Bug Wars Waged Quietly at NAS; Blood and Guts Take on New Meaning at Entomology Center

Article excerpt

Byline: Clifford Davis

In a small, unassuming building at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Navy scientists are quietly waging war and testing new weapons to more efficiently kill the enemy.

Begun in response to the withering effects of malaria and dengue fever on Marines in World War II fighting in the tropical jungles of the South Pacific, the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence is the tip of the spear when it comes to insect-borne diseases.

"In some cases, you had 1,500 cases of malaria and dengue fever per 1,000 Marines," Capt. Eric Hoffman, the Officer in Charge of NECE, said. "So you were looking at some guys having multiple cases."

In 1949, the headquarters of Navy entomology was moved to Jacksonville. The team partners with organizations from colleges to the World Health Organization.

Members of the group, only 36 strong, deploy with U.S. forces around the world and bring back what they learn to Jacksonville.

Ph.D.s in Navy fatigues roam the halls of the nondescript building examining cases filled with enough insects to make one's skin crawl.

"What you've got here is three different populations," Cmdr. Peter Obenauer said as he pointed to three boxes filled to the brim with mosquitoes and bowls of blood for food.

"One is susceptible to insecticide so we know that it kills them and another one that is resistant to insecticide so you can compare them," he said. "And this one is our native population that you find right here in Jacksonville."

The mosquitoes are often used to test insecticides used by local mosquito control districts when they aren't having the desired effect. The entomologists can then tell them whether the winged bloodsuckers have grown immune.

In another room, tubs full of brown, stagnant water remind one of why weathermen encourage people to empty that five-gallon bucket full of rainwater in the yard.

The tubs are teeming with mosquito larvae undergoing testing of pyriproxyfen, a substance that actually prevents the larvae from developing into adults. …


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