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Vicious salt marsh mosquito chasing Tampa Bay indoors

A Pasco County Mosquito Control District helicopter drops granules coated with mosquito larvicide over water at the Wilderness Lake Preserve in Land O’Lakes on Wednesday.
Published Jul. 6, 2017

TAMPA — Swatting mosquitoes is nothing new for South Tampa real estate agent Cassandra Reardin, but the past few weeks have bugged her more than normal.

"It's awful," said Reardin, 47, who has been taking clients from house to house for 22 years. "It's been bad before, but I think this year is the worst year."

Other residents have posted on the social network Nextdoor that the bloodsucking insects are crowding their garages and pools and swarming them as they step out of the car. They're not imagining it. Mosquito control officials say there really are more insects out this year, and many of them are especially nasty.

For most of the winter, mosquito eggs sit dormant in the ground, waiting for water and warm weather. Early this year, an especially high tide hit the area, Hillsborough County Mosquito Control director Donnie Hayes said.

"Once we received that high tide, it pushed a lot of water into areas there hadn't been water before," he said.

That saltwater awakened the eggs of the black salt marsh mosquito, known to scientists as the Aedes taeniorhynchus.

An early population spike like that can affect the rest of the summer, said Rob Krueger, entomology and education specialist for the Pinellas County Mosquito Control District. Mosquitoes live only about six weeks, but they can lay 150 to 250 eggs at once, which become adults five to six days after they hatch, he said.

"It's just really going to compound things as time goes on," he said.

The species is a mean one.

"This is very much a nuisance mosquito," Hayes said. "It is an aggressive biter."

It hatches in large numbers, and it's fast, too — able to fly several miles, when many mosquitoes can't manage more than one, said Dennis Moore, director of the Pasco County Mosquito Control District.

And it is out in droves. Hillsborough County received 3,414 requests for mosquito service through June 25, or 700 more than at that point in 2016, Hayes said.

He credits some of that to efforts to engage the public more, but said surveillance also shows more adult bugs than normal.

Pasco County is seeing higher mosquito counts too, Moore said, though not as sharp of a spike. He said the case is probably true across Florida after a particularly rainy June.

"All of a sudden we just got hammered with rain. Eggs are hatching. Mosquitoes are developing and emerging," he said.

Moore said that, to homeowners' dismay, the insects like to stay out of the sun during the day, and often swarm in the shade in garages and by doors.

"You've got to be careful not to let them in as you go inside," he said.

Reardin said she and her clients don't hang around outside homes long before they have to go in.

"When you're looking at houses or homes that are vacant, and people aren't always maintaining it, there can be some standing water," she said.

Pinellas County has noticed more calls for service without noticing more mosquitoes, Krueger said. But the pesky salt marsh mosquitoes appeared suddenly in mid May.

"It kind of hit us all at one time this year," he said.

He said a "perfect storm" of warm weather, rain and high tides all helped.

Floodwater mosquitoes have now arrived, too, and are more likely to carry diseases like West Nile virus, he said.

When his team is called out to homes, standing water is almost always a problem because it provides a place for mosquito larvae to grow.

"Nine out of 10 inspections, you'll get residents breeding mosquitoes in their own yard," he said.

The problem is the same across the region.

"The No. 1 tip that we preach is tip and drain," Hayes said.

Clearing rainwater doesn't help with the salt marsh mosquitoes — which lay their eggs in moist soil, not water — but it does deter other species, including those that carry West Nile virus, the Zika virus and other diseases.

Hayes advises people to avoid being outside at dusk and dawn and to wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.

Dr. Brent Laartz, an infectious diseases specialist in Safety Harbor, said those who plan to venture outside should apply an insect repellent that is at least 20 percent DEET, and do so at least 15 to 20 minutes after applying sunscreen. "If you apply sunscreen over the DEET product, it's going to take away the smell and potentially deactivate the DEET," he said.

Laartz said he hasn't seen more mosquito-borne illnesses lately than normal.

According to reports by the Florida Department of Health, the state has had fewer cases this year of dengue fever, chikungunya and the Zika virus than at this point in 2016.

Contact Langston Taylor at Follow @langstonitaylor.


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