tight a fit. I had an uncle who managed to get behind one once, and he was never heard from again.
Gary, you want to talk some about ear gnats?
EAR GNAT: Sure, Hal, and thanks.
I’ll be glad to speak for those of us here in the ear, but I would like to make it clear that we’re not necessarily “ear gnats.” We just ended up here by accident.
There are many good things about the human ear. I’d have to say, though, that my favorite is the wax. While all of us get our basic nutrition from different places, there’s really only one sweet treat delightful enough to be considered a dessert in the insect world, and that’s ear wax.
You have to be careful how you approach it so you don’t get stuck. I try to remain airborne while I’m in the ear canal, then swoop down and get a little bit of wax on my legs. From there, it’s pretty easy to wipe off and eat.
I knew a guy once who did get stuck, and it was a pretty nasty affair. It wasn’t the wax that did him in, it was the host’s response to all the wiggling he did trying to get free. The human finally stuck a Q-Tip in there (even though the instructions specifically tell you not to do that) and basically crushed the gnat into the wax.
The other danger, of course, is going in too far and being unable to get back out. Once you reach a certain depth, you’re pretty much into the cranial cavity. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled raw human brain, but it’s pretty bad. You lose your appetite completely in there and then, because there’s not a lot of oxygen, you also lose your life. Hosts hate that, because many times your corpse will decay and cause a brain infection.
There are definitely safer places to hang out. Lynn, tell us about the nose.
NOSE GNAT: Yeah, it’s fairly safe in here, Gary, but again, it’s pretty much an accident when we fly into someone’s nose.
What I like is the cozy nature of the nostril. We spend the entire four months of our lives in the Great Outdoors, so to have the chance to chill out in a virtual cathedral, even for a few seconds, is a real treat.
I like the high ceilings, and the way the hairs grow up from the bottom and down from the top, much like the stalactites and stalagmites of a cave. You can usually find a nice corner out of the airstream, and it makes a great place to grab a quick nap.
People don’t realize how little sleep we get, and it’s amazing how refreshed I’ll feel after a few minutes chilling up the nose. If you don’t move around too much, your host will never even notice you’re in there.
I guess the one big concern is with nose-pickers. You’re snoozing away, dreaming some amazing fantasy, then all of a sudden a giant fingernail scoops you up and wipes you under a desk. Once that happens, you’re trapped forever. The most you can hope for is that your children come visit your grave.
Steve, what’s going on down there in the mouth?
MOUTH GNAT: Help! Help! This guy is starting to chew! What kind of a disgusting omnivore have I gotten myself involved with?
Help! Hel–. Argh!
Let’s throw it back to Davis.
DAVIS: Thanks, Steve. And, sorry about that. Didn’t know you were in there.
I’d like to thank you four, and the thousands of your nameless cohorts who feel so compelled to fly into my face. We’ve all gained some amazing insight into what it’s like to be on the lower rungs of the animal kingdom and, I think, gained a renewed appreciation for life in all of its forms.
Now, when I see you guys hovering in the distance, I won’t be so quick to put my head down and try to bull right through you. (Not that that would work. I bet you’ve got hair gnats in the swarm too).
With cold weather in the forecast as soon as this weekend, I imagine I won’t see much of you for the rest of the season. Here’s hoping that we can get back together in the spring.
See you then. And thanks for the help with the blogging.
HAL: Don’t mention it.
GARY: Glad to help.
LYNN: No prob.
STEVE: Aaahhh! Please stop with all the talking!!