Friday, August 14, 2009

No Mosquitoes in Manhattan

Ian Frazier’s reflections in a recent issue of The New Yorker on the excruciating futility of combating the concentric swarms of mosquitoes that plague people on the swampy flatlands of Western Siberia has brought to mind the surprising scarcity of such pests on the streets of New York City. In the summer, especially, the City abounds with outdoor diners. Why is it that the problem of pesky mosquitoes and invasive flies never comes up? This finding has received corroboration, incidentally, from the legendary Frank Constanza, George’s father on Seinfeld, who has famously said, “You know what I like about Manhattan. No mosquitoes.”

I can think of only two plausible, but ultimately unpersuasive explanations for this low incidence of mosquitoes. First, the City’s built-up environment of asphalt, concrete and steel girder skyscrapers is simply not terribly conducive to the survival of lots of flying insects. There aren’t many trees or shrubs, not much in the way of soil and dirt, and relatively few flowers and plants. That just doesn’t leave a whole lot of places for mosquitoes and flies to go. On the other hand, New York is a damp, humid place surrounded by water! Wouldn’t you think those conditions would attract a few annoying bugs? But, no, even down by the water, there may be a few more mosquitoes, but definitely not significantly more. As a regular rider on the Staten Island Ferry for a solid year, I have never been bitten or even bothered by a mosquito. And yet, who are we are kidding? This isn’t enough to stop mosquitoes.

Which leaves us to consider the more persuasive and yet still mildly unsatisfying answer. The city’s line item for extermination of pests remains large, so there is every reason to believe that regular and fairly intense spraying is a high priority. There is considerable evidence to support this claim, judging from the number of lawsuits that have been filed against the City for harmful overuse of pesticides. Usually, the explanation that is given is to protect city residents from mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus, but the persistence of these lawsuits suggests that we are talking about something much more insidious, maybe even a covert understanding between the City and small businesses that benefit from pest-free environments. And yet, somehow I doubt that even a highly intense spraying of insecticides could control pests to the extent that it has.

My final thought on this is that as a resident of the Financial District, I am living a sheltered existence. I have limited experience with mosquitoes in New York, because there are so few parks in the area where I live. Despite being near the water, the conditions for breeding are otherwise so limited by virtue of all the tightly fitted, skyscrapered, non-green spaces, there just aren’t many bugs around here. At this point that is the best I can do to explain my lack of encounters with mosquitoes in Manhattan, which apparently don’t match the experience of many others in the city. In the meantime, as I continue to try to figure it out, it is nice to sit on a terrace or on a park bench as the sun is setting and to know that you can be pretty certain to enjoy an evening free of buzzing and stinging.

6 comments:

  1. Well, Third, I'd say you're just an anomaly. There are some lucky folks that just don't attract these pests.
    For all you want to know about mosquitoes in New York, check out WNYC's Please Explain of July 17 (http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2009/07/17/segments/136752). The experts are interesting but the comments prove, once again, that Frank Costanza is full of it.

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  2. So, DB, I actually listened to this program and found it incredibly unilluminating about mosquitoes in NYC, but you're right, those with comments are Manhattanites who are clearly afflicted by them. Let me add, as an irrelevant sidenote, that the program you directed us all to is hosted by Leonard Lopate, one of my favorite radio commentators, and the brother of the superb essayist, twice referred to (so far) in this blog, Phillip Lopate.

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  3. Some people are prone to mosquito bites while they seem to completely ignore others. I happened upon some interesting information while studying nutrition: those who do not eat sugar in any form (processed or other) DO NOT GET BITTEN. It takes quite a few months of being off of the white stuff to attain this perk, but turns out this is really true! No mosquito bites, and another amazing perk of being sugar-free is never getting sun burned! Again, crazy...but true. Makes me wonder what other perks there are to dropping sugar! I'll have to read that Sugar Blues book...I hear they talk about this, too.

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  4. FUUCKING LIAR, MOSQUITOES ARE OVERPOPULATED IN MANHATTAN. I GET BITTEN 100 TIMES A DAY EVEN IN MY APARTMENT. I SEE AT LEAST 10 A DAY IN EACH AND EVERY ROOM, YOU KILL THEM AND THEY COME BACK, THERE IS NO ENDING. WTF IS THIS BULLSHIIT.

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  5. I don't know what you're talking about. I get bit in Manhattan almost as much as in the woods in NE Ohio. Manhattan has an annoying amount of mosquitoes. Too bad bug spray smells too gross to wear on a daily basis.

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