Tuesday, July 5, 2022

‘We love bugs’: Behind the scenes with York County’s mosquito squad

With approximately 34 species of mosquitoes in the region, the York County Mosquito Control spends a lot of time in the field getting to know the bugs close up and personal. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Hodson)
With approximately 34 species of mosquitoes in the region, the York County Mosquito Control spends a lot of time in the field, getting to know bugs close up and personal. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Hodson)

For the three women who make up York County Mosquito Control, bugs are fun.

Day in and day out, they work to keep unwanted insects from invading your backyard, spreading disease and spoiling your summer.

“Our number one goal is that we have a good quality of life for York County citizens,” said Michelle Slosser, York County mosquito biologist. “A lot of people aren’t aware of the many life-threatening diseases that mosquitoes can carry and it’s our job to protect them.”

It’s only been about a year since Slosser began working as the county’s mosquito biologist, but she has put new procedures in place for controlling and studying mosquitoes. Recently, she won an award for outstanding service from the Virginia Mosquito Control Association.

In the past year, the department has increased the number of mosquito trappings from 6,000 to 45,000, according to a release from York County.

A lot of this work involves going out into the county and inspecting people’s yards, Slosser said. Mosquitoes can breed in just a cap-full of water; dumping out places where water collects in a yard can drastically improve mosquito numbers.

“If you’re feeding them, you’re breeding them,” said Betsy Hodson, the operations superintendent for York County Mosquito Control. “And we’re here to stop that.”

Small staff, big impact

According to Slosser, each species has a different method of control and there are approximately 34 different species in the York County area alone. The first step is to understand where they come from.

To do this, Slosser and a team go out into waterways with bags and fans, to trap adult mosquitoes. There are tiny differences among the species that require a lot of patience and practice, Slosser said.

Michelle Slosser, York County Mosquito Biologist, recently won an award for drastically raising the number of controlled mosquitoes in the area. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Hodson)
Michelle Slosser, York County Mosquito Biologist, recently won an award for raising the number of controlled mosquitoes in the area. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Hodson)

Still, Slosser didn’t begin her career with an interest in mosquitoes. As a student at Christopher Newport University, she studied biology and spent a lot of time working outdoors.

“I was studying wildlife and I loved it,” Slosser said. “That’s what I gravitated toward — getting out in nature and figuring out how to do research outside.”

Three years ago, at the Virginia Master Naturalist Convention, Slosser met Hodson, who was then the county mosquito biologist.

“She was so passionate about her job,” Slosser said. “Betsy just exudes this excitement about studying mosquitoes and serving the community.”

Hodson, who has worked for the department for a number of years, said she’s inspired by the other women on the staff. 

“It wasn’t planned that way,” Hodson said. “But I feel very fortunate because we all have a great passion and similar understanding.”

Getting dirty in the field

The job isn’t all glamorous, though, according to Hodson.

Going out into the county to inspect and study mosquitoes involves a lot of labor-intensive work, as well as getting bug bites on the job.

One of the oldest mosquito-studying techniques is to go out into a field for a certain period of time and count how many bugs land on a person. An elementary tactic, but it’s useful to understanding mosquito populations in specific yards, according to Hodson.

The York County Mosquito Control works to reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes in the area. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Slosser)
The York County Mosquito Control works to reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes in the area. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Slosser)

“Nobody wants to move to an area where they can’t sit out in their yard,” Hodson said.

York County is one of the few areas in Virginia that has a mosquito-control unit, according to Hodson. These units can take a lot of money to maintain, but both Hodson and Slosser say they’re worth it.

“We’re nerdy; we love bugs and we love to talk to people about it,” Hodson said.

Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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