Mosquitoes: The Bugs We All Love To Hate
MOSQUITOES: THE BUGS WE ALL LOVE TO HATE
While summer may have officially begun on June 22 this year, the true arrival of summer is when we hear the familiar buzz of a mosquito in our ear-- knowing that at any moment we may be bitten and have to contend with an itchy welt on our arm or leg for the next week or so. When the weather starts to warm up in the Washington DC area there are a few, precious evenings where we are able to spend time outside without the mosquitoes bothering us. But once true summer arrives, we are often unable to completely escape them, even with insect repellent spray.
First, let’s look at some interesting mosquito facts. Only female mosquitoes bite humans and animals, because they need a special protein from the blood that nourishes the eggs she has laid. Male mosquitoes don’t lay eggs, and thus don’t need to bite for blood. They do not even have the mouth parts that would allow them to bite.
There are different species of mosquitoes, and depending on the species they will be most active at different times of day. Most mosquitoes common in DC and Maryland tend to be most prevalent around dusk, however there are also some day-biting mosquito varieties in this area like the Asian Tiger Mosquito.
Mosquito breeding occurs in standing water that has become stagnant and has an accumulation of organic debris. Female mosquitoes lay their eggs on the water’s surface, where the eggs hatch and the larvae develop in the water until maturity. Adult mosquitoes are found in higher numbers near standing water because that is where they breed and lay their eggs.
There are several solutions to reduce mosquitoes near your home. The best way to mitigate a mosquito problem is to eliminate breeding sites—that means areas where stagnant water stands for about seven days. Some examples of areas with standing water include birdbaths, clogged gutters trapping water, clogged drains, tires or other debris in the yard, and pooled water caused by sprinkler systems.
It has been suggested that there are some plants that attract mosquitoes, such as pachysandra, hostas or ivy. However, it is not the plant that attracts the mosquitoes, it is the moisture or dampness around plants. Plants provide shade and hold in dampness, and adult mosquitoes like these areas that provide cover and shade as well as moisture. Some plants may actually repel mosquitoes, such as citronella, catnip, rosemary, and marigolds. However, they are best used by crushing the plants and rubbing it onto your skin and not just having the plants sit in your garden.
If you find you have mosquitoes in your house, it could be because you have windows without screens, or poorly sealed window and door openings. Mosquitoes prefer to be outside, but can get inside the home if proper precautions are not taken.
The most common health concern related to mosquito bites in the Maryland, DC, and Virginia area is West Nile Virus. The National Institutes of Health, located in Bethesda, Maryland, states that in 1999 West Nile Virus (WNV) was found in the Western Hemisphere for the first time in the New York City area. In 2007, WNV caused 3,404 cases of disease in the United States, including 98 deaths. This year, there has only been one case of the disease, which occurred in the state of Mississippi, and 720 cases in 2009. For more information see the CDC website for WNV.
The best way overall to protect yourself from mosquito bites is to wear long sleeves and pants, and to use netting if you’re going to be sleeping or lounging outdoors. However, in the warmer months, many people prefer to use an insect repellent with DEET. “After completing a comprehensive re-assessment of DEET, EPA concluded that, as long as consumers follow label directions and take proper precautions, insect repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern.” For more information about DEET, see the EPA article about DEET.
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