By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Each Monday night during the summer, Pennuto and his co-workers schedule a moment of listening in their own back yards. They don't have their ears out for the voices of nagging critics, or even the hum of a fogger truck. What they're after is the siren song of lust-filled mosquitoes.
Monday night is Sweep-Net Night. Each of the 150-some employees, Pennuto explains, is offered a small net, not unlike the ones you'd use to catch butterflies, but with finer mesh. Then, "an e-mail goes out, naming the time for that week, which is one half-hour after the sun goes down, because mosquitoes are the most active just before and after sunset. So we all know that at 7:43, let's say, everyone stands still for two minutes, then swings the net around. We do that every Monday for the entire summer." It's the MMCD's way of regularly sampling adult-mosquito levels in the Twin Cities.
Gathering bugs off the clock doesn't seem unusual to most MMCD workers; lab staffers report that vacationing colleagues will often bring a sweep net and see what sort of mosquitoes are emerging up near Cass Lake or down in Pipestone. Some District employees have traveled to mosquito-hunter mecca, the pond in Israel where Bti was discovered. Conversation around the office runs toward mosquito war stories--tales from swampy parts of Alaska where the swarms can get so thick, moose are found suffocated from too many bugs up their noses; yarns about the Louisiana Gulf Coast, where, it's said, Asian tiger mosquitoes have killed calves by literally sucking them dry. And sometimes the bug hunters revel in mosquito-control fantasies. What if Jesse Ventura's daughter were getting married on the lawn of the governor's mansion, and a mandate went out to keep the dignitaries bite-free? Kurt Pennuto's face glows with excitement as he ponders the possibilities: "The things I would do: Use truck-mounted foggers to cover the open area and then spray from backpacks in wooded areas. Create a permethrin barrier by painting [the insecticide] on the tree line so that any mosquitoes that land on the vegetation fall--it disrupts their electrical system and they die."
Pennuto pauses, his eyes wandering off toward a stand of cattails. "Someday," he finally says, "instead of tromping around the county, I might have stations that mosquitoes are attracted to. Maybe giant CO2 attractors, since that's what attracts mosquitoes to humans and animals. It's done for the tsetse fly--they use cattle blood. We know that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, to CO2. We've made small CO2 traps using dry ice in cans painted black. A little fan sucks mosquitoes into a net. On a bigger scale, that could very well be the mosquito control of the future."