Ask a Journalist: How are mosquitos dealt with in New Hanover County?
Standing water, including retention ponds, and mosquitos go hand-in-hand, and one listener asked what New Hanover County actually does to deal with the pesky biters. WHQR’s News Director Ben Schachtman sat down with reporter Camille Mojica to see what she found out for our ‘Ask a Journalist’ segment…
Ben: Okay, Cami, so obviously, we live in the south, number one, and it gets pretty hot, and pretty humid here. But that’s not the only thing that sometimes keeps people from going out… Right?
Cami: Yes… People like me who seem to wind up with at least three mosquito bites every time we go out in the evening will start itching and ask to move inside, every time. Guaranteed.
Ben: So, we’re bringing up mosquitos because a listener asked about what the county does to deal with the problem. So, explain it to us big picture-wise, what do they actually do?
Cami: Alright. Well, there’s an entire department dedicated to this, first. Second, it falls under DHHS for our county, and it’s called Vector Control. Doug Scholz is the Senior Vector Control Operator for the county, and actually walked me and another reporter around their lab and equipment.
Ben: Wait, lab? Like chemistry class?
Cami: Yeah! They even have the eyewash thing most people haven’t seen since high school. But let me back up — the county is divided into ‘sectors’, mostly divided by main roads. So they put out traps in specific locations around those sectors on Mondays — and they collect them Tuesday morning.
Ben: What does a trap look like?
Cami: It’s pretty simple, it’s a cylinder with a light, and dry ice and a net. The dry ice is because it gives off CO2. Scholz said this attracts mosquitoes — the same way certain body odors from people do. So, when they pick up the traps the next day, they bring them back to their lab, and they dump them into trays to be put on microscopes and counted.
Ben: ... like, individually counted? Like ‘one mosquito, two mosquito, three mosquito…’
Cami: Yep. And they take a count of each kind of mosquito they find, and that gets reported nationally. But the numbers help them see if there are any sort of anomalies in the species present. Currently, the Asian tiger mosquito is our biggest enemy. It’s got white spots on it, and Scholz says it's a particularly vicious one. One mosquito will keep biting you over and over, usually below the knees because they’re weak flyers.
Ben: Weak – but still annoying.
Ben: Wow, okay, this is actually a lot more in-depth than we thought. So, that’s how they monitor —but the other half of the question was about retention ponds and standing water, especially in new developments. How do they deal with that?
Cami: Fish. The Cambodian Eastern Mosquito Fish, to be precise. The county has their own ponds over on Division Drive where they keep these fish on standby, little tiny guys. Then, when they find a new retention pond and they’re sure the water will sit there for a long time, they deploy the fish to eat the larvae. Weaponized fish.
Ben: How do they keep track of where to deploy these weaponized fish from their arsenal?
Cami: Vector Control takes it upon themselves to go monitor and survey those ponds. It’s not required on anyone’s part, but they do it regardless. Scholz also told me that most of the time there’s a retention pond, they’re going to have fish in them. Apparently birds cause that. They carry fish eggs from one place to another. Fish pollinators, if you will.
Ben: Okay, so we have monitoring, and weaponized fish. But do they actually kill them? Like pest control?
Cami: Yes, absolutely. First, the CDC says to look for places where traps are catching at least 100 mosquitos – again, counting bugs – then, Vector Control has these cool trucks that have a spraying machine in the back. They spray in the evenings because they don’t want to accidentally hurt any bees, and they have a program on those trucks that lets them know when they’re getting close to nests. Next, this machine makes the particles really really tiny, so it’s not like a water hose.
Ben: And is this spray toxic?
Cami: The chemical is called Permethrin, and it’s EPA regulated for public health use. For context, this chemical is found in lice shampoo, dog shampoo, and home bug treatments. And, they’re legally not allowed to spray within 300 feet of any body of water. Not even the retention ponds really, since those have the fish.
Ben: Okay, so, can a resident voice concerns about mosquitos in an area?
Cami: Yeah! Anytime someone has a mosquito issue, Vector Control can be called and they’ll come try and figure out what the issue is. Most of the time, people are creating the mosquito problems themselves by leaving standing water around their homes unknowingly. And believe it or not, summer isn’t prime mosquito season. It’s spring and fall, but since everyone is out more in June, July, and August, they’re getting bit more often.
Ben: Well, thanks for looking into this Cami!
Cami: No problem!
If you have mosquito concerns, reach out to New Hanover County on their website here.