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Mosquito Munchers

Dan BurkhartKaren Brown collects mosquito fish in a pond on her land in the Greenhorn Road area Sunday.
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Mosquitoes don’t bug Karen Brown – and many others, thanks to her fish.

Brown gives away mosquito fish. The small, prolific fish, less than an inch long, gobble up mosquito larvae, providing a pesticide-free means of mosquito control.

Although her white BMW convertible would seem to make her an unlikely candidate to people who expect her to drive up in a jalopy with the fish, and she has been known to trade fish to golf courses for a round on the links, Brown notes that she has always enjoyed the outdoors.



And for her, part of the fun also lies in giving something away.

The Greenhorn Road area resident’s efforts won her the “Conservationist of the Year” title from the Nevada County Resource Conservation District two years ago. Brown delivers the fish weekly to the district, an agency that administers a pond program.




She took up the mantle of the “mosquito fish lady,” as she refers to herself sometimes, from Abe Tobis, a Grass Valley man who bred and gave away the fish for 26 years and introduced Brown to them during a pond management seminar. Brown signed up for the seminar to figure out what to do with her new pond.

Before he died several years ago, Tobis asked Brown if she would be willing to raise the fish and give them away. She agreed, starting with 21 fish that Tobis gave her.

For the past six years, Brown has been raising the fish. Every summer she gives thousands away for free.

“Once I started doing it people started calling, and I realized how important it was to get rid of mosquitoes,” said Brown.

The fish, a relative of guppies known by the scientific name Gambusia afinis, also made it possible for Brown to sit outside on her deck without getting attacked by hordes of mosquitoes.

Brown’s work does increase the comfort level among Nevada County residents, said Cyndi Brinkhurst, a resource conservationist with the NCRCD.

Although the mosquito fish are a non-native species, they have become naturalized, said Brinkhurst. They don’t displace any native species, and their appetite for mosquitoes tops that of any California fish.

“They’re the right fish for the right job,” said Brinkhurst.

There are potential health benefits as well. Besides the discomfort factor they inflict, mosquitoes transmit diseases. Though rare, outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases including West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis have occurred in the United States during the 1990s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

For Brown, the fish provide a way to help the community, get in touch with the pond and nature, and give something away for free.

“I thoroughly enjoy doing it,” said Brown. “I enjoy being part of the fish, or part of the pond and the fish … and I just enjoy sharing them because they do a good job.”


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