By Jeff Burbrink
Extension Educator, Purdue Extension Elkhart County
Some limbs were overhanging our driveway, and needed to be removed. I was hesitant because of all the mosquitoes I knew were lurking in the woods. I put on long sleeves, jeans and covered myself with DEET repellent. Despite those efforts, the skeeters were still able to bite me a number of times.
Rain, humidity and cool places to hide are perfect conditions for mosquito development. These small insects cannot safely fly in sunny, hot conditions, for their tiny bodies would evaporate like an ice cube on the sidewalk. Instead, they lie in wait in the shade. As the sun sets in the evening, they emerge from their hiding places hoping for the chance to collect a blood meal.
It is the female mosquito that is the real culprit, for she needs a protein from blood to complete the egg production process in her body. Male mosquitoes are content to feed on pollen, nectar or plant fluids. For most male mosquitoes, life ends shortly after mating, their purpose in life is complete. There are only about 80 species of mosquitoes in the world that feed on animals. The other 2,600 species are plant feeders.
Think of the female mosquito as a small hypodermic needle with wings. Her senses are designed to find lactic acid secreted in sweat, and carbon dioxide from your breath. Once she finds her target, she quietly inserts the needle. Within seconds, she injects an anti-coagulant, which thins the blood enough to draw it through the tiny needle. After just a few seconds, she buzzes away, ready to lay eggs in just a few hours. She leaves behind a small amount of the blood thinner, which irritates the skin and causes itching.
If the story stopped there, it would not be much of a story. Itching is not the main concern with mosquitoes. As it turns out, the mosquito’s hypodermic needle is the perfect way to transmit diseases as malaria, encephalitis, West Nile, yellow fever, and dengue fever. Worldwide, 300 to 600 million people suffer from malaria each year, with more than 1 million dying from the disease.
While we do not hear much about malaria in the US, there were 1,200 cases reported and 12 people died from malaria in domestic cases in 2012. From 2001 to 2005, there were 64 cases of malaria reported in Indiana, all of which were traceable to other countries. When the US was being settled, malaria was a common ailment in Indiana. Drainage of the land is the main reasons we do not hear about malaria much anymore in the Midwest.
Most mosquitoes in our area, like those bothering me, are nuisance mosquitos, and rarely carry disease, but they are aggressive bloodsuckers and very annoying. Control is not practical in heavily wooded areas where they live during the day. Avoid mosquito infested locations at dusk and dawn, when they are the most active. Repellents, and protective clothing are the main ways to avoid bites.
In your backyard, eliminating standing water breeding sites, such as tree stumps, clogged gutters, old tires, flower pot water, stale bird baths or fishless standing water can reduce mosquito numbers. Trimming resting places, such as tall grass or low hanging limbs may also help reduce the mosquito population.
Do not forget about your pets. Dogs, in particular, are subject to heartworm, a parasite commonly transmitted by mosquitoes. Studies of stray dogs indicate that 20 percent have heartworm in their system. Horses are very susceptible to West Nile Virus. In both cases, there are preventive measures to protect your pet from mosquito borne disease.