Wet weather means mosquitoes abound

Francis Warner, a Vector Control Officer for the City of Clovis, looks at a test tube filled with creek water. Warner takes samples of water with mosquito larvae to test for West Nile virus. CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

In the pre-dawn hours, while most residents are sleeping, Francis Warner fires up his spray truck and drives the streets of Clovis, putting down a fine mist of insecticide.

As the city’s vector control officer, Warner and his crew are in charge of controlling pests. And this time of year, during what is traditionally one of the wettest spells in New Mexico, that means mosquitoes.

“Most citizens never see us — it’s kind of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind deal until all of a sudden they’re getting bitten by mosquitos and then they think, ‘I need to call that guy,’” he said.

New home construction and growth in the community are contributing to the steadily elevating mosquito populations, according to Warner.

“It’s going to be a growing problem as long as the population grows,” he said.

Areas with dense weeds and foliage provide mosquitos a haven to hide from insecticides unable to penetrate and reach them, Warner said. Back yards are just as guilty. Water puddles on children’s toys, in flower pots or in low-lying moisture spots all create opportunities for breeding. Retention ponds are also a leading culprit, he said.

“One back yard could breed millions, especially if that back yard has weeds in it, because now not only do they have a place to breed, you gave them a place to live,” he said.

One female mosquito can lay between 100 and 200 eggs in as little as a teaspoon of water, Warner explained. In four days, those eggs can hatch and the problem grows exponentially.

Efforts by the city to control mosquitos are useless without the help of residents, he said. Spraying is not effective if the insects are breeding unfettered on private property, Warner added.

“It is a never-ending cycle. Insects have been around a lot longer than we have, and they’ll be here longer than we will,” he said.

Warner said the budget for his department has almost tripled to $13,000 in the last four years and is still about three times smaller than is needed to keep up with increasing demand for insect control.

During the day, Warner spends his time pre-treating areas prone for mosquito breeding grounds, compiling data and testing standing water for existing larvae. Those samples are screened for viruses such as West Nile, he said.

To date there has been no evidence of West Nile detected in Curry County, he said.

Charles Guthals, who owns a nursery and landscape company, understands what Warner is talking about. Recent rain — more than 5 inches in the last month — has customers inquiring daily about mosquito control. This year has been no exception, he explained.

“It’s (the rain) been a welcome relief with all the dry weather — but it’s kind of a double-edge sword.”

He said late summer is generally a peak season for mosquitos.

“During the fair week, it always seems to start raining and whenever we get rain, we’re apt to have a mosquito crop,” Guthals said.

By the numbers:
6 — Amount of insecticide in fluid ounces the spray truck can put down per minute while traveling at 5 to 10 mph.
8 — Approximate number of mosquito species in the Clovis area. There are more than 20 species indigenous to New Mexico
60 — Degrees to 80 degrees that temperatures need to be for the city to be able to spray for mosquitos.

Did you know:
– Some of the mosquitos in the area are able to survive winter.
– Mosquito eggs can lay dormant in mud for years, incubating and hatching when conditions are ideal.

Source: Francis Warner, Clovis Vector Control Officer