Mosquitoes, and mosquito control companies, swarm in moist state

jholleman@thestate.comJuly 1, 2013 

Culex mosquito laying eggs.

Culex mosquito laying eggs.

CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL

  • Four D’s of bug-fighting S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recommendations for reducing exposure to mosquitoes.

    DEET: Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR 3535 according to label instructions. DEET can be used safely on infants.

    Dress: Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.

    Dawn and dusk: Reduce exposure to mosquitoes during the early morning and evening hours when they are most active. It is especially important to wear repellent at that time.

    Drain: Eliminate all sources of standing water on your property where mosquitoes can lay eggs, including flowerpots, old car tires and pet bowls.

As anyone spending time outside these days knows, the mosquitoes are really swarming this year.

So are the mosquito control companies.

Blame the first on the afternoon thunderstorm pattern lingering throughout the state in June for the first time since 2006.

Blame the second on a number of changes in the environment and the science of mosquito control.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Tripp Zeigler, a partner in a Columbia franchise of The Mosquito Authority. “The last few weeks, business really picked up.”

Even in dry years, mosquitoes manage to find enough of the stagnant water where they have to lay their eggs. This year, they haven’t had to look hard. Typical of the state is Columbia Metropolitan Airport, where rain fell 20 of the 30 days in June, with the longest dry spell being three days.

Columbia had 6.17 inches of rain in June through early Friday, the first time since 2006 the city has topped 6 inches for the month.

“We have had an inordinate amount of rain,” said Pat Zungoli, an entomologist at Clemson. “That means we have much more opportunity for stagnant water.”

During drier years, she said, standing water in some areas can dry up before mosquitoes can complete their development. Not this year. Water is standing in bird baths, flower pots and children’s toys left in yards. Zungoli says the best way to cut down on mosquitoes in your yard is to dump those water depositories as often as possible.

The mosquito control companies also recommend dumping out stagnant water, knowing that won’t be enough to kill their business. “There’s still water in ditches and places like that,” Zeigler said. Dumping water “doesn’t solve the problem.”

Zungoli said she might call one of the mosquito control companies herself if she were planning an outdoor event in her yard. Zeigler suspects Fourth of July parties and mid-summer family reunions are another reason his phone is ringing more these days.

It would be a stretch to call this the worst mosquito season in a long time based simply on Zeigler’s business, which has been around only three years. In fact, most of the private mosquito control companies have popped up only in the past decade. Mosquito spraying used to be handled mainly by municipal governments.

Nature contributed to the change, as the dominant species of mosquito in the state changed from Aedes egypti, commonly called the yellow fever mosquito, to Aedes albopictus, commonly called the Asian tiger mosquito, Zungoli said.

The yellow fever mosquito is a night feeder, perfect for widespread late-night spraying. Such spraying is problematic in the daytime, however, because it has impact not only on people but on other creatures active in the sunlight – especially honey bees. The Asian tiger mosquito is more of a daytime feeder, so night spraying would have less impact, Zungoli said.

Private companies who do targeted spraying have filled that mosquito control void in recent years. The businesses also were helped by advances in chemical products that allow spraying without damaging vegetation, Zungoli said.

Most of the companies charge in the $59 to $79 range for a treatment, depending on the size of the yard and whether customers sign up for multiple sprayings. The treatments last about three weeks, Zeigler said.

“Generally, when they use us one time, they call back and want us to keep coming out,” Zeigler said.

Mosquitoes always are a concern for summer visitors at Congaree National Park, where the flood plain naturally is pocked with standing water between floods. The gift shop sold out of repellent one day this week. But visitors wearing long sleeves and pants or using plenty of repellent have reported the bugs aren’t worse than most summers, said park interpreter Lauren Gurniewicz.

State park managers also report a typical bug season so far. At some parks, the constant rains actually have helped keep the bug population down, according to parks director Phil Gaines. The constant recharge of rain has kept many of the small streams in parks moving, and mosquitoes don’t lay eggs in flowing water. The worst period for bugs in those parks often is about two weeks after the rains stop, Gaines said.

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