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Literature / Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears

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Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears is a 1975 children's picture book by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, inspired by African folklore. It won the Caldecott Award in 1976.

One day, a mosquito decides to tell an iguana a lie about a farmer and some yams. Annoyed, the iguana grabs a pair of sticks and shoves them in his ears, then storms off. The iguana passes a python, who greets him, but the iguana doesn't hear him and continues on his way. The snake, convinced that the iguana is plotting against him, slithers into the nearest hole to hide, which (very unfortunately) happens to be a rabbit's burrow. The rabbit runs for her life when she sees the snake coming, which confuses a passing crow into thinking that the forest is in danger. He sounds the alarm to warn the other animals, and a monkey tries to help him by doing the same thing, but accidentally lands on a dead branch on a tree, which breaks under his weight and falls on one of Mother Owl's baby owlets, killing it. When Mother Owl comes home, she finds her child dead and goes into mourning, forgetting to wake the sun. King Lion calls all the animals to a meeting, and through a reverse chain of accounts, the mosquito is found guilty.


The mosquito happens to overhear everything, so she hides behind a leaf, and is never found or brought before the council. As a result, however, she has a guilty conscience; to this day, she buzzes around people's heads, to ask if everyone's still mad at her.

In 1984, animated short film based on the film was produced, narrated by James Earl Jones.

Provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: While the monkey is leaping through the trees to warn everyone of danger, he jumps on a broken branch right above Mother Owl's nest, which falls on one of her children and kills it.
  • Artistic License – Biology: If you're looking for zoological accuracy in a folk tale about bluffing mosquitoes, animals who can cross-communicate verbally with each other, and a lion who doesn't immediately eat any of the council members, you have grossly misjudged the point of this story.
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  • Blatant Lies: The mosquito proclaims, "Today I saw a farmer digging yams as big as I am!" which annoys the iguana so much that he puts sticks in his ears, starting the chain of Disaster Dominoes.
  • Brick Joke: Iguana inadvertently kicks off the disaster dominoes early on in the story by sticking... well, sticks in his ears. Later, once Python passes the blame off to Iguana, the latter isn't actually at the meeting because he didn't hear the summons because the sticks were still in his ears, so King Lion sends the Antelope to fetch him.
  • Cue the Sun: Mother Owl makes the sun come up when the animals finally decide to punish the mosquito.
  • Death of a Child: One of Mother Owl's chicks gets crushed by a falling branch as a result of all the chaos.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Provides the page quote on the trope page.
    So, it was the mosquito, who annoyed the iguana, who frightened the python, who scared the rabbit, who startled the crow, who alarmed the monkey, who killed the owlet, and now Mother Owl won't wake the sun so that the day can come.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Ever since the events of the story, the mosquito has simply been trying to apologize - for which she gets the tar beaten out of her every time.
    Mosquito: Zeee! Is everyone still angry at me?
    Narrator: When she does that, she gets an honest answer.
    (drawing of a man slapping the side of his face, implicitly killing the mosquito)
  • Failed a Spot Check: When the python says hello to the iguana and the iguana doesn't notice, the python assumes that the iguana must be plotting against him. He doesn't notice the sticks stuck in the iguana's ears.
  • Heroic BSoD: Mother Owl's grief prevents her from waking the sun.
  • "Just So" Story: As the title says, the story explains why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears (and possibly why they're hated so much).
  • Karmic Death: The mosquito is ordered to be punished for setting off the Disaster Dominoes chain (leading to the death of an owlet) at the end of the last animal council meeting. However, the mosquito was listening in on the whole thing, and hides under a bush to avoid punishment. However, later, when she asks the yam farmer if the animals are still angry at her, he crushes her between his hands.
  • Killed Off for Real: The mosquito soon buzzes in a person's ear and gets squashed.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Iguanas are endemic to the Americas and the Caribbean, so what's one doing in Africa?
  • Necro Non Sequitur: The long chain of events set off by the mosquito that leads to the untimely death of an owlet.
  • Never My Fault: The lion asks the monkey why he killed the owlet, and the monkey blames the crow for cawing and making everyone think the jungle was in danger. The crow blames the rabbit for running and making him think the jungle was in danger, then the rabbit blames the snake for slithering into her house and scaring her, and it goes on and on until the blame finally falls on the mosquito for annoying the iguana and starting the disaster.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: One of Mother Owl's babies is accidentally killed by the monkey.
  • Poor Communication Kills: For starters, if the iguana took the sticks out of his ears, he would not have snubbed the snake.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: In the animated adaptation, the onomatopoeia included in the pages is spoken aloud.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: No one meant for an owlet to get killed, but the mosquito is a pest that seems to be Hated by All.


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