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Rainy weather sets stage for mosquito boom

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TAMPA -

All of the rain that pooled in birdbaths, toy buckets and backyard bromeliads during the past week is about to yield a bumper crop of buzzing parasites targeting your ankles and backs of your knees.

Get ready, insect experts say, the mosquito apocalypse is almost upon us.

Mosquito larvae usually take up to seven days to hatch, and the rains the past week have provided plenty of breeding pools.

“For the normal mosquito,” said Phil Kaufman, entomologist with the University of Florida, “this is the time of year they come out. And this weekend, we can expect to see mosquito numbers increase based on (Tropical Storm Andrea) last week.”

Water that stands stagnant for five, six or seven days provides the perfect breeding ground for mosquito larvae, he said.

Though a bloom of buzzing bugs is expected, it really should be no worse than any other June or July, he said. It may just seem that way when you’re under attack.

Mosquitoes that breed in swamps and salt marshes are handled adequately by mosquito control agencies across the state, he said, but mosquito populations that reproduce in people’s backyards are controlled by the homeowners.

“We have fantastic mosquito control agencies in Florida,” Kaufman said, “and they take care of the mosquitoes people can’t take care of. But in backyards, there are different types of mosquitoes. We call them container breeders, and (they) usually are the Asian tiger mosquitoes or the yellow fever mosquitoes.”

The bugs breed in birdbaths, clogged gutters, toys and plants. They might be controlled by mosquito-control trucks spraying pesticides in neighborhoods, but the best method is to eliminate the bugs’ birthing beds, he said.

“The best thing you can do,” he said, “is to dump standing water out of containers, and you’ll lower populations of mosquitoes in your backyard, which are the ones more likely to bite you than the ones in salt marshes or the hinterlands.”

Just whom the bugs bite is up for debate, though there is no doubt they prefer the blood of some over others, Kaufman said.

Mosquitoes are attracted to heat and carbon dioxide, byproducts of organisms that have blood, and some have even shown an affinity for lactic acid, which is produced by bacteria on the skin.

“We’re aware of a number of those types of things, but we have never been able to develop a lure that’s better than a living person,” he said.

Folks who naturally lure mosquitoes can take steps to keep the insects away, and that mostly means applying topical insect repellents that contain DEET or picaridin.

Home remedies such as skin lotion have not been scientifically proved, Kaufman said.

“But if you put it on and it works for you, knock yourself out,” he said. “Use what works for you, and make sure it’s safe. Using something that someone home-brewed is never a good idea.”

But even with repellents, a hungry mosquito might make a run at you.

Citronella candles and other fog repellents create a cloud that keeps some skeeters away, he said, “but if mosquitoes have no other options, they will come through it to get you.”

Mosquito control workers in Pinellas County are ready. They have been scouring areas where mosquitoes breed and treating those areas to kill the larvae.

Glen-Paul Edson, spokesman for Pinellas County Mosquito Control, said the expected bloom likely will happen this weekend or maybe early next week. He urged people to check their yards and make sure anything that holds water is emptied.

Mosquito eradicators in Hillsborough County also are poised for battle.

“We expect lots of calls this weekend and next week,” said Carlos Fernandez, director of Hillsborough County Mosquito Control. He said crews this week have identified hot spots that typically accumulate water where mosquitoes breed.

“We have guys in the field locating areas to reach mosquitoes still in aquatic stage,” he said. “This week we sent out five trucks.”

More sorties are likely during the weekend.

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