Mosquitoes are one of the world’s deadliest creatures. These blood-sucking insects not only give annoying bites, but they are also vectors for many different diseases. They are responsible for up to 750,000 deaths each year worldwide. Controlling mosquitoes has become a major initiative of cities all over the country and should be an important goal of homeowners as well. The same methods of prevention and control that work for mosquitoes are also beneficial for other small flies like gnats and no-see-ums. By learning methods of elimination, exclusion, and control, you can help keep your family healthy and safe from deadly mosquitoes.
Gnats and No-see-ums
Mosquitos, gnats and no-see-ums are all part of the insect order diptera, more commonly referred to as flies. The term gnat can refer to many different species of tiny flying insects. There are both biting and non-biting gnats. Most gnats will fly in a “cloud” that contains a large number of the small insects. Gnats usually feed on plants, but some species are carnivorous. No-see-ums (ceratopogonidae) are a type of gnat also known as biting midges or sand flies, depending on the region. These small flies are only 1-4 mm long and often live in aquatic or mountainous environments. Like mosquitoes, no-see-um bites are extremely itchy and cause small, red welts on the skin. These welts are the result of an allergic reaction to proteins in the saliva of the no-see-um or mosquito. No-see-ums may be vectors of diseases, but research is ongoing.
Female Biting Midge A.K.A. No-see-um (Culicoides sonorensis)
Mosquitoes are midge-like flies. In fact, the name mosquito actually means “little fly.” Most mosquitoes average 3-6 mm in length, but the largest species can get up to 19 mm. Mosquitoes have thin bodies with 3 segments. They also have a long, tube-like mouth part, called a proboscis, that is used to pierce the victim’s skin and suck the blood. It may be surprising to learn that only female mosquitoes actually suck blood, which is needed to produce and lay eggs. Mosquitoes also have 3 pairs of legs, 1 pair of wings, and multi-segmented antennae.
An Anopheles stephensi mosquito, which is a known carrier of malaria. Photo by Jim Gathany
The Mosquito Life Cycle
Understanding the mosquito life cycle is vital to knowing how to control them. Like other flies, mosquitoes have a four stage life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Female mosquitos lay their eggs in or near stagnant water. Having a water source is essential for development, but even a very small amount of water is sufficient for mosquito breeding. If this stagnant water can be eliminated, it is possible to break the mosquito life cycle in certain areas. The first three stages of the mosquito’s life is essentially aquatic and usually takes between 5 and 14 days. The adult mosquito is less dependent on water, and they often live in tall grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation. Male mosquitoes eat nectar and other sources of sugar and typically only live about a week, while females usually live twice as long. Efforts to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds focus on the removal of standing water.
There are many serious diseases carried and transmitted by mosquitoes. These diseases are a problem in many parts of the world, but are particularly serious in the tropics and subtropics of Africa. Some of the most deadly diseases include: malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever. In 2016 alone, it is estimated that there were 216 million cases of malaria throughout the world. Luckily, these diseases are not very prevalent in the U.S. The following is more information about some of the mosquito-borne diseases that do cause concern in the United States.
West Nile Virus
Mosquito Species: 150 species have been identified as carriers, but culex species are the most likely
Symptoms: Fever, headache and body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, encephalitis, meningitis, paralysis,etc.; Most people infected by WNV do not have symptoms.
Treatment: No vaccines or medicines available; Pain medications and fluids can help.
Other: West Nile Virus is the most common mosquito-borne disease in the United States affecting all of the continental states. In serious cases, Mosquitoes are infected with WNV when they feed on infected birds, so many monitoring efforts test local bird populations to discover the prevalence of WNV.
Mosquito Species: Aedes species
Symptoms: Fever, headache, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain that last several days
Treatment: Rest, fluids, acetaminophen
Other: Zika is a relatively new problem in the United States. Pregnant mothers who contract the disease may have children with birth defects like microcephaly, Guillain-Barre syndrome, eye problems, and hearing problems.
Mosquito Species: Aedes species
Symptoms: Fever, joint pain and swelling, rash, headache
Treatment: No available vaccine or medicine; Rest, fluids, and tylenol can help
Other: Chikungunya is usually not lethal and will resolve in approximately one week, but some cases can last longer. It was first discovered in the Americas in 2013.
Mosquito Bite Prevention
The only proven way to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses is to not get bit by mosquitoes. This is not always possible, but the CDC recommends some things that can be done to help in this effort.
- Use an EPA registered repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, etc.
- Wear long sleeved shirts and pants when going outdoors
- Stay in air-conditioned rooms
- Make sure that all windows and doors have screens
- Use a mosquito net if needed
- Treat clothing with permethrin or buy pretreated clothing
- Avoid being outside at dusk and dawn
Mosquito, Gnat, and No-see-um Control
Mosquito control is not only being carried out by local governments, but it should also be on the minds of all citizens in mosquito-prone areas. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension gives detailed DIY backyard mosquito control measures that everyone can employ today.
Eliminate Breeding Grounds
Elimination of mosquito breeding grounds is extremely important in cutting down the number of mosquitos in the area. As mentioned, mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water, so all stagnant water around the home should be eliminated. This would include old tires, buckets, children’s toys, clogged gutters, flower pots, drains, and ponds. If you have a birdbath, make sure to change the water weekly. Pond owners should invest in an aerator or keep fish that will eat the mosquitoes.
Seal the Exterior
Keep mosquitos out of your home by ensuring that it is completely sealed. Check all window screens to make sure there are no holes and that they are in good condition. Doors should have weatherstripping or door sweeps that are intact. Seal small cracks and gaps with latex caulk and bigger holes with steel wool followed by expandable spray foam.
Mosquito Traps and Zappers
Mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide and human scent. Mosquito traps use these to attract and kill them. Some traps, known as ovitraps, sterilize or kill mosquitos that come to the trap to lay eggs. Zappers use ultraviolet light to attract the mosquitoes before killing them in an electric grid. Traps and zappers can help control the mosquito population, but they can also kill a lot of beneficial insects at the same time.
Indoor and Outdoor Foggers
Foggers are effective at getting rid of mosquitoes temporarily. They are available for both indoor and outdoor use. When used outdoors, foggers can clear the area of mosquitoes for several hours, which is particularly helpful for outdoor parties or events. For best results, foggers should be directed toward plants, shrubs, and tall grasses where mosquitoes rest during the day. Foggers are easy to use and inexpensive, but they may harm beneficial bugs and are only a temporary fix. Try the Harris Outdoor Mosquito Fogger for great results.
If you are looking for longer lasting results, you can try residual sprays. These sprays usually last about a month and can be applied as an aerosol spray, by using a garden hand sprayer, or by using a hose-end sprayer. Residual mosquito insecticide should be sprayed on the sides of homes, around doorways, and in tall grasses, shrubs, and trees. This type of control provides more lasting relief, and the drift is less than with a fogger.
Mosquitoes, gnats, and no-see-ums are annoying summer pests, but in the case of mosquitoes, they can also be extremely dangerous. As harmful mosquito-borne diseases continue to spread, it becomes even more important to control and eliminate as many mosquitoes as possible. For DIY mosquito control, trust Harris products to get the job done. PF Harris is America’s oldest EPA registered pest control brand with almost 100 years of experience. For great results, try a Harris product today.