Tag along with a pair of mosquito hunters

Jenny
Jenny McCarthy
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Jean-Philippe Fecteau makes his way through the brush to a small river with a pack on his back.

There he takes out a container of bacterium, dilutes it and begins to spray the calm water's surface.

He's killing mosquito larvae and it's a tricky task.

The phrase "mosquito spraying" often conjures up the image of a plane flying overhead with clouds of insecticide falling onto the foliage below.

Mosquito larvae will attach itself to just about anything. It's crucial to catch the larvae before it matures, because the insecticide used only works on larvae. Jean-Philippe Fecteau checks for larvae. Photo by Jenny McCarthy/Transcontinental Media

Happy Valley-Goose Bay - Jean-Philippe Fecteau makes his way through the brush to a small river with a pack on his back.

There he takes out a container of bacterium, dilutes it and begins to spray the calm water's surface.

He's killing mosquito larvae and it's a tricky task.

The phrase "mosquito spraying" often conjures up the image of a plane flying overhead with clouds of insecticide falling onto the foliage below.

In Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the mosquito team consists of two men on the ground and occasionally a helicopter covering an area of nearly 2,000 square kilometres.

Working in rotations, 22-year-old Fecteau and Jean-Francois Guay cover designated areas and meet up to do testing or to compare results.

The company they work for, GDG Environment, has been hired by the Department of National Defence to spray mosquitoes in the areas surrounding the military base.

They spray as far as 35 kilometres on each side of the base.

Recently, Fecteau covered a circular area of 10 kilometres, encompassing three lakes, on foot. The trek is through brush and forest, but he's confident in his abilities.

"I have a GPS, but I know most of the way already," he said.

Depending on the weather, he goes back to each spot every seven to 14 days.

It's crucial to catch the larvae before they mature, because the insecticide they use only works on larvae. It's a bacterium that occurs naturally in the environment and is geared toward the characteristics of the black fly and the mosquito. It has not been shown to harm other organisms, including humans, in 20 years of testing.

Fecteau's job is not done after he completes the daily spraying.

Depending on the weather, development times change for the larvae and he has to monitor to make sure he doesn't miss out on the right time to spray, which would mean the larvae hatches and more mosquitoes are born.

It requires careful planning, and Fecteau charts the stages of the larvae at each area so he knows when to move in.

To make sure the spray is working, Fecteau and Guay are required to do two or three tests per week with a witness.

In the evenings, they use a net to trap flies on and off the base and compare the numbers they catch in both areas. They are supposed to achieve a 90 per cent efficiency rate, and according to their chart they generally do.

This time, Guay caught 41 black flies on the base and more than 500 off the base, for an efficiency rate of 98 per cent.

Fecteau can answer just about any question about flies and mosquitoes, from their biological makeup to the number you can expect to have flying around your head in certain areas (he's netted more than 1,000 black flies in five minutes).

He spends most of his days tromping through the trees and enjoys it.

"It's what I would be doing if I were at home and what I will be doing for the winter - hunting, trapping and fishing."

An ideal job for the applied ecology graduate, it's not without challenges.

Fecteau said he once broke his ankle walking through a forest of burned stumps and downed trees.

"I had a CB radio but I was down where there was no reception and I had to walk two kilometres with my broken ankle to get out of there."

The worst thing was being laid up with nothing to do for two weeks.

He also said it's a challenge being away from his family and friends for so long.

"It's a challenge keeping morale," he said. "You're gone for the whole summer."

Despite the challenges, Fecteau and Guay say they are happy with what they call their dream jobs and are serious black fly and mosquito hunters.

Organizations: Department of National Defence

Geographic location: Happy Valley, Goose Bay

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