These blood-sucking New Yorkers do not depart city

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How bad are the mosquitoes this year?

Ask 8-year-old Bea in Hamden, Connecticut, who counted the 29 mosquito bites she got last night.

“I played tag with my father and couldn’t concentrate because I was bitten by those mosquitos.”

Or Mark Miklosovich, who runs a mosquito control shop in Brooklyn. He perfected his technique at mosquito control resorts in Thailand and Indonesia. When he returned last December, he had no plans to do full-time mosquito work. But he said he’s been there seven days a week since June.

“I mean, my thermometer is: mosquitoes don’t bother me. But only in the last few weeks have they destroyed me, ”said Miklosovich.

Listen to Amy Perle’s report on WNYC:

But, according to the city’s health ministry, the mosquitos were actually worse last summer. While mosquito spraying was delayed by COVID-19 this spring, traps set by the city caught an average of 65 mosquitoes per day this year, compared with 87 per day last year.

“Especially with the pandemic, it’s so hard to tell if the mosquitoes have changed or if people’s behavior has changed,” said Nipun Basrur, who studies mosquitoes at Rockefeller University’s Vosshall Lab. “I definitely spend more time outside, maybe it is different.” Perhaps that is why they encounter more mosquitoes. “

Basrur is a neurogeneticist, which means that he studies the genetics that underlie mosquito behavior. He is dedicated to researching why mosquitoes are so good at finding and biting people.

“If a mosquito smells CO2, it gets up and flies,” said Basrur. “She likes the smell of people very much, she uses the warmth of our skin and possibly the moisture to land on our skin. She can then pierce with her stiletto and then start pumping up blood. “

Only female mosquitoes bite people; Men drink nectar. Women drink it too, but “a woman really needs blood to make eggs,” noted Basrur.

Mosquitoes are exceptionally good at transmitting diseases. In New York City, mosquitoes with the West Nile virus have already been discovered in every district this summer.

Basrur carefully breeds mosquitoes in his laboratory to prevent them from spreading diseases.

His project aims to manipulate mosquito genes in order to breed women who have no interest in people.

When I asked Basrur how he was feeling about the mosquitoes in his laboratory, I was surprised by his answer.

“It’s weird, but they’re my babies in a way,” he said. “This is actually a specific genetic strain that I put a protein in its genome. I like to design everything for it, many generations feed on my arm.”

Yes, Basrur self-feeds its babies. When you make genetically modified mosquitoes, sometimes you only have one or two viable mosquitoes. “So you have to give them the best possible meal.”

At feeding time, Basrur let me be a fly on the wall via Zoom.

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The neurogeneticist Nipun Barsur shows his mosquitoes in his laboratory before they are fed.

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Basrur had placed three mosquito cages on a laboratory bench. They looked like cubes with three mesh sides, like a habitrail for mosquitoes. To feed them, he simply put his arm on the net of the cage. The insects immediately flew towards his forearm. I asked him how many were on him.

“I would say maybe 100 so it’s not that bad,” he replied.

Gradually the mosquitoes grew thicker and darker as they drank twice the weight of Basrur’s blood. “Okay, I think you’re probably done,” he said, lifting his arm from the mess of the cage and tilting it toward the camera. There were a lot of mosquito bites.

“Oh no,” I had to exclaim.

“Yes,” Basrur replied, turning his arm to examine the damage.

Neurogeneticist Nipun Barsur's arm shows welts from dozens of mosquito bites.

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The arm of the neurogeneticist Nipun Barsur after the feeding time.

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Basrur insisted that the bites didn’t hurt or even itch – he did so many times that his body built up resistance. Once the zoom was over, he actually planned to feed the other two cages with the same arm.

Basrur said he had developed a reluctant respect for the bloodsuckers.

“You live such a dangerous lifestyle,” he enthused. “The woman is at constant risk of being crushed by an angry host and of getting disease from the people she bites. It is truly amazing what the woman will go through to have babies.”

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