ANGLETON — In order to fulfill the Brazoria County Mosquito Control District’s mission of controlling and monitoring the mosquito population, sometimes they have to attract them.
Three mosquito surveyors go to different parts of the county — the marsh zones in the east and south and freshwater zones in the west and north — each week to trap mosquitoes and test them for diseases, Mosquito Control Director Fran Henderson said.
They use dry ice, which releases carbon dioxide, as well as water with hay and small LED lights to attract mosquitoes toward the traps, Surveyor Jose Marquez said. Depending on the mosquito population in the area, the traps can catch no bugs at all or “a couple thousand” mosquitoes, he said.
They set the traps in areas away from people or households, unless a resident requests to have a trap nearby them, Marquez said. Last week, he collected the captured bugs from a trap behind Freeport Municipal Park.
“We try to hide them so no one messes with them,” Marquez said.
Once they take the traps down, they vacuum the mosquitoes into containers made of clear PVC pipe and netting. They go into a cooler with ice, which keeps them alive as they’re transferred to the “home base,” or Mosquito Control building on East Kiber Street in Angleton.
At the Angleton building, they use tools including an air mattress pump to put the mosquitoes into specimen jars, Marquez said. There are more professional tools for mosquito transfer, he said, but improvising makes the process more cost-effective.
Most specimen jars are sent to a lab in Austin, where they prefer to receive live mosquitoes and test them for most mosquito-borne diseases, Marquez said.
The only disease they test for at the Angleton office is West Nile Virus, Henderson said.
There is risk involved in collecting and transferring mosquitoes, including bites and setting some free in the office, they said.
“Pretty much, I’m mosquito bait,” Marquez said. “I never thought I’d grow up to be playing with mosquitoes.”
Henderson and Marquez both started out as drivers of mosquito trucks for the county, they said, and did not expect their job to become a career.
The biology and habits of mosquitoes are more interesting than one might expect, Marquez said. Only female mosquitoes bite people because they use protein in blood to develop their eggs, he said.
Residents should know their calls and tips help the department determine where they will treat for mosquitoes, Marquez said.
“There’s not an exact science to it,” Henderson said.
The hardest part is determining where to spray, especially with the department’s airplanes, she said.
The department aims to reduce the population of mosquitoes, but they will never get rid of it completely, Henderson said.
“If there was a way to get rid of mosquitoes, we probably would have,” she said.
Birds and other animals feed on the bugs, she said, but that doesn’t mean the department’s job is not vital. The department started in the 1950s, but the director has heard stories of before then when cows allegedly died after swarms of mosquitoes suffocated them, she said.
Staff is preparing for their busiest season later this month and into September. Residents can help the department in its mission by emptying any standing water from their property. They should check rain gutters, tires, flower pots and any other places that could harbor breeding, Henderson said.
To make a spray request, call 979-864-1532 or visit brazoriacountytx.gov/departments/mosquito-control/spray-request.