Mosquitos: What’s the Buzz?

posted: 05/15/12
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Mosquitoes don’t have to be an unavoidable part of summer.
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If you live in the United States, we are sure you have had numerous personal encounters with these critters circling your head while you swat frantically. As if their buzzing and bites are not enough, mosquitos also are responsible for transmitting many diseases including malaria and St. Louis encephalitis in man, equine encephalomyelitis in horses, and heartworm disease in dogs and cats. This article will explain the life cycle of mosquitos and how it affects disease transmission.

What are mosquitoes?

Mosquitos are insects, thus related to lice, fleas, and flies. Mosquitos have six legs, a pair of wings, compound eyes, large antennae, and that problematic proboscis with which the females suck blood. (Male mosquitos eat nectar.)

To make them even more pesky, it is no help that some female mosquitos can hibernate during the winter and lay their eggs in spring. They generally travel for about 2 miles from their breeding grounds, or even further if blown by the wind.

What is the life cycle of the mosquito?

All mosquitos need water as a place where they can lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae about 3 days after being laid. The larvae (also called 'wigglers') live in the water for 7-10 days while maturing into the pupal (also called 'tumbler') stage. In 2-3 days, these pupae have developed into adults and fly away and mate. (If you are wondering how a male and female mosquito find each other, the female's buzzing which is made by her wings is a higher pitch than that of the male.)

Adding up the days necessary for each stage of development, you can see it only takes about 2 weeks (less if it is really warm) for the life cycle to be completed. Add to that the fact that each female can lay 100-400 eggs and you can see why you can have so many mosquitos in a very short time.

How can mosquitos be controlled?

For the comfort and health (some pets have a mosquito bite hypersensitivity), mosquito control is important. We can try to eliminate or reduce mosquitos in several ways, and combining methods is best. We need to reduce reproduction by eliminating breeding sites, reduce the adult population, and keep the remaining mosquitos away from us and our pets.

Outdoor Control: Even if your pet spends most of his time inside, outdoor mosquito control is still important to reduce the number of mosquitos that could get into the house. Eliminate breeding sites: One of the most important things to remember is that mosquitos need water to reproduce. No water, no reproduction. Control then is based on removing standing water which can serve as a breeding site. Think of the things that can hold water: - Old tires - Discarded cans and containers - Bases of flower pots - Birdbaths - Clogged rain gutters - Tree holes - Pot holes - Pet water bowls - Manmade pools and ponds We need to eliminate breeding sites such as old tires and discarded cans. We need to change the water at least weekly in birdbaths, dump out water accumulating in flower pots, and give fresh water daily to our pets. Tree holes can be filled with sand. Goldfish or minnows would love to eat the mosquito larvae and pupae in ponds. The larvae can also be killed with products especially designed for that use which contain insect growth regulators such as methoprene (Altosid). Reduce adult population: Adult mosquitos like to rest where it is cool, dark, and damp, so keeping grass cut and weeds and brush under control may encourage mosquitos to find shelter elsewhere. Bats love to eat mosquitos, so placing bat houses in your area would be another way to decrease the mosquito population. There are insecticides that can be sprayed on shaded areas around buildings or the yard. Remember not to spray when or where runoff could go into lakes or rivers. Read the label on all insecticides thoroughly and apply them as directed. Remember that insecticides may kill beneficial insects as well as those we do not wish to have around. The jury is still out on whether 'bug zappers' are effective against mosquitos. Yes, they may kill some mosquitos, but the light also attracts more mosquitos. The question is 'Does the device kill more than it attracts?' So, if you are thinking of buying one, check it out carefully. Since mosquitos can fly long distances, think about getting others in your area to also control mosquitos on their premises. Some municipalities have even hired professional mosquito control services to protect large areas from mosquitos. Indoor Control: Now that we have reduced the number of mosquitos that are outside, we still need to prevent those that remain from entering the house. Ways to prevent mosquitos from entering the house or enclosed pet areas include keeping screens on windows and doors, reducing light at night since light tends to attract mosquitos, and if necessary, using foggers containing pyrethrin or permethrin such as the Drs. Foster and Smith Multi-Stage Plus Fogger. Protecting Your Pet: Permethrins and pyrethrins can be used as repellents to protect your dog. (Permethrins are toxic for cats.) Since no repellent is 100% effective, heartworm preventatives are still necessary even if a mosquito repellent is used. Protecting Yourself: Most repellents for humans contain diethyltoluamide (DEET). It can be applied to clothing and exposed skin except for your face. There are newer products available which contain microencapsulated repellent which is less likely to harm plastics and synthetic fibers. There are some other products, such as Avon's Skin-So-Soft and herbal remedies which are reported to repel mosquitos, however, their efficacy has not been proven through scientific studies. In addition to light, mosquitos are attracted to warmth, perspiration, body odor, and carbon dioxide. So you see, the more you wave your arms around in a frenzy, the better target you will make.

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