Time to Swat Skeeters
Reprinted from The Triangle, June 2011
Been bitten yet? Skeeter sea-son is gearing up in the Triangle – are you ready to go to war?
Getting bitten used to be just an annoyance, but now that our local mosquitoes may carry West Nile and La Crosse encephalitis viruses, we may want to follow Sun Tzu’s advice and know our enemy.
First, a fun factoid. Calling the mosquito you just swatted names does help ease the pain, but accuracy demands all epithets and nouns be feminine in nature. Lady mosquitoes need the protein your blood provides to hatch the next generation of blood-suckers!
Sixty types of mosquitoes call North Carolina home, but the Asian tiger mosquito and a Johnny-come-lately named Ochlerotatus japonicas, cause the most complaints. Some mosquitoes only bite one type of critter (bird, horse, frog, whatever) but if you get chomped, chances are good these two did the biting.
Fighting back usually takes two approaches: eliminate breeding grounds to control the population and protect yourself from mosquitoes around you.
Limit Breeding Sites
Females lay eggs in moist spots or standing water and the eggs can hatch in as little as four days. That means we need to change bird bath water every three days and eliminate standing water wherever possible. Common breeding spots include potted plant drip saucers, pet water bowls, gutters, unscreened rain barrels, ponds and water features and rain gardens that do not drain within three days. Even a little pocket of rain caught in the folds of a tarp will do, but one NCSU study showed scrap tires are skeeter breeding heaven, so look out for those, too.
If standing water is unavoidable, go to the nearest country ditch and catch some gambusia, also known as “mosquito fish.” If you can’t make it to the country, you can buy them in fish stores. Place some in your pond or water feature and let them go to work. Mosquito briquettes or dunks use bacillus thuringensis, a naturally occur-ring bacterial insect disease to control larvae before they fly. The instructions will tell you how much you need to use based on the amount of water involved.
Once you get done working on your yard, go talk to your neighbors. There are companies that claim to control mosquitoes in your yard, but Asian mosquitoes range up to half-mile from their breeding place, so your neighbors will need to get in on the act, too.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (PMD) and IR3535. The first two are conventional chemicals; the last two are ‘biopesticide repellents” because they come from natural materials.
The usual cautions apply, so do read the directions before you start spraying your face, kids under three, or open cuts, and be sure to wash it all off once you get back inside.
Permethrin is the way to go for anything that is not skin, like shoes, camping gear, clothing and bed nets. It helps repel ticks, too, which can also be a problem this time of year.
In closing, here is another fun factoid that may help you think better of the blood sucking swarms. They actually help pollinate some plants and they provide food for birds, bats, fish and frogs. Maybe that is the reason, as the old joke goes, Noah did not swat those two mosquitoes!