Yes Free Fish! No not to eat, not to put in your aquarium, but to put in your swimming pool, pond or water fountain. Why? Well it all has to do with mosquitos and the West Nile disease. Apparently a certain species of mosquitos in various parts of the U.S carry the disease that can be carried to humans through one mosquito bite. It’s interesting to note that only the female bites the human. The males drink only plant nectar and juices, but the female needs animal blood in order to lay eggs and raise a family. As she starts her first probe she injects a fluid into your blood stream to keep the blood from coagulating and flowing freely. Then she has time to drink her fill before pulling out and flying away.

When you feel a bite and swat, if there is not blood flowing-then she has just started. If you see a splotch of blood on your arm, then you know she has begun to drink her fill. Hopefully your swat got her and she won’t be laying anymore eggs. If she did get away, where will she lay her eggs? In the nearest pool of non-moving and still water. If it’s stagnant, murky, and  polluted–all the better for her! She lays a raft of eggs that are attached and black in color that float right on the surface. The eggs truly look like a tiny rubber raft with individual sections that are actually the individual eggs. Since it is summer time and warm, the eggs hatch in a few days.  The baby, now called a pupil, falls to the bottom of the water to rest and begins eating bacteria in the polluted water. Every so often the pupil needs air and wiggles its way up to the surface and sticks its proboscis through the water surface to take in the air.

The most common way of eliminating the mosquito larva is to prevent them from pushing through the water surface.  Prevention is accomplished by applying a thin coat of oily material that spreads across the surface and causes surface tension–almost like an invisible cover that is hard to break through. This is all in miniature, and you cannot actually see the surface film.  You could wiggle your fingers in the water and still not know the difference, but the llarva will not be able to breath and will finally die. Hence the eradication of misquotes is no fresh blood to new generations.

So that is why you are being told to find and eliminate any sources of stagnant water that might collect in an empty can, thrown away tire, or any other trash that would collect and hold rain water. Since the health department can’t come to everyone’s property, the only other way to locate and clean up trash is to spray and hope that the spray will reach every location of stagnant water. If it is running water(like a stream or recirculated swimming pool or water fountain) the mosquitos will not lay their eggs there.

Back in the 1950s, they sprayed with DDT that they found harmful to humans, and today the spraying is done (I believe) with a nontoxic oily substance that gives no harm to humans or pets. So what’s all this have to do with free fish? Sorry I took so long to get here, but I always found that the life cycle of a mosquito is rather fascinating. Someone once asked me, “How do you know all this being a gardener?”, but it all goes back to my engineering training.  Civil engineers are taught how to eliminate both natural and public hazards to human health. In fact we learned from our professors who proudly stated that civil engineers have done more for saving lives than the entire medical profession. The reason being that doctors and nurses don’t prevent but only cure. Engineers prevent hazardous condition through water treatment, sewage treatment and eliminating ground water contamination.

Now back to the free fish. Who likes to eat mosquito larva when they are swimming around in the water? Well, almost any kind of fish do and there are even special varieties that are voracious eaters. Guppies, a tropical fish, are examples of this. I remember putting mosquito egg rafts into the aquarium and the Guppies would hover underneath almost knowing when the eggs would attach.  They would grab and eat larva before dropping to the bottom. In fact that was one of the most popular free foods for a tropical aquarium. All you had to do was take a small net, tramp around back yards and woods until you found stagnant water,  just dip them out into a temporary container, and then head back to feed the fish. Knowing all this, the health department said, “Why don’t we give out free fish to anyone who thinks they have standing water that is usually still and quiet like a deep bird bath, small pond, or possible even swimming pools that are not used?”

So if you have read this far, I not only applaud you but you are now eligible for free fish.  Just call your local health department, tell them that Mel sent you, and ask them when and where you can pick you your free fish.Stagnant Water photo Courtesy of SkyWookiee