I’m always delighted to meet a neighbor and over the years have been thrilled to share some of their stories with you. Many times I have run across folks who are hidden treasures in our large community, quietly living their lives, but fascinating and far more more entertaining than a Netflix series.
Recently at an Oak Forest Homeowners Association monthly meeting, a gentleman sat quietly through the meeting and at the end, introduced himself. He wanted to talk about mosquitoes.
R.P. Jones, also known as Trapper Jones, “the Critter Gitter,” has lived in Oak Forest for 55 years with his lovely wife of 67 years, Patsy. Together they raised four children and now have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, most of whom live nearby.
R.P. is proud to share he is an Aggie and still wears his beautiful ring, which happens to be the oldest and perhaps largest Aggie ring I’ve seen. It has been rubbed almost smooth after years of daily wear and is still worn with pride by this fightin’ Texas Aggie.
After serving our country in both World War II and the Korean War, where he was a surgical nurse in a MASH unit (R.P. loved to watch the television show “MASH” because, “everything they showed you on MASH was just exactly the way it was”), he graduated from Texas A&M in 1961. R.P. earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management and began working as a wildlife biologist for the state of Texas at Sheldon Wildlife Area. He is a registered biologist and entomologist whose career later took him to the Fish and Wildlife Service, then Texas Parks & Wildlife, and then R.P. spent 20 years with Harris County Mosquito Control.
As a man who enjoyed working out in the field studying all species of animals and insects, a man who rescued animals as well as humans when animals became too involved in their lives (or got stuck in the attic or under a house!) as a second job, and as a man tasked with killing mosquitoes in the most efficient way possible, R.P. talks a great deal about balance – the balance of nature, the delicate balance of wildlife and humans coexisting and the balance of chemicals and their effects on the survival of living creatures not targeted by the contact chemicals used for mosquito control.
R.P. wants to share his knowledge of mosquitoes with you. In the end, he says, the most effective protection for you and your family is to wear long sleeves, long pants, spray a modest amount of mosquito repellant on yourself, put out citronella candles, try those motorized things that continually emit citronella fumes and choose to be outdoors during the time in which mosquitoes are the least active (they come out predominantly during dawn and dusk, but they can be found in shady, moist areas any time of day). Otherwise, limit your time outside because the danger of the Zika and West Nile viruses is real.
“All of the mosquito cures work somewhat, but they don’t work long,” R.P. said. “Don’t expect long-term results from any of these mosquito cures because they just don’t last.”
He shared there is a difference between being active and being inactive in mosquito control. In the 1930s through early ’50s, upper-class coastal areas had mosquito control. Mosquito control provided a higher standard of living for humans.
Today in Harris County, R.P. says we don’t have that type and quality of mosquito control. We have reactive mosquito control. We have people that go out and hunt for diseased mosquitoes and when they find diseased mosquitoes, they may spray that location. That is not mosquito control, insists R.P., that is mosquito surveillance.
R.P. says mosquito trucks’ spray is effective to kill the diseased mosquitoes when done properly.
“You have to remember,” he said, “all of the chemicals that are used on mosquitoes today are contact poisons. So, if you’ve got a million mosquitoes and the spray touches 900,000 of them but doesn’t touch the other 100,000, you’ve still got 100,000 that are reproducing and capable of spreading disease. And it has no effect on the mosquitoes that are in the sewer, or water or pupae. It’s totally inefficient. It’s a surveillance program, not mosquito control.”
R.P. is proud to share that he and his colleague stopped the St. Louis Encephalitis epidemic in 1964-65 and again in 1973, but they didn’t do it with surveillance, he says, they did it by actively spraying the sewers, removing standing water sources (abandoned old tires, litter holding water, etc.), eliminating water out of low areas – and R.P. calls that active mosquito control.
There are 57 different species of mosquitoes in Harris County. 57! And each one of those mosquitoes has a difference niche – some of them are in the sewer, some are in holes up in trees, some thrive in cast-off containers or tires, and there are mosquitoes which lay eggs on moist mud, waiting for the next rainfall.
R.P. explained, “Everything is pretty dry right now and we’ve got rains coming in from the south, so guess what’s going to happen? And the next thing to think about is, most mosquitoes have a very short flight range. So, if you‘ve got mosquitoes in your backyard, either you’re raising them yourself or your next door neighbor is raising them, because most of them have a flight range of only 25 feet. They hardly ever go farther than 25 feet.”
R.P. loves nature and does not use chemicals in his yard. Instead, he keeps a close eye on his yard for anything that might trap any amount of water for more than three days. The average life cycle of a freshly laid mosquito egg is 1-10 days from laying to hatching.
“I do not use chemicals in my yard because you kill the bees, butterflies, spiders – you can’t believe how many insects, mosquitoes included, are consumed by spiders,” R.P. said. “And if you kill the spiders, you’re going to disrupt the whole system. If you are going to use chemicals, use them with the knowledge they are going to work a short time and don’t overuse them. If you’re going to be out there for an hour, use just enough to give you safe working time for an hour.”
R.P. also cautioned against the installation of outdoor spray systems, because they generally work only at certain times and can make contact with critters for which they are not intended.
“If someone argues with you, ask, ‘Is this is a contact poison?’ ” R.P. said. “If they say, ‘Yes, it’s a contact poison,’ ask them, ‘What are you going to kill?’ You’re killing everything in that area which makes contact.”
Aside from butterflies, beneficial insects and spiders, mosquito contact poisons harm other area wildlife such as tiny tree frogs and our native green anole lizards. Balance. Use just enough. It is important to stay safe.
Finally, R.P. said, “If we allow chemical companies to scare us into thinking, ‘The only thing that will work is a using a lot of chemicals,’ again, it’s a personal choice. We’ve allowed them to move us in that direction. Make a healthy personal choice.”