Mosquito Control: Protect Your Home
Mosquitoes are some of the most devastating pests. As vectors of many diseases, mosquitoes are known vectors of malaria, a disease which kills over a million people each year. Since few mosquito-borne diseases and associated deaths are common in North America, mosquitoes are commonly recognized only as nuisance, where in other parts of the world, mosquitoes are recognized as life threatening.
Mosquitoes typically are sleek fliers and adult female mosquitoes will seek a blood meal in order to lay eggs. Males do not feed on blood.
What do they eat?
Mosquitoes prefer pollen and other plant materials for food in addition to the need for blood to lay eggs. While mosquito biology varies, most common mosquitoes feed on pollen and rest beneath vegetation as protection from hot sun during the day.
Attracted to Scent of Humans
Female adult mosquitoes seeking a blood meal will be attracted to carbon dioxide which humans give off. They also will react to the human scent, and when carried by a breeze, is known as the “scent plume.” Some mosquitoes are active during the day, such as the Asian Tiger Mosquito, while others are active only certain times of the day.
When mosquitoes bite us they first inject a little bit of their saliva. This serves two functions important to the mosquito. First, it numbs the skin (anesthetizes it) so we often do not feel the bite, and the mosquito can feed undisturbed for a minute or so. Second, the saliva is an anti-coagulant, and it keeps the blood from clotting as the mosquito feeds on us. Our bodies do not like the saliva in them, and our normal reaction is to swell up at the site of the bite, and begin to itch. The more we scratch the more it itches, and the larger the bump gets.
Within the saliva of the mosquito there may be bacteria or viruses that can cause us to come down with illnesses. These microscopic pathogens are intimately associated with the mosquito, and actually MUST be within the mosquito as part of their own life cycle. To pick Encephalitis as an example, a female mosquito feeds on an infected bird, and ingests a quantity of the virus that causes encephalitis. The viruses move into the wall of the stomach of the mosquito, and propagate there awhile, growing to large numbers. They then move to the salivary glands of the mosquito where they can be passed out the next time the mosquito bites an animal, allowing them to reproduce and grow within this new host, ensuring their survival.
Most mosquitoes must have water in order to reproduce. Some mosquitoes lay eggs in close proximity to standing water. Others species prefer to lay eggs near moving water. Yet others prefer to lay eggs in dry areas so that when rains occur, the rising water activates the eggs. When hatched, mosquito larvae, also known as “wigglers” due to their wiggling motion in water, will grow in water until they pupate or rest prior to emerging as adults.
In North America, West Nile Virus, with the mosquito Culex pipiensas vector, sickens thousands of people each year. This mosquito is a tree dweller which causes this most recognized disease.
Scientific Classification: Culicid
Prevalent throughout the United States, mosquitoes cause several types of disease including West Nile Virus, encephalitis, dog heartworm, and malaria. World-wide, mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths than any other pest.
West Nile Virus
Typically surfacing in late summer and early fall, West Nile is caused by mosquitoes feeding on infected birds, and then passing the virus to humans and other animals through the saliva they inject with their bites. The virus travels through the bloodstream to the brain where it interferes with the central nervous system, causing swelling of the brain tissue. Symptoms are typically mild and include fever, headache, and fatigue, but severe cases can develop into encephalitis, meningitis, paralysis or rarely, death. West Nile is typically mild, but it can take a person several months to recover. Other viruses spread by mosquitoes include malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever, all of which are rare in the United States but common in tropical areas around the world.
After any warm winter,spring bug populations will have a strong start – and all it takes is a little moisture to kick start a mosquito infestation. Some tips:
- Water = mosquitoes: Walk your property from the woods to the street, and look for any and all sources of standing water.
- Drain it: Anything that can hold or retain water needs to be drained and turned upside down. From old tires on a property to standing flower pots, they need to be drained or removed.
- Don’t forget the bird bath: “I love bird baths…they look great, but it’s a mosquito swimming pool,”
Prevention, then Intervention
Mosquito control is best handled by inspecting properties and making the environment less hospitable to mosquitoes. This might include reducing water, resting places, and other attractions.
Although it is common practice to spray for mosquitoes, spraying pest control materials is not the most effective means of controlling a mosquito outbreak. It is far more effective to prevent them from breeding in the first place. Mosquitoes lay hundreds of eggs at a time and gestation only takes about seven days. If they find standing water to breed in, it could mean several generations of mosquitoes in your own back yard.
There are several simple things you can do to minimize the risk of mosquitoes in and around your home, particularly if you have a pond or other water feature.
- Keep water fixtures such as birdbaths and fish ponds clean, and add elements that keep the water moving, such as a fountain if possible.
- Clean gutters regularly to avoid trapping water and creating areas where mosquitoes will potentially breed.
- Work to attract natural mosquito predators, such as dragonflies.
- Try keeping guppies or mosquitofish in your pond as they will eat the mosquitoes and their larvae.
- Maintain your lawns and gardens. Overgrown areas trap moisture where mosquitoes are likely to nest.
- Regularly drain and clean (or remove) things that hold water: pet dishes, wading pools, vases, or anything that may collect water, such as old barrels.