Breeding mosquito assassins to fight annoying pests

HOUSTON – Mosquitoes: those pesky pests that pack a powerful bite.

In a lab in far north Harris County, a special brand of mosquito is being bred to fight the problem in Precinct Four.

“In Harris County, we have currently about 58 different species of mosquitoes. Of which, 57 actually take a blood meal to produce eggs. The one mosquito that's grouped in there that doesn't take a blood meal, is not really a mosquito. And we're using that one to help get rid of some of the others,” Anita Schiller said.

This special breed is known as the mosquito assassin.

“It's the butterfly of the fly world. They are absolutely beautifully adorned with blue and gold scales, all over their beautiful little bodies,” Schiller said.

Schiller calls herself a "dedicated naturalist" and heads the lab at Precinct Four's Biological Control Initiative, where scientists can breed up to 86,000 mosquito assassins in one month. Once they're bred, they begin their mission impossible.

“Mosquito assassins will lay their eggs in the same containers, same vessels, same habitat, as those pest mosquitoes, too. So while they're in the water they feed on them,” Schiller said. “So, one mosquito eaten is one less mosquito flying about biting.”

These mosquito assassins are also working in plain sight right now at the Cockrell Butterfly Center in the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Houston’s Museum District to help keep the butterflies safe.

“The Cockrell has a few stowaway mosquitos. And of course, that's not exactly desirable but they can't do anything about it with pesticides because if they did, they'd kill all the butterflies, too,” Schiller said.

So, Schiller decided to use the mosquito assassins to kill the stowaway mosquitoes, as well as to collect data on their impact.

“Perfect marriage,” Schiller said.

The work being done at BCI gets full support from Harris County Precinct Four Commissioner Jack Cagle.

He said he's excited to bring a more natural approach to mosquito control.

“By developing our own, native mosquitoes that don't bite us but are also pollinators, and we need more pollinators. You like your flowers, you need pollinators. So we're able to help our environment and protect ourselves by working with nature as opposed to try to slam it,” Cagle said.

But will there be a day when the mosquito assassins won't be needed anymore?

Schiller says no. But says they will continue to help.

“I'm gonna have to burst that bubble, that dream. That's not gonna happen. By themselves, they're not gonna be the cure. However, if we use them in concert and in an integrated approach with other control strategies then perhaps we can get there, that one-two punch,” Schiller said.

And even though these mosquito assassins are helping suppress the mosquito population, there are still things you can do to help out, too, as you keep your home and environments safe from mosquitoes.

Reduce the number of breeding sites near your property

Since female mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, reducing the amount of standing water will minimize breeding sites and limit the number of mosquitoes. Check gutters, old tires, cans and containers, as well as the saucers at the bottom of flower pots for standing water which may become a breeding ground for mosquitoes -- and then, drain or dump it out.

Kill the mosquito larvae

Mosquito eggs hatch into larvae about three days after being laid. If you do have standing water around your property, like for birdbaths, for example, be sure to change out the water weekly to kill the larvae.

Keep your home mosquito-free

Mosquitoes love light, so if possible, minimize the outdoor lighting which is known to attract mosquitoes. Also, check windows and screens for places where mosquitoes can sneak in.

Finding the right mosquito repellent for you

The Environmental Protection Agency has created an easy to use tool to search for insect repellent that is perfect for your lifestyle and needs. Click here to try it out.

West Nile virus and you

According to the Centers for Disease Control, West Nile virus is the “leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the Continental United States. Commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito.”

The Harris County Public Health Mosquito and Vector Control advises that wild birds can carry many diseases. Even though domestic-cat kills are the most common causes of bird death in our area, if you find a dead bird around your home, you should take it seriously.

To report a dead bird, you can use this form. According to HCPH Mosquito and Vector control, the department will test dead birds if they meet the following criteria: no sign of trauma, dead for less than one day and no signs of ants or maggots.

To check for reports of The West Nile Virus in your area, click here.