As urban forester Dick Miller hoisted 50 pounds of minnows and waded into muddy wetlands, he swatted away mosquitoes buzzing in his ear. He slit the bag open and released thousands of tiny fish into the water, freeing them to do what they do best: eat and kill.
Instead of pesticides and chemicals, Canal Winchester is using a more-natural approach to get rid of pesky mosquitoes for the summer. Members of the city’s urban forestry department released 11,000 fathead minnows into five wetland areas and ponds around the city this week in hopes of decreasing the mosquito count during a particularly wet and hot season. The minnows — which Miller called “voracious eaters” — consume mosquito larvae in the water before they mature.
The city’s program is the only one of its kind in the area and complements what Franklin County already does to prevent mosquito-population growth, such as spraying pesticides. Miller said the city has been releasing minnows for three years, and he believes the approach is more efficient — and definitely more natural.
“When you fog, within minutes, it’s on the ground, and it’s not killing anything after that,” Miller said. “It all helps, but with the minnows, you’re releasing a native fish in their native habitat in their native state to do what they do best without any chemicals or pesticides.”
Miller said he can’t quantify the program’s results, but he said it’s so simple that it was worth a try. It’s relatively cheap, too, at $425 for about 11,000 fish. In comparison, Canal Winchester paid $6,200 to the Franklin County Health Department for mosquito control in 2017.
“For a few hundred dollars and a little bit of time, why not?” he said. “How could it not help?”
Summer hikes or barbecues might be disturbed by a larger mosquito population this year because of a particularly wet few months. According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, June’s temperatures and precipitation have been above average. Rainfall and heat create ideal breeding conditions for some species of mosquitoes that lay their eggs in standing water.
Fortunately, Miller said, most mosquitoes are simply a nuisance.
The Ohio Department of Health has tested 27,000 mosquitoes in 33 counties this year. Of those, six tested positive for West Nile virus, a disease carried by infected mosquitoes that can be deadly. Three of those positive tests were in Franklin County. There has been no documented human case of West Nile in Ohio this year, said Richard Gary, the state public-health entomologist.
The Franklin County Health Department — whose jurisdiction is the entire county outside Columbus and Worthington — uses a variety of methods to deter growth of the mosquito population. The department targets larvae early by locating standing water and releasing bacteria that affects only mosquito eggs. But as the summer goes on and mosquitoes hatch, the county begins fogging with pesticides. The county also responds to calls about high mosquito activity and will spray specific areas.
People who do not want pesticides in their neighborhood can fill out a no-spray request on the county health department’s website. Columbus Public Health has a similar request process for city residents. Some people prefer this option if they have specific concerns about allergies, health or the environment.
“You can’t ever get rid of mosquitoes,” Miller said. “They’ll always be there, but we can manage them as best we can.”
Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 14, 2018.
Photo by Joshua Bickel. Video by Abbey Marshall.