Five months into 2020, and some words that come to mind to describe recent weeks include “social distancing,” “uncertainty” and “COVID-19.” These are all issues that our customers are facing. But our industry is facing these issues as well, both on the job and in our homes. Although humans live in a world of government-mandated quarantines and heightened sanitary measures (for now), mosquitoes are unaffected by these rules. Many people are being required to stay home, and their only means of going out is to spend time in their neighborhoods, playing with their children or enjoying the fresh air. As spring has sprung, we find ourselves facing warmer and potentially rainier weather, which creates ideal conditions for the start of mosquito season.
The mosquitoes that PMPs primarily deal with are among the genera Aedes, Anopheles and Culex. Although mosquitoes are not responsible for spreading COVID-19, they are responsible for spreading several other diseases that can cause public health concerns. Aedes mosquitoes are known vectors of Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, yellow fever and Rift Valley fever. Culex mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus, multiple forms of encephalitis, and other viral diseases of birds and horses. Anopheles mosquitoes are infamously known for their ability to spread malaria; however, these mosquitoes also are able to transmit other diseases. This is why it is important that we as PMPs take action to help control mosquitoes so that our customers don’t have anxiety about other viral diseases. What follows are four steps that we can take to help our customers eliminate mosquitoes this season.
1. Identifying the Mosquito
As with many other areas of our business, identification is key. Just as Aedes, Culex and Anopheles mosquitoes are very different in their biology and habitats, the means for effectively controlling them differ, too. Aedes mosquitoes are what we refer to as backyard mosquitoes or container-breeding mosquitoes. These mosquitoes like to breed in any container that will hold water; the container can be as small as a bottle cap or as large as an empty swimming pool. Not only do they breed in close proximity to humans, they are also what we refer to as daytime biters, i.e., they feed during dawn and dusk, times at which many people are outside. Other mosquitoes will be most active during the evening when people are not as active. Why is this important to know? This tells us that more than likely the cause of an infestation is near our customers’ homes and that a larvicidal treatment is necessary to achieve control of these mosquitoes.
Culex mosquitoes, on the other hand, commonly breed in stagnant or polluted water. Potential breeding sites include storm drains, catch basins and septic tanks. These water sources also have a little bit of water movement to them, whereas Aedes mosquitoes do not like water movement and prefer standing water. Anopheles mosquitoes will breed in small, restricted bodies of water that are surrounded by vegetation. So while larvicidal treatment is critical for Aedes mosquito control, a comprehensive adulticide treatment is important for limiting Culex and Anopheles populations. Depending on the situation, larviciding may be just as important for controlling the latter two genera as well. This is why knowing the mosquito and where it’s breeding are vital to successful mosquito control.
2. Larval Mosquito Control
Sometimes our industry forgets that larval control of mosquitoes can be just as important — if not more important in some cases — than adult control. Larval control starts with a thorough inspection of the area around a customer’s home or business for larval habitats. The first three stages of the mosquito’s life are aquatic, so they are breeding in one of the sites mentioned previously, depending on the type of mosquito. When addressing issues with Aedes mosquitoes, a larvicidal treatment is 100 percent necessary. Control of Culex and Anopheles may not require a larvicidal treatment depending on where they are breeding, but it’s never a bad idea to practice larval control, especially because you may be dealing with more than one type of mosquito.
There are different methods that we can use to conduct a successful larval treatment. There are mosquito dunks or briquettes that can be used for treating larger bodies of water over time. They contain a bacterium that, when ingested by the mosquito, causes its gut to burst, leading to its death. There are also various mosquito pellets or granules with an insect growth regulator (IGR) as the active ingredient. IGRs help to prevent larval mosquitoes from reaching adulthood. There are also oils that can be applied to the surfaces of water that will not allow mosquitoes to breach the surface for breathing, ultimately suffocating them.
3. Adult Mosquito Control
During the warmest parts of the day, mosquitoes will conserve energy and find places to rest. Some of the most common mosquito resting sites are shaded areas under the leaves of trees and bushes. This is important to know when applying adulticides for mosquitoes. For example, when treating with mosquito blowers, we need to apply the product thoroughly to these mosquito resting areas. The term typically used is to apply “to the point of run off.” What exactly does this mean? In practice it means, for instance, that a treated bush shouldn’t be profusely dripping with product but should be wet enough that it is covered and slightly dripping. Applications should be done in a circular motion to guarantee that all treatment areas are well covered. The undersides of trees also need to be addressed. Since mosquitoes are unable to fly very high, treating the undersides of trees up to 10 feet is the best approach to take, as anything higher would not be effective.
4. Customer Education and Employee Training
Education is a vital part of our industry. We need to take time to educate our customers as well as ourselves and our employees. Customers may expect their mosquito problems to be completely solved as soon as we leave their homes or businesses, but as we know, that is not possible. We are not in the business of pest elimination, but rather pest control. It is our responsibility to control mosquitoes to the best of our capabilities, but fully eliminating mosquitoes in a given area is nearly impossible. It is imperative that we communicate this distinction to our customers and set appropriate expectations. Even though we may apply a thorough treatment to their yard to help control mosquitoes, perhaps their neighbors did not receive the same type of treatment. Yes, it is likely that they will see some mosquito activity, but we can and should assure them that we have controlled the mosquito populations within the treated area so they can spend time outside without being inundated. And yes, one or two mosquitoes may still be seen.
On the other hand, educating ourselves and our employees is just as important. Every day brings new discoveries; there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people researching mosquitoes, their diseases and new and improved control methods. If we do not stay up to date on the most current methods of control, our treatment may not be as effective as it could be.
FINAL THOUGHTS. No single aspect of mosquito control is a silver bullet for taking a bite out of mosquitoes’ meal plans. By taking time to identify and become familiar with mosquitoes in our service areas, treating mosquitoes throughout their development lifecycle and educating customers and ourselves, we can provide the best possible control of mosquitoes and peace of mind to our customers. Mosquitoes are considered the most deadly animal in the world, and it is our responsibility as PMPs to protect our customers’ health and safety.