PROFILE: Scott Shanks

July 6, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the new mosquito man, Scott Shanks, and he’s eradicating Gasparilla Island mosquitoes in a single bound.

Yes, there’s a new mosquito man in Boca Grande. Originally from Colchester, Connecticut, Scott and his wife Kelly have been in Florida for eight years. “I’ve worked in mosquito control for eight years, but I’ve been here on the island since November 6, almost eight months,” he said.

Colchester is a town near the Rhode Island border, where it is quite cold in the winter. In fact, it was problems with his back that led him to a life change.

“I hurt my back and had to have back surgery. They told me the cold in Connecticut was just going to give me arthritis, and my mother in law is in Naples. We have visited here frequently throughout the years and knew we loved it, so we made the decision to move. I always liked Florida.”

It was difficult for Scott and Kelly to make the move, especially since their daughter Destiny and two grandchildren remained behind in Connecticut. “I have one grandson and one granddaughter and I miss them. We’re hoping to get together this Thanksgiving,” Scott said.

Scott and Kelly both decided that not only would they make the move to Florida, but they would make a change in their professions.

“I drove gasoline tankers,” Scott said. “I knew if I came down here that I could do that again, but I didn’t want to do that. My wife worked for Allstate insurance, and she didn’t want to do that anymore. She decided to get a massage therapist license and I wanted to get an environmental type job. This just kind of fell in my lap.”

It took a lot of bravery to make such a big life change, but it paid off.

“We got established down here really fast and Kelly found a job as a massage therapist in the first week. It’s a great field,” Scott laughed. He then added that he does not get regular massages, but he understands how life works.

“The plumber doesn’t want to work on his own plumbing and the carpenter doesn’t want to fix his own house.”

Scott was equally as fortunate once moving to Florida. He easily found work in the environmental field.

“I’m an outdoor person and I like to fish and boat and all that stuff. I didn’t want to work in a warehouse or as a trucker, so this is perfect. I enjoy being outdoors and stomping around the mangroves and around the beach, going on boats and helicopters.”

It’s the perfect job for a person seeking adventure. A far cry from his work in Connecticut. “I was going to try to get in with the Fish and Wildlife Commission. That was my original plan, but it was all located in Tallahassee and there was nothing around this area.”

Scott is not only responsible for Boca Grande, but all of the outer islands. “There are some areas on Cayo Costa that are just terrible,” he said as he demonstrated the online program for documentation of reported cases. “This is my first season, so hopefully there won’t be any complaints. This screen right here shows service requests when people call and complain, and there aren’t many of them right now.”

The schedule for mosquito control can be daunting. “At night, three nights a week, I have to come back here at 8:30 and run a trap truck. It’s a truck that has a big trap on the top. We go up and down the road to see what mosquitoes we catch. That can be tough, to go home for four hours and then come back. When you get covered with mosquitoes, that’s not pleasant,” he said with a laugh.

The rewards of working on the island are many. “My favorite part is when you find larvae and you treat it, the whole process of loading the helicopter, then going back the next day to check. When they’re all gone, it’s very satisfying.”

Scott admits that working in Boca Grande has its benefits.

“I’m enjoying it here,” he said. “I like it, it’s quiet and it’s so far away from the main office, nobody ever comes over so I’m off the grid and on my own. Everybody in Boca Grande has been welcoming and nice. A woman on one of the ‘Damfi’ Street invited me to their block party. That was terrific.”

Florida was a great choice for Scott and Kelly, since their list of hobbies include biking, boating and fishing.

“I was running for a while, but it started hurting my knees,” he said. “Bike riding is fun and there are a lot of bike trails, especially the one on Gasparilla Road.”

Scott is filled with tips for residents of Boca Grande on how to deal with mosquitoes on the island. The first tip is “Cutter Skinsations,” a spray made by Cutter.

“It’s the best and I cover myself in this stuff,” he said.

His next tip is to check your yard for pooling water. Most people know to not have empty tires in your yard, but this can include kiddy pools, gutters, dog dishes, even soda cans. Any location where there is standing water is a potential breeding ground.

“Typically when we have service requests it’s people breeding their own mosquitoes. They have bromeliads growing around their doors and they will say to me, ‘I can’t go out my front door because I get eaten by mosquitoes.’ Then you look around and see that they have 50 bromeliads right there. That’s the reason.”

Some plants and flowers that repel mosquitoes and pests can be placed at your doorstep. They include marigolds, lavender, catnip, scented geraniums, basil and rosemary. Some say that citronella works, but Scott laughed and admitted, “I’m afraid I don’t think citronella is incredibly effective. I just don’t think it works very well.”

After going on a spot check for larvae, Scott was happy to find that the trap was empty.

“There are no larvae, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see some mosquito activity,” he explained. “We do have a breed called Aedes taeniorhynchus, which is a saltwater mosquito. They also will come out of fresh water, but primarily saltwater. They’re very aggressive and that’s primarily the species we deal with here. The good news is, they typically don’t carry disease. They’re just really annoying.”

Since the typical mosquito is not a strong flyer, when you have a breeze or fans blowing that is a good deterrent … except for the Aedes taeniorhynchus. “They can fly a range of up to 90 miles. They radio tagged them in Key West and I believe they showed up in Naples.”

In that case, it’s best to douse yourself in Cutter Skinsations. “It’s the best,” said Scott, and he should know.  After all, he is the mosquito man.