Thursday, July 3, 2014

Collecting mozzies in the Alps

They may spread zoonotic diseases, but Italian mozzies hang out in classy places.

When I mentioned that I was popping overseas to catch mozzies in Italy, a few people rolled their eyes. “What kind of holiday is that?” “Why go all that way to catch mozzies?” Well, peeps, let me tell you. Italian mosquitoes hang in some pretty fine places (some of them also carry West Nile virus - a disease one really wants to avoid. More on that here).

Luca and Fabrizio with a car full of mosquito traps (mozzies are attracted by dry ice as it releases CO2).
Fabri places a mosquito trap at a pre-selected location.
And the best way to catch them, as it happens, is to sit quietly eating a margherita pizza and sipping Prosecco (alcohol is a vasodilator) in the Dolomites whilst a friendly entomologist stands by with a special miniature vacuum cleaner ready to suck the offending mosquito from one’s limbs the moment it lands. This is done for thirty minutes a sitting, three times in three hours. Along with my Italian colleague Dr Patrizia Danesi, I had the honour of being the bait, or the “human landing” as she calls it.

Fabrizio demonstrates the mosquito vacuum. We have great faith that this sucks faster than mozzies can bite.
Trying to explain this arrangement to locals when one does not speak Italian is something of a challenge. Our mosquito catching site was outside of an isolated cabin belonging to the Alpini Brigade – a branch of the Italian army specialising in mountain combat.

It happened that we were attempting to lure mozzies outside of an Alpini HQ on their meeting night. My Italian colleagues explained what we were up to, and there was much laughter. We were invited in for a coffee with home brewed grappa. Of course, when one’s vocabulary is so limited, one can only respond in the affirmative. One grappa coffee and several shots of home-brewed limoncello later, we still had not caught any mozzies. But we slept well!

Mozzies hang out here. Also a nice place for a quiet drink.
Today’s mission is to present a seminar on desexing dogs in remote communities in Australia. This is quite topical as the moment I landed in Italy it became very apparent that desexing is not routine. Let’s just say my eyes are trained to assess certain features of canine anatomy which are particularly prevalent here. I asked my hosts if there is a problem with overpopulation (especially in the light of this overabundance of gonads) and they replied in the affirmative.

The rules for the Dolomites are also a great way to brush up on useful Italian phrases
that you can drop into conversation.
So I am keen to learn more about population control over here. (If you’re interested in another perspective on birth control check out this post).