- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003


   YORKTOWN, Va. (AP) — Bloodthirsty mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus, malaria and other illnesses have met their match in a tiny fish with a voracious appetite and a bad attitude: mosquitofish.
   York County has opened a hatchery to raise the fish, which are given free to any Virginia locality that obtains a state permit to release them. So far, Henrico, Southampton and Gloucester counties are the only applicants, but Chesapeake and Virginia Beach say they have used the fish for years.
   “They were first used in mosquito control back about the turn of the century,” said James K. Rindfleisch, York County’s mosquito biologist. “We started using them here in 1985, and then we took a hiatus for a while. We started up again last year.”
   Each mosquitofish can eat 250 or more mosquito larvae a day, quite a feat for a fish only 11/2 inches long.
   “They’re top feeders, and that just so happens to be where mosquito larvae like to hang out,” Mr. Rindfleisch said. “They act like a bunch of piranhas. Really, they’re quite vicious.”
   That appetite is bad news for mosquito larvae. It also can be bad news for tadpoles, newt eggs and other fish.
   “Anything smaller than they are is fine with them,” Mr. Rindfleisch said. “You have to feed them or they eat each other.”
   The species that York County is raising, Gambusia holbrooki, is native to Virginia. Another species, Gambusia affinis, has been stocked around the world for mosquito control since the early 1900s.
   The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries requires a permit to raise or release mosquitofish, to make sure that no threatened or endangered species will be affected. But mosquitofish occur naturally in places and, in other cases, localities may have started using the fish before permits were required.
   “We’ve been using these fish for years,” said Gene Payne, interim director of Chesapeake’s mosquito-control commission. “We have them established in several areas. Once they’re established, they really don’t need stocking unless it dries up.”
   The state’s only hatchery licensed to produce mosquitofish is in York County. Virginia’s West Nile virus surveillance and response plan for 2003 suggests stocking the fish in such places as retention ponds, stagnant ditches and ornamental pools.
   The state health department has tested 19 humans and 39 dead birds for the virus this year, and the virus was not found in any of them. Last year, 29 Virginians were diagnosed with West Nile, and two died.
   Using mosquitofish helps reduce the need for pesticides, Mr. Rindfleisch said, and kills mosquitoes before they mature into biters. The fish are free to York County residents. Residents of other localities should contact their local mosquito-control agency to ask about obtaining mosquitofish.
   

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