Mosquitoes bugging residents

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010
— Yikes.

The mosquitoes have descended this year like none in recent memory.

They are quick and small. They are voracious and stealthy. They don’t follow the rules and bite during the day. Somehow, they zero in on that one spot not dripping in spray—an eyelid, perhaps.

Anything bug-related, including itch relief, is flying off the shelves at area stores.

Some people are opting to simply stay inside. A golfer recently reported abandoning the course. At Markley’s Mid-City golf, more mini-golfers than ever in the four years of the current owners are using the bug spray at the counter.

Margaret McGrath, outdoor volunteer at Rotary Gardens, offered up a prayer and asked God to part the swarm.

Then she chuckled, figuring that God instead sent a few extra her way to chide her for the trivial request.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” she said.

The response from Phil Pellitteri, bug guy with the UW-Extension?

“It’s not my fault,” Pellitteri said. “I always blame the mosquitoes on the weather man.”

Just for the record, Pellitteri doesn’t sound like he’s sorry. Times like these make his life interesting.

Pellitteri said people forget how bad mosquitoes can be after several good years. This is probably the worst he’s seen in eight summers. But he’s seen this kind of population at least four or five times in his 33-year career.

Even the flood-wracked summer of 2008 doesn’t compare because heavy rain and flooding can literally wash mosquito eggs down the river.

Wisconsin has 54 kinds of mosquitoes, but it’s the summer floodwater mosquitoes that make or break us, Pellitteri said.

And this year, “They’re about as nasty as they can get,” he said.

Regular deluges of rain this summer have activated dormant mosquito eggs in ditches and other places where temporary standing water provides the perfect hatching ground. The eggs can lay dormant up to four years, hatching only if water remains 10 days or more.

The dormant eggs also don’t hatch in one flooding, so the mosquitoes cunningly avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.

“They go through this serial hatching,” Pellitteri said.

The floodwater mosquito has adapted very well: “Like a computer-generated nightmare, they beat you on so many levels,” Pellitteri said.

“They’re always there, just ready to take advantage of the opportunity. It just depends on rainfall patterns.

“It’s not pretty.”

The volunteers at Rotary Gardens who are scaring up swarms of the insect would agree.

“It’s horrendous,” staff member Mark Dwyer said.

“We’re having our own blood donation here. We think it’s the worst in recent memory.”

Emptying backyard containers of standing water won’t stymie the summer floodwater mosquito, which can migrate 20 to 30 miles from where they hatch, Pellitteri said. He cited cases of Spring Green mosquitoes blowing into Madison.

Even landscape spray is not the optimal answer.

Spraying for a wedding or barbecue is reasonable, Pellitteri said, but regular spraying can create an ecological imbalance and lead to a profusion of aphids, for instance.

“Pick your poison,” Pellitteri said.

So when can we expect relief?

The mosquito population could take three to four weeks to settle down, Pellitteri said. Light rains that soak into the ground shouldn’t set us back.

It’s the gully washers that will haunt us.

Last updated: 2:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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