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Lifetime Ban for Bad Behavior: You won’t find Mosquitoes at Disney World

After a full day at the parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, Guests return to their Resort Hotel rooms to rest, relax, recount their day, and think over the memories they created that day. And they return with all sorts of things in tow.

They return with tired feet and partial sunburns in those awkward funky places where they just can’t get the sunblock to stay. They return with hoarse voices from yelling and cheering during the Festival of Fantasy Parade.

Festival of Fantasy Parade

Credit: Disney Photo Snapper

Sometimes they return with 3 Magic Kingdom souvenir cups, a Disney Parks plastic bag full of merch from the Emporium, a new spirit jersey (even though it’s June and they’re sweltering), a half-eaten bag of sour balls from Goofy’s Candy Company, and a menu that one of the kids “stole” from Tony’s. And they almost always return with thinning wallets.

But Guests rarely ever return to their hotel rooms with mosquito bites. That’s because Guests are hard-pressed to find mosquitoes at the Walt Disney World Resort. They’re simply not allowed, a lot like a Guest who’s been banned from the parks for life.

Credit: Walt Disney Animation

No mosquitoes at a vacation destination literally built atop swamplands? Not only does it sound like a bogus lie; it sounds absolutely crazy. But this writer did the research, and guess what? It’s true. (Hard to believe, but true.)

When you grow up in North Texas, the very prospect of a magical place devoid of mosquitoes sounds like the undercurrent of a fantasy film. In Dallas, you can’t leave a glass of water unattended for more than 45 seconds because as soon as the water gets still, mosquitoes materialize like the 999 happy haunts at Haunted Mansion.

haunted mansion

Credit: Becky Burkett/Disney Dining

Seriously, they come out of nowhere.

And Big D isn’t swampland! So how is it that the Walt Disney World Resort can boast no mosquitoes when it’s literally located in a mosquito‘s paradise? And when Florida is the worst state in the union for mosquitoes, ahead of Georgia, Texas, and even the Louisiana bayou? And when it’s so hot and there’s so much water?

Is it pixie dust? Is it Disney Magic? Is it some beautiful heavenly pact Walt negotiated for the comfort of his Guests in the parks he never lived to see completed?

Mosquito Season

Mosquito Season in the Sunshine State runs from around early January to late December. (That’s not a typo.)

Every season is mosquito season in Florida, with spring and summer winning the trophies for “Seasons Most Likely to See a Mosquito Plague.” That’s because during the spring and summer months, the sun beats down hard on the Sunshine State, making the temperature outside soar. Those months also boast the most frequent rainfall, and the dynamic duo of heat and moisture creates the most favorable conditions for the mosquito population to peak.

Credit: Canva Creation

Walt was no idiot. He was a visionary, which meant that he could visualize things before they came to be, like a bright and cheery place where families could enjoy the day together in a city by the sea called Anaheim, and later, a massive family vacation resort where there would be enough land to hold any dream that could pop into his mind or the minds of his Imagineers–and all on top of tens of thousands of acres of swampland.

But being a visionary also made Walt realize that the swampland he was able to buy up in tiny batches under fictitious names would absolutely present the problem of mosquitoes (among other awful, terrible pestilences like gators and snakes). He knew it was a “problem” that would have to be solved before it ever became a problem.

He also knew it would be no small feat and no easy task. So he went to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

The New York World’s Fair, 1964

Mosquito control tactics in use at the parks at Disney World today had their beginnings in a chance meeting eons ago in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair between Walt Disney and a retired army general named Joe Potter.

At the Fair, Walt was consumed by thoughts concerning the General Electric pavilion and his innovative Carousel of Progress attraction. But everything changed when Walt met retired Army Major General William E. Potter, or “Joe” Potter for short.

Twitter / MoJoDisney: AMAZING pic of General Electric ... | World's fair, Disneyland, Vintage disneyland

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General Potter had his degree from MIT and was an engineering genius. He had served as the governor of an area in the world known for its ravenous, malaria-harboring mosquitoes: the Panama Canal Zone. During his tenure there, Potter had to learn the best practices in pest control. Mosquito bites in the Canal could lead to debilitating encephalitis if the victim contracted malaria. A bite could even cost a man his life.

Walt was impressed with General Joe Potter, and after hearing his tales of mosquito control in the Panama Canal, he knew Potter was the man for the job in Florida. Walt hired General Potter on the spot, telling him his responsibilities would largely center around the very same practices–this time in the Sunshine State at Walt’s new “Florida Project.”

Disney World at 50: Meet the general you've never heard of who mapped out the Magic Kingdom – Orlando Sentinel

Credit: The Orlando Sentinel

Was pest control even possible?

Walt had bought up a massive swath of land in Central Florida, a little at a time, and each time under the guise of a fictitious alias or business entity. And every part of his new Sunshine State real estate was a hot, humid cesspool of alligators, snakes, murky water, and mosquitoes. Was it even fair to present General Potter with such a challenge, and would it even be possible to rein in and destroy the irritating insects?

But General Joe Potter was a true expert, in every sense of the word, and he would prove to be the Florida Project‘s ticket to mosquito freedom, but the ticket would be hard-earned.

It would cost time, money, dedication, the modifications of several pest control techniques, the development of a few more, and the dedication to not give up until the outcome was achieved.

Walt did things differently

Walt the visionary had no intentions of killing the mosquitoes. Instead, he and General Joe Potter worked on ways to prevent their presence altogether, and Potter knew that the real chance for victory in this uphill battle against the Florida swampland pests would be in targeting their larvae. He knew he had to make Walt Disney World a completely inhospitable place for the mosquitoes, forcing them to lay their eggs outside of the confines of Walt’s new family playground.

Use of flowing water

Mosquitoes always lay their eggs in standing, stagnant water. It’s why they love the swamp. And General Potter’s first order of business was eliminating standing water so he could deter mosquitoes from visiting Disney World at all. He would make the area such an awful neighborhood that mosquitoes would never consider growing and raising their families there.

General Potter played a vital role in the construction of Disney’s new Florida park, but Guests never saw his handiwork. Potter oversaw the building of ditches used to drain the park grounds. These ditches would remove water before it could gather and grow stagnant. They came to be known as “Joe’s Ditches,” and they’re still in place all over the Walt Disney World Resort property.

Credit: Disney Parks

The next time you’re in the parks after a rainstorm, take a moment to look around you. It’s unnoticeable to Guests because they aren’t paying attention to it, but water is constantly moving inside the parks. Fountains keep water churning. Water rides like Splash Mountain keep water on the go, thanks to the movement of ride vehicles, waterfalls, and ride elements.

There are no areas at Disney World where the pooling of water is fostered. Mosquitoes cannot lay their eggs in flowing water. They know this, so they move on.

The Design of Structures in the Parks

General Potter was responsible for another unnoticeable method of pest control in the parks that had to do with the design of the structures at the Walt Disney World Resort. Each building, whether a Disney World Resort Hotel or an attraction house, features a design that prevents standing water from collecting as well.

Structures on Disney World property have curves and other features that make it impossible for them to harbor pools of stagnant, standing water, and it’s a good thing because the Orlando, Florida, area is drenched with an average of more than 51 inches of rain annually, according to My News13.

Landscaping and stocked fish that mosquitoes hate

General Joe Potter knew that plants often collect water, depending on their natural shape and design. So his recommendation was that plants and foliage used in the parks be chosen based on the chance that they could and would collect water. (Mosquitoes don’t need huge amounts of water in which to lay their larvae.)

This is why plants at Disney World don’t feature leaves that will harbor water. Instead, the parks choose plants that allow water droplets to roll off of them quickly and move toward their comfort zone in one of Joe’s Ditches so they can be transferred on to a larger body of water that keeps moving because of fountains, fixtures, and ride vehicles.

World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot in Orlando, Florida - Encircle Photos

Credit: Encircle Photos

The next time you visit EPCOT’s World Showcase Lagoon, look for water lilies. You won’t find them. In fact, you won’t find water lilies near water anywhere on Disney property. They provide the perfect hiding place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs: underneath them.

Disney World‘s bodies of water are also stocked with minnows, goldfish, and “mosquito fish” that eat mosquito larvae.

Walt said no pesticides in the parks

In his talks with General Joe Potter, Walt made it very clear that he was distinctly opposed to the use of pesticides in the parks. So Potter implemented the use of natural repellents that would keep mosquitoes away without the use of harmful chemicals.

General Potter’s repellent of choice was garlic spray. Mosquitoes detest the smell of garlic, and they will not come near it. Garlic extract was used as repellent in the parks decades ago, and to this day, it is still sprayed all around the Walt Disney World Resort, but only a small amount is used because it doesn’t take much garlic to offend the mosquitoes and send them running for cover. So Guests aren’t even able to detect the odor when they visit the parks.

General Joe Potter‘s ingenious but simple methods of mosquito control have stood the test of time. Whether it was because of a friendship that developed between Potter and Disney or because of the amazing success General Potter achieved in keeping mosquitoes away from the Most Magical Place on Earth, we aren’t sure. All we know is that Disney honors General Joe Potter at Magic Kingdom. And you can too.

10 Things Walt Disney World's Ferry Boat Captains Want You to Know

Credit: Disney Fanatic

The next time you visit Magic Kingdom and board the ferry to make the journey across the water to the park gates, look up. You’ll see one of three names on the boat: Richard F. Irvine, Admiral Joe Fowler, or General Joe Potter. Chances are you’ve honored him by riding the ferry named for him many times before; you just didn’t know.

But now you do, and you also know why you aren’t likely to contract Zika or West Nile Virus went you visit Walt Disney World. 

About Rebekah Reimagined

Disney writer. Woody & Buzz. Make it blue! Fantasyland vibes. Just keep swimming but practice in different oceans. Walt is King. PIXAR is life. I dreamed it/I'm doing it. A Disney life is the life for me! Resident Toy Story Mania champion. Making the unimaginable tangible. Let's hear it for the Imagineers! Toy Story 1, 2, and 3, but not 4. Bring back Joe Rohde. Magic Kingdom and Hollywood. Let's talk about Bruno all day long! I. Am. Rebekah Reimagined, and #iwritedisney #StopDisneyRemakes #SheriffWoodyforPresident #WaltsNotOnIce #waltdisneyworld #disneyaddict