While the rest of the world has their eyes glued to the Olympic Games in Rio, a different kind of competition took place this summer in the Russian town of Berezniki. For three days, residents of the small town nestled in the Ural Mountains honored an unlikely hero — the mosquito — and competed to see who could emerge from the celebrations with the most mosquito bites.
At the Russian Mosquito Festival, there are prizes for best mosquito costume and most original mosquito-themed souvenir. Participants can also compete to see who can catch the most live mosquitoes in a jar and who can make a call that sounds most like a mosquito. But perhaps the crème de la crème of the competitions is that of 'tastiest girl.' This year, that honor was awarded to 9-year-old Irina Ilyukhina, whose 43 mosquito bites earned her bragging rights and a prize.
Competitors in the "tastiest girl" contest (who you can see in the video above) ventured into the surrounding forest wearing shorts and tank tops or vests and collected berries while mosquitoes collected their own sweet samples. When they emerged from the woods, they were examined by an 'expert panel of judges, including a doctor,' organizer Natalya Paramonova told the BBC. The panel counted each competitor's bites before announcing Ilyukhina the winner with 43. Think that sounds bad? According to Paramonova, last year's winner had more than 100.
In addition to her new title, Ilyukhina received a ceramic mug as her prize. (Personally, I think a year of bug spray would have been more appropriate.)
It may sound odd that a town in Russia is celebrating mosquitoes while elsewhere in the world people are going to great measures to avoid them in the wake of the Zika virus scare. While hard-hit countries like Brazil have reported tens of thousands of cases of the virus and the U.S. has confirmed around 2,000, Russia has seen only five reported cases of the Zika virus, all believed to be in people who traveled to areas where the virus is more prevalent.
The mosquito that carries the Zika virus thrives in tropical areas, not in colder climates like that found in Russia. (Check out the maps in this post from MNN's Russell McLendon showing the potential range for the Zika-carrying mosquitoes and you may better understand why residents in Berezniki are more likely to laugh at mosquito bites than to fear them.)
And Berezniki isn't the only town to hold a festival in honor of mosquitoes. The Great Texas Mosquito Festival, held every year in Clute, Texas, includes such festivities as mosquito calling, the Mosquito Chase 5K, and an event in which participants compete for the "best looking mosquito legs."
(That makes me itchy just thinking about it!)