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Mosquito Population Expected To Be Worse This Season Due To Abnormal Weather

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Aedes taeniorhynchus, a popular mosquito in Florida,
cover Reeves’  arm during a test in the Everglades. (Photo courtesy of Lary Reeves)

After an unusually warm, rainy winter, ‘mosquito season’ might be a term people will begin hearing a lot more than usual.  

 In Florida, mosquito season is a yearly occurrence ranging from about Memorial Day to Labor Day, but thanks to the harsh el Niño weather, mosquitos did not go inactive this year and instead reproduced right through the winter season.

So what does this mean?

University of Florida Medical Entomology professor Jonathan Day said this is an indicator that mosquito season will be bad because there was no real dry period, and that it’s important for residents to prepare against annoying bites and possible dangerous mosquito-borne diseases.

“This year mosquitoes have reproduced right through the winter and so that means mosquito populations have a real jump on the spring and summer, so we may be going into the spring and summer with much higher mosquito populations than normal,” Day said.

While higher nuisance mosquito counts won’t be dangerous, higher disease-vectoring mosquitoes could be a problem. In Florida, there are two mosquitoes, aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus, that can transmit diseases like chikungunya fever, dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, Rift Valley fever and Zika.

But in Florida, there are over 80 mosquito species.

Day explains that although there have been about 60 reported cases of Zika in Florida, none have been locally acquired, indicating that there hasn’t been any interaction between Zika and local mosquitoes yet.

“In theory someone coming in with the Zika virus, if they were to get bitten by that type [aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus] of mosquito [here] then we could see locally acquired Zika, which we haven’t seen yet,” he said. “The risk this year is higher than normal, but we don’t know what diseases this will involve or where exactly.”

Chip Skinner explains precautions people should take for the oncoming mosquito season. He works closely with the Alachua County Health Department in Gainesville, that has just released a notice to the public. Krystalle Pinilla/WUFT News
Chip Skinner explains precautions people should take for the oncoming mosquito season. He works closely with the Alachua County
Health Department in Gainesville, that has just released a notice to the public. Krystalle Pinilla/WUFT News

Because of this higher risk Florida may be facing, it’s important to eliminate sitting waters where mosquitoes can lay eggs. It is also important to dress in appropriate clothing and wear mosquito repellent.

“Remove anything that may hold water. A lot of mosquitoes will breed in a thimble size of water, even if it’s underneath a potted plant” said Chip Skinner, Gainesville Public Works marketing communications supervisor.  

Skinner advises residents to be aware of the times they are going out. If it’s early in the morning, or around dusk, it’s important to cover properly by wearing long sleeves or long pants, or use mosquito repellents containing DEET.

“We’ll get a lot of phone calls from people saying ‘we live next to a swampy area’ but these aggressive mosquitoes tend to not breed in those swampy areas,” he said. “So that isn’t as big of a concern for us as the water that’s on somebody’s property such as a used tire that’s sitting there holding water or the trays underneath potted plants.”

Each county in Florida has a mosquito control program and some cities like Gainesville have their own mosquito control department. The programs monitor mosquito populations, respond to public complaints and regularly test sentinel chickens. Sentinel chickens are chickens that are strategically placed around the county and are regularly tested for diseases. If those chickens test positive for disease then mosquito control will get the word out to the public of a possible outbreak the area might be facing.

“Taking the personal risk of going out in shorts and tank tops and things of that nature — you’re taking that risk,” Skinner said. “So educating the public on what they can do to maintain their health and lower the risk to their neighbors and the rest of the community is really key.”

Lary Reeves, entomology PhD candidate at UF, contracted dengue fever during his travels to the Philippines last year because, he said, he took mosquitoes for granted. 

“People throw around these figures that mosquitoes, through their pathogens, have killed half the people that have ever existed — a lot of people say, and this is more accurate, mosquitoes have killed more people than all human wars combined,” Reeves said. “So you could easily make the argument that mosquitoes are the most important animal to humans, so knowing about how to protect yourself from the pathogens they vector I think is definitely smart,“ he said. 

Reeves advises that the best thing to do for mosquito control is eliminate their breeding ground before they hatch and become a problem. This includes draining  anything around your home that may be holding water at least once a week like garbage cans, house gutters, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots, birdbaths, pet water bowls, and boats. Also, he said, make sure to dispose of old tires, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren’t being used.

“Bug zappers and things that target adults, they don’t work very well in reducing numbers but eliminating places where mosquitoes can lay eggs is kind of the key,“ Reeves said.

About Krystalle Pinilla

Krystalle is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 305-978-8579 or emailing krystalle.pinilla@gmail.com

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  • David

    Hi,
    Is it a myth that there are less mosquitoes close to the beach than there are a couple of blocks inland?