The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Preventing Mosquito Problems

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Some fear bears. Some fear sharks. Although I doubt we will see a TV station offering Mosquito Week, we should have a healthy fear of mosquitoes; a fear that leads us to action. As a kid I reckoned mosquito bites were a symptom of summer and were no more than an annoying irritation. Now I understand how mosquitoes can spread disease and worldwide cause more human sickness and death than any other animal. With our new concern about Zika virus spread by mosquitoes it's time for a reminder about how mosquitoes develop, how we can reduce mosquito populations and protect ourselves.

The main vector or transmitter of Zika virus is the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. As a tropical to subtropical mosquito it does not survive our freezing Illinois winters. However it could survive in Illinois during the summer if it was accidentally introduced, according to Dr. Phil Nixon, UI Extension entomologist.

Another known but less effective Zika vector, Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, does survive Illinois winters. This mosquito is found sporadically in Illinois south of Interstate 80. It is also present in Cook County, stated Nixon in the UI Extension Home, Yard and Garden Pest Newsletter.

Mosquitoes have four distinct life stages of egg, larva, pupa and adult. Mosquitoes require standing water for part of their life cycle. Both adult female mosquitoes known to transmit Zika virus lay their eggs on damp surfaces above standing water containing decaying organic matter. Leaf clogged gutters provide perfect breeding areas. Mosquito larvae and pupae develop in water and it doesn't take much water. They can develop in as little as one cup of water. With the addition of warm temperatures the adults can quickly develop in 7-10 days.

Mosquitoes are notorious due to the blood-sucking habits of the females. (Okay gentlemen, go ahead and chuckle.) The females require a blood meal in order to develop eggs. Males do not feed on blood and cannot bite, but live solely on nectar from flowers or moisture from other sources.

Zika virus mosquitoes bite during the day, particularly in late afternoon. Neither mosquito flies very far from its birth place, typically less than one-quarter mile. Therefore we can do a great deal to reduce mosquito populations by eliminating breeding sites in our landscape and in our neighborhoods. The northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens pipiens, lives in similar locations, and the same practices help prevent transmission of West Nile Virus.

First be observant. Look around your yard and neighborhood to determine where water might stand for more than 48 hours such as clogged gutters, old tires, recycling containers or kids' toys. Clean or eliminate these breeding sites or drill drainage holes. Every couple days change the water in birdbaths and wading pools. Cover rain barrels with window screen or use mosquito dunks or pellets containing the bacterial agent Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti). Water remains safe for watering plants and for wildlife.

Make sure backyard ornamental ponds have plenty of aeration and no stagnant water. Mosquitoes need still water so waterfalls, fountains and moving water deter mosquitoes. Nixon also recommends stocking ornamental ponds with mosquito-larvae eating minnows or small goldfish in addition to koi. Around the home be sure to repair window screens to keep out adult mosquitoes.

We can also protect ourselves by wearing long sleeves and long pants when working outdoors. Mosquito repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or lemongrass oil are also important in reducing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing so application to clothing may be needed. When using any repellent always read and follow label directions; don't apply near eyes, on lips or on broken skin; avoid breathing spray; don't use near food; and wash repellent off skin with soap and water when it's no longer needed.

Don't let mosquitoes ruin your time outdoors.

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