Almost every gardener has had the unpleasant experience of being bitten by a mosquito. The itchy red welt that develops is anything but enjoyable. And now that the West Nile Virus has moved into our community it can be downright dangerous. Mosquitoes have long been the vector of many serious illnesses, and with the discovery of the West Nile Virus now is a good time to review both mosquito control and personal protection practices.
There are about 200 different species of mosquitoes found in the United States. Of those, about 50 species live in Kansas. Primarily associated with water, mosquitoes can be found in all areas of Douglas County. After a blood meal, the female mosquito mates and lays her eggs either in water or very close to the waters edge. The eggs hatch and larvae or "wigglers" emerge. After a couple molts, adult mosquitoes fly from the water to start the process over. Only female mosquitoes bite, and it is her injected saliva that causes the allergic reaction we all dread.
The best method of mosquito control is prevention. Because mosquitoes require water to lay their eggs, minimizing breeding sites minimizes mosquitoes. Obvious sources of water include clogged drainage ditches, ponds, and swamps. However, other sites such as tree hallows, plant trays, clogged gutters, plastic covers, discarded tires and cans, and many other water holding areas can give homes to thousands of mosquito larvae. Removing the water will remove the mosquitoes.
When possible, drain flooded or swampy areas. Clean up trash and turn over unused water-holding items. Use larvicides such as Bt Dunks or Bt Bits in larger water standing areas. Bt is a naturally occurring toxin that is safe for mammals but is toxic to mosquito larvae when ingested.
To help avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, use personal protection and common sense when entering mosquito-infested areas. When possible, wear long sleeve shirts and pants, cover your face with a bug net, and use EPA registered bug repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) as the active ingredient. Be sure to read and follow label directions when using these products. Spray lightly on exposed skin and clothing. Be sure to wash hands and face before eating when using these products. Employ just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Heavy application and saturation is generally unnecessary for effectiveness; if biting insects do not respond to a thin film of repellent, then apply a bit more.
After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days. Also, wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
Log onto the KSU Web site at www.oznet.ksu.edu/hfrr/extensn/POW/August_14.htm for more information about WNV in our area.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.