Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Fighting the bite: Residents get a little slap happy watching mosquito crews

Some people run inside their houses when Britt Swenson drives by. Others try to wave her over to their yards, yell "Drive slower!" or pretend to slap away mosquitoes. "It's so funny; they make me laugh," said Swenson, a 20-year-old art student an...


Some people run inside their houses when Britt Swenson drives by.

Others try to wave her over to their yards, yell "Drive slower!" or pretend to slap away mosquitoes.

"It's so funny; they make me laugh," said Swenson, a 20-year-old art student and a driver of a Moorhead mosquito-spraying truck.

Swenson is just one member of a metrowide army waging war on the cities' mosquitoes. In Moorhead, Fargo and Cass County, 40 seasonal and permanent workers fight full time against the insects. It's a battle to which Cass County dedicates $600,000 annually and Moorhead budgets $150,000.

Local programs and employee numbers have grown in the wake of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.


With the aid of citywide fees, Fargo added nine of its own seasonal workers last summer to supplement Cass County's work, and Moorhead doubled its full-time mosquito-fighting staff this summer by hiring one person to help Swenson full time.

Starting early in the morning, the mosquito fighters - mostly college students free for the summer - spread pellets in standing water to eradicate mosquito larvae and spray parks and other hot spots to kill the adult insects.

They carry heavy backpack sprayers on foot, or reach inaccessible breeding grounds and wet ditches on all-terrain vehicles. When things get bad, they enter the neighborhoods, cruising at 10 mph down residential streets, with mosquito spray spewing from a fogger in the bed of a pickup.

So far, the cities have not pulled out their ultimate weapon - aerial spraying. Though contracts are in place, allowing city commissions to order the planes up at any time, that final, expensive option won't be used anytime soon, said Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt.

This year, mosquito levels have started rising much more slowly than during last year's warm, wet summer, he said.

"I don't think we're to that level yet," he said.

That's partially because of workers like Ben Prather, a 19-year-old supervisor in Fargo's mosquito control program.

Earlier this week, Prather practiced a nearly daily routine - dipping a white cup at the end of a metal pole into stagnant ditch water. He pored over the results, looking for black mosquito larvae in the mix of muck and other wriggly things.


"You can find 50, 60, 100 in a dip sometimes; the water is black," Prather said.

That wasn't the case this time. Prather's investigations up and down a long ditch near Fargo's Pepsi Soccer Complex - one of the last places in the city that harbors standing water - turned up only a handful of larvae.

Soccer players can thank the Fargo mosquito control workers for that. Twice previously this summer, crews had treated the ditches with larvaecide - a chemical that kills the immature mosquitoes and works for several weeks, Prather said.

The modest results of the inspection were still enough to send Jason Tritchler and Kelly Bjoralt out on an ATV, tricked out with a modified leaf blower and a boat seat on the back. Sitting in the back seat, Bjoralt pelted the ditch with a stream of tiny corn cob pellets carrying the larvaecide chemical.

Fargo crews use the same equipment for "barrier spraying" - treating hot spot areas for adult mosquitoes. In the brush along the Red River, for example, wait hordes of adult mosquitoes hoping for a wind to waft them up to Riverside Cemetery or the Fargo Country Club.

Spraying adults isn't as efficient as killing larvae, but it still cuts down numbers, said Prather, steering his ATV through a patch of just-sprayed long grass to watch the few straggling mosquitoes fly out.

"It's like a never-ending battle, but I think we're doing better than ever (before)," he said.

Back in Moorhead, Swenson also said this year's fight has been easier than the last three she's worked for the city.


With an extra mosquito control employee, Swenson can spread chemicals from a pickup instead of by hand. She's also got someone to help with her daily dig through the city's mosquito traps, counting out the offending insects with tweezers and determining whether city-wide fogging is needed.

"It's a lot better - things are 10 times easier," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Joy Anderson at (701) 241-5556

What To Read Next
Get Local