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Portsmouth, VA asks Academics to Solve Mosquito Woes

In DEET, Lyme Disease, Uncategorized, West Nile Virus on July 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Portsmouth asks academics to solve mosquito woes

The Asian tiger mosquito has plagued Virginia since 1991.

 The Asian tiger mosquito has plagued Virginia since 1991.
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 22, 2011


For years, the city has struggled to fight the salt-marsh mosquito, a pesky bug that swarms Craney Island, keeping residents locked inside their homes. But now, another pest, the Asian tiger mosquito, has plagued the area so badly that Portsmouth has turned to experts at Rutgers University for help.

The mosquitoes are bad all over Hampton Roads, Portsmouth’s mosquito control administrator, George Wojcik, said recently.

There are so many places for them to lie low and reproduce that traditional control methods don’t work, he said.

The black and white insects have been stealthily zipping around Virginia since 1991. They’ve taken up residence in birdbaths, rain gutters, planters and virtually any other water-bearing object. They also love backyards – places that are difficult for the city to reach with truck-mounted sprays, Wojcik said.

Portsmouth residents Jim and Carol Grider said their backyard is particularly where the bugs have been pesky in previous years. Despite diligent efforts to rid their property of water, the mosquitoes regularly breed in the flower pots they keep out back, Jim Grider said.

Asking people to keep their property water-free is unrealistic, said Rutgers associate professor Dr. Dina Fonseca, who is leading the Asian tiger mosquito project from New Jersey. Portsmouth joins about a dozen counties in three other states that are participating in a study to wipe out the problem.

Even the tidiest homeowners can fall victim to a tiger mosquito infestation, she said. Tiny pools of water in the street or a neighbor’s backyard can result in a mosquito problem for an entire community.

“We had prisoners on good behavior come out and clean up alleys and pick up tires and go into houses and clean up everything,” Fonseca said about her testing in New Jersey, “and we ended up concluding that it just doesn’t work.”

Ideas to control the mosquito population include trying to kill the bugs early in the summer, before activity normally peaks, to using a juvenile hormone that would keep the mosquitoes forever young. A mosquito eternally trapped as a child can’t bite, Fonseca said.

The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also is working with Brandeis University economists to measure just how annoyed residents get with mosquitoes and to determine whether they are a problem people actually want solved, Fonseca said.

The answers are easy for the Griders, who are interested to see what the study will show. Their Cavalier Forest neighborhood is one of four Portsmouth communities being tested.

Any solutions, Fonseca and Wojcik warn, are likely years away.

So for now, keep your bug spray handy. You’re going to need it.

Sarah Hutchins,             (757) 446-2326      ,


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