Mosquito Control amping up Wolbachia bug releases in Lower Keys

Mosquitoes are delivered in cardboard tubes, each one containing 1,000 male Aedes aegypti bugs.
Mosquitoes are delivered in cardboard tubes, each one containing 1,000 male Aedes aegypti bugs. Mosquito Control District

Efforts to drive down the local population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Lower Keys are about to be bumped up.

Thousands of mosquitoes infected with the natural bacteria Wolbachia have been released by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District at 20 sites in a 10-acre area on Stock Island since mid-April. There have been 360,000 released since the trial started, or 40,000 each week.

That will increase to 75,000 this week, according to Beth Ranson, public information officer for the Mosquito Control District. Five more release sites have been added and 1,000 mosquitoes will be released at each one on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carry Zika and other viruses. The Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are reared by University of Kentucky biotech company MosquitoMate, which received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October to use Wolbachia in the Florida Keys trial.

The release points are in an area south of Grunt Street to Peninsular Avenue, where the mosquitoes seek out wild female mosquitoes with which to mate. The eggs will never hatch due to the Wolbachia, which is found in 50 percent of insects and is not harmful to humans, according to Dr. Stephen Dobson, founder and chief executive of MosquitoMate.

For the Wolbachia method to work, there needs to be a ratio of seven male Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to every one naturally found in the trial site. There are traps set up to study the ratio, but Dobson said not many mosquitoes are being caught.

“We were hoping to have some solid data that would tell us we’re at that desired ratio,” Dobson said. “The problem here is we are midway through the trail and I don’t have that data yet.”

He said there have not been many complaints of the mosquitoes from the public and Ranson said after the bugs are released from each cardboard tube, it’s hard to tell they’re even there.

Board meeting

Tuesday in Marathon, the Mosquito Control Board will meet and further discuss term limits for commissioners.

Commissioner Phil Goodman reintroduced the idea of limits for the second time in recent years at the board’s April meeting. At the May meeting, commissioners spoke in favor of 12-year limits, or three four-year terms. Since then, Dirk Smits, attorney for the district, has been working on a draft of two resolutions, one for a limit of two terms and one for a limit of three.

The board could take a stance Tuesday. Whichever resolution is approved will be forwarded to state Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) and Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami and the Keys) for legislative action. The state Legislature would have the final say because Mosquito Control was legislatively created.

The board meets at Mosquito Control, 503 107th St. bayside, Marathon, at 1 p.m. A retiree health-care workshop starts at 10 a.m., followed by a budget workshop prior to the regular meeting.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219