History of Mosquito Control In Florida
Florida is one of the leading tourism destination in the United States. Florida has more than 1200 miles of coastline, a warm sub-tropical climate, and heavy rainfall produces an unusually rich fauna, including 77 species of mosquitoes. We often forget that Florida wasn’t always a vacation paradise where people could escape for warmth and relaxation. In fact it wasn’t too long ago, historically speaking, that Florida was a truly horrible place to live or visit.
One of the main reasons for that was the mosquito. Almost single-handedly, the mosquito impeded development of Florida and life in the state was considered unbearable as early as 100 years ago. Pestilence raged, and many persons, including a U.S. congressman, said the State could not be developed. The battle with the mosquito, however, was a long, tough fight and there were many casualties. The mosquito was such a plague when the Spaniards arrived that they named what is today Ponce de Leon Inlet, “Barro de Mosquitoes.” Since the time of the earliest maps, some of Florida’s inlets, lagoons, and sections have borne the name Mosquito.
In the 18th Century, the part of Florida lying between the St. John’s River and the coastal lagoons north of Cape Canaveral was called “The Mosquito Country,” or “ The Mosquitoes.” In 1824 when “Mosquito Country” was made into a county, which included a large portion of peninsular Florida, government officials would think of no more appropriate name than “Mosquito County.” Today, that county is known as Orange County and is home for many of our major attractions in and around Orlando.
Florida: “Land of swamps, of quagmires, of frogs, and alligators and mosquitoes”
For many years, settlements in Florida were restricted to the northern tier of the state. The peninsular portion of the state was a series of swamps, lakes, rivers, and hammocks populated mostly by hoards of mosquitoes and other ravenous insects. Although northern Florida was settled, it was anything but a pleasant place to live. It suffered from disease, hardship, and poverty. The major cities of Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Tallahassee, and Pensacola were known as the “malaria belt.” Almost without exception, each summer brought deadly fevers to the region. Commerce was seriously curtailed; and those who could afford it migrated north for the months of August, September, and October, and November. Those forced to stay behind had to suffer through the pestilent seasons and many died. When Congress was debating the merits of statehood for Florida, John Randolph of Virginia stated that Florida could never be developed, nor would it ever be a fit place to live. He described the land as a “land of swamps, of quagmires, of frogs, and alligators and mosquitoes.”
Florida Mosquitoes and Disease: Yellow Fever and Malaria
More than anything else, the threat of disease in Florida was the biggest deterrent to the development of the State. One of the worst sieges of disease was the yellow fever epidemic of 1877 in Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach. Historians described it as the State’s worst holocaust. Fernandina, with a population of 1632, had 1146 persons with the fever and 24 persons died. In 1887, yellow fever epidemics raged in Key West, Tampa, Plant City, and Manatee. The 1888 epidemic in Jacksonville saw 10,000 persons (out of a population of 26,700 in Duval County) flee the city in carriages, wagon trains, and ships.
No organized effort was made to control mosquitoes in Florida as a way of preventing malaria until World War I when the U. S. Army, U.S. Public Health Service and the State Board of Health set up a program of drainage and larviciding at Camp Johnson, near Jacksonville. In 1919, the State Board of Health, the City of Perry, and the Burton Swartz Cypress Company jointly set up a malaria control project in the City of Perry one of the most malarious areas of the State. At that time the Perry project was one of the largest malaria control projects in the country, and was the first non-military control project in Florida.
1922: Beginnings of Organized Mosquito Control in Florida
Mosquito control in Florida was given impetus in 1922 by the formation of the Florida Anti-Mosquito Association (later known as the Florida Mosquito Association), with Dr. J. Y. Porter the State’s first Health Officer, as its president. The Indian River County Mosquito Control District was established in 1925, followed by St. Lucie Mosquito Control District in 1926. Manatee County Mosquito Control District was established in 1947.
In 1990, the Florida Anti-Mosquito Association changed its name to Florida Mosquito Control Association (FMCA) to better describe its efforts and mission. Additional information on FMCA can be found at http://www.floridamosquito.org.