A mosquito stops for fast food in Kenai last weekend. Some people say there are more of the pesky bugs this year.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
As anyone who has been outdoors during the last few weeks can attest to there's a lot of mosquitoes buzzing about these days.
"Take a walk outside and donate a pint of blood," joked Janice Chumley, an integrated pest management technician at the Soldotna office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.
"We've been getting a lot of calls about mosquitoes," Chumley said, but added that there's not above-average numbers or more aggressive mosquitoes this year than in years past.
Instead, the Kenai Peninsula is likely experiencing a more normal mosquito season. It only seems like mosquitoes are plentiful because environmental conditions the last few years hadn't been favorable to their reproduction.
Chumley explained that in winters without much snowfall or when a heavy frost freezes the ground before the snow accumulates, the insect mortality rate is high.
But in winters like this past one where snow comes early, accumulates heavily and melts off quickly with the returning warm weather the conditions are ideal for a huge hatching.
"We had good overwintering conditions followed up by a wet spring, so they had a good survival rate," Chumley said.
Chumley said there are more than 20 species of mosquitoes in Alaska and they overwinter in a variety of ways.
In some species, the adult females overwinter. In others, the insects overwinter as larvae. In still others, the eggs lay dormant over a winter or longer until conditions are ripe for hatching.
"They all hatch at different times," she said.
So, although it may seem like its one, large, blood-sucking horde that is outdoors all summer long, it is, in fact, a horde made up of several different species.
"It's just that as one species dies off, another may be hatching off right behind it," Chumley said, so it seems like they are more numerous and more persistent than they really are.
Although considered nuisance insects by most people, mosquitoes do serve a purpose in nature, according to Chumley.
"Lots of things eat them, so as annoying as they are, the cycle needs them," she said.
Creatures with mosquitoes on the menu include dragon flies, water beetles, birds, bats and fish such as grayling, trout and juvenile coho salmon.
Understanding the mosquito's place in the ecosystem, however, generally doesn't make people any more willing to get bit by them. Chumley offered several ways to minimize breeding spots and tips for keeping them away.
"I always suggest getting rid of anything that holds standing water," she said.
This includes buckets, cans, old tires and plastic tarps. Even bird baths and outdoors planter dishes should be changed at least weekly.
"Anything that collects water is a potential breeding area for mosquitoes," Chumley added.
While cleaning up the yard, it's also good to keep vegetation down, Chumley said.
"They often rest on the underside of leaves," she said.
Dense shrubbery can be thinned or cut back. Old stumps where water can collect can be removed and large piles of leaves where mosquitoes may attempt to overwinter can be raked and bagged up.
"People can also put up bird houses and bat houses around the yard," Chumley said, adding that this will encourage natural predators to feed on mosquitoes.
For personal protection against the pesky pests, there are a variety of options on the market, including mesh masks and suits, citronella candles, burnable coils and numerous DEET and non-DEET aerosols, sprays and lotions. Chumley said she prefers the tried and true method of dressing accordingly with pants and long-sleeved shirts and swatting when necessary.
She recommends that anyone who uses any other method of prevention should read the labels on these products carefully and follow the directions explicitly.
"You wouldn't want to poison yourself, the people you care about or the environment, just to kill a few bugs," she said.
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