Did you know that Texas has 85 species of mosquitos identified by the Agricultural and Environmental Safety Department staff at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service?
Those are a lot of itchy painful pests to worry about. In addition to being a buzzing and biting nuisance, mosquitos also carry a variety of diseases and viruses that can be dangerous to people, pets, and farm animals.
“It’s a mosquito world,” said Sonja Swiger, Ph.D., veterinary tomologist at AgriLife Extension in Stephenville. “Whether you see them or not, they are all around us.”
Our state’s warm climate is a prime breeding ground for vector-borne diseases. So AgriLife Extension experts hope that Texans will observe Mosquito Awareness Week June 21-27 by learning how to prevent and control these pests.
The Asian tiger mosquito, one of 85 species found in Texas. (Photo from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service by Dr. Mike Merchant)
In contrast to their blood-sucking counterparts, male mosquitoes only feed on nectar. Women also feed on nectar, but they need blood to produce eggs.
There are types of mosquitoes that feed during the day and types that feed at night. That may be why it seems like there are so many mosquitos in the morning and evening light – during these periods the day and night feeders can overlap.
Swiger said during the day there are tree-covered areas of grass where mosquitoes like to be to avoid the hot sun. Mosquitoes are cold-blooded and cannot regulate their body temperature. This is why they seek shade on warmer days and are usually not around when the thermometer drops below their mid-50s.
“People in the city may not even notice mosquitoes during the day,” she said. “But the species of mosquito that carry West Nile virus usually live in urban areas, so people in cities are more likely to get West Nile virus and need to be aware of it.”
Typically, if you live in the country, you will encounter more mosquitos during the day, especially when it’s wet, Swiger said.
“At night no one is better off than anyone when it comes to mosquitos,” said Swiger. “Whether you live in the country, in the suburbs, or in a big city, you will struggle with mosquitos.”
Mosquitoes hibernate in winter. Some mosquitoes spend their winter as eggs, which then hatch in warmer weather, while others hibernate as adults or larvae. In areas with a hot and humid tropical climate, mosquitos can occur year round.
Mosquitoes and diseases
Mosquitoes can transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile, malaria, dengue, and more to humans.
“In Texas, the West Nile virus is our main concern,” said Swiger. “It has been found across the United States, and we here in Texas have seen a large number of cases in the past. It is something that varies from year to year, so there is no way of predicting what kind of year it will be. “
In 2012, Texas saw the largest West Nile virus outbreak in history, with over 1,800 confirmed cases.
“Most of these victims reported being bitten at home,” said Swiger. “So it is important that Texans are aware at all times and use repellants when necessary.”
She said dengue fever was the other major mosquito-related disease Texans need to know about. While it can be seen primarily in south Texas, the lower Rio Grande Valley, and along the borders with Mexico, someone contracted could travel anywhere.
“We also need to remember that Zika is still out there,” said Swiger. “This is something that pregnant women in particular need to be aware of.”
Mosquitoes and animals
Mosquitoes can also spread dangerous disease-causing parasites to dogs and horses, including canine heartworms, eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis, and West Nile virus.
“We don’t see much eastern equine encephalitis, but even one case is cause for concern as the death rate for horses with electrical and electronic equipment is between 75 and 80 percent,” said Swiger. “We usually see cases in East Texas and can assume that there will be cases in horses again this year. But we haven’t seen a case in humans yet. “
Swiger also noted that EEE, WEE and West Nile vaccines are currently available for horses, but not yet available for humans.
If you are outdoors in an area where mosquitoes can occur, it is advisable to wear long sleeves and long pants. The closer the fabric is woven, the better it protects against bites.
When it comes to topical protection, mosquito repellants have been shown to contain at least one of these ingredients: DEET, IR3535, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil, which can also be listed as paramenthane-3,8-diol.
The first step in mosquito prevention is finding and removing breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in or near stagnant water, so stagnant water is a potential problem. Any place near the home or property where water can pool and sit for seven to ten days is a problem.
Check the property for stagnant water in clogged gutters, bird baths, old tires, children’s play equipment, potted plant trays, tarpaulins, holes in trees, bowls and buckets – literally anything that can hold stagnant water. Make sure you change the water in your dog bowls regularly outdoors.
Empty or drain standing water and turn or cover objects that catch and hold water. Gravel or sand can be used to fill in spots where stagnant water collects.
If a mosquito problem requires more extensive control, it may be necessary to call a pest control company that specializes in mosquito management. For some do-it-yourself options, the experts at AgriLife Extension recommend:
– Treatment of standing water with insecticide / larvicide.
– Application of residual sprays on courtyard surfaces.
– With mosquito foggers in the yard.
Whenever you choose a chemical solution, always read the label first and carefully examine whether it is harmful to people, animals, plants or beneficial insects.
To find out more about mosquitoes, AgriLife Extension offers a mosquito control website and a mosquito safari. Mike Merchant, Ph.D., entomologist with AgriLife Extension, Dallas, also created a series of informative mosquito videos on the site. Follow Swiger on her blog to learn more about insects and insects.