Walt Disney World is smack dab in the middle
of a swamp in a state that is, more or less, a big swamp itself. And that’s not just some dig at Florida. With 29% of the area of the state being covered,
Florida is proportionally more comprised of wetlands than any other state in the US. So with that in mind, why isn’t Walt Disney
World swarming with mosquitoes? In truth, like most of Florida, there are
plenty of mosquitoes at Disney. However Disney is dedicated to guest experience
and mosquitoes are, well, really annoying. Beyond that they’re potentially dangerous. According to the World Health Organization
as many as one million people die from mosquitoes every year. Not the bite itself, obviously, but the disease
and virus that can often come with it. Now most of that is attributed to malaria,
which is mostly a problem in Africa and parts of South America. However in the United States, we’ve still
had to worry about viruses like the West Nile Virus, encephalitis and most recently, Zika. So as a result Disney goes all out in combating
mosquitoes and minimizing their presence on their property. How? Well they don’t have any particularly special
weapon that isn’t used elsewhere in the world. Disney’s arsenal includes insecticides which
kill mosquitoes fairly quickly, growth regulators which reduce their lifespan, and maintaining
natural predators in the area that eat the bugs as part of their diet. On their own, they’re all methods that many
other places employ to deal with the annoying insects. However the impressive part is the vigilance
and precision in which Disney carries out these methods. It all begins with the Mosquito Surveillance
Program which is an element of the Department of Planning and Engineering for the Reedy
Creek Improvement District. The Improvement District itself is the governing
jurisdiction that covers Walt Disney World and is controlled by Disney. You see rather than blindly spraying insecticides
over the entirety of the property, which is twice the size of Manhattan, Disney instead
uses various methods to carefully track where and when to spray. The program maintains over 60 traps across
the area of Walt Disney World. These traps trickle out small amounts of carbon
dioxide which attracts the mosquitoes, much in the same way we exhale carbon dioxide,
which unfortunately brings them over to us. They’ll then bring those traps, filled with
mosquitoes, back to a lab where the mosquitoes are frozen to death and analyzed. The team looks at everything from what kind
of species they are, to their concentration, to how old they are and how many of them were
ready to lay eggs. By looking at all this data for all of these
traps, Disney is able to paint themselves a picture of what parts of the property need the most attention when it comes to eliminating the insects. Similar to the way they lay mosquito traps
all over property, they also spread something else across their property: chickens. They’re called sentinel chickens, and their
sole purpose is to be monitored for signs of dangerous viruses like the West Nile virus. Unlike us, chickens don’t get sick from
the West Nile virus. They naturally produce an antibody that not
only keeps them safe from the virus, but keeps the levels of the virus low enough in their
blood that they don’t risk passing it on to other mosquitoes. Disney tests the blood of these chickens regularly
to see if that antibody is present. If it is, it means a mosquito with the virus
was nearby. This is helpful because while you could technically
catch and test free roaming birds and animals for the virus, you’d have no idea where
that animal was infected. With chickens in a coop, you know exactly
where it happened. So using these tools, Disney is able to adjust
their spraying patterns and other mosquito killing methods to keep up with unexpected
concentrations of the insect. Now that’s the precision of their methods,
but there’s also the vigilance. Disney, more than most, sprays their property
twice a day to cull the mosquito numbers, once right around sunrise and once around
sunset, the two times of the day mosquitoes are most active. Their fleet of trucks cover as many as a combined
86 miles worth of roads, fields, canals, and firebreaks across their property. Now obviously they don’t kill all of the
mosquitoes. With land that large and insects that prevalent,
it’s an impossible task. There are also areas that often end up being
treated less due to Disney’s tendency to avoid spraying around guests themselves. As a result the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds
tend to be the least treated of the resorts, due to it’s outdoorsy nature that encourages
guests to partake in outdoor activities. They do their best though. However, what happens when their best isn’t
good enough? Well if there’s one thing Disney holds above
guest experience, it’s guest safety. So in the few instances where they felt they
could do more to ensure that guest safety, it came at the cost of experience. Most notably, there were instances of an encephalitis
scare both in 1990 and 1997 that resulted in Disney taking extra precautions. They handed out letters to guests staying
on property that cautioned them to minimize activities during sunrise and sunset, and
to wear longer sleeves whenever possible. On top of that, both golf courses on property
as well as water based attractions were closed early so that guests weren’t using either
during sunset. The outdoor luau at the Polynesian resort
was temporarily moved indoors, and the hay bale rides and campfire activities at Fort
Wilderness were completely cancelled. Recently we saw Disney take extra steps during
the Zika virus scare in 2016. Guests at resorts were offered free mosquito
repellent, and stations with the repellent were setup throughout the theme parks on property. At the end of the day, as nice as it would
seem, it’d be impossible for Disney to completely rid their property of mosquitoes. However all things accounted for, they do
a pretty good job of trying. Sometimes it feels like Disney magic, but
like most of Disney’s magic, it’s really the product of the thousands of individuals
who put in the work every single day. Even when that work is dealing with mosquitoes.