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Florence creates haven for blood-sucking pests

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Jim Gardner, Environmental Health Vector Control Manager, sets up a trap that attracts mosquitos through the use of CO2, Monday afternoon. Hurricane Florence has enabled breeding of flood water mosquitos in the area.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Where there is standing water, there will be mosquitoes, Pitt County’s resident expert on the flying pests said Monday.

The bad news is that there is an awful lot of standing water in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. The good news is that most mosquitoes that live near people can be readily eliminated.

Jim Gardner, Pitt County vector control manager, was setting up new mosquito-counting traps on Monday, one in a waterlogged and heavily wooded area of Stantonsburg Road west of Greenville, and checking some of the many others he has positioned throughout the county.

“Yes, the population has increased since Florence and will continue to rise as flooded and rain-soaked areas begin to subside over the next weeks,” Gardner said as the vermin began to fly into his trap. “So far, there aren’t quite as many as we had after all our summer rains, but they’re picking up now and this week will tell the story.”

County residents might notice mosquitoes swarming at particular times of the day. Where the activity will be highest will depend on where the rain and flooding was heaviest, Gardner said. Activity is heaviest in the early daylight hours and at at twilight, when the light is low and the air is warm, he said.

Also, habitats vary among species — Pitt County is home to 32 mosquito species — and some will be more attracted than others to humans. There are a few species that humans and pets need to be cautious of because of the viruses they can carry, including West Nile, Zika and encephalitis, he said. The number of people infected with these diseases is comparatively very low in North Carolina, Gardner said.

Common species’ of mosquito in Pitt County include the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus and Psorophora ferox (Humbolt), a species that proliferates in woodland pools, but is at other times less common.

“A lot of people think ditches are a problem, but not so in most ditches,” Gardner said. “Most ditches are deep enough to have little fish and other predatory species in them. They love mosquitoes and will eat up to 500 of them a day. Deeper water of ditches also attracts dragonfly larvae, diving beetles, which also feed on mosquito larvae.”

Mosquitoes cannot survive and develop in moving water, Gardner said. To find swarms of mosquitoes, look for very shallow water that does not flow, he said. The larvae, those tiny wigglers visible in the water, have to rise to the surface to breathe and moving water traps them under the surface, he said. 

“Any time you have flooding rains, even like the rains we saw in August before Florence, you’ll get what we call floodwater mosquitoes that proliferate in low water areas and shallow pools with organic material to eat,” he said. “That’s perfect breeding ground for them.

“Their favorite places of all are the shady little water-holding  spots created by people, like recycling bins, tires, planters, bird baths, cans and plastic, especially with lots of folds,” he said. “It’s not enough water to sustain the predators, and the presence of humans nearby means they don’t have to go far to feed. Leave ’em alone for 4-7 days and that’s all they need to breed.”

The best protection against mosquitoes is “tip and toss,” Gardner said.

“If it’s an object you want to keep, tip the water out,” he said. “If you don’t need to keep it, toss it out.”

Spraying mosquito-killing chemicals in the air only works with direct contact and then wears off quickly, so is rarely done in Pitt County, Gardner said. Personal mosquito repellents that contain DEET are the most safe and effective for adults and children and now are commonly available in wipes, he said.

Long-sleeved, light-colored clothing also serves as an effective barrier when going into heavily populated mosquito areas, he said.

Some people are more sensitive than others to the histamines in mosquito saliva, injected by the biters (females only) into the skin to prevent blood coagulation. Fortunately for him — and Pitt County residents who count on his mosquito sense — Gardner is not among the more sensitive.

“I’m covered with welts right now, but you can’t see ’em,” he said, laughing.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.