ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. (WCJB)- Mosquitoes are capable of carrying disease and the Alachua County Health Department tracks diseases carried by mosquitoes very carefully using an animal you might not expect - chickens.
There are six flocks of "sentinel chickens" distributed throughout the county. Like humans, mosquitoes bite chickens, but they are not harmed by mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile or EEE. The flock's blood is tested weekly from May to November for antibodies that would indicate a bite from a mosquito carrying disease. The chicken eggs remain safe to eat after they test positive for mosquito illnesses.
Mosquito populations are estimated at light trap locations. The light from these traps attracts mosquitoes. The bugs are counted by hand and identified by species. Only a handful of the more than two dozen mosquito species living in North Central Florida carry disease.
County-owned retention ponds are treated monthly for mosquito larvae to limit their breeding areas. Mosquito control is also implemented with the help of the Gambusia fish which eat immature mosquitoes.
Cities like Waldo, Gainesville, and Newberry have spray programs. Trucks will spray trouble spots for adult mosquitoes based on community complaints - and the significance of the problem. So far they have not received requests to spray, but are testing their equipment so they are ready for summertime calls.