Mosquito bites are the ultimate test of self-discipline, just like a pimple or chickenpox we all know we aren’t supposed to pop, scratch or squeeze but we’ll be damned if we don’t end up doing it anyway. And, for some scratching your insect bites until the point of being an open wound is much more preferable to having an annoying itch constantly in the back of your mind.
To all those who - unlike their friends - are the mosquito magnet of the group, Dr Perran Stott-Ross is now the man we can call a hero.
Stott-Ross is a Melbourne based entomologist who has been regularly sacrificing his arms in the name of finding a way to control dengue fever, the zika virus and other diseases that are spread by the devil’s flies.
To do this, researchers have to inject a bacteria called wolbachia into the eggs of the mosquitoes with what is surely the tiniest needle in the world. Mosquitoes do not naturally produce wolbachia and yet are the main species that transmit the virus. But, when the bacteria is injected into the eggs of mosquitoes the spreading of viruses such as dengue can be controlled.
To inject the mosquitoes with the bacteria the females need to be kept alive so they can reproduce and lay eggs. As it seems, researchers can’t just hand out bags of blood to the pseudo-parasites so, Dr Perran Stott-Ross has taken one for the team and let his arms the buffet for thousands of tiny, annoying, blood-sucking insects.
To feed them, Stott-Ross inserts his arm into a plastic box with a mosquito net hole at the end and has to sit patiently while until all the females have had their fill. He spoke about his role to Ladbible:
I feel a slight tickle on my arm when they land. When they start feeding you can't actually feel much unless they get you in the right spot (where it can sting quite a bit). Initially it was very hard to resist the urge to shake them off and swat them, but now I'm much more used to it. It only takes a couple of minutes for a mosquito to finish feeding, but I usually leave my arm in there for about 10-15 minutes to give them all a fair go.
Dr Perran continued to state that his arms end up covered in welts, and his Twitter posts definitely prove that:
I usually feed about 250 female mosquitoes at a time before moving onto the next group. After an hour or two of feeding thousands of mosquitoes, my arm gets very warm and is completely covered in welts.
It looks like Perran is really in for some painstaking work, it must take all the control in the world not to devour those welts with his fingernails. But, this heroic doctor says that it’s all down to willpower:
When I fed mosquitoes for the first time I couldn't stop scratching and my arms were itchy for more than a month. I used to run the bites under cold water for a few minutes which works well. Now I just roll down my sleeve and try not to think about it.
Perran also spoke with SceinceAlert stating that once the mosquitoes have been reared and infected with the wolbachia bacteria then they can be released to spread the bacteria into the wild populations.
You have to rear hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes in the lab and then go around releasing them everywhere. These particular mosquitoes don’t really travel very far by themselves.