I've been seeing mosquitoes and ticks for several weeks already, and as the weather gets warmer they'll get more numerous. Not only are these critters annoying, many are also capable of transmitting a variety of diseases.
There are three main types of mosquitoes. The permanent pool mosquitoes, which reproduce in relatively small numbers in permanent bodies of water such as lakes and ponds. The floodwater mosquitoes, which lay their eggs on low-lying dry soil and will hatch when the areas flood (the eggs can survive for more than two years while waiting for proper conditions). Finally, there are the container breeding mosquitoes. They prefer stagnant water and include the northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens, the main vector of West Nile Virus and St. Louis Encephalitis, and the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, a potential vector for Zika virus.
Neither the northern house mosquito nor the Asian tiger mosquito travel very far, typically no more than half a mile. Because of this, efforts to reduce mosquitoes around your home neighborhood can greatly reduce their populations. After getting an adequate blood meal, adult female mosquitoes will lay eggs in any stagnant water source. Therefore, removal of as many water sources as possible from yards and communities will help to reduce populations (they can develop in as little as one cup of water):
- Make sure to clean out gutters so they don't clog and hold water.
- Replace water in birdbaths and wading pools weekly.
- If you have drip trays under potted plants make sure to empty them frequently as well.
- If you have an ornamental/garden pond stock it with minnows or other surface feeding fish that will eat mosquito larvae (unfortunately koi won't help, they're vegetarians).
- Ornamental/garden ponds can also be treated with BTi (Bacillus thuringiensis israeliensis) which isavailable as donuts, briquettes, granules, and can provide larval control for a month or more.
- If you have a swimming pool make sure it is cleaned and chlorinated.
- Make sure to get rid of, or put drainage holes in old tires, tin cans, abandoned cars, and ceramic pots.
- Basically, anything that is capable of holding water needs to be emptied frequently and regularly, as it takes mosquito larvae 5-7 days to develop into adults.
While mosquitoes tend to get most of the headlines, tick populations have been increasing throughout the last several years. While they are most common in forested areas or areas with tall grass, they can be found anywhere where there is vegetation. In Illinois there are three species that commonly feed on people: the American dog (or wood) tick; the blacklegged (or deer) tick; and the lone star tick.
There are several steps people can take to avoid tick bites:
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails to avoid brushing up against vegetation.
- Wear light-colored clothing (so it is easier to spot ticks) and tuck pants into socks
- Apply a repellent containing DEET (20-30%) as directed (this goes for mosquitoes too).
- Permethrin can be applied to clothing (as directed) or clothing can be purchased that has already been treated that will kill ticks when they get on the clothing.
- Examine clothing, skin, and pets frequently for ticks when outdoors
- If you find a tick attached, remove it promptly by grasping it firmly with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out. Do not burn or smother the tick!
- See your doctor if any unexplained rash or illness accompanied by a fever develops
Good Growing fact of the week: Blacklegged (deer) ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease, are incredibly small. The larvae are about the size of a poppy seed; nymphs about the size of a pinhead; and adults are about 1/8 of an inch long.