Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm good at mosquito husbandry

Back in February of this year, a colleague and I went on a collecting trip to get specimens from a certain populations of mosquitoes. We brought back live mosquitoes and set them up in our insectary, which as rooms with growth chambers in it. The mosquitoes hang out in metal-frame cages with sugar water. One kind is special because the females will lay eggs without a bloodmeal (they are autogenous), while the other kind's female get blood fed every week to maintain the colony. No, we don't use human volunteers, we use a system that has little membrane-covered cups of calf's blood that are electronically heated.

The point of maintaining the colonies is to have live specimens that we can test new DNA markers with. The autogenous colony is interesting because there isn't a good genetic way to tell them apart from the anautogenous, and they are identical in appearance.

It has fallen to me to do the grunt work to maintain these colonies. It is never hard or messy, but it has to be done every day unless I work ahead so they'll make it over the weekend with enough food. The females lay eggs in a cup of water, and I take the cup out and distribute the egg rafts into 9 x 13 aluminum cake pans with lids. I feed them the fine particles of a solution of water, fish food, liver powder and something called "brain-heart infusion" (I don't want to know any more about that either).

After 5 or 6 days, the eggs have gone from larvae to pupae, and I transfer the water and bugs to a rearing chamber and put it back into the cage. I remove the old rearing chambers, feed everyone so they'll lay eggs and repeat and repeat and repeat.

It takes me about 45 minutes a day to do this, and as I said before, it's not especially dirty, or is it ever difficult. Someone else does the weekly blood feed, so that saves me a little time. My boss hasn't check on how these colonies are doing for months.

Yet, I take some pride in the fact that when I come in in the morning, there are egg rafts to process and I see that as a reflection that I'm doing a good job taking care of these creatures. Yes, I smush the ones that get out, and don't really have any affection for them at all. But I want to do a good job of it if I have to do it.

That said, I realize that I do have a lot of latitude in how I spend my time at work and I am thankful for that. I can work my hours when I want to work them, as long as the work gets done. My boss doesn't peer over my shoulder, but at the same time, I'd better be ready to give an update or know where those specimens are (and I usually do). If taking care of several hundred mosquitoes is the price to pay for those job perks, then I'm glad to do it.

cage image

No comments:

Post a Comment

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