Fighting Nature with Nature: Mosquito Assassins Are One Solution To The Problem Of Skeeters

In a lab setting, the assassins can potentially eliminate between 100 and 4,000 mosquitoes.

By Jill Ament & Amber ChavezJuly 17, 2018 10:36 am

There’s little that beats spending time outdoors in Texas in the summer except, well, the heat. And even that would be tolerable for a lot of folks were it not for the mosquitoes. But skeeters are more than a just benign pest. Post-Harvey, there are about 60 species around Harris County – and in some cases, they’re creating a genuine health hazard. Harris County officials are saying this is a job for mosquito assassins.

Anita Schiller is leading this effort as program director of the Biological Controls Initiative in Harris County Precinct 4. She says she and her team are trying to fight nature with nature.

“We are working with our main focus animal – the mosquito assassin – to rear it in mass and large scales and release it in areas where it might have the biggest impact against some of our most troublesome day-biting nuisance mosquitoes,” she says.

These mosquito assassins are in the same taxonomic group as mosquitoes, however they are predatory and don’t take blood meals.

“In the mosquito assassin – [a female] will get all her nutrition during her larval stage – her juvenile stage when she’s in the water,” Schiller says, “And incidentally – all the food that she takes is other organisms – and very often that’s other mosquitoes.”

Schiller knows the potential for one of these assassins is to eliminate between 100 and 4,000 pest mosquitoes in a controlled lab setting. However in the real-world environment, she understands factors can change that number.

“So we don’t really know what the impact is in the wild – at least not Harris County and for this specific species of mosquito assassin,” she says.

These species are native to Texas – and Schiller’s team tries to work exclusively with native species to capitalize on their adaptations. Her team isn’t just looking into bugs, either.

“We’re using nematodes, we are looking at antimicrobials, we are looking at the bacteria-infected mosquito model, or SIT model – sterile insect technique model – we are looking at those as well,” she says.

Written by Amber Chavez.