Hillsborough County and The University of Florida are teaming up to help control the area’s mosquito population by giving away free mosquito eating fish throughout the summer at different locations.

With Florida’s rainy summer days comes an even less enjoyable side effect: Mosquito season. But Hillsborough County residents with problems with the pesky insects are in luck as the County Mosquito Management Department is teaming up with the University of Florida (UF) to offer a free, easy and harmless answer to reducing the mosquito population.

Residents with areas of standing water, from rain barrels to ponds and fountains, can pick up free mosquito eating fish at select locations throughout the area all summer long in an effort to stop the reproduction of the insects that leave itchy bites and carry diseases such as West Nile virus and Zika.

“Our goal is to target the mosquito in the larva phase,” said Donnie Hayes, Director of Hillsborough County’s Mosquito Management Department. “After the summer rains, mosquitoes use areas of standing water to breed and if we can get these fish into as many of these areas as possible, we will have a big impact in reducing the population.”

Hayes recommends that any residents with backyard ponds, birdbaths, fountains, abandoned swimming pools, rain barrels and other artificial containers that need to hold water attend one of the many free events around the county this summer to get their own fish and learn more about mosquito prevention.

The fish are distributed in temporary plastic travel bags, along with instructions for introducing them to their new environment, weekly at locations throughout the county and on Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-12 Noon at UF’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin. Residents only need to bring a photo ID showing their local address to receive fish. They are available on a first come, first served basis.

According to Hayes, the gambusia affinis fish are effective at keeping the mosquito population down because they eat hatchlings before they turn into adults. The two-and-a-half-inch fish are a native freshwater species which require no feeding.

“Care is limited to protecting them from garden sprays, chlorine or other chemicals used for cleaning,” said Hayes. “Mosquito fish do not lay eggs and need no special environment for breeding.”

Hayes states that because the species of fish are native to Florida, most large bodies of water will already be home to them, however, properties that have areas of land that dry out during the winter but flood during the summer are perfect places to introduce the fish.

Two local distribution events will take place on June 16. Fish will be available for pick up 9-11 a.m. at Mike E. Sansone Community Park in Plant City and 12 Noon-2 p.m. at Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park in Lithia. Events are also scheduled in Gibsonton and Ruskin on June 30 and July 28 in Riverview.

For more information and additional scheduled Hillsborough County fish giveaway events, visit www.hcflgov.net/mosquitoes. The University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory is located at 1408 24th St. S.E. in Ruskin.