In London, An Underground Home For The World’s Mosquitoes
You can’t hear it over the noise of London’s traffic. But it’s there. That faint, whining hum. Right under my feet, thousands of mosquitoes are dining on human blood.
To visit them, you have to go through a sliding glass door into the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This school started as a hospital on the Thames River, where doctors treated sailors returning from faraway places with strange parasites.
Today, the building holds countless exotic diseases that you hope you’ll never catch. The mosquitoes carry just a few of them, and their keeper is an entomologist named Dr. James Logan.
To get to them, you have to go underground, then through two sets of doors and a net, and into the restricted access room.
"We don’t want any mosquitoes to escape onto the streets of London, obviously, because we’ve got tropical mosquitoes here," says Logan.
On the side of the net with the mosquitoes, it feels like the worst kind of August afternoon. Humid, hot and still — just the way mosquitoes like it. We’re in low caverns that were built almost 100 years ago, and we have to duck so we don’t hit our heads.
"Luckily we have quite short people who work in our insectaries," Logan says. "But these rooms are part of the vaults of the building. At one time during [World War II], for example, they were used as shelters."
Clear plastic boxes line the walls, each one holding hundreds of mosquitoes. Some are from Pakistan, others from Tanzania. There are mosquitoes that can carry West Nile virus and dengue fever.
The really dangerous ones live in a different room, though. When you jostle a box, the mosquitoes go crazy, hungry for blood.
Photo: Dr. James Logan, an entomologist, studies mosquitoes from around the world in an effort to make them less dangerous. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine keeps them in a cavern beneath the streets of London. The bowls contain mosquito larvae in water, while the boxes are where the adults live. (Ari Shapiro/NPR)