Precinct 4 Joins Cockrell Butterfly Center

One of nature’s deadliest creatures may have just met its match. Harris County’s native “mosquito assassin” has helped control the mosquito population in small pockets of the southeastern United States for ages. But now, researchers with Harris County Precinct 4 are studying ways to use the insect on a larger scale.

Anita Schiller, director of Precinct 4’s Biological Control Initiative, has launched the latest study at the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Cockrell Butterfly Center because of the center’s contained environment, healthy ecosystem, and unique ability to educate the public about innovative biocontrol methods.

Native to the southeastern United States, mosquito assassins (Toxorhynchites rutilus) lay eggs in rainwater-filled vessels in which pest mosquito larvae are likely to be found. After hatching, immature mosquito assassins feed on aquatic insects – including pest mosquito larvae. By adulthood, mosquito assassins take flight to feed on plant nectar and pollinate flowers.

“The mosquito assassin poses no risk to the environment or the public and helps control mosquito populations,” said Schiller. “They are also beautifully colored, much like some butterflies, and locally self-sustaining. This study will give us a better idea of how fast mosquito assassins reproduce and eliminate mosquitoes in a semi-controlled environment.”

“We are excited to be a part of this study and welcome these fascinating beneficial insects into the Cockrell Butterfly Center,” said Erin Mills, the director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center. “They are a wonderful addition to the team of predatory organisms we have fighting against pest activity!”

Schiller has studied mosquito assassins since 2012, when Commissioner formed the Biological Control Initiative and tasked her with developing natural and effective mosquito-control methods. Schiller’s team now breeds the insects and releases them into Precinct 4 parks to control mosquito populations without pesticides. To learn more, please visit the Harris County Precinct 4 Biological Control Initiative.