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Have A Mosquito Problem? Hillsborough Offering Free Fish To Combat Those Summer Pests

Jorgelina Manna-Rea
Hillsborough County Mosquito Management's mosquito fish hatchery in Eureka Springs.

Residents will drive home from the giveaway events with a bag of fish — but ones with a diet for mosquito larvae instead of fish flakes.

Hillsborough County Mosquito Management has added another tool in its kit to control the mosquito population this summer.

As the temperature heats up, and summer rains produce more standing water, the county is offering residents fleets of small fish to help combat the growing number of mosquitos we’ll be seeing.

The two-and-a-half-inch, guppy-like eastern mosquito fish is native to Florida and feeds on mosquito eggs and larvae. They start on their mosquito diet when they’re as small as 0.3 inches at birth.

In five more summer drive-thru events, residents can pick up a bag of 10 mosquito fish to take home. All that’s required is a photo ID showing proof of residence in Hillsborough County.

“We only give out 10 fish, but that's so we can give out a lot to every resident and help out as many residents as we can,” said Alexa Patrizio, Hillsborough County Mosquito Management project coordinator. “But they do reproduce so often that by the time that you get your fish home in a month, you should already have about 100 fish in there.”

An adult mosquito fish can eat up to 100 mosquito larvae each day, according to Patrizio, and provides an effective way to curtail mosquito growth without the use of insecticides.

“What we're really working on here is mitigating mosquito populations before they become adults,” Patrizio said. “So we were looking into ways that we could mitigate the larvae population. We just looked for natural biological control.”

The mosquito fish’s flexibility provides an easy way for residents to have ongoing mosquito control in their own backyard.

Patrizio said the fish can live up to a year and reproduce in almost any standing water as long as it’s free of chemicals, including ponds, fountains or rain barrels.

“They're perfectly fine to put in our waterways,” Patrizio said. “They're found a lot of places because they are super tolerant of temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, so they're completely OK to be putting in your standing water in your backyard.”

Mosquitoes lay their eggs on top of standing water, so the fish are able to pick them off the surface.

Using mosquito fish as a mitigation measure began in 2016, but the county has taken steps this year to farm them on its own instead of purchasing the fish elsewhere.

Jorgelina Manna-Rea
Four separate mosquito fish hatcheries behind the Hillsborough County Mosquito Management office in Eureka Springs.
Jorgelina Manna-Rea

Preventing mosquito growth isn’t all about stopping bug bites. It’s also about preventing the spread of diseases like the West Nile and Zika viruses.

“Besides them being annoying, and their bites being itchy, they are a huge problem in disease spread,” said Patrizio.

Residents who can’t make it to one of the events can make a request to pick up a bag of mosquito fish or have it delivered.

For those who don’t live in Hillsborough County, taking preventative steps like tipping over standing water will lessen mosquitoes’ breeding ground.

“Tip over anything that could have standing water, even as little as a bottle cap,” said Patrizio.

Jorgelina Manna-Rea is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second straight semester with WUSF.
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