Help control the pest population

Published 9:06 pm Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jay Kiser, a biologist with Suffolk’s Mosquito Control Division, uses a microscope to identify different species of mosquitoes caught in a trap. The job of identifying species is important because different species carry different types of diseases.

Charles Abadam is in charge of one of the more unusual offices in the city.

It’s the kind of workplace where scientists hunch over microscopes while discussing what they’ll have for lunch, where books have titles like “Taxonomists’ Glossary of Mosquito Anatomy” and bins are labeled “Mosquito Waste.”

Abadam supervises the city’s Mosquito Control Division. It’s been a busy summer for the workers there, which include biologists who count and test the mosquitoes for diseases and technicians who spray throughout the city to kill adult mosquitoes.

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The workers admit it’s the type of job that gets a good reaction when folks ask the inevitable question, “What do you do?”

Abadam stumbled into the job after he got a degree in biology with a focus on entomology, the study of insects. He worked his way up from a technician to become the supervisor of the division.

“I was interested in biology,” he said. “When I was young, I went to summer classes and we did insect stuff.”

Now that he’s older, his days are filled with insect stuff.

Charles Abadam, mosquito control superintendent, shows off a petri dish full of mosquitoes in his office on Thursday.

The mosquito control staff’s main duties include monitoring the mosquito population for diseases, controlling the population by spraying for adults and killing larvae, and educating the public on how to help in the effort.

The most ick-inducing part of the department belongs to the biologists who collect mosquitoes from traps located throughout the city and bring them back to the office off Carolina Road.

There, the biologists use a chemical to sedate them. The bloodsuckers then are counted and identified by species — a process that, to the trained eye, is as easy as telling the difference between a Cheerio and a Froot Loop, Abadam said.

“Each mosquito (species) has its own biology and behavior and can carry different diseases,” Abadam said. In this area, West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis are most common.

Roughly 15,000 mosquitoes are trapped every week, Abadam said.

The traps use a combination of carbon dioxide, lights and chemicals that mimic the scent of human skin to attract the mosquitoes, then confine them to a series of nets and buckets to trap them. The most sophisticated traps rotate to a different collection bucket every so often, so biologists can tell which species of mosquitoes are being trapped at which times of the night.

The collections and tests help the biologists know where to focus their spraying and larvicide efforts and when to warn people about potentially deadly diseases being carried by mosquitoes.

Their job is made difficult by the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and its proximity to some populated areas, Abadam said.

“The swamp is so overwhelmingly huge, it affects everything around it,” he said.

The technicians are not permitted to spray or do larvicide operations in the swamp but do have six traps there, Abadam said. Tests on insects from those traps are a good indicator of when disease-ridden mosquitoes will make it to populated areas.

Abadam does not believe the warm winter Hampton Roads experienced this year caused a larger population of mosquitoes but does think it contributed to a larger prevalence of diseases because some migratory birds, which typically harbor the disease, did not leave the area.

Abadam said the Mosquito Control staff will be at Peanut Fest in October to educate folks on how to avoid having mosquitoes around their house, including by eliminating standing water and using Mosquito Dunks to kill larvae in unavoidable standing water.

“Being in this job makes you look at standing water differently,” he said. “You end up seeing mosquitoes in your sleep.”

The Mosquito Dunks are available free to city residents older than 18. They can be picked up at fire stations, city hall, Public Works administration and the East Suffolk Recreation Center.

For more information on Mosquito Control, call 514-7609.