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Our greatest invertebrate threat — the mosquito

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Hummm — swat — slap. Did you get her? Slapping at that tiny vampire (with this newspaper that you are now reading) is the most common reaction to a mosquito — if you are lucky enough to see it, or feel it as it sucks your blood — but it’s the least effective.

This has been a rather wet summer season (at least up here in Arabela), one that favors mosquitoes. In past decades mosquito abundance has been comparatively light, but mosquitos do move around. They migrate into new areas and bring with them those infamous diseases like Dengue fever, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, Malaria and now Zika, all of which cause much human misery.
As our climate gradually warms, in the coming decades we will see more, not less of mosquitoes including some that will be new to the area. This is a call to action. Because we live in a desert environment we have the advantage of both a dry climate and cold winters, but we need to elevate our awareness as to what we can do to minimize their presence.
Moreover, and through a Zoo-man’s eyes, a great mosquito vector/asset is provided by our endearing pets. Dogs, cats and even birds kept indoors provide mosquitoes with meals on four legs. A dog (or cat) comes indoors and presto —hitch-hiking mosquitoes are now in your house, courtesy of Man’s Best Friend just waiting for us to go to bed.
While mosquito-swatting, citronella candles and DEET-loaded sprays will keep many mosquitoes away, the problem remains: each blood-filled mosquito abdomen will enable her to lay 100 to 400 eggs in a convenient, ephemeral body of water. In 24 to 48 hours, the eggs hatch into snorkel-equipped larvae and then a pupa after which, in less than a month it transforms into a new mosquito ready to embark on her hunt for blood. In fact, swarms of mosquitoes are mute and itchy evidence to their uncanny abilities to quietly sneak through or under our best defenses, find a tender spot between our fingers or toes and gorge on a blood feast.

So, let’s implement our greatest anti-mosquito weapon — getting rid of standing water. Not the large bodies or flowing streams of water or recirculating fountains, but the tiny little pools that surround us in abundance. Over a hundred little larvae can thrive in a half cup of water for the time it takes for them to become ravenous female mosquitoes looking for you, your child and the chinks in our armor.
We do have some assistance from the environment around us. dragonflies, bats, swallows and Hummingbirds eat mosquitoes. Bats continue the pursuit after birds bed down for the night.
Maybe we need to adopt the Chinese fly elimination program that took place near Beijing in the late 1900s when flyswatters were issued throughout the city. In a coordinated effort to eliminate what had become an enormous plague of flies, the populace proved that by working together, they could reduce the numbers of insect pests almost to the status of an endangered species — and within a week.
So do your part. Look around your yard (this won’t take long) and be sure that water receptacles are eliminated. Old discarded junk, crumpled plastic, tires, pool liners — anything that can collect and hold water for a month or so is an invitation for female mosquitoes to come to your place to lay their eggs. People often overlook the obvious such as those seldom-used French or blind floor drains in their utility rooms that may contain a water trap where mosquitoes can conduct their entire lifecycle in the security and protection of your home!
Drill holes in the bottom of old tires or wrinkled old sheet metal. Hang up some hummingbird feeders and keep them charged with sugar water for the summer. Put up bat houses and invite them to make their homes at your place. Attract butterflies (and mosquito-devouring dragonflies) with selected plants and recirculating pools. Begin the Great Mosquito Extermination War now. Together we can win this one.