What the Mysterious Color-Markings on Storm Drains Have to Do with Rachel Carson’s Legacy and the War on a Deadly Virus – Brain Pickings

by Jeremy

I noticed them first in my neighborhood — dots of paint hovering over the grate of the storm drain in a blue-green spectrum punctuated by white. I saw them probably because I had been writing about the wondrous science of the color blue, and my brain had formed, as brains tend to, a search image for its present preoccupation.

dotspotting RedHook1

At first, took them for mindless spray-can tests by a street artist getting ready to graffiti a nearby wall. But no surface in sight was decorated with these colors.

And then I started seeing them all over Brooklyn: Red Hook, Greenpoint, even the alleys of the Green-Wood Cemetery — quiet ecstasies of color amid the bleak grey-brown of winter, chromatic macaw cries in the concrete jungle, the ghost of Alma Thomas risen from the dead through the New York City sewer system.

dotspotting RedHook

I discovered that they are not covert art with some stubborn sleuthing through various city agency logs, street art blogs, conspiracy theory fora, and health department reports.

They are science.

They are war paint on humanity’s countenance as we combat our great eternal enemy: the mosquito.

mosquito biting
Mosquito in biting position. (National Library of Medicine.)

When it rains, when the city washes the streets, water rushes into the drain along with all the debris it carries. A catch basin resides just beneath the metal grate to sieve the debris before releasing the water into the drainage pipe to prevent downstream clogging. Mosquitos love nesting in these cozy, soggy chambers, where the air is warm enough for the females to survive the winter and where the water doesn’t freeze so that their eggs — around 200 laid by each female mosquito — can float freely while preparing to become a bloodthirsty army that goes on replicating the 1:200 reproductive ratio ad infinitum.

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