Conditions just right for mosquito explosion
These days just mention the word “mosquito” and you’re going to get a big reaction from anyone living in or visiting the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
“I’m thinking of painting my walls red to match all the ones I smash in my house,” said Grace Hagen, who lives near the Wisconsin River in Rhinelander. “I’ve got a lot of red blotches on my walls.”
While northern Wisconsin residents are familiar with these blood sucking insects, this spring has been particularly horrid as far as mosquitoes proliferating in the Northwoods. It’s the sheer numbers that have people running for cover. In fact, many locals are admitting that outdoor activities have to be limited when these bugs are on the prowl.
The reason there are so many according to PJ Liesch, manager of the Insect Diagnostic Laboratory at UW-Madison, is due to a “perfect storm” of conditions.
“You had snow cover for a very long time and then warm temperatures really fast in the season,” he said. “You’ve also had lots of rain causing puddles, bogs and lakes to be full. Mosquitoes thrive with lots of water and warm temperatures and that’s a perfect environment for them to breed and multiply.”
The record cold temperatures of this winter and all the snow did nothing to deter mosquito numbers.
“Lots of people think with all the cold we had this past winter that insect numbers would be down,” Liesch said. “But eggs that were laid last fall actually were protected by all the snow. Once temps warmed and snow melted that’s when last year’s eggs start hatching.”
There are actually more than 50 species of mosquitoes that live in Wisconsin. These species can be divided into four main groups. One group does particularly well with snowmelt, so those insects are usually the first species on the hunt.
Then there are the summer flood-water mosquitoes that thrive in temporary water areas like puddles and highway ditches that fill after steady rains. These mosquitoes breed throughout the summer and plague humans and animals until the first freeze. In addition, they can migrate 20 miles or more in any direction from where they hatch. Because they prefer areas like puddles and roadside ditches, there are no natural predators, like frogs and fish to eat the larvae.
There are also mosquitoes that breed in permanent water, like swamps and lakes, but they don’t travel as far. Then there are the container breeders that prefer to lay eggs in such vessels as dirty birdbaths, tires, flower pots, etc. These are the mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus.
What makes mosquitoes so pesky is their affinity for carbon dioxide, which mammals exhale and the lactic acid on human skin. They also hone in on movement and scent. In fact, one study done at the UW-Madison, suggests that mosquitoes are particularly fond of the odor of humans who consume alcoholic beverages.
While the season is early, Liesch believes the numbers could stay up all summer if rains continue.
“If conditions to stay wet, then it will be a pretty bad year for mosquitoes,” he said.
So far though, that hasn’t deterred golfers visiting Pinewood Country Club in Harshaw.
“They come to golf pretty sprayed up,” said Chip Bromann, owner of the course. “They’re fighting through it.”
Steve Krier, who manages Holiday Stables, also has some unique methods for dealing with the swarming bugs.
“We’ve put Bounce fabric sheets in the halters of the horses and we give everyone who comes to ride one to put in their pocket or under their hat,” he said. “We find that works pretty good.”
Kim Baltus, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce director, also advises potential visitors to load up on their favorite mosquito repellant.
“The mosquitoes aren’t preventing people from visiting but we are honest about it up front and tell people make sure you come prepared,” she said.
While mosquitoes are doing just fine reproducing right now, one of their deadliest enemies is also making an appearance.
“Thankfully the dragonflies have started to hatch,” said Kari Zambon, who, along with her family, owns and operates Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander. “I’ve noticed a big difference in mosquito numbers going down once the dragonflies come out.”
One of the scariest aspects of so many mosquitoes is the fact they do carry diseases. Already a confirmation of West Nile Virus has been discovered in a bird in the state.
“We haven’t had any reports of increases of West Nile Virus from the state but I suspect that will go up as the summer goes along,” said Linda Conlon, Oneida County’s health director. “Just the sheer numbers of the mosquitoes this year leads me to believe that.”
So what are some solutions for keeping mosquitoes at bay?
Emptying containers of standing water helps or eliminating containers that collect water is even better. Keeping grass and brush mowed short around living areas is also helpful.
There are also some interesting “recipes” circulating for homemade mosquito spray and methods to keep the bugs tolerable. For Krier, Bounce fabric sheets seem to do the trick.
Another popular repellent includes mixing 10-15 drops lavender oil, three to four tsp. vanilla extract, and ¼ cup lemon juice in a 16 oz. spray bottle then fill with water.
A popular mosquito trap includes cutting a plastic liter bottle in half and filling the bottom section with a cup of water, ½ cup brown sugar and 2 tsp. yeast. Place the top of the bottle (spout side down) into the bottom half and tape together. This container should be placed away from areas where people will be as it will attract the bugs to it.
And pets should also be on preventative care for heartworm which is spread by mosquitoes. Commercial repellent should not be used on dogs and cats as they can lick it off, making themselves sick.
For many Northwoods residents, the mosquito plague of this spring is a hard pill to swallow after a winter that produced record wind chills and snow totals. All people want to do is get outdoors after being shut up all winter.
“It’s all part of living in Wisconsin,” said Liesch. “This too shall pass.”
If you have any unique ideas or recipes to share to keep mosquitoes at bay please share. Our website address is starjournlnow.com or post to our Facebook page.