SoCal county flies drone missions against disease-spreading mosquitoes

drone mission mosquito

The buzz being heard over California’s Orange County these days is not necessarily coming from new generations of mosquitoes that are often a problem this time of year, but rather drones flying missions to decrease their numbers.

Orange Country drones flying missions to keep mosquito larvae from taking wing

For the second straight year now, officials with Orange County’s Mosquito and Vector Control District have loaded their drones with insecticide payloads for missions to exterminate mosquitoes while in their larval state. Their major zone of activity is the Harriett Wieder Regional Park in Huntington Beach, which is located amid large areas of wetlands that provide ideal reproduction conditions for the pests. The main purpose of the aerial assault is to reduce the risk of diseases spread by mosquitoes – particularly West Nile virus, which has become an increasing concern in Southern California in recent years.

The craft are loaded with up to 20 lbs. of VectoBac GS grains. Those contain a bacteria whose strength has been calibrated to prevent the insect’s larva from developing, while posing no threat to other life forms. This year is the second the Mosquito and Vector Control District has flown drones on missions against mosquitoes, and the effort is already proving worthwhile. 

Reports say that although the region’s mosquito season runs from March to sometime in October, there has been no detection of West Nile virus in animals or people up to September 3. Tests on dead birds, which are usually a reliable gauge of the disease’s presence and spread, have thus far turned up no positive cases. Only 22 samples taken directly from mosquitoes contained the virus.

The drone missions against mosquitoes have focused on specific areas of Wieder Park, situated  near 1,400 acres of preserved wetlands. Those in part make up the Bolsa Chica Basin State Marine Conservation Area, which unfortunately hit headlines last June when a hobbyist’s drone crash caused nesting elegant turns to flee, abandoning an entire generation of unhatched eggs. Officials are also using the craft in several other Orange County locations where large bodies of stagnant water provide ideal conditions for mosquito reproduction.

The drones were repurposed to fly anti-mosquito missions after initially going into operation in 2019 for surveying and monitoring of environmentally delicate areas, waterways, or zones with heavy foliage that humans cannot or should not venture into. That new use of the craft permits spreading larvicide in places where people can’t reach, and also reduces noise and presence that can alarm wildlife during manual distribution. 

The drones typically fly preconfigured flight patterns on automated missions, with Federal Aviation Administration certified pilots the Vector Control District relies on in the effort also capable of taking over navigation and payload distribution when necessary.

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