During a summer when moviegoers have made a hero out of "Rambo," some credit should be given to real-life characters like Rick Craven -- a man who also ventures into thick brush and inhospitable swamps to search out and kill the enemy.

In Craven's everyday dramas, the enemy is not in some far-off country, but right in his neighbors' back yards: Culex pipiens, the most common of nearly 50 species of mosquitos that inhabit the Washington area.

Craven, an amiable, talkative man who gets mean around bugs, is a crew supervisor for Prince William County's mosquito control program, Northern Virginia's largest with a 19-member crew. The large crew, whose motto is "What's eating you is bugging us," is necessary because of the county's many swampy areas, such as the Occoquan basin, which provide good breeding grounds for mosquitos, say officials.

This year, the county has made an effort to bring mother nature into the campaign against her own pests -- a plan that has been used with success elsewhere.

The county still uses chemical sprays on neighborhood streets, but only as a last resort.

The emphasis, said Craven, is placed on killing mosquito larvae before they are hatched, and eliminating the places where they breed.

In prime mosquito breeding areas -- drainage ditches and other stagnant bodies of water, for example -- Craven's crew will place doughnut-shaped devices that release bacteria in the water to kill mosquito larvae during the week-long incubation period before they hatch.

It is during this stage, entomologists say, that large numbers of mosquitos can be killed with the greatest ease.

Although the bacteria larvaecide that his crews use does not cause anything more than diarrhea, Craven said, if there is a chance that small children will be playing near the treated area, this option is avoided.

Instead, Craven places Gambusia fish in the problem area. These two-inch long fish, which breed prolifically, are innocent enough to humans but mortal enemies of mosquitos, whose larvae they eat voraciously.

Fairfax County also has used the idea of natural treatments, in its fight against gypsy moths -- which have defoliated thousands of acres of trees in the Washington area -- with an organic chemical identical to the sex attractant emitted by female gypsy moths.

"Since the whole area smells like one big female, the male gypsy moth can't find the real female to mate," said Tom Mason with the Gypsy Moth Office of Fairfax County's extension agency.

Though in most years, the Washington area will have a handful of encephalitis cases transmitted by mosquitos, for most people, they remain merely a nuisance, say the bug experts.

Carol Merrill and her daughters, for example, have light complexions that they say mosquitos near their home in the Herndon section of Fairfax County seem to relish.

"For some odd reason, they just go after us. We don't like them at all," she said.

Craven said that people plagued by mosquitos near their homes should search for stagnant pools of water, such as in discarded tires.

"All it takes is the smallest little bit of water, and you could have hundreds of mosquitos on your hands," he said.