April Showers Bring May Flowers and Mosquitoes

Northern Culex mosquito laying eggs on water’s surface. Image: Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org

Northern Culex mosquito laying eggs on water’s surface. Image: Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org

By Marcia Anderson

There is nothing as pleasant as a warm spring day. Flowers are beginning to bloom, tree buds are swelling, and the air is sweet with the smell of spring. Then, you hear the buzz, feel a slight prick, and the spell is gone. Yes, April showers really do bring May flowers followed by mosquitoes.

Is there anything that you can do to reduce mosquitoes and the threat of mosquito-borne diseases this year? Actually there is.

Most people do not realize all of the areas around their own homes where mosquitoes can find stagnant water for laying their eggs. Mosquitoes that live in close association with humans typically breed in containers that are holding water. Amazingly, many mosquitoes can breed in something as little as a bottle cap.

This article is designed to help you identify water sources around your home and neighborhood that could provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. By eliminating these areas through an approach called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), you can reduce the number of mosquitoes in your neighborhood. Here are some suggestions for identifying and eliminating these problematic water sources.

water in child toy

Water collected in a child’s toy left outside can support mosquito larvae.

Surveillance: Identify the locations and sizes of all stagnant water sources, including bird baths, pet water and food bowls, trays beneath potted plants, outdoor containers, kiddy pools, outdoor toys, open water barrels, tarps, blocked catchment basins, clogged storm drains, obstructed roof gutters, garbage cans and dumpsters without lids or drains, discarded appliances, and car parts, especially tires.

Sanitation: An essential component of mosquito management is the elimination of breeding sites. All mosquitoes need water on which to lay their eggs. Removing the stagnant water sources identified in the surveillance of your property will diminish the mosquitoes.

Plastics deserve a special focus because they are not only a huge waste problem, but also key breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease carrying pests. Improperly discarded plastic bags and food/drink containers can become pest breeding sites. Remember to empty the rainwater from children’s toys that have been left outdoors.

Maintenance: If you live in an area with irrigation diversions, swales, open stormwater culverts, or trenches, you should maintain them to prevent obstruction of the water flow by sediment or plant debris. Clogged gutters and flat roof tops with poor drainage are also commonly overlooked mosquito breeding sites that require regular maintenance.

Report standing water – in New York City call 311; in other communities, call your local health department. If your property has large areas of standing water that do not readily drain, discuss options with your municipal engineer or local agricultural extension service office.

Creative Solutions:  For a small to moderate ornamental pond, consider biological solutions such as mosquito-eating fish, tadpoles, flatworms or copepods.  (See how New Jersey used copepods to reduce mosquito larvae). Bodies of water with fish or other mosquito-eating wildlife are not prone to mosquito problems. To illustrate, every spring I add feeder goldfish to my bird bath. The tiny fish devour any mosquito larvae that appear, and the neighborhood children love to watch the fish. As a result of this and our efforts to remove or regularly empty water-collecting containers, our yard is free of mosquitoes.

Simple Steps You Can Take:

  • Unblock drains and gutters to maintain water flow.
  • Drill a few small drainage holes in pots, plastic toys, and garbage cans.
  • Empty saucers, tarps, and children’s toys of water within a few days after a rain.
  • Properly dispose of unwanted tires.

The EPA recommends that you use IPM to control all of your pests, even mosquitoes. IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests proactively and at their source. For mosquitoes, this means focusing on eliminating the places they can breed around your home and in your neighborhood. For more information, visit EPA’s mosquito control website.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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