Life bites in Atlanta. The world sucks in Memphis. And folks in Houston are itching to leave. Why? Because Orkin, the well-known pest control company, just named these towns as three of its top 20 mosquito cities. The news has Southerners buzzing.
In fact, when it comes to mosquito havens, the South dominates the field the way the SEC dominates college football. Other Southern cities scratching their way to prominence -- Washington, D.C., Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Nashville, Dallas-Ft.Worth, Richmond, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Huntsville, AL, and Norfolk, VA. And like the May weather, the competition is heating up!
It's only fitting that the South be honored as Mosquito Central, given the fact that mosquitoes greatly appreciate our heat, humidity, rainfall, proximity to water, and the many months we spend outdoors. Orkin ranks Atlanta as its top mosquito city (no surprise, really, since Orkin is headquartered there). But Minneapolis-St. Paul also made the list at #18! I guess living in the "Land of a Thousand Lakes" has its down side, eh? Okey-dokey then. Ya betcha.
The Two Mosquitoes to Worry About
Hundreds of different species of mosquitoes exist, but in the South we mainly deal with two. Like most Southerners, I grew up with the native Southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefaciatus). This little brown guy is a quick flier and buzzes around your ears, but limits its dining to the cool hours between dusk and dawn. Unfortunately, during that time, a bite can give you West Nile virus or St. Louis encephalitis. This can ruin your day.
The second is a voracious foreign invader that arrived in the South in Houston in shipments of used tires in 1985 -- the evil Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). It gets its name from its distinctive black-and-white striped body and legs. The Asian tiger outcompetes other mosquito species and has spread to most of the U.S. Unlike the Southern house mosquito, it feeds 24/7, even in the hottest part of the day. It's a languid flier and easy to swat, but if it nails you, you can catch West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis. It carries dengue fever (which, fortunately, is rare in the continental U.S.) and dog heartworm as well.
Dealing With Mosquitoes There are three ways to keep from getting bitten my mosquitoes. The first way is to repel them (which is misleading, as I'll explain in a moment). The second is to prevent them from breeding. The third is to kill them.
Repellents. Repellents don't really repel mosquitoes. Instead, they keep the bugs from homing in on the chemical trail you leave when you breathe or sweat. Using them is like donning Harry Potter's Cloak of invisibility.
DEET is unquestionably the most effective mosquito repellent. Spraying clothing and exposed skin with a DEET-based product will protect you. But DEET has its downsides. It dissolves plastic. Sprays with high concentrations of DEET (like Off! Deep Woods) can be toxic to children. Other people may be allergic. Alternative products contain picardin or extracted plant oils such as rosemary oil, lemongrass oil, and citronella. From my experience, none of these work as good as DEET. And the plant oils make you smell like a Christmas tree.
The best natural repellent I know is moving air. Mosquitoes like still air. A Big Ass Fan on your porch can literally blow them away.
Preventing Breeding. This is an easy one. Mosquitoes breed in still water. So make sure water doesn't sit outside for any length of time in gutters, pots, and saucers.
Killing the Suckers. DO NOT WASTE YOUR $$$ ON BUG LIGHTS!!! They do not attract and kill mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are attracted by smell, not sight. The most you'll accomplish is roasting some moths. Instead, use Mosquito Dunks, a product containing a beneficial bacterium that only affects mosquitoes. The dunks slowly dissolve, killing mosquito larvae in birdbaths and small ponds for 30 days.
What about mosquitoes that have already hatched out and have their bibs on? You may have noticed signs appearing in neighbor's yards advertising whole-yard mosquito control. How does this work? Well, pest control companies come out and spray the parts of your yard mosquitoes hide in (like shrubbery and woodsy areas) with a pyrethrin-based insecticide. This doesn't stop mosquitoes from flying in from the yard next door. But any mosquito that lands on a treated surface will die. Each treatment works for about a month.
For a lot less money, you can accomplish the same thing yourself. Buy a ready-to-use bottle of Ortho Triazicide Insect Killer that comes in a spray bottle you attach to a hose. Apply it according to label directions.