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GARDENING: Take the bite out of mosquitoes - Odessa American: Gardening

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GARDENING: Take the bite out of mosquitoes

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Benge-Frost is a retired horticulturist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2007 12:00 am

It’s just not fair when a tiny, six-legged critter runs you out of your garden. Mosquitoes are a huge nuisance and a potential health threat, so it’s time to take our outdoor living spaces back over.

According to Mark Muegge, area extension entomologist, there are more than 30 different species of mosquitoes in the Trans-Pecos area alone.

With such a wide number of mosquito species, you’ve got to know they are here to thrive regardless of the conditions.

To combat these annoying fliers, home gardeners should practice an integrated approach to pest management.

Mosquitoes, members of the fly order, go through four developmental stages — egg, larva, pupa and adult.

All but the adult stage must have standing water to survive.

Both adult males and females need flower nectar to survive and mate, but only female mosquitoes require a blood meal for egg laying.

Female mosquitoes are attracted to potential blood sources by a combination of carbon dioxide, temperature, moisture, smell, color and movement.

Once females mate and obtain a blood meal, they search for standing water in which to lay their eggs.

Depending on species, eggs are laid in groups, called “rafts,” or singly on the water surface or in very wet mud at the edge of water.

Eggs hatch in 24 to 48 hours and the resulting larval stage, the wiggler, lasts from four to 14 days depending on water temperature.

Once larvae are mature they transform into the pupa stage called a “tumbler” because of the odd tumbling movements they make when disturbed.

This stage lasts from one to four days and results in the adult mosquito. And then we start all over again.

OK, what to do about all those mosquitoes?

Prevention is the first and best tool for reducing mosquitoes problems.

This involves reducing the “source points” or breeding locations.

Do this by frequently changing the water in outdoors birdbaths, pet water bowls and other small containers holding water.

Also, check for water leaks around faucets and keep rain gutters clear of trash.

For larger water sources like water gardens that can’t be changed frequently, try other tactics like adding “mosquito fish” or gambusia which eat mosquito wigglers and tumblers.

Also, there are many environmentally safe biological control products (bacteria and growth regulators) available to control immature mosquitoes.

Oils and monomolecular films that cover the water surface eliminate the ability of mosquito larvae and pupae to penetrate the water’s surface.

This causes the larvae and pupae from getting air, and they die from drowning.

Products available for controlling adult mosquitoes generally contain pyrethrin insecticides. These insecticides are safe and effective if label directions are followed.

Adult mosquitoes rest in tall weeds, vegetation and shady areas during the day, coming out in the evening, early morning and even during the day to feed.

Keeping weeds mowed short can help eliminate resting sites.

For outdoor events, an insecticidal fogger can be used shortly before outdoor events are scheduled to help reduce mosquito activity.

Some pest control companies offer outdoor insecticide misting systems for season-long control of mosquitoes around residences.

Numerous mechanical devices (black light electric bug zappers, ultrasonic repellents, etc.) exist that may claim to control mosquitoes in one way or another (kill, repel, attract).

Buyers be wary.

Scientific data concerning the effectiveness of these devices is sparse so be sure to review all the information available before purchasing.

Other devices have emerged recently that use carbon dioxide and octanol (mosquito attractant) to capture and kill adult female mosquitoes.

These devices will capture mosquitoes but don’t expect these products to keep you and your family mosquito-free.

Mosquitoes may travel up to two miles to find a host, and if mosquito populations are high, these devices will not be able to keep your area free of mosquitoes.

It’s always a good idea for you or your family members wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants and use an effective mosquito repellent. Citronella candles will provide some relief when winds are calm.

So, don’t let a tiny little insect rule your landscape.

Odessa, TX

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