Schrödinger's Kitten

Irreverent Science for Everyone

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Amateur Mosquito Investigation Part 2 (or The Biting Bastards are Truly Bastards)

  • insects
  • macro
  • DIY

Slight delay in results caused by being out of the country and applying for paying jobs.1 However I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that I have the results of the first experiment. For those who've forgotten, that's:

Soap And Lemon And Sugar

I put out a saucer of washing up liquid/soap, mixed with lemon syrup. The mosquitos were supposed to be attracted to the sweet citrusy scent, get their wings stuck in the soap and then die a slow, agonising death of starvation while their food source (me) waddles around in front of them laughing maniacally at their pain as it goes about its daily business.

This did not happen.

The citrus attracted the mosquitos, as reported, but the cunning blighters skipped the 'getting stuck in soap' part of the plan and proceeded directly to chow down on me. This time, I won 5 bites in just two days, which only slacked off when the weather became overcast. If anyone was wondering, from my subjective data collecting I'd say bites on the feet are the most painful, and bites on the forearms take the longest to heal. When the sun shone again, the mosquitos got a bit saucy and I got another couple on my thighs and one on my boob. I conclude that setting up a lemon bowl is akin to advertising an 'all-you-can-eat' mosquito buffet. It may solve your mosquito problem, but only in the very long term after they die of over eating.

Wussing Out

After this frankly un-fun experience, I was somewhat put off using myself as an experimental subject, however prestigious the results may be.2 A quick search of the literature on mosquito bites turns up thousands of results, mostly tackling the far more important issue of malaria rather than the petty irritation of bites. The few tests for biting preference and prevalence are somewhat unreliable since they have been conducted on animals (mice usually) rather than humans, and mosquitos aren't actually that keen on mouse blood, so the results are a bit unreliable and sparse at best. I now see why they lack human subjects.

After I ended up with 17 bites on my body simultaneously, I decided it was time to bring in the big guns. I skipped Marmite/B1 supplement testing (did you spot the deliberate maths error in the previous article? I would in fact need to eat 100g of marmite a day, not 16g, to get 100mg of vitamin B1. I therefore suspect that everyone who says Marmite protects them from mosquitos is deluded, unless they are mainlining it) and went straight for chemical warfare. The standard insecticide agent DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is recommended at 30-50% concentration. I am using 50% as that is the dose the Army use. This is working out OK for me, thought it feels kind of yucky on the skin. Anti-histamine on the old bites is stopping them swelling at least, although they are healing appallingly slowly.

I apologise for my lack of self-sacrifice for science, I'm sure the Royal Society would be gutted.

1. Fuelled by the fear that if I don't find a proper job, I may end up selling my body for other people's medical testing.

2. There is proper scientific precedent for this — Barry Marshall, a dude investigating stomach ulcers, theorised that they were caused by bacteria. Everyone thought he was a raving lunatic because it was obvious bacteria couldn't live in that acidic an environment. In his own words: "Becoming increasingly frustrated with the negative response to my work I realised I had to have an animal model and decided to use myself [...] I didn't discuss it in detail with (my wife). She was already convinced about the risk of these bacteria and [...] it would be easier to get forgiveness than permission." After dosing himself with the bacteria in question (Helicobacter pylori), he duly got ulcers, and with antibiotics that work against that bacteria, he was cured. Apparently no-one had told the bacteria they couldn't exist under those conditions. Dr. Marshall got the Swedish prize, and we can now cure stomach ulcers.

Content: Scary Boots — Design: Canis Lupus