After Hurricane Laura hit land in the southern United States in late August and devastated the Louisiana coast, the storm surges and rainfall it brought along flooded the region.
That flooded environment was an ideal breeding ground for some types of mosquitoes, particularly the aptly named floodwater mosquito, which led to a mosquito boom in the wake of the deadly storm. In just days, mosquitoes were taking out large numbers of cattle, some deer, and a few horses in already-devastated stretches of Louisiana.
Dr. Mike Strain, the Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry commissioner and a doctor of veterinary medicine, called attention to the problem in a press release Sept. 10.
“What we are seeing are swarms of mosquitoes that are preying on exhausted and stressed livestock,” he said.
The swarm after the storm
Hundreds of animals, mostly cattle, died from mosquito bites. A large number of bites can cause anemia, and when coupled with the exhaustion animals experienced from trying to get away from the masses of insects, cattle out in pastures succumbed without much of a chance to escape, according to an Associated Press interview with Dr. Craig Fontenot, a large-animal veterinarian in Ville Platte, Louisiana.
An image Fontenot shared with the Louisiana State University AgCenter shows three dead cattle loaded on a flatbed trailer.
Vince Deshotel is a livestock farmer who lost a bull to the mosquitoes after the hurricane. He’s also a livestock specialist for the LSU AgCenter. In a phone interview with Mashable, he said that in being personally affected by it, the whole thing was just discomforting.
There were no reported cases of human deaths due to mosquitoes, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any danger to people who could be caught out with the mosquitoes. Through the worst of the swarms, people had to stay indoors during certain hours when the mosquitoes were most threatening.
“We had to go in the house at peak hours when they come out, at dusk and typically at dawn,” Deshotel said. “That’s when they’re most active. Mid-day they’re not too bad.”
In a bit of a silver lining, the floodwater mosquitoes that proliferate after a flood aren’t known to carry diseases like the West Nile virus as some of their cohorts do, and so pose a bit less of a danger to the larger population. Still, you wouldn’t want to get caught in a swarm of floodwater mosquitoes.
In the 24 days since the storm made landfall, Deshotel said things have calmed down.
“The mosquito situation has subsided greatly because we’ve had drier weather since Hurricane Laura,” he said.
On top of changing weather, the mosquito problem was at least partially handled by livestock owners using pesticides, as well as mosquito abatement programs overseen by local parishes. Those programs aren’t ubiquitous, though, and Deshotel said where he resides, about 70 miles up north from the coast, the surrounding parishes don’t have them.
“We expect that we might have a reoccurrence”
He explained one way in which he tried to prevent mosquitoes from preying on his own cattle.
“I tilled up some ground where they could get onto where there was no vegetation for the mosquitoes to harbor, so they were able to retreat to some freshly plowed soil where that gave them some comfort,” he said.
Of course, even as technologies improve and our ability to track and make predictions on storms becomes more accurate, these forces of nature don’t give a whole lot of warning.
“It’s something that’s hard to prepare for,” Deshotel said. “You don’t know it until sometimes it’s too late.”
Just because it’s difficult to predict what’s happening doesn’t mean it’s that rare. The low, flat lands of southwest Louisiana are prone to flooding, and Louisiana is no stranger to big storms.
“With this hurricane or tropical storm brewing in the central Gulf currently, it’s expected to follow up the Texas coastline and into Louisiana,” Deshotel said, referring to Tropical Storm Beta. “We expect that we might have a reoccurrence of mosquitoes.”