Nature’s deadliest predator

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Steve Lekwa

I recently enjoyed helping with two hunter education classes. The classes, as always, were taught by volunteer instructors and our dedicated state conservation officers. There are two more class options available this fall in Story County. A field day course is being offered at McFarland Park on September 13 starting at 5:00. This course offers people who have taken the on-line version of the course a chance to complete their requirements for certification. The second course is a classroom course being offered by Nevada Parks and Recreation at Gates Hall. This 10-hour class will meet from 6:30 to 9:00 on four evenings: Oct. 18, 20, 25, and 27. Each class requires that participants preregister through the Iowa DNR’s website and each has limited enrollment.

The International Hunter Education Association sends a quarterly publication to each registered volunteer instructor full of articles on how to better get the safe and ethical hunting message across to students wishing to hunt. Information in an article by Joe Arterburn in the summer edition is worth passing on. It’s made me reevaluate my ideas on a safety practice that I’ve been rather lax about over the years.

What do you think is the world’s deadliest predator? If you answered a lion, tiger, bear, or shark you’d be wrong. Dropping down the predator list for meanest per pound you might suggest a wolverine, weasel, or maybe even a short-tailed shrew. They are all fearless killing machines, but they’re still not the deadliest predator (at least to people). In terms of the number of people killed per year, the deadliest predator by far is the tiny little mosquito, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been only a few cases so far, but Zika virus is getting lots of press right now because it’s new to North America. We hear little about West Nile Virus, but it was big news a few years ago when it first showed up. It has since spread to all the lower 48 states and Iowa recently reported its first human case for 2016. We never hear about Malaria around here, but that disease alone kills more than 600,000 of the estimated 725,000 people that are killed by mosquito-born illnesses each year. Even humans kill each other at a rate of only about 475,000 per year. Snakes take out another 50,000, and dogs (via rabies) claim 25,000. Sharks get lots of press when they attack someone, but they kill only about 10 people per year around the world.

Death by any predator attack is not a pleasant topic, but a shark or bear attack, though violent, is pretty quick. Death from a mosquito-born disease may finally come after days or even weeks of suffering. Many thousands more people who survive mosquito-born diseases suffer life-changing residual effects for years. Given the risk posed by mosquitoes, I’ve had to grudgingly accept that the mosquito fogger that buzzes by our house some evenings may be necessary even though it probably kills as many non-target insects as it does mosquitoes.

Before you vow to lock yourself indoors until killing frosts make outdoor recreation safe again, let’s get this issue into perspective. Only about 1% of people who contract West Nile Virus develop the most serious form of the disease. Most people don’t even know they’ve had it and show no symptoms at all. You can still go outdoors safely if you take a few precautions and use some preventive measures to reduce the chance of being bitten by mosquitoes. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants especially around sunset when mosquitoes are most active. Wear a good repellent containing Deet on exposed skin. You can even purchase a pocket sized battery powered repellent dispenser that keeps an area around you relatively mosquito free. One made by the ThermaCELL company is reported to repel biting flies and even those pesky little no-see-ums, as well.

I have tolerated mosquito bites over the years because they seemed to be just a normal part of being outdoors, and staying indoors has never been a popular option for me. The bites tend not to welt up or itch for long on me so I just ignored them. The odds of getting a serious form of a mosquito-born disease that has been found in Iowa is still very low, but the potential for serious illness or even death is still there. I think I’d better pay more attention to preventive measures as I head out. I hope you will too.