It’s springtime, tulips are blooming, the air is crisp and Muscovites are arming themselves with their vacuum cleaners for nighttime battle with the demons of the night - mosquitoes.
These aren’t just any mosquitoes. These “basement mosquitoes,” known formally in Latin as “Culex Pipiens Pallens,” breed in the depths of Moscow’s high-rise apartment buildings and buzz their way into the lives of Muscovites through ventilation shafts.
They are particularly insidious because they have adapted - “MUTATED!” screamed one tabloid here - to the cozy basement life and developed certain idiosyncrasies.
“In our lifetime, we’ve witnessed the advent of practically a whole new insect that has acquired a whole specialization,” said Olga Goronenkova, head of the Moscow department of medical parasitology.
“They don’t hibernate in winter like normal mosquitoes. They lay eggs without ever having fed on blood, unlike normal female mosquitoes that need to suck blood to produce offspring. And this mosquito attacks people five or six times before it rests on a wall.”
“We don’t use appliances or chemicals,” said Alexei Pavlov, 24, a geography teacher with a lot of mosquitoes at home. “My parents turn off the lights, let them settle on the ceiling, then they flip on the lights and they attack with the vacuum cleaner,” he said, echoing the hunting technique of other tormented Muscovites.
“It gets most of them - maybe 10 or 20. But all it takes is one or two to prevent you from sleeping.”
The little pests are the legacy of the decline of the Soviet, and now Russian, economy, entomologists say. As the economy got worse, so did the maintenance of government-owned apartment buildings. The less upkeep, the more deterioration of pipes and the more standing water in basements.
“All mosquitoes need is a small pool of water to reproduce,” Goronenkova said.
Youngsters are often the most defenseless against the mosquitoes, said Rima Gornostaeva, a senior researcher at the Institute of Medical Parasitology and Tropical Medicine.
“Often children are bitten so much that it is mistaken for a disease, and they are turned away from kindergarten,” she said.
Goronenkova, who hears many of the outraged complaints, suggested too that the mosquitoes “cause neuroses - just because people lose so much sleep.”