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CRITTERS


Female mosquitos become ravenously hungry during the egg-laying season, which is when swimmers are often at greatest risk


BLOODSUCKER


CLIMATE CHANGE As warmer waters worldwide have increased the number and range of some species of jellyfi sh, so has an increase in global air temperature given a number of insects a broader habitat. A recent study conducted in Canada found that the range of malaria-carrying mosquitoes has moved northward due to warming air and water temperatures. Early spring and milder winters were also cited as factors giving mosquitoes a leg-up in some regions. But climate change also works against some insects. According


to Kate Redmond – aka ‘The Bug Lady’ from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Field Station department – hot, dry weather in many areas has hit aquatic insect populations. “Many small ponds have dried completely, which has caused the immature stages of some aquatic insects, like some species of dragonfl y naiads, to get stranded before they mature,” she says. “The dragonfl y population is low this year and the number of mosquitoes, one of the dragonfl y’s favourite foods, is also down.” Essentially, many aquatic insects seem to have the same high standards for swimming locations as humans.


SHOULD I BE WORRIED? Certainly, there are some bugs in and near the water which can potentially be dangerous under the right circumstances – it is the great outdoors, aſt er all. But some of the crit ers we come across in our aquatic travels are the very reason we are open water swimmers to begin with. Remember the fi rst time a dragonfl y landed on your head as you took a quick breather at a scenic lakeside beach? These are the special experiences where we get to marvel at nature and know we’re in an environment that’s home to a range of wondrous animals and well beyond the sterile confi nes of the swimming pool. Maybe Redmond, who’s been educating others on insects and the natural world since 1967, says it best, with her respect for our insect companions on full display: “I’ve spent my life trying to get people outside, on to the land, into the water. Are there lakes I wouldn’t swim in? Sure. I’m not a huge fan of leeches, despite research demonstrating how benefi cial their bites are.” But Redmond says many of the bug-borne ailments common to swimmers can be easily avoided or negated. She says swimmer’s itch, for example, can be neutralised by a shower right aſt er swimming. Not swimming at dawn or dusk – when mosquitos are most active – is also an important preventative measure.


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Once the go-to cure-all in medieval doctors’ arsenal, leeches fell out of favour as a medical solution in the mid-1800s, as the practice of medicine advanced. However, they are now back in vogue, particularly with micro-surgeons and plastic surgeons who need the precision of leeches’ tiny lacerating suckers to draw down swelling and help reestablish blood fl ow to certain kinds of wounds. Although some doctors might fi nd the lowly leech useful, most swimmers who have encountered them do not. Lake Cochituate in Wayland, Massachuset s has been the site of a higher-than-average number of leech infestations in the summer of 2012, according to several swimmers who’ve noticed them stuck to hands, feet, ankles, and arms. “I’ve had them twice this summer,” says Pamela O’Neill, the self-proclaimed “CEO and Founder of Pam’s Pond,” a group of open water swimmers who launch from her house every morning on the mile-long north pond of Lake Cochituate. O’Neill has swum in that lake more than a thousand times in the decade she’s lived there, and hasn’t had many leech encounters prior to this season. “One was on my fi nger and one was on the top of my foot,” she says.” Upon removing the leech from the top of her foot, O’Neill was leſt with a two-inch diameter bruise that lasted more than a week. “We seem to be get ing them later in the season here, and it’s not in sandy or rocky areas, but where it’s reedy or muddy,” she says. Another swimmer, Randy James, says he also discovered a tiny leech on his foot aſt er his daily two-mile swim one morning. It wasn’t big at all, but what James did observe is that leeches – even when they’re not at ached by a sucker – are sticky and can be tough to remove. “It was funny when a fellow swimmer tried to fl ick it off me. It stuck to him, and then it was hard for him to get it off his hand. They at ach very quickly.” Redmond agrees, saying leeches ‘are not shy about latching on.’ Isn’t that the very defi nition of leech?


Never wrench off a leech, as this can cause heavy bleeding. Rather, tease off its suckers. Don’t burn them off, as this can lead to wound infection.


Redmond adds that the threat of E. coli “because of human waste, agricultural run-off , or gull droppings on the beach” is much more off -put ing than the presence of insects. “So is chemical run-off from farms and lawns.”


The staggering number of hours the open water swimming community spends in proximity to such crit ers on a daily basis with an infrequent rate of complications just reinforces the idea that the water is open and fi ne. Come on in. ○


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