Mosquitoes rank high among the most annoying—and most dangerous—insects. Not only do they buzz and bite, but they also carry diseases, including the dreaded Zika virus. But you can fight these pests to protect yourself and your home.
To combat mosquitoes, it helps to know how these tiny bloodsuckers work. Mosquito season usually starts after temperatures reach about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, between early February and early May, depending on where you live.
All mosquitoes feed on nectar and plant juices, but only female mosquitoes drink blood because they need protein to help their eggs develop.
With each bite, a mosquito drinks for an average of four minutes (if you don’t swat it first). Mosquito saliva contains special enzymes to prevent the blood from clotting while they feed. Most people are allergic to the saliva. It triggers a histamine reaction, which is why bites itch so fiercely.
So, how do bloodthirsty mosquitoes track down their hosts? Mosquitoes have different sensors—some that detect carbon dioxide and some that detect body odor molecules. Scientists have even found that these insects are drawn to the scents of smelly socks, unwashed clothes and used bedsheets.
Female mosquitoes can lay 100 eggs at a time, and most mosquito species lay their eggs in water. Within a few days, the eggs turn into larvae, which grow in the water. Within four to 14 days, the larvae become pupae, which turn into adult mosquitoes.
The female adult mosquitoes are ready to feed on blood, and the cycle continues. Because water is so critical to mosquito development, removing standing water from around your home before mosquitoes have a chance to lay their eggs is key to reducing their population.
Types of Mosquitoes in the U.S.
The United States is home to about 200 types of mosquitoes, which can spread a variety of diseases to humans. Three of the most common species of mosquitoes in the United States are:
Northern house mosquito. Found mostly in urban and suburban areas, the northern house mosquito preys on humans, other mammals, and birds. It breeds in dirty standing water left, for example, in discarded tires or old dog bowls and is most active from dusk to dawn. This mosquito is a carrier of West Nile virus, which can cause serious neurological illness. It can even transmit heartworm in dogs.
Asian tiger mosquito. The Asian tiger mosquito is found in 26 states throughout the Northeast and the Southeast, as well as California. This mosquito bites during the day, feasting on humans, pets, and even wild animals. Scientists have found that it can spread diseases, but there’s no evidence that any have actually infected humans with Zika, although there have been a few cases in which they spread dengue here in the U. S.
Yellow fever mosquito. The yellow fever mosquito — aka aedes aegypti — has dominated the news because it transmits the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects in children of women infected during pregnancy. The mosquito primarily feeds on humans and prefers to eat several small meals from several victims instead of one large meal from one victim. This mosquito hunts during the day and is mostly found in the South and Southwest, but has been spotted in the Northeast.
Bite Back Against Mosquitoes
Fighting mosquitoes requires a two-pronged approach: protecting yourself and your family from adult mosquitoes and making your home and yard an unfriendly environment for these pesky insects to live and breed. Note that it’s best to get a head start by taking action before mosquito season begins.
To reduce or even prevent mosquito bites, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking these steps:
Consider place and time. Know which mosquito species live in your area, when they’re most active and what diseases they transmit. With a little background knowledge, you can minimize your mosquito exposure by staying inside when mosquitoes are most active or, if you do go outside, by taking extra protective measures.
Dress to protect your skin. When mosquitoes are most active, consider wearing long sleeves and pants to reduce your exposure. For extra protection, consider wearing clothing treated with permethrin, which repels and kills mosquitoes. You can buy clothes that have been treated or treat your own clothes with permethrin. Never put permethrin directly on your skin.
Use an effective repellent. It’s best to use a bug repellant with one of these active ingredients: DEET, IR3535, picaridin, or an EPA-registered repellent containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE or PMD) as the active ingredient. Don’t try to make your own repellant using that oil, however, because it might not be effective. Repellants typically can be used on the skin or the clothing, but be sure to follow the instructions on the label for safety.
Note that insect repellant shouldn’t be used on babies six months or younger, so rely on insect netting over the baby’s stroller instead. And when you’re spending time on a deck or a porch, you can use an oscillating fan to keep mosquitoes from landing on you and your loved ones.
Prevent Mosquito Breeding Grounds
Making your yard unfriendly to mosquitoes can greatly reduce the number of insects around your home. Here are three steps you can take:
Get rid of standing water. Mosquito eggs can develop in just an ounce of water. Search your property to eliminate receptacles that can hold standing water, such as buckets, cans flower pots, old tires, pet bowls and plastic swimming pools. Also fix any water leaks that create puddles on the ground, such as ones from an air conditioning unit or an outside faucet. If you can eliminate standing water from your yard for more than two days, you can stop the mosquito breeding cycle and prevent hundreds or even thousands of adult mosquitoes from infesting your yard.
Maintain and treat water features in your yard. If you have water features in your garden, you can enjoy the water while making sure it doesn’t become a mosquito breeding haven. Empty bird baths at least once a week so larvae can’t develop. Stock ponds or ornamental pools with minnows that eat mosquito larvae. These mosquito fish can be purchased at most pet stores or may be obtained for free from a county mosquito control program.
Also consider treating decorative water features with products containing an insect growth regulator, such as Mosquito Bits or Mosquito Dunks, which are available at any hardware store.
Fight adult insects. The final step is to control the adult mosquito population. Make sure windows and porches are screened and your yard is kept trimmed so that mosquitoes, which prefer tall grass and weeds, have fewer spots to rest and live on. Note that traditional bug zappers are not recommended for mosquito control because mosquitoes aren’t attracted to the UV light bug zappers emit. There are devices that attract mosquitoes via carbon dioxide, but they are expensive, difficult to maintain, and not always reliable.
Use a pesticide. If mosquitoes continue to pose a problem, you may want to consider spraying your yard with an insecticide—after you weigh the risks. The Pesticide Research Institute offers a list of pesticides for use on mosquitoes, along with the hazards they pose to humans, animals, and other insects. Many are toxic to humans, negatively affecting the nervous system. Therefore, it’s best to hire a professional pest control company to spray your yard for you.
Use pesticides only as a last resort, and keep children and pets out of the yard for at least several hours after it’s sprayed. Also remove toys and pet bowls from the yard before spraying.
Follow these steps for fewer itchy welts and to reduce your chance of contracting a disease spread by these buzzing pests.
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