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By Danielle Bodner, Columbia Association
Mosquitoes are a summer buzzword, and for good reason. They can ruin outdoor time by mercilessly biting people and leaving nasty welts. Having spent a lot of time catching and staring at the tiny annoyances, I tend to look at mosquitoes in a different light.
Only female mosquitoes bite. The females bite to obtain the protein in blood that they need to produce eggs. There are many different species of mosquitoes, and some don’t bite humans. While all mosquitoes spend their first days swimming in water, different species prefer different types of water. From the salt marshes on the Eastern Shore to rock pools, woodland streams and backyard containers filled with rain water, there are many different places that the various mosquitoes breed.
The Asian Tiger mosquito is widespread in Maryland and particularly interesting. She prefers breeding close to homes and will lay eggs in as little as a bottle cap of water. You can distinguish them by the white and black striped legs and the white line down the head/ thorax.
The Asian Tiger bites all day long and does not fly very far from where they emerge. While not the primary Zika virus vector, the Asian Tiger mosquito could potentially spread Zika to humans. The Asian Tiger are more opportunistic than the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are spreading Zika in Central and South America. This means that while female Ae. aegypti almost exclusively bite humans (requirement for Zika transmission), the female Asian Tiger are biting the first source of blood they find (i.e. dog, cat, bird, rodent, etc.), which will make it much more difficult for local transmission of the virus.
The 16 cases of local transmission of the Zika virus in Miami have been from the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Maryland is the extreme range for Aedes aegypti. Although they are technically here, it is in very low population density.
Columbia Association conducts active mosquito surveillance in its open space, including identifying any mosquitoes found and encouraging natural mosquito predators, such as birds, fish, frogs, and other insects. Columbia Association also provides public education through teaching residents about mosquito ecology, breeding sites and how to eliminate mosquitoes from their yards and help prevent diseases carried by mosquitoes.
The most difficult facet of mosquito control is convincing people to find and eliminate standing water in their backyard. You’re probably shaking your head right now, saying, “There isn’t any water in my yard,” but that is exactly the problem. Mosquitoes aren’t shining a light at you and holding signs saying, “Here we are!”
The backyard container breeders, like the Asian Tiger, are sneaky. This is exactly how they’ve managed to invade the eastern United States in such a short time.
Earlier this summer, I washed my car and left the empty wash bucket outside. Out of sight, out of mind; it sat for a week or two. Later when I went to retrieve the bucket, I found less than an inch of water in the bottom and enough larvae/wigglers to ruin a summer barbecue. It just goes to show that even the most diligent backyard mosquito hunter can still have standing water.
Take-a-way:Empty the water from buckets, tarps, planter dishes, birdbaths, bins, and watering cans on a weekly basis. This is the best way to take back your yard and reduce the mosquito population.