Janesville50°

The skeeters are coming!

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Catherine W. Idzerda
April 24, 2008

More than 52 species of mosquitoes live in Wisconsin, and they’d all like to bite you.


Last summer, the folks at UW-Madison discovered another species of mosquito, ochlerotatus. Researchers haven’t done any in-depth interviews with the ochlerotatus, but it probably would like to bite you, too.


With mosquito season upon us, The Janesville Gazette asked Susan Paskewitz, professor of entomology at UW-Madison, to give us a pre-battle briefing on our summer enemies.


Here are the ugly facts:


Q: More flooding in the spring means more mosquitoes, right?


A: That’s true, but only partially.


Paskewitz referred to “snow melt,” “flood plain,” “spring” mosquitoes and “fall” mosquitoes. Different species thrive at different times and in different environments. Not all mosquitoes like the chilly water of early spring, but others are as happy as toddlers in a wading pool.


“Snow melt mosquitoes can do really well in icy cold water,” Paskewitz said.


Still, flooding will cause pooling water—more breeding area, more mosquitoes.


Here’s another disturbing fact: If a pond or riverbank dries up, mosquito eggs can remain dormant for months or years until they come into contact with water. Many previously dry areas along the Rock River are now thoroughly sodden.


To reduce breeding areas, homeowners should drain standing water from gutters, buckets and tires.


It’s also a good idea to frequently change the water in birdbaths.


Up to 100 mosquitoes can emerge per square foot of water surface per day in good breeding habitat, according to the UW Extension.


Q: Won’t a long winter reduce the number of insects?


A: Unfortunately not.


Eggs, larvae, pupae and even some adult mosquitoes can over-winter here.


“If you go into some of the old stone buildings on campus in the middle of winter and look carefully, you’ll see a mosquito on the wall,” Paskewitz said.


The larval stage of some species of mosquito can be frozen in a block of ice and still be OK.


Q: What’s the life cycle of these little monsters? How long do I have to clean up standing pools of water?


A: Mosquitoes have the four-stage life cycle we all should have learned about in fifth grade science: egg, larva, pupa, adult.


It can take as little as eight days or as long as several weeks for the pupa to evolve into an adult, and another 48 to 72 hours for it to be ready to start drinking your blood.


Mosquitoes feed on plant nectar or rotten fruit. The female also needs human or animal blood for the protein for her eggs.


The life cycle and feeding habits of the female depend on the species, Paskewitz explained. Some female mosquitoes only feed on birds and animals; some are able to reproduce almost continuously, others need to complete the cycle before beginning another.


MOSQUITO AVOIDANCE

The top four ways to avoid mosquitoes, according to the UW Extension and the UW-Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab:


1. Stay out of the bushes. Bushy and shady sites with low light and little air movement are mosquito havens.


2. Pray for cold or windy days: Mosquitoes don’t fly in temperatures below 50 degrees and don’t care for brisk winds.


3. Stand perfectly still: Mosquitoes use carbon dioxide, lactic acid and heat to find their hosts. The more active you are, the more of these attractants you give off.


4. Watch the sunset from inside the house: Mosquitoes are most active in the evening as the sun is going down.



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