By, Les Harrison
The good news is the rains have been consistent during the summer of 2018. There is plenty of water for north Florida’s lawns, gardens, ponds, swamps and the aquifer. Citizens who are dependent upon a residential well are breathing a collective sigh of relief as the water soaks into the soil and sand and mosquitoes thrive.
The bad news is water standing in ditches, pastures, swamps and any water-tight container exposed to the open environment is a likely breeding site for mosquitoes.
Florida is home to 60 native mosquito species, many of which live in Leon and contiguous Counties. Additionally, there are over 20 exotic mosquito which have been inadvertently imported, such as the Asian Tiger Mosquito.
Contrary to popular perception, not all of these flying insects dine on humans. Some target only birds, others only frogs, and still others will target any animal which can provide a blood meal.
Producing Viable Mosquito Eggs
The blood meal is sought only by the females as part of the reproductive process. The nutrients found in the host’s blood are critical to producing viable mosquito eggs.
Both adult male and female mosquitoes consume plant nectar as a source of high sugar energy during their lives. Most males live about a week and are easy to identify with a magnifying glass. They have distinctly bushy antennae on their heads.
While many of the mosquitoes are considered pest, only about 20 are disease vectors or bridge vectors. A sudden increase in their population after a storm or flooding event will cause concern with public health officials.
Bridge vectors do not directly infect humans or livestock with a pathogen. They do prey on carriers, such as birds, which act as the disease reservoir and spread the infection within the carrier species.
When the disease-ridden carrier comes into contact with a mosquito species which will take a blood meal from any source, then the disease may reach humans, livestock and even pets when the female mosquito seeks another blood meal to support the next batch of eggs.
Outbreaks Typically Come Later
Disease outbreaks typically come later in the mosquito season. The preceding cold season will always kill off some of the disease reservoir animals and thin the mosquito population.
As mosquito season progresses, the mosquitoes increase their numbers and improve their chances of contacting a diseased animal. The odds of a disease outbreak grow with each blood meal the mosquito consumes.
Mosquito mitigation methods are simple. Remove standing water from around homes, barns, and other mosquito-prone areas.
Use repellents per label directions and wear protective clothing. Avoid exposure to mosquitoes during dusk and dawn when they are most likely feeding. Take extra precautions when working or playing in natural areas with ponds, swamps and marshes.
While mosquitoes can be a major impediment to enjoying summer, they are part of the environmental balance. Some fish fingerling, dragonflies and damselflies are dependent upon mosquito larva as a source of food.
Purple martins, bats and toads use adult mosquitoes as a major dietary staple. The important consideration is not to become part of this food chain and the small potential for exposure to serious diseases.
To learn more about living with mosquitos in panhandle Florida, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/