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Innovation in Fieldwork: Mobile Insectaries for Field Trials

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As Clarke’s field science team was tasked with raising and caring for mosquitoes for use in field testing on site, one such innovative concept that arose was the mobile insectary. Today, associate field biologist, Victoria Hyrczyk, represents the field science team to discuss the need for a mobile-friendly insectary, the challenges faced by the team, and the solutions brainstormed and troubleshot by the field science team as a collaborative effort.  

What is a “Mobile Insectary”? 

In the mosquito control industry, an insectary is a space dedicated to rearing mosquitoes in a near lab state – raising and caring for them. This is often done for research purposes, including laboratory and in-field cage testing. A mobile insectary aims to replicate this closer or even on site of such field trials and often is temporary.  

Rearing Mosquitoes In-Field: The Need for a Mobile Insectary 

In fieldwork research, there are countless opportunities for improvement and plenty of obstacles, delays, and barriers. When we consider the many hurdles we often encounter during field testing, one thing becomes clear: rather than being a detriment, these challenges provide an opportunity for innovation.  

 Researchers from both industry and mosquito control districts breed mosquitoes in captivity for use in field tests of adulticides. In most cases, adult mosquitoes are utilized within field cage trials to test product efficacy and resistance levels of specific mosquito species populations (learn more about field cage trials here). 

The idea of a mobile insectary arose from the need to address specific challenges faced when caring for mosquitos in field settings. As concerns and awareness surrounding resistance to the active ingredients in products grow, the need to conduct testing specifically for local resistance also grows.  

Given these factors, it was clear that traveling industry field teams and mosquito control districts’ researchers needed an efficient way to breed and raise mosquitoes to perform their testing. 

The Challenges of Mosquito Field Testing 

Many challenges arise when breeding and caring for mosquitoes in remote, changing locations. Some factors that can change depending on location include: 

  • Temperatures
  • Climate 
  • Humidity versus aridity levels 
  • Climate control availability 
  • Space/area footage 
  • Lighting 

Paramount among these difficulties is maintaining appropriate environmental conditions for mosquitoes. The ideal temperature range for maintaining mosquito colonies is 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity falling within an optimal 65 to 85% range. Lighting within the breeding area should also replicate a mosquito’s natural environment with dusk-to-dawn-like schedules. 

Failure to maintain this environment can lead to other obstacles. For instance, humid climates tend to have more unwanted pests, specifically ants, who invade the testing space and eat test mosquitoes. Similarly, the inability to control temperatures or humidity can result in premature deaths. Both of these skew data and render studies ineffective. 

Clarke’s field team began to test small, temporary insectary setups to address these issues and ensure stable conditions for mosquitos. This initial setup resulted in a rudimentary insectary within a small storage closet in Clarke’s Florida offices – a good test area thanks to its humid, hot climate. This first test included: 

  • Large, wide shelving 
  • Humidifier  
  • Space heater 
  • “Bugdorms” 

By organizing the space and providing the necessary supplies, the team successfully managed to sustain a small colony of mosquitoes. 

Taking the Insectary on the Go 

Inspired by this success, Clarke’s field science team sought to make this insectary portable or “on the go.” Considering the limited space available when traveling from district to district and the constant issues with maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity, this portable insectary would need to contend with a variety of challenges and changing factors.  

That’s when the idea of a mobile insectary took shape in the form of a mini greenhouse. 

The Essential Components of a Mobile Insectary 

To contend with travel needs, changing environments, space availability, and more, the mobile insectary setup needed to possess several essential components to create stable, unchanging environments: 

  • 4-Tier Mini Greenhouse: This allows for quick setup and organization while maintaining stable temperature and humidity ranges. 
  • Portable Humidifiers: These are perfect for mobile insectaries as they don’t occupy much space and provide adequate moisture to level out humidity ranges. While they require water replenishment, a typical device will provide control long enough to last between readings. 
  • Humidity Controller: Attached to a standard humidifier, this device can be programmed to maintain desired insectary parameter goals. 
  • Space Heaters: These maintain the required temperature range, ensuring it doesn’t get too hot in the insectary. 
  • Timed Insectary Lights: They simulate the natural environment that mosquitoes inhabit, mimicking dusk and dawn. 
  • Thermometers: These are essential for ensuring temperature and humidity parameters are within the appropriate range. 

With this mobile insectary setup, the team managed to overcome the difficulties faced in the field, particularly those encountered during travel between various locations.  

The mobile setup is easily accessible, helps us stay organized, and provides a suitable environment for mosquitos while traveling. 

Looking Ahead: Future Goals

Clarke’s field science team continues to seek ways to improve its ability to conduct field trials and research in a variety of changing environments and locations. Part of this includes:  

  • Creating a small, structured permanent insectary that allows individuals to access an insectary in a limited space  
  • Assembling “portable” insectary kits equipped with all mobile insectary components that can be quickly set up and deconstructed 
  • Guidelines for the use of mobile insectaries and their kits for use by other stakeholders 

In addition to maintaining adult mosquitos, the team also plans to focus on larval rearing to combat larvae loss or high mortality during shipping – having a backup supply of larvae available in a mobile insectary can prevent last-minute sourcing difficulties. 

As the demand for mosquito testing increases, having the ability to sustain adult mosquitos “on the go” is a boon to public health. Innovation is Clarke’s driving force as we continue to face and overcome the challenges of our field. 

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