If, when trudging though a marsh or swamp, or even just passing an old water butt or a puddle in the road, you should become aware of a high pitched whining noise, there can be little doubt that a Skeetoh has noticed your presence, and is enamoured of you. This infuriating fly is a perpetual bane of anyone travelling or working in areas where still water is abundant, and their bites a lasting aggravation to those who’ve met with them. The sight of a large fly, weaving erratically though the air, barely able to keep airborne under the weight of a stomach full of your blood, is enough to inspire an undying loathing in the mind of almost any sentient being.
Appearance. A relatively unobtrusive looking little fly, except perhaps among the larger northern race, the Skeetoh is perhaps best described as a collection of long, gangly legs and insubstantial wings slung around a pendulous spherical abdomen, with a needle-like feeding-tube at the front. They are fairly gracile, fragile insects, easily swatted if you can catch them, but deceptively evasive in their erratic flight. They fly on meandering paths which even the Skeetoh doesn’t seem entirely sure of, making them very hard to catch, despite not being particularly fast or agile flyers. Perhaps most characteristically, they emit a high wailing noise in flight, which is to some people almost as irritating as the bites it heralds.
Picture description. The nasty skeetoh flies, found in marshes or swamps usally not the most welcomed travel companions... Image drawn by Seeker.
The abdomen is almost spherical when the fly has recently fed, and a vivid blood red from the fluid inside. If the Skeetoh’s belly is empty, though, the abdomen shrinks to a small cylindrical shape, in which creases can be seen running lengthwise, to allow for expansion when feeding. The elastic qualities of the abdomen are remarkable - the abdomen of a hungry Moss Skeetoh is only two or three nailsbreadths long, but when sated it can swell to the size of a ripe redberry or even larger. The two southern subspecies, known as Skitch and Skeeters, are considerably smaller, with the whole fly rarely longer than two nailsbreadths. The transparency of the abdomen, best visible when full of blood, does not apply to the rest of the Skeetoh’s body, which is a dark greyish black, and slightly hairy.
The head is taken up almost entirely by a pair of round, protrusive eyes, the short, feathered antennae, and of course the mouth, which takes the shape of a long needle-like tube, which is stabbed into the flesh of prey to draw up the blood. The length of this feeding-tube varies depending on the subspecies - the largest belong to the northern Moss Skeetohs, which need them to pierce the thick skin of prey such as wison and thunderfeet.
In general all four subspecies tend to be referred to as Skeetoh, unless specific differentiation is required. It should also be noted that the fly most people are familiar with is only the adult form, and more than half the Skeetoh’s life is spent underwater, as a small wormlike larvae, transparent and adorned with plume-like tendrils at the head end, through which food is filtered.
There are four main races or subspecies of Skeetoh, divided according to their territory:
The Skeetoh ("Moss Skeetoh")
The Skeetoh, or "Moss Skeetoh", is the largest and hardiest kind, growing to four or five nailsbreadths in total length. They dwell in the north, and so are relatively sturdily built, with more hair on their bodies and larger, tougher wings, as well as prominent and threatening-looking feeding-tubes.
The Skeeter lives in Southern Sarvonia, and is considerably smaller, at less than two nailsbreadths long, on average. It is also slighter in build, with relatively longer legs and narrower, more fragile wings.
The Skitch (a dwarven name for the insect, pronounced with a distinct curl of the lip and a plosive) is rarer, living only in the caves and mountains of Southern Sarvonia. It is even smaller than the Skeeter at only one nailsbreadth long or less, though it’s feeding-tube is proportionally the largest of all, at over half a nailsbreadth.
Rarer than all of these is the little known Skeeoh, which dwells only in the Water Marshes (Fá'áv'cál'âr) of the Shadow Eves, and is therefore only sparsely described - it is reputed to be as large as a Moss Skeetoh, but ghostly white in colour and, according at least to those few who have heard it, with a uniquely mournful note to its whining, which rises and falls to become almost hypnotic.
Special Abilities. The attribute for which the Skeetoh is known and reviled across Sarvonia is its affinity for sucking blood, whether from animal or sentient creatures. Adult Skeetohs subsist entirely on blood, and are generally not fussy on what they take it from – unlike some bloodsucking parasites, such as the dreamlouse, Skeetohs will take blood from cold-blooded creatures as easily as warm blooded. Indeed the cave-dwelling Skitch seems to specialise in attacking cave dwelling reptiles, including the psyrpents, who report the insects’ bite not at all diminished by the armour of their scales.
The key to the Skeetoh’s success is a weapon which allows them to draw their prey’s blood so quickly that they can have bitten and taken wing before they are noticed. Their needle-shaped mouthparts are of a curious design which allows them to pierce the skin and draw up blood in the same movement, draining up to [find liquid measurements] in a single bite, in the case of the Moss Skeetoh. Though small, the feeding-tube is extremely sharp, easily piercing the thickest skins. So effective is this tool that there have been several attempts to recreate it on a large enough scale for use in medicinal and alchemical work, though as of yet success has been limited.
Territory. The Skeetoh is found almost anywhere in Sarvonia and its nearer islands where standing water is available. For an apparently fragile insect they show remarkable tolerance of the harsh climate of Northern Sarvonia, with the Moss Skeetoh appearing to thrive on the bitterly cold bogs and marshes of Wilderon, and even further north, well into the territories of the ice tribes. Indeed, it is a common remark among the Antislar people that “anyone wishing to escape the whine of a Skeetoh, should start walking immediately - if he makes good headway he may leave them behind before his feet are worn away to the knee.”
Particular subspecies of Skeetoh, though, have more restricted territories - the Moss Skeetoh, though so common in the wetlads of Northern Sarvonia, is very rarely found further south than Naurooth, and such individuals as do occur south of the Prominent Mountains tend to be a good deal smaller than most, perhaps because they cannot find the large prey animals to sustain them as they can further north.
The Skeeter can be found throughout Southern Sarvonia, especially in the Silvermarshes of Nermeran province, where, as one noted researcher of mullog language remarked, “you can’t bloody get away from the things.” Fortunately for the mullog residents of the marshes, they seem to have grown somewhat immune to Skeeter bites.
Skitch are more particular in their habitat requirements, confining themselves to caves and mountains with standing water, and only rarely being observed above ground. They are often associated with dwarven settlements’ sewer and refuse water systems, to whom they are, as they are to everyone else, a nuisance, even plaguing psyrpents, by biting softer areas around the eyes and nostrils.
The Skeeoh subspecies is the most restricted in habitat, never recorded outside of the Water Marshes. It has been argued that the differences between them and normal Moss Skeetohs is simply caused by the environment, but in truth there has not been enough to say more than that they are white in colour, and sound strange.
Habitat/Behaviour. Skeetohs need standing water to breed, and so they don’t tend to go far from where they hatched - it’s rare to find them far from water. The water doesn’t have to be clean, in fact stagnant water seems to be welcomed, as predators such as fish are less frequent, but it must be fresh rather than salt water, and cannot have above the slightest of currents. Even a muddy puddle will do if it lasts long enough, and Skeeter larvae are often to be found in horse or cattle troughs that haven’t been emptied in a while.
The adults are present throughout spring and summer, dying away as soon as the temperatures start to drop. They can’t fly in the rain, and strong winds also send them to ground. Still, humid days are generally the worst, and they seem to be attracted by heat and exhaled breath – some people deter them by covering their mouths with scented cloths, and this seems fairly effective. Strong smells also seem to keep them at bay, as does smoke, and so incense is often burned to keep them out of a certain area.
They tend to congregate in loose swarms around their nesting pools - usually of not more than a hundred individuals - and will bite anything that comes within smelling distance. It takes only one or two bites for a Skeetoh to fill its stomach, so they tend to land, bite and take wing again as quickly as possible, to avoid being swatted. When full of blood, though, they are a great deal heavier, and usually land again on nearby vegetation to digest their meal as soon as possible.
Diet. Skeetohs of every kind subsist solely on blood of any kind available. Human, elf, orc and halfling are all taken without discrimination, with the northern Moss Skeetoh able to attack trolls, thunderfeet, selkies, and almost any other creature; their sturdy feeding tubes are sharp enough to pierce even extremely thick skins, and their size allows them to gain a hold among thick fur and reach through to the flesh beneath.
Skitch also have proportionally large feeding tubes, with which they seem to use to pierce the thick skin of dwarves, ogres and psyrpents. Indeed, the only sentient race that seems to go largely unbeleagured is the mullogs, who, despite living in one of the greatest strongholds for Skeeters in the known world, seem mostly to repel the insects. Though they are occasionally bitten it is a far rarer occurrence than, for instance, a human would find were they to venture unprotected into the Silvermarshes. The reason for this is thought to be a buildup of mild toxins in the blood of Mullogs, which they accumulate through their diet, and ability to eat that which would make other races seriously ill. This seems to act as a repellent to the Skeeters, much as smearing the skin with strongly scented herbs is found to do.
The bite of a Skeetoh is not generally dangerous, though they do occasionally carry diseases. The main effect of a Skeetoh bite is a sharp brief pain as the insect bites, followed by an itching and swelling around the area after it leaves. They are believed to inject some substance which helps to blood to flow, and this is thought to cause the swelling as it breaks down in the skin. Whilst Skeetohs are rarely dangerous, the Moss Skeetoh is a very large insect, and so swarms of them can cause dangerous levels of blood loss in weak or small individuals, especially smaller races such as halflings travelling in the north, who often find themselves taken by surprise in marshy areas. There are also rumours that Skitch in certain areas form dense swarms of sufficient size to entirely drain creatures as large as a young dwarf of their blood, much like the fearsome needlefly of Nybelmar. These rumours are, as of yet, unsubstantiated, but widespread enough that there may be some truth behind them.
Mating. Skeetohs breed throughout the summer. Females sate themselves on several consecutive meals of blood and then land on vegetation close to the water’s surface. Males need to feed less, and compete amongst themselves by dancing in swarms above water, until the victors battle their way down to mate with a waiting female, who immediately lays eggs just under the water’s surface, usually drowning in the attempt. Males tend to die soon after, though they will attempt to mate with as many females as possible before succumbing. There can be several broods in a season, with larvae overwintering at the bottom of pool or puddle to hatch again in spring - they will pupate as soon as they sense the water’s temperature sufficiently risen – the precise amount varying according to the race. Skitch seem less confined by seasons in their more secluded habitat, and may continue to breed and bite all year.
Usages. The Antislar, unlike to most people, don’t see Skeetoh as inherently unclean creatures, and have found an intriguing medicinal use for them, in a kind of ritualised bloodletting. A sick person will be taken out to a marsh or bog known to be full of Moss Skeetoh by people all wrapped securely in thick clothing, so that the patient is the only one who will be bitten. The patient is then laid down on the ground and stripped so that their arms and legs, and often the majority of their torso is bare, though they are usually veiled, as bites to the face are often painful and more likely to become infected. As the Skeetohs congregate a kind of tent is erected over them, trapping the insects inside with the patient, so that once they have fed they can be caught. The blood-filled Skeetohs are then crushed, and the blood inside them mixed to a paste with some of the patient’s spit, and a few other ingredients which vary according to the specific illness. This paste is then rubbed all over the patient’s body, especially the bites, whilst prayers are said over them. How well such a treatment works varies dramatically depending on who you talk to, but it has been practised by the Antislar people for a long time, and is used for such a wide variety of illnesses that it would seem to be at least some help.
Skeetoh larvae are also collected as fish bait, and often sold dried as food for insectivorous pets. There are stories of certain assassins dipping the mouthparts of live-caught Skeeters in a potent toxin and then releasing them into the room of a sleeping victim, so that when they bite they deliver the toxin. By this means the victim dies of poisoning, but those trying to find who killed them are baffled as to how it was administered, finding no mark on the body save for a harmless insect bite.
There have been several attempts to replicate the needle-shaped mouthparts of Skeetohs for use in medicine and alchemy, as aforementioned. If this could be achieved (and there are a few researchers who claim they are on the verge of doing so) it would be of great use in a myriad of tasks; tiny amounts of liquid could be drawn up accurately, or delivered into the vein of a patient, and blood could be drawn without making a large wound, greatly reducing the risks of infection.
Myth/Lore. Skeetoh are widely associated with pestilence, as they are so often found near brackish or stagnant water. Throughout Sarvonia they are often reputed to poison the water, and their bites are often seen as unclean, with a risk of tainting the blood of the victim and causing illness or misfortune in the future.
A common remedy is a special smoke made by burning pfepper grass or strong smelling herbs, especially the alth’mon in Northern Sarvonia, as it is otherwise used to numb pain. Bites are treated in a variety of ways; commonly they are simply left, but if it is a particularly bad case, something to numb or cool the area is applied, such as yahrle ointment.
Sometimes more elaborate cures are concocted and sold specifically to treat Skeetoh bites, but they are generally little more than yahrle or alth’mon disguised with fancy scents and herbs, and not really more effective than more simple treatments.
Researchers. Hansdem HenloGrom is a Mitharim herbalist and alchemist who came across many Skitch while investigating the properties of Tol Kurr moss, and suggested that by diverting a stream to trickle through still pools the number of Skitch can be greatly reduced. His notes and sketches of Skitch were of great use, as, despite their abundance in certain areas, relatively little is known about this smallest of Skeetoh races.
The researcher would also like to thank the Antislar people, who were kind enough to share their extremely effective remedies against Moss Skeetohs, and to demonstrate their bloodletting rituals. It is quite likely that without their help this work would have remained unfinished. Thanks also go to Mr. Altario Shialt-eck-Gorrin, whose kind donation of crushed Moss Skeetoh bodies, and accounts of the nature of the insects, provided the starting point for this study.