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How Holmes outsmarts us in The Adventure of the Speckled Band


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Hi there! I'm new to the forum, so excited to meet you all!

I've been reading the Sherlock Holmes stories since I was little, but no matter how hard I try, I never figured out the case before Holmes. I recently reread The Adventure of the Speckled Band to find out why, and I want to share my findings with you.

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(I'm using images from the Jemery Brett adaption of the story – great adaptation, btw)

 

Hiding evidence?

The simplest way to keep the ending a secret is to hide important evidence from the readers, but I don't think this is true for Speckled Band.

We are actually given a lot of hints that the killer was a snake. The snake is the puzzle piece that connected everything together – the dummy bell-pull, the ventilator, the milk, the whip, and the unknown cause of death.

There are hints spread all across the story for the snake. We know at the start of the story that Dr. Roylott (the culprit) keeps Indian animals around, and it's brought up a few times in the story. Holmes and Watson even run into the baboon at some point. Holmes talks about the milk and the safe being for a "cat", too. 

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Red herring

Instead of simply hiding evidence, the story uses more subtle strategies to mislead us. The famous red herring, the gypsy people on the estate, threw me off the track a lot. I remember both Helen Stoner (the client) and Holmes suspected them at some point. Of course, Holmes changed his mind after seeing the room for himself, but he didn't tell us that he changed his mind, so we are left thinking that the gypsy people are somehow connected to the case.

 

Holmes's thoughts

Another interesting thing I found is that we know less and less of Holmes's thoughts as the story goes on. At the start of the story, Holmes makes his usual sharp deductions about his client, and perfectly explains how he arrives at those conclusions.

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But as the story goes on, we start to only see him do things without much explanation. We see him examine the window, the bed, the bell-pull, and so on, but he doesn't say what he sees in them. I think this is a clever way to hide things from the readers without making us feel left out – we are still on the scene with him, but we don't know what exactly he is thinking anymore. 

Screenshot-2022-05-05-at-23-39-13.png

 

Let me know what you think about the story! If you have also tried to figure out the case before Holmes, please tell me know how it went!

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Greetings, L Lawliet, and welcome to Sherlock Forum!   :welcome:

I have a ridiculously hard time reading/viewing "The Speckled Band" objectively, simply because the title irritates me!

There was sufficient light in the room for the late sister to see the speckles, so it seems odd that she didn't recognize the snake as such, and "band" seems like a rather odd description for a snake-like object in any case.  Of course she said it as she was dying from its poison, so she probably wasn't thinking clearly, and may have been groping for words.  And then Holmes and others are simply trying to interpret what she said.

But why would anyone assume that "the speckled band" refers to a band of gypsies, merely because they wear speckled kerchiefs?  Wouldn't most people just say "the gypsies"?  If the late sister had a personal habit of referring to them in that way, it seems like the client sister would be aware of that and would inform Holmes.  But of course everyone (with the possible/probable exception of Holmes) is groping for a meaningful interpretation of the phrase, so they can't afford to toss out an idea simply because it doesn't make sense at first glance.

Nevertheless, the title is a blatant red herring (maybe this is what bugs me?), whereas Watson's titles are generally far more to the point.  Even others that are a bit fanciful don't tend to be misleading.  Do you (or anyone else here) know of any other red-herring Holmes titles?

 

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  • 1 month later...

Hello . . not sure our new member has come back since the OP.

On 5/8/2022 at 10:33 PM, Carol the Dabbler said:

Nevertheless, the title is a blatant red herring (maybe this is what bugs me?), whereas Watson's titles are generally far more to the point.  Even others that are a bit fanciful don't tend to be misleading.  Do you (or anyone else here) know of any other red-herring Holmes titles?

I'd forgotten about the band of gypsies . . they are the red herring but the title itself, just like Conan Doyle did with 'The Lion's Mane' tells us upfront 'who' the killer is.  I guess ACD was counting on the general ignorance of fauna when he came up with some of these titles.  The Lion's Mane is an actual species of large jellyfish that inhabits the English channel among other places.  Not having had the privilege of growing up in a marine area, I had no idea this animal existed but surely inhabitants of the English coast would be familiar?  Hard to imagine ACD fooled his contemporary readers that had experience of sea life.  Ditto this snake.  I'm assuming the speckled band came from the subcontinent, seeing as there aren't any poisonous snakes native to the British Isles that I'm aware of.  My herpetology is pretty non-existent, though.

We've discussed before our mutual dislike of this story, I think.  It's consistently ranked as the #1 fan favorite of the canon, and routinely appears in language arts textbooks geared to the middle school level.  I think this is where I first read this story.  I can see why it's chosen:  It's a rip-roaring 'boys' adventure', and the case is much more simplistic than is usual in a Holmes tale.  Most human beings have a natural aversion to snakes and this story conjures up a deliciously creepy/horrible scenario with a snake that can be enjoyed vicariously.  The stepfather is a villain, but there is nothing that would be considered too risque for an audience of pre-teens.  One does not tend to find Holmes fare like "The Solitary Cyclist" or "The Copper Beeches" so often in youth collections owing to the implication of sexual violence therein.  Or heavens forfend, something like 'The Yellow Face'!

There are some grand 'best friend bonding' moments between Holmes and Watson here but BAND is second-rate Holmes in my opinion, when it comes to the dialogue and the deductions.  My favorite stories are more layered and complex and make the Great Detective work for his conclusions.  In BAND it feels like Holmes sussed out the killer very soon and the rest of the story is him just padding it out for our (and Watson's) benefit.

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8 hours ago, Hikari said:

not sure our new member has come back since the OP.

They hung around for a few days, and presumably saw my response, but did not reply to it -- maybe because I told my own reactions to the story, rather than actually replying to their post?

8 hours ago, Hikari said:

I guess ACD was counting on the general ignorance of fauna when he came up with some of these titles.  The Lion's Mane is an actual species of large jellyfish that inhabits the English channel among other places.  Not having had the privilege of growing up in a marine area, I had no idea this animal existed but surely inhabitants of the English coast would be familiar?

That truly is odd!  Of course a lot of people aren't much into natural phenomena.  In one episode of Columbo (normally a top-notch detective series), he solves the case because he somehow recognizes a suspect's rash as specifically poison ivy rash, and because he knows that poison ivy doesn't grow in California, meaning that the suspect had been out of the state recently.  Fine and dandy -- except that a] poison-ivy rash (with which I am all too familiar) looks to me like a pretty typical contact-dermatitis rash, and b] the allergen in poison ivy is exactly the same substance as the allergen in poison oak, which does grow in California.  So I'm guessing whoever wrote that episode wasn't real up on natural stuff!  Maybe ACD himself fell into that category -- someone who comes across an intriguing fact and over-interprets it?

Or maybe he was facing a deadline?

 

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I didn't know that poison ivy doesn't grow in California so I learned something today.  Would the resulting rash really look that different from poison oak?  I'll leave that to Columbo.  Thankfully, I've never had either but I don't get to do much hiking in woodsy areas.

I think maybe ACD was surprised that the snake story was so popular.  He puts it in his own top 10 but not even he thought it was his best work.  Since he was writing to spec for magazine publication, he did have deadlines and also he was never that invested in his Holmes stories.  I think he probably did more research for his historical novels which he was convinced would make his reputation.  Holmes and Watson were just some ephemera that was going to end up in the bin or wrapping chips, so he thought.  Joke's on him, because apart from 'The White Company', nobody much remembers his adventuring novels.  He fancied himself the next Sir Walter Scott and I think Arthur was always rather miffed that he was best-known for the fictional detective he tried unsuccessfully to kill off.

'The LIon's Mane' is a pretty weak story as to the central 'crime' . . though as with a snake (or Jaws) I have a hard time blaming an animal for acting according to what comes naturally to it.  In BAND, the true villain is Grimsby Rylott and the snake is only his weapon of choice.  The Lion's Mane has no villain at all; just an unfortunate maritime accident.  But I quite like the Lion's Mane because Sherlock narrates it and it shows a decidedly gentler fuzzier side to him.  With no Watson around to show off for and be the 'thinking machine', Sherl is actually pretty down to earth in his retirement.   I think daily swims and chatting up the neighbors got boring quite soon and SH went back into harness in Her Majesty's Secret Service.  If ACD hadn't wanted to fold up the tent, we could have had lots more stories with Holmes.  As it is, we have to rely on other authors to carry on and invent new adventures for Sherl.

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5 minutes ago, Hikari said:

I didn't know that poison ivy doesn't grow in California ....

It turns out that Columbo wasn't entirely right about that, either.  The Eastern species doesn't occur west of the Rockies, but there's a species called Western poison ivy (which I never encountered, and so just found out about).

10 minutes ago, Hikari said:

Would the resulting rash really look that different from poison oak? 

I don't see how the rash could be any different at all, since the allergenic substance is precisely the same.

14 minutes ago, Hikari said:

... he was writing to spec for magazine publication, he did have deadlines and also he was never that invested in his Holmes stories.

Yes, it's a wonder the stories turned out to be so memorable anyway.  Just imagine how good they'd have been if he'd really been trying!

 

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On 6/27/2022 at 11:30 AM, Carol the Dabbler said:

It turns out that Columbo wasn't entirely right about that, either.  The Eastern species doesn't occur west of the Rockies, but there's a species called Western poison ivy (which I never encountered, and so just found out about).

I'm happy to see this addenda, as both my brother and my Dad had plenty of poison ivy rashes when we lived in California! I was beginning to question my memory!

Fortunately for me, I don't seem to be particularly susceptible to the stuff. Which is a good thing as there's a whole thickets of it in this area. But my poor brother gets a rash just by looking at it, practically. I've always found that odd, that different people have such different sensitivities to it. Maybe I just wear better socks. :D 

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36 minutes ago, Arcadia said:

... both my brother and my Dad had plenty of poison ivy rashes when we lived in California! I was beginning to question my memory!

Or it could have been poison-oak rash.  The plants look so similar that I knew what poison oak was the very first time I saw it -- the tips of its leaves are rounded whereas poison ivy leaves are pointed, but otherwise they look pretty much identical.  And their allergenic substance is identical.

40 minutes ago, Arcadia said:

Fortunately for me, I don't seem to be particularly susceptible to the stuff. Which is a good thing as there's a whole thickets of it in this area. But my poor brother gets a rash just by looking at it, practically. I've always found that odd, that different people have such different sensitivities to it. Maybe I just wear better socks. :D 

My father was like your brother, but my mother was immune to the stuff.  She would pull up ivy plants with her bare hands, to help Daddy avoid getting the rash.  Then one day she got a little patch of rash on her hand....

"Poison" ivy isn't actually poison, it's merely a very common allergen.  The first time anyone encounters any potential allergen, they don't react.  It may, as with Mom, take years of repeated exposure to provoke an allergic response.  But once they do develop an allergy, it's likely to become worse with repeated exposure.  So don't get too cocky!

 

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My former next-door neighbor had poison ivy growing on the brick wall of the building next to his property, mixed in with the climbing ivy that he was trying to prune back because it was overgrowing into his area.

He eschewed gloves and wound up with poison ivy all over his hands.  His way of dealing with outbreaks of the stuff was to douse the affected areas in straight bleach.

Yeah . . I was horrified too.  How did he have any skin left?  This is what 'first aid' looks like when you're a guy who grew up poor in the country.  

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4 hours ago, Hikari said:

He eschewed gloves and wound up with poison ivy all over his hands.  His way of dealing with outbreaks of the stuff was to douse the affected areas in straight bleach.

:blink:   What were the results?  Did it clear up the rash or did it dissolve his skin away, rash and all?  Don't knock it till someone else has tried it, I always say!

4 hours ago, Hikari said:

This is what 'first aid' looks like when you're a guy who grew up poor in the country.  

I grew up in the country, not poor, but working-class.  We used what I now assume was calamine lotion, but I don't recall it doing much for the itch.

The best thing I've ever found for poison ivy rash, bug bites, etc., is jewelweed lotion or salve, or just the fresh juice.  It's made from what's called "touch me not" around here (because when the seed capsules are ripe, they'll explode if touched, thus spreading the seeds far and wide).  It consists of a few species from the Impatiens genus, so the ornamental Impatiens species may (or may not!) have a similar medicinal value.  Here is the most common wild species, Impatiens capensis:

impatiens_capensis_photo2.jpg

Too bad I didn't know about the plant's itch-relieving properties when I was a kid -- there was a lot of it growing down along our creek!

 

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Funny -- we had tons of jewelweed in North Carolina, and it was highly touted as a salve for a variety of itches (and possibly other things, I forget.) But it never did me a bit of good. In fact, most itch-relieving products don't do much for me. What works best for me is rubbing alcohol. Stings like heck at first, but afterwards the itch goes away. Hydrocortisone is the next best thing, but I'm wary of using it too often (for some long-forgotten reason.) Also the relief is not as immediate, it seems to me.

I have a recurring rash on my left hand that I get about 3 times a year. At it's height it's maddening and I have tried a lot of things to control it. The two doctors I mentioned it to didn't seem to put much thought into it and just asked if I wanted a prescription for hydrocortisone, which I don't. It's not a really big deal, but I'd love to know why it's happening. That bugs me almost as much as the itch itself! I started having it after I was bitten/stung by something on that hand one spring a few years ago, and at first it occurred just once a year, in spring, always in the same spot, while I was working in the garden -- so I assumed allergic reaction to something in the yard. But then there were a couple years where I didn't have a yard to work in, and it got more frequent! Weird.

I finally started wearing gloves when working outside (after being repeatedly reminded I was being a dummy by family and friends :D  ) and that seems to have helped. The itch isn't quite as severe. But it still happens. In fact, I've got the beginnings of it right now. *sigh*

And boy, are we off topic ... sorry! :smile: 

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5 hours ago, Arcadia said:

... we had tons of jewelweed in North Carolina, and it was highly touted as a salve for a variety of itches (and possibly other things, I forget.) But it never did me a bit of good.

OK, so you're already familiar with the plant.  Do you happen to recall what color its flowers were?

5 hours ago, Arcadia said:

What works best for me is rubbing alcohol. Stings like heck at first, but afterwards the itch goes away.

I didn't realize till just the other day that two different types of alcohol are sold at drugstores.  One is typically labeled "Isopropyl Alcohol" but is often referred to as rubbing alcohol even though the description on my bottle says it's mainly intended as a disinfectant (e.g., the stuff they rub on your arm before an injection).  The other is actually labeled "Rubbing Alcohol," intended for use in massages; its active ingredient is ethyl alcohol, aka ethanol, aka grain alcohol, aka booze -- though the label on my bottle (70% ethyl alcohol) says FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY, so the other 30% apparently includes a "denaturing" (i.e., poisonous and/or nasty-tasting) substance.  So which kind are you talking about?

The brand of jewelweed lotion that we use contains isopropyl alcohol (as a preservative), but the salve that we bought recently is only jewelweed, olive oil, and beeswax.  And they both work for me -- the itching doesn't entirely go away, but calms down to a tolerable level for 12-24 hours, at which point I need another dose.  Each seems to work best if I "rub it in" well -- so maybe it's actually the rubbing (not to be confused with scratching!) that does the trick?

5 hours ago, Arcadia said:

I have a recurring rash on my left hand that I get about 3 times a year. At its height it's maddening and I have tried a lot of things to control it. The two doctors I mentioned it to didn't seem to put much thought into it and just asked if I wanted a prescription for hydrocortisone, which I don't.

I don't blame you for avoiding the hydrocortisone!  But it might be a good idea to have a dermatologist look at your rash, especially since you're getting it more often as the years go by.  The dermatologists I've encountered have definitely put more thought into such things than my GPs have.

5 hours ago, Arcadia said:

And boy, are we off topic ... sorry!

Well, at least we're talking about poison ivy, and the topic is a poison snake.   ;)

Hopefully we'll get more comments on the original topic, though!

 

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17 hours ago, Carol the Dabbler said:

OK, so you're already familiar with the plant.  Do you happen to recall what color its flowers were?

Orange, although I think there may have been some yellow ones too. We were told to simply rub the flower on the itch, maybe a more "processed" version may have worked better?

17 hours ago, Carol the Dabbler said:

I didn't realize till just the other day that two different types of alcohol are sold at drugstores.  One is typically labeled "Isopropyl Alcohol" but is often referred to as rubbing alcohol even though the description on my bottle says it's mainly intended as a disinfectant (e.g., the stuff they rub on your arm before an injection).  The other is actually labeled "Rubbing Alcohol," intended for use in massages; its active ingredient is ethyl alcohol, aka ethanol, aka grain alcohol, aka booze -- though the label on my bottle (70% ethyl alcohol) says FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY, so the other 30% apparently includes a "denaturing" (i.e., poisonous and/or nasty-tasting) substance.  So which kind are you talking about?

As far as I know I've only had the isopropyl kind, but it's possible that I've used the other too, without realizing they were different. As I recall, I discovered that it stopped the itching by accident when I was using it for something else, but the details escape me. I know the one in my cabinet right now is isopropyl, and an acquaintance told me that's what he uses too.

Seeing a dermatologist costs money, which I'm in short supply of, so unless it gets worse I may have to pass on that. :smile:  I've sure thought about it, though.

 

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3 hours ago, Arcadia said:

Orange, although I think there may have been some yellow ones too.

Sounds like the same two kinds we have around here, in about the same ratio.

3 hours ago, Arcadia said:

We were told to simply rub the flower on the itch....

One flower?  They're supposed to be medicinal, not magical.

3 hours ago, Arcadia said:

... maybe a more "processed" version may have worked better?

As I understand it, the potency is in the juice, so you need to crush enough of the plant to either create a juicy poultice or actually squeeze out a bit of juice.  In either case, rub it on the rash.  The lotion (which is the way I've mostly used jewelweed) is simply the juice preserved with alcohol.  (I've heard that freezing the straight juice also works well.)

Interesting that isopropyl alcohol seems to work for you approximately as well as jewelweed salve works for me.  If the alcohol and the jewelweed are each effective alone, then it's no wonder the combination (jewelweed lotion) also works.

 

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On 7/4/2022 at 1:14 PM, Carol the Dabbler said:
On 7/4/2022 at 9:03 AM, Arcadia said:

We were told to simply rub the flower on the itch....

One flower?  They're supposed to be medicinal, not magical.

Lol. No, the juice of the flower, enough to coat the itchy spot. They grew prolifically where we lived, we probably just grabbed a handful and crushed them. I know my Mom tried it too but wasn't too impressed, I guess, since it didn't become a go-to solution. The consistency may have been off-putting too; as I recall it was a bit sticky?

Interestingly enough (well, interesting to ME :P ) I'm not very attractive to mosquitos either. People around me will be slapping like crazy and I don't have a single one around me. I found one on my arm yesterday, but it wasn't biting, just sitting there. (I smushed it anyway, for the betterment of mankind.)

On the other hand, I get swarmed by noseeums (gnats); they bite me like mad, and their bites are much worse than mosquito bites. Yet a lot of other people don't seem bothered by them.

Weird, huh?

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23 minutes ago, Arcadia said:

I know my Mom tried it too but wasn't too impressed, I guess, since it didn't become a go-to solution. The consistency may have been off-putting too; as I recall it was a bit sticky?

Rubbing your rash with crushed jewelweed might be a bit sticky, yeah.  I've never tried it.  I've never noticed any stickiness from either the homemade juice or the lotion I bought at the health-food store, though.  It doesn't entirely stop my itches (which may be why you weren't impressed), but it does makes them considerably more bearable.

28 minutes ago, Arcadia said:

Interestingly enough (well, interesting to ME :P ) I'm not very attractive to mosquitos either. People around me will be slapping like crazy and I don't have a single one around me. I found one on my arm yesterday, but it wasn't biting, just sitting there. (I smushed it anyway, for the betterment of mankind.)

On the other hand, I get swarmed by noseeums (gnats); they bite me like mad, and their bites are much worse than mosquito bites. Yet a lot of other people don't seem bothered by them.

My worst bites apparently come from chiggers, a type of mites which are, I believe, a uniquely American pest.  They can't fly, they just crawl in search of protected areas, so my husband has found that applying tea-tree oil to his ankles before mowing the grass cuts way down on the number that make it any further.  So I've recently started applying it to my forearms before doing any heavy weeding, and it does seem to help.  I still get a few bites, but jewelweed makes those bearable.

I don't seem to be as attractive to mosquitos as some people, but they do bite me.  As for gnats, we're sometimes mobbed by them, but I'm not sure whether they bite or not.  Maybe I've been blaming their effects on mosquitos?  Oh, and there's the occasional flea bite -- those are pretty distinctive.

Good ol' summertime!   :P

 

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I'm a mosquito magnet! They will chew on me mercilessly. And if I don't get medicine on me immediately I swell up and itch for days. I usually carry a Benadryl stick with me especially when I might be outdoors. One got in the house a few weeks ago and before I could kill it I had at least eight welts.

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4 hours ago, kimber8ada said:

One got in the house a few weeks ago and before I could kill it I had at least eight welts.

I thought each mosquito bit only once -- guess I was wrong!  Or else you managed to shoo her away each time before she'd drunk her fill.

4 hours ago, kimber8ada said:

I'm a mosquito magnet!

Here are some reasons why mosquitos prefer some people over others (from health/medical/scientific sites online):

* They prefer type O blood over B, and B over A (though this may vary by species of mosquito), but in any case:
* They prefer people whose blood type is revealed by a substance secreted into their sweat
* The more carbon dioxide a person exhales, the more easily a mosquito can find them
* They are attracted to hot and/or sweaty people (and some people's sweat attracts them more than other's)
* They are attracted to dark clothing colors, especially black, so pastels and white are safest
* They're attracted to people who've recently drunk beer.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 7/6/2022 at 12:24 PM, Carol the Dabbler said:

My worst bites apparently come from chiggers, a type of mites which are, I believe, a uniquely American pest.  They can't fly, they just crawl in search of protected areas, so my husband has found that applying tea-tree oil to his ankles before mowing the grass cuts way down on the number that make it any further.  So I've recently started applying it to my forearms before doing any heavy weeding, and it does seem to help.  I still get a few bites, but jewelweed makes those bearable.

Oh yes, chiggers are horrible. I don't have a lawn at this new place, tho, so I don't seem to be troubled by them (yet). But I know what you mean.

I was walking past some jewelweed a couple days ago and tried it out on an itchy spot; not particularly sticky after all, but not particularly effective either. :smile: 

On 7/7/2022 at 9:30 AM, kimber8ada said:

I'm a mosquito magnet! They will chew on me mercilessly. And if I don't get medicine on me immediately I swell up and itch for days. I usually carry a Benadryl stick with me especially when I might be outdoors. One got in the house a few weeks ago and before I could kill it I had at least eight welts.

Eeek!😞 

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On 7/7/2022 at 1:48 PM, Carol the Dabbler said:

I thought each mosquito bit only once -- guess I was wrong!  Or else you managed to shoo her away each time before she'd drunk her fill.

Here are some reasons why mosquitos prefer some people over others (from health/medical/scientific sites online):

* They prefer type O blood over B, and B over A (though this may vary by species of mosquito), but in any case:
* They prefer people whose blood type is revealed by a substance secreted into their sweat
* The more carbon dioxide a person exhales, the more easily a mosquito can find them
* They are attracted to hot and/or sweaty people (and some people's sweat attracts them more than other's)
* They are attracted to dark clothing colors, especially black, so pastels and white are safest
* They're attracted to people who've recently drunk beer.

 

In the 1990s I taught English in Japanese middle schools for three years, introductory English for students in grades 7-9.  My first year coincided with the debut of new English textbooks from the Japanese Ministry of Education, and the first lesson for the 7th graders was on mosquitoes, no lie.  I actually learned something from this very basic lesson--that the female mosquitoes are the ones that bite because they need blood to lay their eggs.  I thought it was a weird and less-than-engaging topic selection for a first lesson in English for 12-year-olds.  Japan is a very humid country with lots of insects in the summer and rather sadistically in this 'gaijin's' opinion, they require their children to be in school until the end of July, in unairconditioned school buildings.  So to be studying about mosquitoes in high summer was seasonally appropriate but not the kind of material that would make a kid say , "Wow, I love English!"

I have A-type blood, so theoretically I should be the least delicious of all to mosquitoes.  But I like to drink beer on my porch of a summer's evening so there's that.  It's been so dry this summer I hardly saw any mosquitoes until the last few days after we finally got rain.  Then they came right out like malignant fairies.

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