There has been a lot of talk about mosquitoes this summer. They have been worse this year because we have gotten more rain than in the past three summers. We have also been reading in the news about the threat of the West Nile virus, which is carried by mosquitoes.
This virus is not the only thing we have to worry about when it comes to mosquitoes: They are known to cause heartworms in dogs and carry several forms of encephalitis that infect humans and livestock.
Mosquitoes will always be with us, but there are steps you can take to cut down on the severity of the problem.
For starters, you need to know a bit of mosquito biology for effective control. After an adult mosquito bites you and draws blood, it lays eggs in water. The eggs pass through larva and pupa stage before more adults emerge from the water in four to seven days, depending on the temperature. After adult mosquitoes leave the water, they are not strong flyers. They usually fly no more than 500 yards from the site where they emerged.
Eliminate this water, and you greatly reduce the mosquito populations.
Empty containers of water and get rid of trash. Even a drink can or a plastic wrapper can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Keep your gutters cleaned out. They can collect trash and water.
Remove any old tires or drill holes in those used for playground equipment to allow them to drain.
Check tarps covering boats or other equipment that may collect water in pockets or indentions.
In backyard ponds, fish create waves that keeps breeding down. Some fish even eat the larvae. In shallow edges where fish and waves can't reach, use a Bacilllus thuringiensis (Bt) product, a growth regulator that prevents the larval stage from turning into adults. Bt is harmless to people, pets and the environment.
The best way to control mosquitoes in birdbaths is to change the water and rinse the bird bath every four or five days.
If you have small children who have a vast collection of toys in the yard, as mine do, check the toys every few days and keep the water out of them.
Pans or saucers under flowerpots can be a mosquito breeding ground. You don't need pans under the pots outside. Take them off.
Bug zappers are probably the least effective control. You are actually attracting mosquitoes with them. If you feel you must use one, place it in an out-of-the-way area in your back yard.
As far as protecting yourself and your family, insect repellents containing DEET are the most effective. Buy repellents containing 10 percent to 35 percent DEET as the active ingredient. For children, don't exceed 10 percent. Rub it on your hands first, then apply it to the child's skin.
Repellents with higher DEET concentrations can be used by adults in areas that have larger mosquito populations or where there will be long intervals between applications. Always follow the label instructions.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The offices that serve Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/columbia.