Love Stings

Wings sprinkled with fairy dust. Free-falling sex. A bite that can kill. Meet Minnesota's favorite insect -- and the men who adore it.

 

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.

Michael Dvorak

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."

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