Wet summer means busy times for Mosquito Control

HUDSON — Warren Deets waved down the orange truck slowly driving through his Sea Pines neighborhood.

"Boy, am I glad to see you guys," Deets said as Pasco County Mosquito Control Inspector Randy Gibson introduced himself.

Deets had called the day before, complaining of an excessive amount of mosquitoes. He was swatting away the blood-sucking pests while mowing the front lawn moments before Gibson arrived. It's already peak season for mosquitoes, and the recent rains have made the problem almost unbearable.

"We just have a major flooding problem here," Deets said, nodding toward the empty lot across the street. "It's crazy bad."

Gibson and his fellow inspectors are plenty busy these days treating the usual trouble spots and responding to residents' complaints. Mosquito Control averages 15 to 20 calls a day, but sometimes gets more than 40 after heavy rains.

"This year seems to be bad overall," said Pasco County Mosquito District director Dennis Moore.

Pasco is having a wet summer, with 6.25 inches of rain in July, up from 4.77 the same month last year. But rain is only part of the problem.

Many kinds of mosquitoes — there are about 45 species in Pasco — prefer to lay eggs in drier land near water. So heavy rains interspersed with a few dry days are the ideal conditions for mosquito eggs to thrive, Moore said.

And that's exactly what we've gotten this summer.

Mosquito Control battles the problem with orange buglike helicopters that spray mosquito larvae near the shoreline, and the loud fogging trucks that buzz through neighborhoods at night. But it also has other weapons in the arsenal.

A half dozen flocks of chickens are strategically placed around the county. Staffers draw blood from the chickens weekly to test for mosquito-borne illnesses, then target their mosquito-fighting efforts accordingly.

Inspectors also rely on about 40 high-tech electronic traps that suck in skeeters. The traps are installed near volunteers' homes. Each morning, employees check the traps and examine the critters under a microscope to log what kinds of mosquitoes are turning up.

"What we are really doing is looking for the daily change in population," Moore said. "And if we are doing control, what is the result of that control."

Each day, 10 inspectors cover the nearly 745 square miles of Pasco, examining and treating everything from drainage ditches and retention ponds to salt water marshes, parks and residential yards. Mosquito Control inspectors also respond to residents' complaints.

"We pride ourselves on trying to get to homeowners in need," said Gibson, a 17-year veteran inspector.

The six-day-a-week operation is based out of Mosquito Control's Odessa headquarters. Its fleet includes trucks, two helicopters, two airplanes, a couple of airboats and a johnboat. They use granular, briquette and liquid pesticides and bacteria, as well as minnows in some situations, such as an abandoned pool, for a more biological method.

Those resources are marshaled to fight not just a pest but a killer: Mosquitoes spread malaria, particularly in Africa. But they also transmit serious diseases here, including West Nile Virus, St. Louis encephalitis and Eastern Equine encephalitis, a virus that killed a central Pasco toddler in 2005.

When called out to homes, many inspectors find several culprits for mosquito breeding on the homeowner's property: containers without drainage holes, bird baths, clogged roof gutters, plastic sheeting and even bromeliads, better known as "air plants," which form cups with its leaves.

"Tire swings are the biggest one," Gibson said. "People hang them up and don't think to punch holes in it and then they plop their children in it."

Back in Sea Pines, Gibson used his cheapest and most trusted tool in the trade — a plastic dipper — but he didn't find any standing water on Deets' property. He knows the area well, however, and directly behind Deets' home sits a drainage ditch. Mosquitoes are easily spotted dancing in the yard.

Gibson fired up a handheld fogger, a contraption that looks like a cross between a weed-whacker and a small leaf blower. The chemicals of mosquito death shoot out in a plume. In a few minutes, the deed is done, until the next rain falls and the next batch takes flight.

>>Fast facts

Pasco County Mosquito Control District

2308 Marathon Road, Odessa

(727) 376-4568

pascomosquito.org

Established in 1951, the district has expanded five times. It now covers the county. It is its own taxing authority and has an elected three-member board governing the district. It has a $5.5 million annual operating budget, with 26 full-time and 20 part-time employees.

Mosquitoes

• More than 70 species of mosquitoes have been identified in Florida. About 45 can be found in Pasco.

• Only female mosquitoes bite, feeding on blood while males feed off of plant nectar.

• The males' sole purpose is for fertilizing the female mosquitoes, dying a short time after mating. Females can live for more than two weeks.

• Mosquitoes need water to survive. Eggs can lay dormant for years.

• Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn.

• Repellents containing DEET are recommended for protection.

Source: Pasco County Mosquito Control District and National Weather Service

Wet summer means busy times for Mosquito Control 08/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 9:56pm]

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