2017-07-13 / Top News

Charlotte County battles to get ‘pestiferous’ condition under control

Not all mosquitoes are created equal. No one knows that better than Scott Schermerhorn, Charlotte County’s beleaguered mosquito and aquatic weed control manager, who has found himself fighting against not only the formidable forces of nature, but also the verbal wrath of some county residents who don’t appreciate that nature hasn’t exactly been cooperative.

The problem is, of course, mosquitoes.

In early June, the county distributed a press release saying that, “Scattered rain, wind and tidal events have contributed to the series of broods developing and hatching in rapid succession. Aedes sollicitans (salt marsh mosquito) and Aedes taeniorhynchus (black salt marsh mosquito) are swarming and causing a pestiferous condition.”

Pestiferous is right. Southwest Florida is suffering from the worst assault of mosquitoes in a decade, Mr. Schermerhorn said.

“And it’s not just us,” he noted. “It’s been the worst for Sarasota, Lee and Collier, too. We’re up to our eyebrows in mosquitoes.”

The incessant torrential rains in June created a perfect storm for salt marsh mosquitoes, whose eggs lay dormant during the spring drought. But, like dried soup directions, it was instant chaos — just add water.

“They swarmed, and we had hatch after hatch,” Mr. Schermerhorn said. “Usually we have a week or two in between hatches where we can larvicide and adulticide, and keep the next hatch from being as bad as the first. But we had multiple hatches in very short periods of time. …They started hatching off very, very quickly — and that’s what made people very, very upset.”

Salt marsh mosquitoes have a much longer flight range than other mosquitoes, flying up to 2 miles in search of a blood meal. The pests refused to be contained in the marshes and quickly migrated areas populated by humans.

On the move

“Another characteristic of the salt marsh mosquitoes is that they bite repeatedly,” Mr. Schermerhorn explained. “They are absolutely pestiferous. They will swarm; they’re very nasty. They’re a smaller mosquito. They’re the ones that everyone’s been swatting.”

It didn’t take long for the entire county to become inundated as the salt marsh mosquitoes started swarming around the harbor but moved inland. Larvicide and barrier sprays to prevent them from migrating have been less effective than in past years because of the sheer numbers of the pests.

The very first areas to experience the “unpleasantness” — as Mr. Schermerhorn termed it — was the South Gulf Cove area. Then the pests made their way up through Rotonda, then El Jobean and to the southern part of mid-county, then Punta Gorda and the Burnt Store corridor. An additional challenge has been that some of the breeding is occurring in areas owned by the state of Florida — requiring the county to apply for special permissions prior to any treatment being allowed.

With the weather and the multiplying swarms working against him, Mr. Schermerhorn called in the cavalry.

“We have brought in a contract plane to do aerial spraying, and we’ve brought in our helicopter to do aerial spraying in different zones,” he said. “I have moved the fog trucks so they’re spraying both in the evening time as well as the early morning hours so we can knock them down during both of those times. That has been quasi-successful thus far in that we were receiving 50 to 75 complaints a day, and we have dropped that down to 10 to 15 at this point.”

But that, too, has a downside — expense. It costs roughly twice as much to deploy contractors as it does to tackle the problem in-house.

“It has to be really bad for me to pull in those contractors,” Mr. Schermerhorn said. “And it was really bad. It has helped a little bit. I’ll be more comfortable when everything can be brought back to being done in-house. It will save the taxpayers money.”

Mosquito control is no small endeavor in terms of cost. Mr. Schermerhorn said the county spends several hundred thousand dollars to minimize the mosquito problem. But it seems sometimes that residents expect the Mosquito and Aquatic Weed Control division of the Charlotte County Public Works Department to provide instant solution when Mother Nature is hamstringing the solution.

“There have been an awful lot of people who have put it (their displeasure) in vulgar terms,” Mr. Schermerhorn said. “It’s unfortunate we have that kind of a population out there. On the other side, there have been others who have been understanding, given the weather patterns that we had. It’s not like I want to go out and waste thousands of dollars’ worth of chemical if we’re going to have a rainstorm all night. And if we have a temperature inversion, we can’t put up a plane or helicopter. We schedule what we’re planning to do and post it on the website (www.charlottecountyfl.gov, then click Mosquito Control on the Living page), but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be done if there’s a weather problem. In that case, we schedule it for the next day.”

Exchange of pests

With the shift in summer rains, the salt marsh mosquito population is on the decline. But the problem isn’t over. In fact, current weather conditions have created a new problem — freshwater mosquitoes.

“That means we will still see some salt marsh mosquitoes, but we are now really battling the freshwater mosquitoes,” Mr. Schermerhorn said, “the ones that will be hatching from some of the ditches that have extra water in them that haven’t drained.”

These species are different from the container-breeding types that were targeted last year for being potential carriers of the Zika virus. Different species also require different methods of eradication.

“We do have the different biologies of different mosquitoes,” Mr. Schermerhorn said. “The way we attack the salt marsh is different than the way we attack the freshwater, which is different from the way we attack the floodwater. It all depends on their reproductive habits as to how we reduce the population.”

Standing water invites larvicide — a chemical that prevents the mosquitoes from maturing, usually sprayed into ditches by trucks. That should decrease the population of mosquitoes that make it to the adult flying stage.

“There are some people who are upset that their particular spot of the county didn’t get treated but I’ve only got so many resources and can only do so much a night,” Mr. Schermerhorn said. “We’ve gotten around to everybody at least once. We’re getting around to where the areas are the worst, and we’ll continue to prioritize by taking complaints, by taking trap numbers and determining the population and scheduling treatments as we have according to Florida state code and Florida state statute.”

He noted that Lee County has nine pilots flying missions every night, and they’re still finding it difficult to keep up with their mosquito control — and their budget is considerably more than Charlotte County’s.

“I appreciate those people who have had some patience,” Mr. Schermerhorn said. “I would ask the rest of the population to have patience as we provide mosquito control. It’s not a simple, one-stop type of treatment. It has to be rotated and continued.

“And we have to remember that this is Florida, and there will always be mosquitoes.” ¦

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