HEALTH

Controlling Mosquitoes to Ward Off Zika

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

The black squiggling objects are mosquito larvae. The swimming fish are the Gambusia affinis, Latin for western mosquito-eating fish.

“They multiply like rabbits. They’re in the guppy family,” said Wayne Wurtz, general supervisor for the Gloucester County Mosquito Control.

For 10 years now, Gloucester County has done this — released Gambusia affinis in some of its bodies of water.

“It’s a really green way to control the population. It’s no use of chemicals. The fish are natural predators. So when they are in these ponds they basically eat mosquito larvae all the time,” said Gloucester County Freeholder Heather Simmons.

A big concern this year is the Zika virus — so big, it’s the first thing you see on whitehouse.gov. A click on “learn more” takes visitors to a video about protection.

The two major carriers of the Zika virus: the Aedes aegypti, usually not this far north but its cousin, the daytime-feeding tiger mosquito, has been visiting since the ’80s and more recently spreading the West Nile Virus.

“We’re on the lookout for it every year, but even more so this year simply due to the scariness of the Zika virus,” said Matt Bickerton, biologist for the Middlesex County Mosquito Commission.

Bickerton has the Gambusia affinis in his arsenal to control the mosquito population. He tracks the blood suckers for the Middlesex County Mosquito Commission. He says a mild winter increased the survivability of mosquito larvae. But, parts of New Jersey have benefited from a dry early spring.

Looking ahead, Bickerton said, “If we don’t get a lot of rain we’re liable to see very few mosquitoes.”

What kind of mosquito season is Wurtz expecting this spring and summer?

“Due to the weather, we’re expecting a bumper crop for mosquitoes as soon as the weather cooperates and gets to the where the humidity and heat’s out there, it’s going to be a bumper crop,” he said.

Gloucester County says the mosquito-eating fish are part of a multi-prong attack on the flying biters, one that’s proven to work very well over the years.

When asked if she’s seen very many cases of West Nile, Simmons said, “We get limited reports in animal population, not so much in humans.”

Wurtz supervises Gloucester County’s Mosquito Control with surveillance, traps, disease detection and public awareness recommendations. The most common one — getting rid of standing water that can breed hundreds of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that seem to meet their match with the Gambusia affinis.