Summertime cookouts and backyard gatherings often end with itchy ankles and angry red welts thanks to mosquitoes.
Does it seem buggier than normal this year? Or does it just feel that way as friends opt for outdoor socialization in the time of COVID-19? (The World Health Organization has said that the novel coronavirus cannot be transmitted via mosquitoes, by the way).
John Bell, Orlando-Based staff entomologist of TruGreen, chatted with the Tampa Bay Times to answer our mosquito questions. The lawn care company named the St. Petersburg-Tampa-Sarasota metro area as the fifteenth buggiest city in America for 2020 based on service data and customer sales.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do experts monitor mosquito populations, and what makes a bad year for mosquitoes?
There’s two big factors we look at. One could be temperature, because as temperatures get colder, you don’t see a lot of mosquitoes. As the temperatures rise above 50, we know that mosquitoes become active. The other big thing is they lay their eggs in water. The more precipitation we have, the more rainfall, the more areas that they have to lay their eggs.
Looking at this year, we had a very mild winter. There wasn’t a lot of suppression of mosquitoes. We had early spring, which means our temperatures here in Florida especially rose fairly quickly. We also had a lot of rainfall. So those two factors allow mosquitoes to begin to reproduce. And because of reproducing early, more generations can be produced over the course of year.
What impact does that have?
It’s going to feel like there’s more mosquitoes for two reasons. One, there’s a lot more mosquitoes because they’re turning over generations quicker.
People have been spending a lot more time outside in their neighborhoods. And so consequently, they’re exposed more to those biting mosquitoes. It’s kind of a perfect storm, if you will.
Where are we seeing this the most?
You’re always going to see it more in the South because we warm up faster.
How long could it last?
Here in Florida, you’re probably going to see mosquitoes until September and on into October. If we keep hot temperatures all the way to December, and we’ve seen that happen before, mosquitoes are gonna stay out.
What are some things we can do to combat the mosquitoes?
Make sure there’s no water standing in your yard for more than a week because that’s all they need to reproduce. Even bird baths. You also want to make sure that adult mosquitoes don’t just hover until they find somebody. What they do is they hide on the other side of leaves. Decrease any debris that might be laying around the house — old clippings, tall grass.
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Personally, you can make sure that you use some type of repellent, preferably with DEET, or there are professionals that actually can treat the landscape for you to keep the mosquitoes out of your yard altogether. The big one that people do miss though: Make sure your gutters are clean.
Any products out there that you should just not even waste your time with?
People use citronella candles. The problem is there’s usually not enough of the repellent formulation in there to really do a good job.
Some of the repellent herbs do repel the insect. But the way these repellents work is they overpower the sensory protectors in the mosquito. So in order to really do an effective job to keep your landscape free of mosquitoes, you have to have an awful lot of them. They do work, but I don’t think you can put enough of it in the yard to really make a big difference.
Who is most likely to be bitten?
People that have a tendency to put out more lactic acid will have a tendency to get bitten. Alcohol is typically fermented, which means it creates more lactic acid and it also will cause your metabolism to increase, which causes sweat. So the more alcohol you drink, the more attractive you become. However, if you drink too much alcohol, you probably don’t know you’re getting bitten more until the next morning.