Troup extension agent: Mosquitoes are back in the news

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2016

By Brian Maddy

Contributing columnist

We’ve seen all the publicity about the mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, a disease prevalent in parts of South America. The mosquito known to carry the virus is very rare in Georgia, aedes aegypti. Each year a few random specimens are found in Savannah and Columbus. The chance of a large scale outbreak in Georgia is very low.

Countries that have outbreaks practice poor sanitation and usually have unreliable clean, public water sources. They store their drinking water in large drums or containers outside, perfect breeding grounds for any disease-carrying mosquito.

What would the North America be like if there were never any mosquitoes? Mosquitoes spread malaria, yellow fever, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus and others. Millions of people would be spared all the suffering that mosquitoes bring by their blood sucking habits.

Would you believe that there were no mosquitoes in the North America prior to John Smith making a landing at what was to be known as Jamestown? Yes, his ships brought the first swarms of mosquitoes to our coast from the swampy south of England to the swampy Virginia coastline that was a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes were one of the first invasive species brought to North America. Mosquitoes are public enemy number one throughout the world for spreading diseases.

Georgia is the home to as many as 63 species of mosquitoes. This spring with abundant rainfall is perfect for having mosquitoes make unwanted visits to your backyards and homes.

The big question is how to avoid getting bit. Female mosquitoes do all the damage and the males are pollinators. A good way is to stand next to someone who has plenty of flesh exposed, wearing dark colored clothes and plenty of fragrance. If you are wearing light colored clothes and fairly well covered up, your friend will be the first victim.

Some people are just more attractive to mosquitoes than others. The carbon dioxide that we exhale and give off through our skin acts as an attractant as well. That is how they find us in the dark.

When she bites with her needle-like mouth parts, the female mosquito injects some saliva into the bite to keep the blood flowing. This results in the itchy bump or “mosquito bite.”

Everyone reacts differently to the mosquito saliva. Different species attack at different times of the day. Most are not active in the heat of the day or on windy days. They can fly as far as a mile but most don’t go further than a few hundred feet. They rest in the heat of the day in vegetation where it’s cooler and the humidity is higher.

A mosquito can go through its entire life cycle in seven days, from egg to adult. Moist soil is perfect for egg laying. They need still water for their larva after they hatch to swim around in.

In both the larva stage and the pupa stage they must come to the surface to breath. You can actually see these stages in the water if you look real close.

After a few days, the pupa will rest on the water surface, the skin will split open and the adult mosquito will emerge. They need less than an inch of water to do this.

What the best way of controlling mosquitoes? Prevention is usually the best way.

Walter F. Reed discovered that mosquitoes were the cause of yellow fever. This was just after the Spanish American War and was a very debilitating illness for our troops in Cuba.

Interrupting the life cycle of the mosquito proved very effective. If there is no stagnant water for them to breed in, the mosquito population will go down dramatically.

Empty out all the old cans, buckets, old tires, glass jars, old toys or anything that accumulates water. Change out the water in birdbaths and wading pools once a week.

Fix the leaking hosepipe and clean out the roof gutters and air conditioner drains so water doesn’t accumulate there. Drill drainage holes in tires used as swings and check flower pots and saucers for water as well. Drain ditches and low areas.

Fill in tree stumps that water can pool in. Keep the grass and weeds mowed to remove resting areas. Keep fish in ponds and water gardens to eat the larva. Goldfish do a good job. Keep your screens in good repair and keep a fly swatter handy in the house.

Larvicidal briquettes are available treat water gardens, rain gardens, clogged drainage ditches or any other permanent landscape feature that holds water for more than a week.

Eliminate mosquito hideouts. Trim the grass and vegetation around the borders of your yard will reduce the areas where adult mosquitoes hide during the heat of the day.

Insect repellents work well for personal control. Products containing DEET are still the best bet, especially for children. Adults should apply the repellent to their hands first and then rub the repellent on the child’s skin. Never apply to a child’s hands. This help’s children from ingesting it. Be sure to read the label.

Citronella candles work well in a limited area without wind. Electronic bug zappers/repellers do not provide mosquito control. They draw insects to your yard and kill way too many beneficial insects.

Dress in light colored clothes, cover up, especially at dusk, and take it easy on colognes.

What’s going on in Extension?

Vidalia onion sales are back! Help support 4-H by purchasing Vidalia onions. Onion sales help send kids to 4-H camp.

Call the Extension office for more details. $10 per 10-pound bag. Orders must be received by April 8. 706-883-1675.

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–noon and 15 p.m.