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2010-06-02 / Front Page

Fight the bite

Controlling mosquitoes requires neighborhood effort to be successful
By Katherine Houstoun
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

An Asian Tiger mosquito gets ready to take a bite. Carolyn Hietala/Chesterfield Observer An Asian Tiger mosquito gets ready to take a bite. Carolyn Hietala/Chesterfield Observer Last summer, Darren and Nancy Stewart spent many a sleepless night trying to soothe their two daughters after vicious mosquito attacks. The offenders, Asian Tiger mosquitoes, are a non-native, invasive species that bite day and night, unlike most species that tend to strike at dusk. The girls, now 4 and 6 years old, simply had to walk into their own front yard to get bombarded by the tiny pests.

“The kids get eaten alive by mosquitoes – it looks like the chicken pox,” said Nancy, a Midlothian resident. “My youngest is highly reactive. If she got bit, it would be two or three nights in a row where we didn’t sleep because she was itching so much.”

The Stewarts soon learned female Asian Tiger mosquitoes can lay their eggs in as little as a teaspoon of water – anywhere from 200 to 500 eggs at a time, according to the Chesterfield County Cooperative Extension office – and set about ridding their own property of any standing water, but to no avail. The mosquitoes, jet-black with striking white marks on their legs and body, prevailed.

Four-year-old Sydney Stewart plays in her backyard while her mom, Nancy, watches. Sydney and her older sister often avoid playing outside because their neighborhood is infested with Asian Tiger mosquitoes. Sydney’s arms and legs are covered in bites. Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer Four-year-old Sydney Stewart plays in her backyard while her mom, Nancy, watches. Sydney and her older sister often avoid playing outside because their neighborhood is infested with Asian Tiger mosquitoes. Sydney’s arms and legs are covered in bites. Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer “If you’re just one person out of 50 in your neighborhood, it’s not going to work,” said Stewart. “If everyone worked with their own yard, we might get somewhere.”

“There’s nothing magical about a property line,” agreed Jerry Duffy, the county’s drainage superintendant. “[Asian Tigers] are not strong flyers, so usually their source is close to your house. You have to be a good property keeper, and your neighbors have to be good property keepers.”

Scratching irritates the many mosquito bites on Sydney Stewart’s legs. Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer Scratching irritates the many mosquito bites on Sydney Stewart’s legs. Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer While the county has no formal mosquito control program, the extension office is advocating a “pick a day and fight the bite” campaign, in which local residents check their property weekly for standing water. Asian Tiger mosquitoes do not breed in puddles, ponds or ditches. Instead, they like any sort of artificial container, such as a tarp collecting rainwater, gutters, tire swings, birdbaths, dog bowls, children’s toys, drainage pipes or saucers kept under garden pots.

“The lifespan from egg to hatching is 11 to 14 days, so if you put yourself on a weekly schedule, you’re going to eliminate the problem in your yard with that particular type of mosquito,” said Sandy Mattes, a Chesterfield master gardener who recently gave a lecture on mosquito control at Clover Hill Library.

Mattes recommends using mosquito Dunks in places with standing water that are hard to get to, like gutters or rain barrels. Dunks, widely available at hardware stores and garden centers, release specialized bacteria that kill only primitive flies, like no-see-ums, mosquitoes and biting flies, and are completely safe for humans and pets. Duffy cautions against using sprays and mists to control mosquitoes, whose season extends from April through the first hard frost.

“You have to be careful because the things that will kill mosquitoes will kill beneficial insects, too,” he said. With mosquitoes’ rapid reproductive cycle, they will return in force – but their predators, like predaceous beetles, dragonflies, robber flies and parasitic wasps, will not, leaving homeowners without the natural controls needed to help limit the mosquitoes’ population growth.

“Long term, the best way to get rid of mosquitoes is to do the weekly survey,” Duffy said.

Mattes, who just started her weekly water dumping routine a month ago, is a believer. “I’ve already noticed a difference in this yard,” she said. “I’m stunned.”

The extension office is holding another free lecture on mosquito control at 7 p.m. on July 12 at Central Library. Call 751-4401 to reserve a seat. Visit www.mosquito-va.org for more information on mosquitoes and mosquito control.

Bite back

Protect yourself and your family from mosquitoes with these guidelines from the American Mosquito Control Association:

 

• Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Some mosquito species are attracted to dark clothing, and some can bite through tight-fitting clothes.

• When practical, wear long sleeves and pants.

• Choose a mosquito repellent that has been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency: DEET, Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus (the latter is the most natural form of protection).

• Apply repellent sparingly, only to exposed skin (not on clothing).

• The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that DEET-based repellents can be used on children as young as 2 months of age. Generally, the AAP recommends concentrations of 30 percent or less. Avoid applying repellents to portions of children’s hands that are likely to have contact with their eyes or mouth.

• Pregnant and nursing women should minimize use of repellents.

• Never use repellents on wounds or irritated skin.

• Wash repellent-treated skin after coming indoors.

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