Mosquito control inspector works to protect and educate community

Special to Dorchester Banner/Justin Newcomb. Paul Newcomb, an agricultural inspector for the mosquito control section of Maryland’s Department of Agriculture works in Dorchester to help protect the people, pets and livestock in his county. He has been working in this county since 1980.

Special to Dorchester Banner/Justin Newcomb.
Paul Newcomb, an agricultural inspector for the mosquito control section of Maryland’s Department of Agriculture works in Dorchester to help protect the people, pets and livestock in his county. He has been working in this county since 1980.

DORCHESTER COUNTY – The Eastern Shore of Maryland is home to one of the largest, internationally recognized salt marsh habitats. Located in Dorchester County, the National Audubon Society states the marsh provides essential stopover, feeding, and nesting areas for birds like Bald Eagles, Rails and Saltmarsh Sparrows.
The marsh also provides a line of defense against rising sea levels and increased storm damage. However, this vital resource can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“Mosquitoes this year are fairly light, but I have been to places where you can’t breathe for the mosquitoes,” said Paul Newcomb, an agricultural inspector for the mosquito control section of Maryland’s Department of Agriculture. “I have actually sucked them in – they were so in your face.”

Mr. Newcomb has worked for the mosquito control section for more than 35 years, and in that time he has worked hard to protect the people, pets and livestock in his county from mosquito-borne diseases through conducting surveys, monitoring the larvael and adult mosquito populations and coordinating activities to help control mosquito populations.

A benefit of his job is that he enjoys the people he works with, many of those he has worked for and alongside, since joining the mosquito control section, Mr. Newcomb said.

His supervisor, Art Meilhammer, recalls when Mr. Newcomb started working for the department.
“He was a good, hard-working individual. He came from the state roads over and started working on the marshes in Dorchester in July of ‘80,” said Mr. Meilhammer. “He is still a hard worker and he is very competent at what he does.”

A self-starter who served three years in the U.S. Army right out of high school and committed several years to Maryland’s state highways, Mr. Newcomb is no stranger to hard work. However, competency came with time and experience.

“In the beginning I worked in open water management, which was mainly source reductions for the breeding sites of mosquitoes,” Mr. Newcomb said. “Basically we would go into marshes, low-lying areas and put in ditches and ponds that would allow the mosquitofish to come in and eat the mosquito larvae.”

Eastern mosquitofish, which are native to the eastern and southern U.S., from Florida to Delaware and inland to Alabama and Tennessee, are called Gambusia holbrooki. They eat mosquito larvae.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the edge of ditches, in dry spots and depressions. When it rains the eggs hatch and they become larvae. Mosquito larvae conjugates together in one spot – it looks like a brown shivering ball – and it’s better to kill the larvae before they become adults, Mr. Newcomb said.

Mosquitoes go through four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. In the summer it can take five to seven days from the time it rains and the eggs hatch to when they mature into adults. The males hatch first and hang around the breeding site, then the females hatch and they start looking for a blood meal to lay their eggs, Mr. Newcomb said.

While the mosquitofish eat a lot of the larvae, they can’t eat it all. The mosquito control section has ground crews that go out in trucks to spray throughout the county; however, they also have an airplane that deploys and can cover larger areas, Mr. Newcomb said.

When mosquito populations increase too much, the mosquito control section deploys the airplane to do the heavy spraying, specifically in the spring for larviciding and in the summer for adulticiding.

“I’m basically on the ground crew,” Mr. Newcomb said. “But, when needed I load the plane, clean the plane and make sure everything is ready. When the pilot is ready we load the chemical up and off he goes.”
There is always something interesting to do in the mosquito control section, but helping people is one of the main reasons he has continued to enjoy his job, said Mr. Newcomb.

“You meet a lot of nice people out here in the county,” he said. “Years ago, people weren’t used to seeing us out and about in the neighborhoods, and they were always stopping to ask what we were doing. But nowadays we are out so often that word has gotten around and they say, ‘oh, you’re the mosquito guy’ – we get a lot of that, and in the summertime when the mosquitoes are getting bad they are glad to see us.

By today’s standards, mosquito control inspectors gauge the amount of mosquitoes in an area the old-fashioned way. They allow the mosquito to land on their arm and then count how many there are for a duration of 60 seconds.

Mr. Newcomb recalls a humid, miserable day many years ago. It was during the height of the summer months and he needed to get out of his truck to take a count of mosquitoes in a southern area of Dorchester County.

“I should have looked out my window first,” Mr. Newcomb said. “I opened the door of that pickup and when I did, they were all on me – the salt marsh sollicitans are aggressive biters – there was no way you could count and kill them in a minute. You could take your hand and swipe it down your arm and it was just black.”
Once the inspectors have a count of the mosquitoes, they employ control techniques that include breeding source reduction, public education, biological control and insecticide applications from aircraft or ground equipment.

As part of public education, Mr. Newcomb has some tricks of the trade to help people stay mosquito-bite free.
“Keep your back yard clean as far as anything holding water,” he said. “Get rid of rubber tires or put them in your shop. Turn anything over that might hold water like trash cans, trash lids, flower pots, and flush out bird baths and rain gutters once a week. And, talk to your neighbors about doing the same things.”

The mosquito control section is licensed under public health and deals with nuisance mosquitoes and responds if there is a public health issue due to diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.

As a master of his trade, Mr. Newcomb is constantly looking for mosquitoes everywhere, even in his own backyard, and it’s something he does without even thinking about it, he said.

Through dedication to his job, and the people of Dorchester County, he will continue to do all that he can to keep the mosquito population to the lowest counts possible to help ensure the safety of the public.

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