Volume 13, Issue 25 ~ June 23 - 29, 2005

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by by Gary Pendleton

Invasion of the Blood Suckers

You’re not wrong. Mosquitoes are to be more of a problem now than they used to be — and not just because of heavy rains. It’s because an alien species has made our home its home.

Within the past 10 years, the Asian tiger mosquito — which can proliferate even in drought — has become the major mosquito pest in towns, cities and suburban areas.

You’ll know this medium-sized mosquito by its coloration: very black with distinctive white markings on the legs and a white stripe on the back. Tigers are persistent biters and seem to prefer the lower legs.

“It bites during the day, and it develops right in people’s yards, not in the woods away from where people live,” Col. Daniel Strickland of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, explained on WAMU radio in 2003. He called the tiger
“the most troubling mosquito in the area.”

The harsh winter may have killed some over-wintering eggs, but it will not significantly delay the big bite. This month’s spell of warm weather has wakened the pest from its cool season slumber. Their numbers are bound to increase. By August it could be pretty bad — with no relief until October.

The Asian tiger mosquito is able to claim the dubious honor of worst mosquito for several reasons. First, most other mosquitoes bite mainly at dawn and dusk; this one bites throughout the day. Second, it thrives near homes and buildings. Third, it can also carry West Nile Virus.

Humans as well as nature help mosquitoes complete their life cycle. Eggs are laid in standing water, which provides habitat for the larva to hatch and develop into the form of a flying, biting adult insect. The Asian tiger mosquito is a very efficient breeder; it needs just seven days and one ounce of water. Under the right conditions, a bottlecap is all the Asian tiger mosquito needs to complete its life cycle.

Ideal breeding habitat includes clogged or slow draining gutters, pools, birdbaths and even children’s toys. Saucers placed under plant containers are prime breeding habitat for this troublesome pest.

The key to disrupting the life cycle of the Asian tiger mosquito is to remove sources of standing water weekly. Toys, containers and other items should be stored where they cannot collect rainwater. Even in an inverted position, buckets and plastic containers may capture enough rainwater to host the tiger mosquito larva, so containers should be stored in a protected place. Gutters should be cleaned and repaired or replaced so that they drain properly. Non-toxic pesticides containing the biological agent Bt can be safely used to kill mosquito larva in areas that cannot be drained regularly.

It should take 30 minutes a week or less to significantly reduce the breeding habitat on your property. However, your most diligent efforts are negated if the problem is ignored on neighboring properties. Good luck and have a nice summer outdoors — if you can.

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