After a mild winter and a wet start to June, Bergen County has become a fertile breeding ground for tens of thousands of mosquitoes, just in time for summer.
The state's Department of Environmental Protection's (NJDEP) Office of Mosquito Control Coordination has been working closely with Bergen County Mosquito Control in Paramus, sharing invaluable forms of mosquito control from insecticides to more natural methods, depending on the type of mosquito.
On Wednesday, the state presented a natural enemy of the mosquito - copepods, tiny crustaceans that exist in salt and fresh water.
“They’re relatives of crayfish and love mosquitoes,” explained Bob Kent, the administrator of the state's mosquito program. “They also love to eat mosquito larvae. They’ll sometimes just kill larvae and not bother to eat them.”
Although the state discovered a certain type of copepod was being successfully utilized in New Orleans Parish in Louisiana, they found the same species to be native to New Jersey as well.
“So we’re not introducing any kind of new exotic species,” added Claudia O'Malley, a Principal Biologist with NJDEP, who highlighted the importance of maintaining the area’s ecological system.
The mosquito control relationship between the state and county departments is beneficial not only environmentally, but fiscally as well. The state program, including the copepods, the equipment to store them in, materials and research, is available to the county at no cost.
Through a $35,000 federal line item through the Department of Agriculture, the state and county have access to resources not typically available on a local level.
“Mosquito control in general is a great example of shared services and partnering across county lines,” Kent said. “We all know each other, and we [the department] have worked together as a partnership for over a century.”
Although New Jersey has over 60 species of mosquito, the Asian Tiger Mosquito is the biggest concern for officials due to its ability to carry the potentially harmful West Nile Virus, which can be found in almost every section of Bergen County, and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a rare but dangerous virus typically found in southern New Jersey.
But Bergen's Mosquito Control department carries the distinction of being the first in the United States to discover West Nile Virus when the initial outbreak in New York City forced officials to seek answers in 1999.
Kent is confident the county will continue to serve as a model department for the rest of the state and country.
“These guys worked with us and Rutgers University to survey, for the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the extent of the outbreak when it occurred,” Kent explained, adding members of CDC camped out in Paramus during the initial West Nile virus outbreak to learn as much as possible.
“New York was not prepared. New Jersey was prepared,” Kent added. “Bergen County was prepared because we already had an infrastructure and surveillance strategy in place.”
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