top of page
  • Shannon Carnevale

Mosquitoes: The Buzz on Florida’s Most Notorious Insects

Mosquitoes are a familiar nuisance in Florida, heralding the warmer months with their unwelcome presence. Beyond their itchy bites, these insects play complex roles in our ecosystem and public health. This article delves into the life cycle of mosquitoes, their ecological impact, and practical tips for coexisting with them while minimizing their bothersome and sometimes dangerous impacts.



THE ECOLOGICAL ROLE OF MOSQUITOES

Despite their notoriety, mosquitoes serve vital functions in ecosystems. They act as pollinators and are a key food source for various animals, including fish, birds, and some bats. If you like to fish in Polk County’s many lakes, then you appreciate the important protein source provided to young sport fish by mosquito larvae.


The male mosquitoes, which do not bite, primarily feed on plant nectar and can serve as important pollinator species. However, the female mosquitoes of certain species seek blood meals to support egg production.


UNDERSTANDING MOSQUITOES: A PRIMER

Mosquitoes, members of the insect family Culicidae, are true flies with a distinct life cycle that includes egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages. Of the roughly 90 mosquito species in Florida, they can be categorized into floodwater, standing water, and container mosquitoes based on their breeding habitats.


Floodwater mosquitoes, for example, lay eggs in moist soil that must dry out completely, then they will hatch and emerge after the rainy season returns. This phenomenon can lead to massive emergences in March, April, or May – depending on the year.


Standing water and container mosquitoes, on the other hand, lay eggs directly on water surfaces, with container mosquitoes adapting to breed in minuscule volumes of water, such as those found in bottle caps or tree cavities. Understanding where mosquitoes breed is critical to effective mosquito management and which actions you can take to reduce their numbers near your home!


MOSQUITO CONTROL AND DISEASE PREVENTION

When it comes to mosquito-borne disease, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are the mosquito species we are most concerned about. These containerbreeding species are found almost statewide and can spread diseases such as dengue, yellow-fever, zika, and chikungunya.


Effective mosquito management is crucial for minimizing their impact on public health and your quality of life. Local mosquito control districts employ integrated mosquito management techniques, including setting traps to monitor populations and deploying environmentally-friendly larvicides. Once adult mosquitoes emerge from the water, they are a lot more challenging to manage due to their ability to fly.


Container mosquitoes, like A. aegypti and A. albopictus, are thought to stay close to the area where they hatch – often travelling less than a quarter mile during their lifetime.


This means that if you and your neighbors commit to dumping any containers that can catch water, weekly, throughout the mosquito season, you can drastically reduce the number of mosquitoes in the neighborhood. For areas where draining water isn’t feasible, like in a landscaping bed of bromeliads, consider using a granule product containing Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis) and sprinkling those granules into the pockets of water every 30 days. There are several brand names that use this natural mosquito larvicide.


MYTH-BUSTING MOSQUITO MANAGEMENT

Bug zappers, while satisfying to hear, do little to curb mosquito populations and they tend to kill more beneficial insects than mosquitoes. Similarly, plants marketed as mosquito repellents, such as those containing citronella, have limited effectiveness. These plants only release mosquito-repelling compounds when their leaves are crushed, and even then, the area of protection is minimal and fleeting. Eating garlic or taking vitamin B supplements has also been touted as a way to repel mosquitoes from the inside out, yet scientific evidence supporting these claims is scant.


Sadly, bat houses do little to reduce mosquito populations as most bats prefer larger prey. Bats will eat some mosquitoes, but the majority of their diet is made up of moths, beetles, and flies.


PERSONAL DEFENSE

When it comes to personal protection, not all mosquito repellents are created equal. Mosquito repellents function by making humans less attractive to mosquitoes, essentially camouflaging us from their keen senses. It’s important to note that repellents do not harm mosquitoes; they deter them. The efficacy of a repellent is often measured by its Complete Protection Time (CPT), which indicates how long you can expect to be protected from bites after a single application.


Research by the University of Florida has evaluated various repellents, finding that products containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus all offer effective protection. These ingredients vary in protection duration and concentration, allowing for choices tailored to individual needs and activity levels.


To learn which product is best suited for the duration of your outdoor activities, based on University of Florida trials and research, consult this IFAS document: go.ufl.edu/mosquito-repellent or by scanning the QR Code.


A UNIQUELY FLORIDA PROBLEM: SUNSCREEN FIRST? OR BUGSPRAY?

When using mosquito repellent in conjunction with sunscreen, the order of application is crucial for effectiveness. The CDC advises applying sunscreen first, allowing it to absorb into the skin, followed by mosquito repellent.


This sequence ensures optimal efficacy of both products. Importantly, products combining sunscreen and repellent are not recommended, as sunscreen requires more frequent application than repellent. Over-applying a combination product could lead to unnecessary exposure to repellent chemicals.


MOSQUITO SEASON IS HERE

As we navigate life in Florida alongside mosquitoes, understanding their behavior, ecological role, and how to mitigate their impacts is essential. Through community efforts and informed personal practices, we can coexist with these persistent insects while safeguarding our health and enjoying the beauty of our state.


For more insights and resources on mosquito management, connect with Polk County Mosquito Control at their website, www.polk-county.net/services/mosquito-control/ or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office in Bartow.

Comments


bottom of page