News - August 25, 2010

District delivers death to mosquitoes

by Dave Boyce

"Queer, how you stalk and prowl the air in circles and evasions, enveloping me, ghoul on wings, Winged Victory," wrote author and poet D.H. Lawrence.

"Settle, and stand on long thin shanks eyeing me sideways, and cunningly conscious that I am aware, you speck.

"I hate the way you lurch off sideways into air, having read my thoughts against you."

Mr. Lawrence, who died in 1930, may never be equaled in his poetic respect for and hatred of the "accursed hairy frailty" known as the mosquito.

Nor does this species have friends in San Mateo County, where the Mosquito Abatement District goes to great lengths to deny the tiny fiends their chance at a full and satisfying life, as noted in a July 28 presentation to the Portola Valley Town Council by abatement district manager Bob Gay and town resident and district representative Joseph Fil.

There is serious potential for harm, Mr. Gay said. The anopheles mosquito, which lives in Portola Valley, is a vector for malaria. While malaria is extremely unlikely in native mosquitoes, West Nile virus has been found San Mateo County. Among mosquitoes that can carry it, the virus is "epidemic" in the city of Santa Clara some 20 miles to the south, Mr. Gay said.

Ticks carrying Lyme disease are another concern and a real danger to Portola Valley and Woodside residents. The abatement district annually collects about 1,200 ticks in parks and along trails. Up to 3 percent carry Lyme, Mr. Gay said. The disease is reportedly curable if caught early, but if not, it can cause complications in the heart, nervous system and joints.

The abatement district's 11 technicians make house calls. They treat standing water to make it inhospitable to mosquitoes, advise on controlling roof rats, and remove ground-nesting yellow jackets, which are far more fierce than their above-ground-nesting cousins, Mr. Gay said.

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Prolific little ...

The common female urban house mosquito can produce 400 million offspring in a single season, Mr. Fil said.

This West Nile-carrying mosquito, a denizen of the night, numbs the skin of its victims with a Novocain-like anesthetic before it bites, Mr. Gay said.

The salt marsh mosquito, found in numberless multitudes on Bair Island, likes the daytime and eschews anesthetics. "(It) is a very vicious biter," Mr. Gay said. "It's going to bite you during the day when you walk out of your house."

Abatement has come a long way since the days of DDT and pouring crude oil on the water, Mr. Gay said. Side effects from pesticides are now rare; the damage is done to the mosquito to the exclusion of other creatures. One method uses a hormone that causes larvae to emerge early and die. Another infects with a bacteria that grows barbs and destroys the mosquito from the inside, Mr. Gay said.

In severe cases, as sometimes occurs on Bair Island, the district will use a helicopter to spray ponds with the equivalent of Black Flag, but that is infrequent and a last resort, Mr. Gay said.

At home, a fly swatter or rolled up newspaper or even a slap of the hand can be effective, if your aim is true.

"Queer, what a big stain my sucked blood makes beside the infinitesimal faint smear of you!" Mr. Lawrence wrote in summing up. "Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have disappeared into!"


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