After a day in the parks at Walt Disney World, you might return to your resort hotel with a sunburn, a skinny wallet, and tired feet, but the one thing you probably won’t have is mosquito bites.
Have you ever wondered how exactly Disney keeps those pesky mosquitoes from feasting on reveling fans, especially in central Florida? It’s no small feat and no easy task. In fact, mosquito control tactics in the parks today had their beginnings decades ago, thanks to Walt Disney’s intuition, the 1964 World’s Fair, and a retired army general named Joe Potter.
At the New York World’s Fair in 1964, Walt was consumed with thoughts about the General Electric pavilion and his Carousel of Progress attraction. But all that would change when the entertainment genius met Retired Army Major General William E. Potter, or “Joe” Potter for short.
Potter was a graduate of MIT and an engineering expert. He had also worked as the governor of the Panama Canal Zone, an area notorious for its malaria-harboring mosquitoes. It was during his time in the canal that Potter learned the ins and outs of pest control. After visiting with Potter for a while at the World’s Fair, Walt hired the mosquito expert on the spot and told him his responsibilities would largely center around mosquito control for Walt’s new “Florida Project.”
Was pest control even possible?
Walt had bought up thousands and thousands of acres of land in the centermost part of Florida in separate transactions under several aliases, and every bit of the land he purchased was hot, humid swampland, full of gators, crocs and of course, mosquitos. Was there even a chance of controlling mosquitos in this seemingly inhospitable place? As Walt liked to say, “if you can dream it, you can do it,” and he had already recognized the need for pest control in the area and had even dreamt of ways of doing it.
But Joe Potter would be Walt’s golden ticket to actually bringing the dream to reality, and it wouldn’t be easy. In fact, it would require determination, dedication and a combination of several techniques–not to kill the bugs, but to prevent them from getting into the parks in the first place. Instead of finding ways to kill adult mosquitos, Potter knew the better value was in targeting the larvae. If he could make Walt Disney World an inhospitable area for mosquitos to lay their eggs, he knew the battle against the pests could be guaranteed victory.
Use of flowing water
Mosquitos lay their eggs in standing, stagnant water. This is why the swampland was the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. So Potter knew that getting rid of any standing water was the first step in eliminating the pests altogether. The retired general was a key player in the construction of Walt Disney World. But he was responsible for the areas not seen by Guests. Potter oversaw the building of ditches throughout the park grounds that would remove any water before it could pool into areas and become stagnant. Those ditches, nicknamed “Joes’ Ditches” are still in use all over the Walt Disney World property.
It’s nearly unnoticeable by Guests, unless they’re really looking for it, but water inside the parks is always on the move. It’s either at the bottom of the 50-foot waterfall at Splash Mountain in Frontierland where it is constantly moving, thanks to the splashing that erupts as the log flumes descend down the side of the mountain, or it’s located in an area where there are one or more fountains that keep the water churning. There are no areas of standing water in the parks, which make it nearly impossible for mosquitos to lay their eggs.
The design of buildings in the parks
Another method almost unnoticeable to Guests is the way in which structures inside the parks are built. Each building, whether it is a resort hotel building or a building that houses an attraction, has a certain shape to it that prevents water from collecting. Disney World buildings have curves or other features to them that in no way foster the development of pools of standing water. This is especially important since the Orlando area sees about 51 inches of rain each year.
Anti-mosquito landscaping choices
Even the plants that are used in the parks are chosen based on the probability of water to collect in them. Rather, plants are used that have leaves that won’t harbor stagnant water, but that will allow water to roll off of them and keep moving toward one of Joe’s ditches or toward a body of water that is moving thanks to fountains, other fixtures or the movement of ride vehicles. You won’t find any water lilies around the World Showcase Lagoon or around any other Disney water. That’s because water lilies provide the perfect spot for larvae to hide underneath them. Potter took things a step further by making sure that bodies of water around the Disney World property were stocked with goldfish, minnows and “mosquito fish” that eat mosquito larvae on a regular basis.
Walt made it very clear in his discussions with Potter that he wanted no pesticides used in the parks. To that end, Potter was sure to only use natural insect repellents, one of which was liquid garlic. Mosquitoes can’t stand the smell of garlic, so it made perfect sense to use garlic extract in the form of a spray to deter mosquitos from coming into areas of the parks. To this day, garlic extract is sprayed all around the parks in such small amounts that humans can’t detect it, but mosquitos stay far away from it.
Are you surprised by Disney’s tactics to keep mosquitos from feasting on its happy, thrill-seeking Guests?