A California City Is Fending Off Zika by Releasing 40,000 Mosquitoes Every Week

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A mob of mosquitoes is a “scourge.” And the cardboard tube Jodi Holeman holds in her hands buzzes with more than enough mosquitoes to fill a scourge’s ranks–a thousand, to be exact. She uncaps the cylinder and taps gently, encouraging the stragglers out. “Get to work, boys,” she says.

On this Tuesday morning in July, Holeman and her colleagues at the Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District are releasing 20 tubes full of mosquitoes in Clovis, California, at the northern tip of Fresno County in the Central Valley. They do this twice weekly, bringing a scourge upon the same 20 spots in the same subdivision, where the two-car-garage houses range in color from beige to brown. By summer’s end, they will have blanketed the subdivision with 400,000 mosquitoes.

The point of this? To rid the neighborhood of mosquitoes.

Counterintuitive, sure. But these are no ordinary mosquitoes. They’re not locals, for one: They were flown in that night from Kentucky, where the biotech startup MosquitoMate breeds mosquitoes carrying a bacterium called Wolbachia within their cells. And the mosquitoes in the tube are all male. Once Holeman sets them free, the idea is that they’ll mate with local females that don’t carry Wolbachia. And the offspring won’t be able to hatch.