The Summer of ’21—Let’s Talk Mosquitoes

A mosquito, up close and personal ~ Courtesy image, 2012 all rights reserved

Editor’s Note: Parts of Bedford are due for spraying on Wednesday, September 1

Did you know that there are 52 distinct species of mosquitoes in eastern MA? When you’re trying to enjoy a cookout on your deck, or you want to play catch with the kids in your yard, you may not be interested in which one of those 52 is biting you.

But the East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project (EMMCP) folks care and for years, they have been tracking the ups and downs of Bedford’s mosquito season. This is the same organization that does town-wide spraying in the height of the season (parts of Bedford are due for spraying on Wednesday, September 1) as well as takes preventive measures in late winter and spring, laying down larvicide on catch basins, etc.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a participant in an EMMCP effort to track and identify mosquitoes in Bedford.  At intervals during the summer, a team member from the Project hangs a light trap on a tree in my back yard on Hayden Lane and in three other locations in town.  The trap is collected the following morning and returned to the lab for analysis.  The following spring EMMCP sends me a written report documenting the dates when the mosquitos were collected and how many of each species were found.  I always chuckle at the description of the species Culex pipiensandCulex restuans, both are said to be ”very shy.”  I’ve never encountered a shy mosquito! Some species feed primarily on humans while others mostly bite birds or feed on amphibians or reptiles.

Until now I never thought to ask questions of EMMCP about their work until a friend said, “How do you suppose they count them?”  We speculated, well, perhaps there is a machine that automatically does the job or perhaps they weigh the lot-not very scientific ideas.

A call to the Project headquarters in Sudbury put me in touch with Superintendent Brian Farless, who patiently explained just how the analysis is performed. It’s a painstaking, labor-intensive job done by a full-time entomologist, who, as Farless said, quickly becomes adept at recognizing each species with the aid of a microscope. When the traps come back to the lab, they are placed in a freezer for four hours or so, then the mosquitoes are sorted by species and counted—by hand! Over the winter, the entomologist analyzes the data, reviews changes in the population from year to year, looks at weather data and then prepares the report which I receive each spring.  I’ve noticed that in some years certain species are more prevalent than others.  After the mosquito-friendly summer, we’ve had this year, with copious amounts of rain alternating with extreme heat, it will be interesting to see which species thrived—but that story won’t be known for some months.

Mosquitoes are more than merely annoying, they can carry lethal diseases: West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis are the ones that our Health Department worries about. Farless explained that pools of mosquitoes (5 to 10, or up to 50 of the same species) are sent to the state laboratory to test for these diseases and if any are found, our Health Department is notified immediately.  If you recall, it was the summer of 2019 when the discovery of EEE in Bedford meant the curtailment of all sports activities after dusk. Fingers crossed for late summer and early autumn, 2021!

The East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project was established in 1945 as a Trust Agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Project provides mosquito control services to 26 participating communities located west and northwest of Boston.

The governing body of the Project is the East Middlesex Mosquito Control Commission. Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, is Bedford’s representative on the Commission.  Each town contributes voluntary funds. In our FY 2022 Health Department budget, Bedford will contribute $42,042 for mosquito control.

All towns contiguous to Bedford belong to EMMCP with the exception of Billerica, which is a member of the Central MA Mosquito Control Project, and Carlisle which is not in any organized program at this time.

IF you’d like to know more about EMMCP and mosquitoes in general, visit their website

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