Let’s be Mosquito-busters

mosquito 2A mere two tablespoons of water can be the breeding ground for up to 300 mosquitoes.

That’s why Danielle Bodner, Environmental Program Assistant at Columbia Association, is on the speakers’ circuit in Columbia’s villages with a single message: Get rid of standing water.

“A lot of people think ponds are the [main] sources of mosquitoes,” said Bodner, who earned a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Maryland, where her area of interest was mosquitoes and public health. “They really are not breeding in open bodies of water. They breed in much smaller containers near homes.”

The mosquitos of concern in Maryland are the Northern house mosquito, or Culex pipiens, which can carry the West Nile virus; and the Asian tiger, or Aedes albopictus mosquito, which can transmit the Zika virus. Most people show no symptoms when bitten by these mosquitoes. In about 20 percent of cases, though, West Nile virus will cause fever or flu-like symptoms. Similarly, about one in five people bitten by a mosquito carrying Zika will experience fever, rash or pink eye. In rare cases, Zika results in paralysis from Guillain-Barré syndrome.  Most worrisome, though, is that Zika can cause devastating microcephaly in babies born to infected mothers. Most at risk are pregnant women traveling to Zika-infected countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

A key to control in Maryland will be emptying containers holding standing water, Bodner said. For example: bird baths, watering cans, tarps covering wood or other backyard items; planter saucers, kiddy pools, wheel barrows, and clogged gutters. Every ridge of the corrugated plastic pipe attached to downspouts holds enough water for mosquito breeding. In River Hill, homeowners must bury these pipe extensions but even that won’t prevent mosquito breeding. Possible solutions are perforated piping and PVC or other smooth piping. (Better yet, get rid of that long pipe and use a splash block when possible.) Litter is also a huge draw for mosquitoes, because Styrofoam cups, tossed cans and plastic bags will hold sufficient water for them to breed.

A properly functioning rain garden will drain in 24 to 48 hours, well before mosquitoes can breed.  Be sure your rain garden is draining properly so that it doesn’t become a breeding ground.

For rain barrels, a number of options are available to prevent mosquitoes from breeding:

  • Attach window screening to the overflow and intake holes.
  • Drop a doughnut-shaped mosquito dunk made of Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis into the barrel once a month. This bacteria will kill mosquitoes and black flies but is safe for beneficial insects.
  • Pour a quarter cup of vegetable oil into the rain barrel once or week or after each storm. The oil will float to the top and suffocate larvae.

Over just seven days, mosquitoes grow from egg, larva and pupa to adult. “It varies some, but we recommend emptying water weekly,” Bodner said. “If you can dump out that two tablespoons [of standing water], we would have a lot less mosquitoes flying around.”

Bodner spoke about mosquitoes June 22 at Claret Hall in River Hill. Her remaining talk is July 19 at 7 p.m. at Slayton House in Wilde Lake.  She said CA is also adding stocking ponds with minnows, one of the mosquito’s predators. Turtles, fish and other aquatic insects will eat the larva and then birds and bats eat the adult mosquitoes. Pesticide spraying, she said, is not very effective with the mosquito that carries Zika, so getting rid of standing water will be critical.

Question of the month

True or false: You should empty plant saucers and other sources of standing water weekly to prevent breeding of the mosquito that transmits the Zika virus.  The first five people to post the correct answer via our Facebook page or an email to newsletter@villageofriverhill.org will win a native plant.

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