Gardening: Southwest Florida residents feeling the bite
Mosquitoes! The aedes aegypti or Asian tiger has always been around in Florida which is why they say Florida has to be vigilant about the Zika virus spreading here. These mosquitoes prefer fresh water over our salty mangrove areas that surround Marco Island. We are also often plagued by the salt marsh mosquitoes in the summer months especially if the winds are blowing in the right direction to carry them from the mangrove islands to the populated areas.
We are seeing this in a big way this year due to large populations of these mosquitos. When we have a lot of rain, the water levels in some of these natural areas can rise enough to allow fish into the areas where they breed. These fish feed on the mosquito larva thus lowering the population when outbreaks do occur. While this helps to reduce the number of salt marsh mosquitos, it is up to us to help reduce the population of fresh water mosquitos.
The Asian tiger mosquito prefers fresh water over the salty waters surrounding Marco Island. Standing water in our neighborhoods create the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. If there are any places around your home or business where water can collect you may be raising these virus carrying mosquitos. You should get rid of old tires, tin cans, bottles, jars, buckets and other containers, or you should keep them empty of water. Keep rain barrels covered and screened. Repair leaky pipes, outside faucets, and move air conditioner drain hoses frequently or dig French drains and fill with gravel to avoid damp soil. Also change and scrub vases, bird baths or watering pans for pets and livestock at least twice a week.
Mosquitos are an annoying and serious problem in Florida. If you have work to do outdoors or want to have a picnic or just enjoy your backyard in the evening they can make work very unenjoyable and spoil your good time. The Asian tiger mosquito prefers activity during the day rather than dusk and dark.
They are capable of transmitting not just the Zika virus but diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, chikungunya and dengue to man. Our other species of mosquito can transmit malaria, West Nile virus, encephalitis to man and horses and heart worm to dogs and cats. So not only are they annoying but these diseases are serious and should not be taken lightly.
We are all too familiar with a mosquito’s appearance. The females have firm mouthparts well adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. The males cannot suck blood but both sexes feed on nectar of various plants.
Their life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The eggs may be laid singly or in rafts, deposited in water, on the sides of containers where water will cover, or on damp soil where they can hatch when flooded by rainwater or high tides.
All of the mosquito species require water for breeding. Mosquito larvae are not adapted to life in moving waters. They breed instead in quiet water. Since half the land area of Florida is subject to flooding, mosquitos breed in large numbers throughout the state. Contrary to belief, mosquitos do not breed in the heavy undergrowth of weeds or shrubs. Although these places offer excellent refuge for adults, they do not provide a suitable habitat for mosquito larvae.
With all of the shrub and yard spraying we do here on Marco for other insects the residual seems to be doing in the mosquitos foolish enough to take refuge in our gardens. This may be why Marco Island has seen a major decline in mosquito populations in the last five years. While I find this a sad commentary on our habit of spraying insecticides, it may be a blessing to help keep Zika at bay.
The eggs elongated, about 1/40 inch long, are laid in batches of 50 to 200 and one female may lay several batches. In warm water, the eggs of most species hatch in two or three days. Some eggs require a drying period, remaining dormant for months. They both hatch soon after coming in contact with water which is why we always have an outbreak soon after a good rainstorm.
Some species feed on cattle, horses or other domestic animals while others prefer man. A few species feed only on cold blooded animals like lizards and snakes and some live entirely on nectar or plant juices. Some are active at night and others only during the day time.
Mosquito control is the responsibility of both the individual and our local Mosquito Control District.
Individuals should follow the above listed advice to eliminate standing water from around their homes and businesses. Keep your screens in good, tight fitting repair. And use repellents like DEET, oil of citronella or Avon's Skin-so-Soft.
Some years the mosquitos are worse than others as we are seeing this year. People who have lived here for decades remember when this was the norm for mosquitoes in the summer months. Our Mosquito Control District has done an awesome job of controlling populations but there are times when you just can’t fight Mother Nature and this is one of them. They are not allowed to spray in the sensitive surrounding mangrove islands. While we live on the edge of mangrove forests, we should do all we can in our own yards and surrounding areas to eliminate breeding grounds for the Asian Tiger mosquito to help keep the populations down.
Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or 239-394-1413.