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Taking the bite out of the bugs: Mosquito control, part I

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

As the summer season approaches, we hope the mosquito problem will go away; however, with the threat of the West Nile Virus, it behooves each of us to do what we can to help eliminate as many mosquitoes as possible.

At this time, there has not been a confirmed case of the virus in North Carolina. As a precaution, the next two articles will examine mosquito control around the home and community.

Mosquitoes are important pests because their biting activity often interferes with outdoor activities and can transmit disease organisms to people and domestic animals.

Most mosquitoes are active during twilight hours and at night; however, around the home, the mosquitoes that breed in discarded containers are active during the day. Mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle. They can breed in almost any source of water. Pesticides are only a short-term solution to nuisance mosquito problems. Following are methods you can use to help control mosquitoes.

Mosquito Life Cycle

All mosquitoes have one common requirement—they need water to complete their life cycle. Some mosquitoes lay individual eggs on the sides of tree holes or discarded containers or in depressions in the ground that will hold water.

The eggs can lay dormant for several years. Some eggs will hatch when they are flooded by rainfall. Several flooding and drying cycles are usually required for all of the eggs to hatch that are laid by a particular female mosquito.

Other mosquitoes lay eggs directly on the surface of water. The eggs are attached to one another to form a raft or the individual eggs float on the water. These eggs hatch in 24-48 hours releasing larvae that are commonly called “wrigglers” because you can often see the larvae wriggling up and down from the surface of the water. Generally, the larvae feed on microorganisms and organic material in the water, but some mosquitoes prey on the larvae of other mosquito species and are regarded to be beneficial.

In about 7-10 days after eggs hatch, larvae change to the pupal or “tumbler” stage in preparation for adult life. Female mosquitoes begin to seek an animal to feed on several days after emerging from water. Male mosquitoes mate with females one to two days after the females emerge. Males do not bite, but they do feed on plant juices.

Mosquito Breeding Sites

Since mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle, the source of a mosquito problem can be just about anywhere that water can collect. Farm ponds and lakes are typically not major mosquito breeding areas if they contain fish and are free of weeds, algae, or floating debris in which mosquito larvae can hide. Municipal and farm animal waste lagoons may become breeding sites.

Permanent natural bodies of water, such as swamps, usually contain a wide variety of predatory insects and fish that keep mosquitoes from reaching severe nuisance levels, although storms, such as hurricanes, may disrupt this system and allow mosquito populations to rise rapidly.

In residential areas, our activities often create mosquito-breeding sites or increase the production of mosquitoes in natural bodies of water. For example, road building and maintenance often impede the drainage of runoff from rainfall, creating a mosquito-breeding site. Clogged drainage ditches along roads can become productive mosquito breeding sites. Logging and construction activities often leave tire ruts in the soil. These depressions are ideal breeding sites for “floodwater” mosquito species.

Around the home, objects such as birdbaths, boats, canoes, discarded tires, plant pots, and other such objects collect rainwater and allow mosquitoes to breed literally right in our own backyard. The stagnant water in unused swimming pools becomes an ideal breeding site. You can help reduce mosquito populations by eliminating or properly maintaining these problem spots:

• Do not store open containers, tires, etc. on your property where they can collect rainwater. Discard them as soon as possible.

• Check flowerpots for excess water.

• Flush out the water in birdbaths every few days.

• Store boats, canoes and other objects so they do not collect rainwater. Remove water that collects in depressions in tarpaulins covering boats and other equipment or objects.

• Keep rain gutters free of leaves and other debris that prevent water from draining.

• Correct drainage problems in your yard to prevent rainwater from pooling.

• Correct or report drainage problems in ditches along public or private roadways.

The discussion of mosquitoes will conclude next week.

Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.