Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ladies and Gentleman, we have the real thing

I went to New York City last month to collect a certain kind of mosquito, one that is known to live only in enclosed spaces that stay relatively warm during the winter, like sewers, subway tunnels, that kind of thing. We worked with some really helpful people (no kidding, they were tops) from the city department that conducts mosquito surveillance and control.

There are a couple of cool things about this mosquito. It is so similar morphologically to another one that even experts can't tell them apart that way. Of course they are closely related, but it's unknown whether the sewer mosquito is a long-standing entity, or if it arises independently in cities with the proper environments. One of the cool things is that it doesn't hibernate. The closely related one overwinters as impregnated females. The other cool thing is that it can, unlike its close relatives, lay its first batch of eggs without a bloodmeal. That last one is the definitive test (so they tell me) to tell if you have the sewer mosquito or not.

We collected enough to ship home, and set they up in the insectary. One of my duties lately has been rearing these creatures. They have to be checked daily because the larvae hang out in pans and as soon as they turn into pupae (after about a week) they need to be moved into a screened cage because if there are adults in the pan, they can get loose and their liberator is looked at with scorn and disgust for letting mosquitoes free in the insectary. So there is a lot of moving around of larvae and pupae, and the above ground ones get fed blood three times a week. More on that some other time.

About a week ago, my supervisor asked if I had done a blood feed for the sewer mosquito's offspring (which never been outside), and I said I hadn't and how about we see if they laid eggs, as that would confirm their identity. He said he doubted they were the sewer mosquitoes to begin with for reasons that I'm not clear about. But we decided to wait and see if what they did with only sugar water.

Well, today I checked and there were three egg rafts in the cup of water, so sure enough, we have sewer mosquitoes! It's an interesting taxonomic/phylogenetic problem, being able to tell these apart from other similar types using genetic means. The trouble is, up until now, we didn't have enough confirmed specimens to develop the assays. Now we do. Huzzah!

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Hi, sorry to make the humans do an extra step.