How to coexist with mosquitoes

We’re all just trying to live our best life

 

Is any one animal more capable of ruining time spent outside than the mosquito? Opinions surely vary, but it’s safe to say mosquitoes would come at least close to the top of any list of nuisance animals.

More than 200 species of mosquitoes live in the United States, and while all can be a nuisance, only about a dozen carry diseases that can be spread to humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, because it is difficult to tell which insects can carry mosquito-borne illnesses, it’s best to protect yourself from all mosquito bites.

Mosquitoes are able to hone in on humans and other targets to bite because they can detect carbon monoxide and other body chemicals, such as lactic acid, from a distance of several feet away, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

The itching and swelling we experience from mosquito bites is the result of an allergic reaction to their saliva, the Illinois Department of Public Health states. Not everyone reacts the same way to the saliva, which is why some people are more affected by mosquito bites than others.

Ecological effects

Mosquitoes are one of the most despised creatures on Earth, but they do play an important role in the ecosystem. Primarily, they are an important food source for many other animals. Several bats and birds eat mosquitoes, as do larger insects like dragonflies and damselflies, Sciencing reports. In the aquatic stages of their life cycle, fish will eat mosquito eggs and larvae. Many reptiles and amphibians, including several frogs and turtles, eat mosquitoes and their larvae as well.

Mosquitoes also do important work as pollinators. Their primary food source is nectar, and as they go about from plant to plant in search of nectar, they transfer pollen from flower to flower, aiding in the plant’s reproductive process, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Mating and reproduction

Like all insects, mosquitoes have a four-part life cycle. They begin their lives as eggs, laid by adult mosquitoes. The eggs hatch as larvae, which live in water. The larvae, also called wigglers, then become pupae. And adult mosquitoes then emerge from the pupae, according to the CDC.

Mosquitoes in the United States either belong to the Culex group or the Aedes group. Culex mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, while Aedes mosquitoes lay their eggs in soil that will be flooded with water, the Illinois Department of Public Health reports.

Only adult mosquitoes fly, and only female adult mosquitoes bite, because they feed on blood, which they need to lay their eggs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Health risks

Mosquitoes are the most deadly animal in the world because of the diseases they can transmit to humans, according to the state health department. Worldwide, malaria is the most deadly mosquito-borne illness, killing 2 million to 3 million people and infecting an additional 200 million people every year.

Malaria is not typically a health risk associated with mosquitoes in the United States, although the disease has occurred here, IDPH reports. However, the main illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes in Illinois and other parts of the Midwest are viruses that cause encephalitis, including eastern equine encephalitis, LaCrosse encephalitis (also called California encephalitis), St. Louis encephalitis, western equine encephalitis and West Nile virus. Other mosquito-borne illnesses include Chikungunya virus, dengue and Zika virus.

People can contract mosquito-borne illnesses when they are bitten by an infected insect, according to the CDC. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite another animal that is infected, and then the virus multiples in their bodies. When they, in turn, bite a person or animal, they can pass the virus on and the person or animal that was bitten can contract the illness.

Problems and solutions

The best way to control mosquitoes is to interrupt their life cycle, and one of the most effective ways to do this is to reduce or eliminate areas around your house where they breed, the state health department advises.

Because water is an important part of many of the insects’ lifecycles, removing places where standing water can accumulate is a good first step. This includes old tires, trash cans, cans and bottles stored outside, clogged gutters and flat roofs with poor drainage. If you have a rain barrel, a cistern or a septic tank, make sure it is covered tightly with a good-fitting lid or covered with 16-mesh screen, the health department advises.

If you have a wading pool or a kiddie pool in your yard, make sure to empty it at least once a week. Store it inside when not being used. Make sure any boats you store are covered or upside down. If you have bird baths or plant pots with trays, make sure to change the water at least once a week. And make sure to change the water in any pet bowls kept outside daily.

If you have a pond, stock it with fish that eat mosquito larvae, like minnows and goldfish. And keep your grass cut short, because mosquitoes like to rest in tall grass and other shady spots during the heat of the day.

In addition to taking steps to prevent mosquitoes from reproducing around your home, you should also protect yourself from mosquito bites when possible. The best way to avoid mosquito bites is to avoid being outdoors at the times when they are most active. The most active time of day for most mosquitoes is just before and after sunrise and sunset, although some mosquitoes, particularly Asian tiger mosquitoes and tree-hole mosquitoes, are active during the day, according to the state health department.

Repellents can also be effective in preventing mosquito bites. DEET is considered the gold standard in active ingredients to prevent mosquito bites. Look for products containing 20% to 30% DEET, as these are usually sufficient, IDPH reports. Products containing higher concentrations of DEET are available, but they don’t usually offer any additional protection.

Two other active ingredients that can help repel mosquitoes are picardin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Picardin has shown to be nearly as effective as DEET, but without the strong odor and sticky feeling, IDPH states. Some people prefer oil of lemon eucalyptus because it is derived from a plant. Although it is effective, it does not last for as long as products containing DEET or picardin.

One word of caution: Products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children younger than 3, and products containing DEET should not be used on children younger than 2 months old.

Other tips for preventing mosquito bites include the following:

  • Wear appropriate clothing when possible. Long-sleeved shirts and pants will offer the best protection, and make sure to tuck your pant legs into your socks or boots.
  • Choose light-colored clothing, as this will help deter mosquitoes.
  • Check your home’s screens and doors to make sure they are in good repair and not allowing mosquitoes and other insects a way to get indoors.
  • Use mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors in an unprotected structure.

 

(Photos via Shutterstock)

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