Man fights ankle-biting mosquito invasion with fish

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GARDEN GROVE, CALIFORNIA. – Every morning Michael Saba sets out to feed his fish – all 75,000.

Saba, known as “The King Fish,” is a marine biologist from the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District, where he rules an army of tiny silver creatures.

“I think they are the most beautiful organisms on the planet,” he said.

What you need to know

  • Mosquito fish are nature’s best weapon against annoying bloodsuckers
  • Once they reach adulthood, the fish are shipped to backyard wells and ponds across Orange County where they devour mosquito larvae
  • That year there was an unprecedented invasion of the Aedes mosquito, a relatively new Asian species nicknamed the “knuckle-biters” because of its sneak attacks
  • Each female mosquito can lay around 1,000 eggs in her short life

His fish aren’t all that different from what you would buy at a pet store – except for one thing.

“This is one of that family of fish that happens to eat copious amounts of mosquito larvae when they are around,” he said.

Called mosquito fish, they are nature’s best weapon against annoying bloodsuckers. Once they reach adulthood, the fish are shipped to backyard wells and ponds across Orange County where they devour small mosquito larvae.

Saba has been breeding these fish for more than a decade. But this year they’re a hot commodity.

Orange County’s mosquito police have been inundated with calls from itchy residents saying the past few months have been hell, with more insects than ever.

“The people who were at home and enjoyed their backyards more have planted gardens over irrigation and a lot more potted plants, allowing more breeding sources for these mosquitoes,” said Lora Young, the department’s communications director.

That year there was also an unprecedented invasion of the Aedes mosquito, a relatively new Asian species nicknamed the “knuckle-biter” for its stealth attacks. Each female mosquito can lay around 1,000 eggs in her short life, which means Saba’s fish must have a healthy appetite.

Knuckle biters are more than just a nuisance – they can transmit diseases like dengue and zika. To make matters worse, the recent record temperatures have resulted in more mosquitos throughout the year.

For Saba, this means keeping up with the growing demand for mosquito fish as much as possible.

“You really have to love it,” he said. “You can’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and just do what is necessary to make sure the fish are healthy and in the staff’s buckets that must use them every day.”

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