With a match and a scratch, this is how you conjure smells of a great Aussie summer

They may (or may not) have kept the dance of mosquitoes quiet for decades, but those curly coils are a sure sign for suckers, writes Rebecca Levingston

Feb 14, 2024, updated Feb 14, 2024
Who cares if they work or not, the mosquito coil is the bringer of precious summer memories (and other facts). Image: TheCoversation

Who cares if they work or not, the mosquito coil is the bringer of precious summer memories (and other facts). Image: TheCoversation

Mosquito coils have not changed since I was a kid.

Green chalky spirals that are impossible to detach without breaking. It’s a design flaw and frankly I admire the manufacturers stubborn commitment to space management.

You can fit more coils in a tin when two are interlaced like yin yang snakes. Yes they’ll snap upon opening, but no we will not change.

Steadfast. Reliably broken. I respect it. In this world of impossible perfection. Thank goodness something is cracked and functional. It’s a relief.

I love the smell of coils too. It’s camping, it’s summer, it’s smoky mosquito memories.

A single coil will repel mozzies for up to 20 square metres according to my rusty tin. Is anyone checking? 30 coils tightly packed that’ll burn for 240 hours. It’s a scent from my childhood that can instantly transport me to a tent.

I was born in Darwin and my parents would take us camping in spots where you had bigger bites to worry about than mozzies. There aren’t a lot of photos of us in the Northern Territory but occasionally I’ll find a family shot with a “Beware of Crocodiles” sign featured prominently. Cheers to 1970s parenting.

Having survived the NT croc exposure, my brother visited me recently and we started talking about insects as a coil provided silent hazy protection in the background. He told me that insects weigh more than every other living thing combined.

Cue: adult sibling disagreement.

“That can’t be right,” I said, flicking an ant off my knee.

Reader: it is.

According to the Royal Entomological Society there are approximately 1.4 billion insects for every person on Earth. The total weight of all the insects in the world is about 70 times more than all the people.

My brother was correct. He can’t remember my birthday but he can remember lots of weird and wonderful stuff. Did you know there are 2.5million ants for every human on the planet? Right now there are 20 quadrillion ants on Earth. I didn’t even know that quadrillion was a number.

20, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000. 15 zeroes in case you’re having trouble counting.

Back to mozzies.

The other fact that had me buzzing recently is that Australia is is home to over 300 kinds of mosquitoes. And with all the rain around lately, mozzies are multiplying.

There’s a particularly aggressive “flood mosquito” hovering like a squad of mini helicopters waiting to land across Queensland. We’re the third most mosquito rich country in the world. Crikey. Don’t put that on a tourism campaign.

Associate Professor Nigel Beebe from the University of Queensland slapped down a few mozzie myths flying around. Your blood type doesn’t make you more delicious. Eating certain foods or drink will not make you more or less appealing to bloodsuckers.

A mosquito will choose who to bite based on your carbon dioxide plume (what you exhale) which they’ll find and fly up using a zig zag flight pattern like some kind of sneaky dance.

They’ll detect how much heat you give off (they prefer warmer hosts) and land on you a few times to determine your skin’s oil breakdown created by your microbiome (that’s the collection of all microbes like bacteria, fungi and viruses that naturally live on our bodies).

Ultimately, how you smell decides if you’ll make for a mozzie feast. Only the females bite. And get this, some people actually repel mosquitoes.

Feeling itchy? Me too. Light a coil. See if you can do it without breaking.

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