• Experts tracking local mosquito populations to prevent spread of disease

    By: Jason Solowski

    Updated:

    BOSTON - Health officials around the state are doing their best to manage the mosquito population and reduce the risk of spreading viruses like West Nile and Zika. 

    Brandon Riske rides his bike through Boston neighborhoods every day, dropping packets into sewer grates, and marking them with an orange dot.

    “Realistically these are where the huge majority mosquitoes are coming from in Boston,” Riske said.

    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    The dissolvable packets contain kernels of corn that are treated with a biological larvacide that only kills mosquitos. 

    He has his work cut out for him.  Suffolk County Mosquito Control covers the entire city of Boston, so that's about 30,000 catch basins to treat and mark.

    ”We go all over the city of Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park, all the way up to Charlestown. And we just try to get as many catch basins treated in a day as we can,” Riske told FOX25. 

    David Henley, superintendent for the East Middlesex and Suffolk County Mosquito Control Projects, said they are on the lookout for two specific types of mosquitos. The first is Culex Pipians or the common house mosquito. These mosquitos are most likely to transmit West Nile virus. Henley says there were five cases of West Nile in Boston last year.

    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    The other one is called Aedes Albopictus or the tiger mosquito, the ones that can spread the Zika virus. They haven't really settled here in the Boston area, but have slowly moved up the East coast and as recently as two years ago had been found in New Bedford.

    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    “Our job is to look for hitchhiking mosquitos that might come up in a truck, or a car, or a train and get established in Boston,” said Henley.

    So researchers have been putting out mosquito traps in areas the Tiger Mosquito may show up, like transit centers.

    Brian Farless, a field supervisor from the Suffolk County Mosquito Control, showed us a few of the traps he sets out to collect mosquitos. In East Boston, near the airport, Farless filled a plastic cup with water that would attract mosquitos to breed. This would be an ideal location for the Tiger Mosquito. In a few days Farless will come back and retrieve the cup to see what types of eggs were laid. They’ll bring the eggs back to the lab to see what hatches. 

    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    The Tiger Mosquito loves to breed in old tires. So Henley said they had crews pick up over 700 tires they found lying around in neighborhoods this winter to limit the habitats for mosquito breeding.

    He said you should rid your yard of items that could have standing water in them to prevent mosquito breeding grounds. This includes trash cans, tries, and even flower pots.

    Another way to reduce the mosquito population is to introduce its natural predator…bats.

    "They are like flying vacuum cleaners for insects,” said Ken Pruitt, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Bats can eat and astonishing number of insects per night, their entire body weight depending on how hungry they are."

    Pruitt says that you can put a bat house up in your yard, similar to the ones they have at the Mass Audubon habitat in Belmont.  Unfortunately bat populations in Massachusetts are in serious decline because of a nasty fungus that grows on their noses, commonly known as White-Nose Syndrome.  

    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    "Without bats, the mosquito population is certainly going to go up considerably," said Pruitt.

    Pruitt says by putting up more bat houses, you're providing the bats with a safer habitat than a cave, where they would be more likely to come into contact with the fungus.

    Experts tell FOX25 that without the tiger mosquitos here in Boston, you should be more concerned about catching Zika when traveling to the Caribbean, Central America, or South America.

    If you're interested in putting a bat house on your property, here’s a link how to build a bat house and where you should put it on your property.

    http://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Cover/Build-a-Bat-House.aspx

    http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/publications/homeowners-guide-to-bats-5th-edition.pdf

    Next Up: