Raising poeciliids in your backyard can help eradicate
dengue- and malaria- carrying mosquitoes.
Dr Abe V Rotor
The Poeciliidae are a family of freshwater fish of the Order Cyprinodontiformes, the tooth-carps, and include well-known live-bearing aquarium fish, such as the guppy, molly, platy, and swordtail. The original distribution of the family was the southeastern United States to north of Rio de la Plata, Argentina.
You can build a mini-pond in your backyard. Then you can fill the mini-pond with tilapia, catfish (hito), even carp and pangasius. The fishes are good predators of mosquito wrigglers. But there is another highly recommended fish, the kataba or poeciliid, a large family of small fishes known for being predatory as well as omnivorous.
Residents along esteros can live without window and door screens and mosquito nets due to the presence of this biological friend and nemesis of the kiti-kiti or mosquito wrigglers.
The importance of insectivorous fish cannot be underestimated. In China the government mandated the raising of mosquito-eating fishes during the dengue outbreak in 1981. The Chinese raised fishes like the poeciliids , tilapia and catfish in canals, ponds, fields, and even household water containers. Indeed, the community project prospered and in no time the epidemic was contained.
Characteristics of the Kataba
This kataba fish is around three centimeters, from shout to tail tip. It is laterally compressed but stocky and fat-belied, hence its name bubuntis or kataba which means fat. Although brown or black in color, it exudes a dainty prism on its belly and sides- earning for it the name “rainbow fish”.
They are found almost everywhere as long as there is water- in fields, irrigation and drainage canals. For this reason, they are also called canal fish. If you see bubbling ripples in Manila’s esteros, you know the katabas are around - the fish can adapt to a wide range of environments, from canals to estuaries.
Imagine schools of poeciliids inhabiting the esteros, the tributaries of the Pasig River. They live around the bends, in coves, rock pools and in mudflats. When it rains, they go up stream. Poeciliids are found in Laguna Bay down Pasig River, reaching as far as the estuarine area.
If there is a single program that warrants full attention, it is the control of malaria and dengue, the most dreaded pandemic diseases which have killed countless people all over the world.
Deep concern has been demonstrated by governments. For example, in South Korea, a local fish Aphyocypris chinensis was found very effective in controlling mosquito vectors. Papua New Guinea and French Polynesia used Gambusia affinis and Aphanaus affinis in mosquito control. It was in Florida, Mississippi, Central America and Mexico where where Gambusia became popular, and soon this fish found its way to many countries.
But it is the poeciliids which has adapted in this country, along with other insect-eating fish species which include liwalo, spotted gourami, tilapia, mudfish (dalag) and hito.
Poeciliids are also prey to many bigger fishes. Surprisingly, because of their number and rapid rate of reproduction, poeciliids have managed to maintain stable populations even in open waters. Besides, the poeciliid prefers shallow areas and the edges of water where it is relatively safer.
Poeciliids swallow their food whole like a boa, except that their mouths are wide open. We call this luxury feeding.
Poeciliids peak during the rainy season in June, then declines in the cool months and toward summer. In January, only one out of two poeciliids are positive of insect prey, which means that they rely on plankton, like algae which are abundant in rivers and lakes at this time of the year. These facts were observed by the late Dr. Grace M. Cruz of the University of Santo Tomas in her 1998 dissertation.~