Signs of spring abound. This past weekend saw the first Phoebe, Osprey, painted turtle, bat and daffodils in bloom. I've heard southern spots have fiddle heads poking up! The forsythia is in full bloom and the buds on the lilacs are swelling. Lots of dandelions around and the geese are enjoying grazing on the fresh grass. It looks like spring is truly here. I saw a swallow on Monday too.
Speaking of spring, along with spring comes the ever popular mosquitoes. I've had them in my workshop for the past month or so and now they seem to be out and about. While usually not present in large numbers, they can turn an afternoon outside into something less than perfect. To control insects we must understand their life cycle.
There are three major species of mosquitoes in North America: Celex, Aedes and Anopheles. Aedes are associated with flood waters or periods of heavy rain. Humans are their preferred food; we saw them last summer with all the rain we had here. Anopheles are the Malaria mosquito; they prefer clean, fresh water. And finally the Celex mosquitoes are the ones found in standing water in places like old tires and bird baths.
Besides being a nuisance, mosquitoes carry a host of diseases including West Nile, encephalitis, malaria and dog heartworm. According to most information I have read, if you don't want to get a disease from them don't get bit by them. No kidding. Actually the chances of getting a diseases from a mosquito bite, and developing serious health issues are pretty rare. In other parts of the world it is much more common. That said, no one wants to be chewed by them when sitting out on the lawn in the evening; now that it's actually warm enough to sit out.
Our house is located right next to a farm pond and a swamp (wetland). We have a sitting area out at the south end of our pond where we spend much time in the snowless seasons. Mosquitoes are at their peak around eight in the evening for about an hour. They can drive us into the house at certain times.
I am a firm believer in having a smudge going to discourage them, whether it actually does any good or not. I am also a firm believer in not spraying pesticides all over the yard. Pesticides usually kill a broad spectrum of insects and I'd rather not kill everything. So, what to do?
There are things we can do to reduce the mosquito population that are just easy, common sense things.
- If you have a pond like we do, stock it with some type of minnows. We have golden shiners in ours. Many small fish consider mosquito larvae (commonly called wrigglers) delicacies and make a tasty meal of them. We used to collect the wrigglers and feed them to our aquarium fish; I forget the species at this time, any fish that likes brine shrimp will normally eat wrigglers. Our shiners eat wrigglers, provide food for the larger fish in there and I can take some out for use as bait.
- Get rid of anything that holds water, or make the water unsuitable for reproduction. For example a bird bath, don't get rid of it; the birds need it. Instead add a bubbler or a small recirculating pump so the water doesn't stand still. Or add a larger container for water over the bath that drips. This will discourage the adults from laying eggs there and also attract the birds.
- Although birds and bats don't eat that many mosquitoes, encourage them to share your yard and garden. Natural predators include bats, birds, dragonflies, frogs and toads, and just about anything that can catch them.
- If you have bulrushes and/or cattails growing around, leave them. They provide hiding and resting places for dragonflies and other mosquito eating insects. Put a few bird houses up and enjoy the birds.
- And finally, if you can, add some ducks to your flock. You'd think I was a duck salesman but honestly Muscovy ducks will hunt mosquitoes both as ducklings and as adults. The young ducklings will spend their day chasing mosquitoes around and the adults will catch them as well. Besides they're fun to watch.
Until next week, enjoy the spring before the blackflies come out.