Insects now have more to fear than the dreaded RAID spray can terminating pests in those classic TV commercials.
In Southern California, a "killer drone" has been deployed to battle a surging mosquito population, dropping bacterial spore pellets in marshes and ponds to rain death on larvae that can grow up to spread diseases to human beings.
Developed by the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District, the drone targets mosquito eggs laid in waterways and other wetlands.
“There’s quite a bit more mosquitoes due to the rain," said John Savage, as he took the fight to the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve near the University of California, Irvine. “You can see out here almost every single marsh pond is full of water.”
Reportedly, conventional traps are capturing more than three times the 15-year average of mosquito infestation.
“I would call it a huge spike,” said Kiet Nguyen, a vector ecologist for the district.
Typically, anti-mosquito treatments involve backpack sprayers, trucks, airplanes, and helicopters, but the drone can apply precision treatments, as well as avoid trampling through sensitive environments and reach areas that trucks and backpack sprayers can't get to. Furthermore, the drone can treat one acre in less than two minutes. The same job undertaken by a worker with a backpack sprayer would require an hour or more of hiking.
“We’re always looking for advancements in technology that can get the job done more efficiently, more beneficial to the team, and less invasive,” added Nguyen.
The drone-delivered anti-mosquito treatments are not used in residential neighborhoods, and they are not harmful to other wildlife.
“The mosquito larvae are filter feeders, so they feed on the bacteria," said Savage. “It enters their gut and it’s a growth regulator. So essentially—if you guys have seen the movie Alien—it blows out their stomach.”
Drone operators in the district are required to have a Federal Aviation Administration remote-pilot license ,as well as a California Department of Pesticide Regulation unmanned aircraft vector control technician license.
Mosquito-borne diseases are a significant public-health threat. In California, West Nile virus is the most common—and most serious—mosquito-borne disease. The California Department of Public Health states more than 7,500 human cases and 300 deaths have occurred since 2003.
“It’s more of a battle,” said Nguyen. “You’re not going to win the war against mosquitoes, but you can gain some ground. And with advancements in technology, we’re gaining ground.”