the amazing mosquito

anyone who is familiar with my sleeping habits will tell you that it almost takes an act of god (or some other suitable deity) to get me out of bed. apparently, mosquitoes work, too.

a few nights ago, i was awakened in the deep, dark night by that all-too-familiar eeeeeeeeeeee sound – you know, the feeding call of your friendly neighborhood mosquito. i flailed my arms around, trying to swat my nemesis, but it was all in vain. it might veer away for a few moments, but it always came back, homing in on the precious territory right above my ear. i tried hiding under the covers, but i could still hear it, hovering on the other side of my grey flannel shield. pretty soon, i felt like my whole body was crawling with unwanted visitors; every little itch or twinge became a harbinger of bites to come.


this has happened before, of course. i usually turn on all the lights and wait quietly in bed with the patience of oceans – anything to rid myself of these miniature flying vampires (my buddhist sensibilities take a break when it comes to mosquitoes and cockroaches). if elaine is sleeping near me, though, i can’t very well wake her up to suffer with me. what to do?

i did the only thing possible – i went and slept on the couch, closing the bedroom door behind me. in retrospect, this wasn’t really a gallant thing to do, leaving the damsel to face the dragon alone, but i don’t really think straight at 4 in the morning (sorry, sweetie…).

as i was drifting off to sleep, happy on the couch, the math geek in me started wondering about the odds. i mean, how big is my room, and how can such a small bug home in on a potential dinner (me) so quickly, and without fail?
mosquito mathematics
my room is 16ft x 12ft x 14ft, or roughly 4.6 million cubic inches. if i assume the little guy fills up about 1 cubic inch of that space, then this means he’s searching a volume 4.6 million times his own size. let’s translate this into human terms – if i turn myself into a box 6ft tall, 2ft wide, and 0.5ft thick (ignoring the paunch, of course), then this means i fill up about 6 cubic feet, or 10400 cubic inches. the corresponding volume for me to search would be 48 trillion cubic inches (28 million cubic feet).

now, if the juicy space above my ear (the one the mosquito always finds) is about 1 cubic inch, then this is 0.00002% of the total volume of the room. translating into our human terms above, this would be 5 cubic feet out of 28 million.
mmmm…human pizza
so what does this mean? imagine a room that is one mile long, 10 feet tall, and 500 feet wide (roughly 28 million cubic feet). now pack the room with 5.6 million boxes of equal size (each filling 5 cubic feet). to make things interesting, let’s say you’re starving to death, and one of those boxes contains a nice hot Dominoe’s Pizza – you can smell it, vaguely, but the lights are out in the room and you absolutely have to have that pizza. (hey, this might make a good reality-TV show…)

that’s a pretty tall order, even if you can smell the pizza (fyi, if you opened 1 box every second, it would take you 3900 days to look through them all). of course, our mosquito friend has wings, and he’s not slowed down by having to open boxes, so my example is a little extreme, but you get the idea.

it’s pretty amazing. i think these guys are going to be around long after the nuclear winter, chillin with the cockroches. i wonder if they can get their little probosci through those hard cockroach shells…

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