What do mosquitoes DO all winter?

If you have been following the Eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in the Northeast US, most of the news stories end with a statement such as “the first killing frost ends the adult mosquito season in any given area.” This is a completely valid assumption when you live in an area where temperatures drop below freezing and stay there for weeks at a time.

However, to say that winter weather in our region can be variable is an understatement. While our recent cold front may have frozen some tender plants, it wasn’t enough to do much damage to our resident population of southern house mosquitoes, Culex quinquefasciatus.

A technician collects mosquitoes resting underneath a bridge

That’s because, as the days get shorter and temperatures and humidity drop, this last generation of female mosquitoes plump up internal fat reserves and find a nice sheltered spot to wait out the winter. Storm drains are a favorite haunt, along with garden sheds and rodent burrows.

The southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, overwinters as an adult fed by fat reserves in her abdomen

Along with a thicker outer skeleton that resists drying and a metabolism slowed down like cold molasses, these mosquitoes enter a form of dormancy called diapause. This state of suspended development will last until the days lengthen and temperatures rise again – a relatively short window in SE Texas.

And that sheltered spot? When it warms up, storm drains do double duty as a breeding place for those overwintering mosquitoes. Excess irrigation and grass clippings keep drains perpetually moist and full of organic material. This creates the perfect breeding ground– read more about it here. Consider turning off your automatic sprinkler for the winter to avoid runoff (it’s also healthier for your lawn).

Mosquitoes shelter in storm drains over the winter, which become breeding grounds in the spring if kept wet by irrigation run-off

So how do mosquitoes survive where it is cold and below freezing? They do so as eggs, just like the invasive Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, that we have here. Based on seasonal cues, females will lay eggs with more fat to sustain the embryo, along with a thicker “coat” to keep eggs from drying out so they can survive the colder temperatures. These eggs are as big as a speck of dirt and almost impossible to differentiate with the naked eye. So, do yourself a favor and give those plant pots and other outdoor items a good scrub before storing them away for the winter. You’ll be rewarded with fewer mosquitoes when the weather warms.   


Questions? Comments? Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Six degrees of separation between your lawn mower and mosquitoes

Many of us are familiar with the party game that challenges us to connect any person in six steps to anyone else in the world. But, it’s more than just a game. Based on a study by social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, the theory that we are just a few people apart from being connected to everyone was proven right! So, if it works time after time for people, can’t we use this theory to connect all things? Let’s put it to the test to see if we can connect a simple household chore, like mowing the lawn, with eliminating mosquitoes. Sorry, Kevin Bacon, this version of six degrees does not involve you.

Step 1: Raise your mower blade

Next time you get the mower out, leave the grass a little longer to shade the soil and help it hold onto precious moisture between rains. By removing only the top 1/3 of the leaf, more grass remains to make sugars that support strong root growth. Check out the Woodlands Water Best Lawn Practices page for other great lawn care tips.

Step 2: Deeper grass roots

Now that your grass is growing taller, you’ve got a deeper and more extensive root system in your yard.  The next step is to apply compost once or twice a year (in the spring and fall). This adds slow-release nutrients and helps break up heavy soils so water can penetrate more deeply. In fact, increasing the carbon in soils by a mere 5% using compost can quadruple the soil’s water-holding capacity.

Step 3: Less frequent watering

When soil holds more water, and longer roots are better able to find it, the result is a lush lawn with less water from the tap. Turf grass needs only an inch of water a week – an amount that can often be met by rainfall alone. For expert guidance on irrigation go to Woodlands Water (formerly WJPA) and check out the watering calendar.

Check out the lush turf at the front of the Woodlands Water office on Lake Robbins Dr. You might not believe it but it has thrived on precipitation alone for years!

Step 4: Reduce run off

Accounting for rainfall in your irrigation schedule will leave more water on your lawn and money in your pocket. When irrigation is needed during a long dry spell, the best technique for our clay soil is the cycle and soak method – dividing the sprinkler run time into two or three cycles which allows water to soak into the soil. The first cycle wets the surface of the soil, breaking surface tension. After a rest, the second cycle of water soaks into the soil more effectively. A third cycle is especially beneficial for sloped lawns. Allowing the soil to soak up the water is not only great for your landscape, it keeps less water from running off into the street.

Check out the City of Frisco’s great explanation of the cycle and soak method and the Colorado Springs YouTube Video below.

Step 5: Sewers stay dry

Less water running into the street means drier storm sewers. Storm sewers are designed to move rainwater through, not hold it; if it’s not raining they should be dry. If they are perpetually full of water from over-irrigation, then they will be full of another thing we definitely don’t want – mosquitoes. These little bloodsuckers don’t need much in order to thrive in the cool protection of a wet storm sewer. Eggs are laid in as little as an inch of water and emerge as flying, biting adults in only 7 days.  

Step 6: Fewer mosquitoes!

So…

If the your nearby sewer stays dry between rains,

because you are sending less water into the street into the street,

because your healthy lawn need less irrigating,

Then, voila! You get fewer mosquitoes!

We did it – six steps connecting your lawn mower to fewer mosquitoes! Take a moment today to raise that mower blade and appreciate fewer bites while enjoying your beautiful green oasis. 

Additional Resources

In this video, Eric Becker, Irrigation Specialist of Colorado Springs Utility will walk you through how to apply the cycle and soak technique to your irrigation system.

Check out A&M Extension’s guide for water efficient lawn care – these methods for  North Texas can be applied to our Southern region too.

Learn more about the connection between water and mosquitoes in this Community Magazine article.

And if you missed it, here is a 2-part series on How to Mosquito Proof Your Yard.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800

Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part II

Benjamin Franklin famously noted, “Nothing is certain, except death and taxes.”.  Well, in Southeast Texas, you can add mosquitoes to that list.  What Ben may not have known is that you have more control over mosquitoes, at least the ones in your yard, than you think. Read on for the second installment of “Mosquito-Proof Your Patio” for three new and easy tips to help you enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free… and if you haven’t already tossed your saucers, put donuts in the birdbath, or started using a big fan, then check out part one here.  

Get your mind in the gutter

It’s easy to forget about your gutters – out of sight, out of mind. But, just a few leaves and needles can clog it up, creating a nice, wet environment for mosquitoes to thrive. After a rain, it only takes a week to hatch a whole new crop of biters above your front door. Regular gutter maintenance won’t be the most exciting thing to do with your weekend, but you can delight in all the mosquitoes that you are evicting from your eaves.

Do you have a French drain?

Called by many different names – blind drains, rock drains, perimeter drains – these are underground trenches with perforated pipe that are meant to redirect water. However, they tend to perform far better at breeding mosquitoes than helping out your drainage situation.

If you do have a French drain, keep it mosquito-free with a Mosquito Dunk ®, a safe, cheap, easy solution that is harmless to fish, people and pets. Tip:  keep the dunk from washing away by tying it to the drain cover. Ensure the string is long enough so the donut can rest on the bottom of the catch basin. The naturally occurring bacteria in the dunk can survive multiple wet and dry cycles, so if you can see it in there, it’s working. Expect to tie on a new dunk about every 30 days.

If you’re considering installing a French drain to manage storm water, there are other options that work better with our local drainage system. Check out the upcoming Rainwater Harvesting Class on Nov 2 for hands-on training and an explanation of various techniques.

A rain garden, which can take advantage of a natural low spot in your yard, offers one alternative. Rain gardens are not ponds; they are designed to fill with water when it rains and be dry when it doesn’t. Featuring easy-care plants that can handle this wet and dry cycle, rain gardens help hold runoff, allowing it to soak into the ground over time.  

In addition to storing water in the soil, rain gardens:

  • Add beauty to the yard with native and climate-adapted plants
  • Create habitat for birds, butterflies, and dragonflies
  • Can be sized and shaped to fit your landscape
  • Reduce flooding by keeping water out of storm sewers
  • Don’t breed mosquitoes!

Guard with garlic

Garlic barrier, commonly sold as Mosquito barrier, has been used for years in agriculture to repel insects from crops and even keep birds from eating tree fruits. Dilute this liquid garlic concentrate with water and apply with a pump sprayer to plants and structures around the perimeter of your yard. One application lasts about a month but needs to be reapplied after rain. This can be a great tool to use ahead of a pool party or family barbeque –after you’ve tossed anything holding water first.

Did you miss Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part I?

Check out three more easy things you can do to enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.

Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part I

Picture your backyard oasis: a shady spot to read, birds serenading you from the branches, and butterflies flitting amongst the flowers. And then… your peaceful reverie quickly unravels by the whining of a mosquito in your ear.

Have you stopped to think where that mosquito came from on its way to ruining your zen? Chances are it emerged somewhere much closer than you suspect.

Toss The Saucers

That beautiful potted plant might actually be a culprit if it’s sitting in a saucer full of water. Saucers provide the perfect dark, wet environment for Asian tiger mosquitoes to lay their small eggs that are barely visible to the naked eye.

Once laid, the eggs simply lie in wait for a good watering. A day later they hatch and within a week 50 hungry mosquitoes emerge, ready to pester you.

Consider switching out your traditional saucers for plant stands, pot trivets, or pot feet. These alternatives…

• Allow water to drain away from plant roots, preventing soggy feet that leads to root rot
• Are less likely to stain your deck because they don’t stay wet and have a reduced footprint
• Discourage fire ants from nesting underneath or in pots due to increased air circulation
• Come in a variety of materials, sizes and colors
Don’t breed mosquitoes!

A Donut In Every Bird Bath

After a mosquito lays a bunch of eggs in your plant saucer, she’ll lay a bunch more in your bird bath, kids’ toys, and forgotten buckets. While the rest can be picked up and put away, the bird bath is one place where we actually want water to sit for a few days.

Our feathered friends appreciate a clean place to splash around, so take a moment to spruce it up, give it a good scrub and dislodge any dirt (that might also be mosquito eggs).

After you’ve cleaned it, keep it mosquito-free with a Mosquito Dunk ®, a safe, cheap, easy solution that is harmless to birds, pets, people and fish. One donut can treat a 10-foot by 10-foot area – and you probably don’t have a 100-square foot birdbath – so read the back of the package for directions and use only the amount needed.

If you have a rain barrel or other means of capturing rain water, go ahead a put a dunk in there, too. The active ingredient, Bti, is certified by OMRI for use in organic gardening.

A Big Fan

Literally! Get an oscillating fan that is as big as you can manage. Overhead fans are nice, but they don’t combat mosquitoes. A fan that blows air horizontally creates an air current too stiff for mosquitoes to handle – their flight speed maxes out at 2 miles per hour. A gentle breeze is about 10 mph, so the larger the fan, the greater the area you can keep mosquito-free.

Stay Tuned To Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part II

We’ll highlight three more easy things you can do to enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.

Itching to know more about mosquitoes?

Attend these summer events and learn how to fight the bite.

In honor of the upcoming National Mosquito Control Awareness Week (June 23—June 29, 2019), the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) has three tips to help you declare independence from those pesky blood-suckers.

  • Drain: Empty out water containers at least once per week
  • Dress: Wear long sleeves, long pants, and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Defend: Properly apply an approved repellent such as DEET, picaridin, IR 3535 or oil of lemon-eucalyptus

Make your yard a mosquito-free zone  and remove standing water in these often overlooked places around the yard by: drilling holes in the bottom of yard waste containers, clearing roof gutters of debris, cleaning pet water dishes regularly, checking and emptying children’s toys, repairing leaky outdoor faucets, and changing the water in bird baths at least once a week.

Joseph Conlon, AMCA Technical Advisor, says, “Encouraging your neighbors to also eliminate sources on their own property is critical to a community-wide control program. Mosquitoes require water to complete their life cycle. If their water source is eliminated, so are their offspring.”

Mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance

Their bites can spread diseases such as Zika and West Nile Virus. “We already have the mosquitoes. We are continually importing the diseases they carry,” said Conlon. “We must be prepared to prevent their spread throughout our public health landscape – and this requires safe, effective, sustained mosquito control and awareness in the community.”

Visit us at a Fire Station near you

To learn more about mosquito control in The Woodlands Township, attend an upcoming  Public Safety Open House. Environmental Services staff will be on hand to answer questions and hand out mosquito dunks, so you can stop the cycle at home. Get an up-close look at fire trucks, rescue units and meet with local fire fighters, at these public safety events brought to you by The Woodlands Township Neighborhood Watch. Details on bike registration, National Night Out events, the Tech Free 4 Me Driving Village Challenge and Give-a-Ways will also be part of this fun and educational event series.  Don’t miss out!

For more information about how you can fight mosquitoes in your own backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.


The Woodlands Township is a member of the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), an international not-for-profit public service association. With 1,600 members worldwide, AMCA services are provided mainly to public agencies and their principal staff members engaged in mosquito control, mosquito research and related activities. For more information on National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, please visit AMCA online at www.mosquito.org and follow AMCA on Twitter @AMCAupdates.

How mosquitoes find you

As weather warms, mosquitoes seemingly come out of the woodwork. How is it that they are always able to find you?

Aeae biting

Keen senses

Mosquitoes use a highly tuned sensory system to zero in on their next blood meal. About 200 feet away, mosquitoes get the first whiffs of carbon dioxide we exhale as we enjoy a bit of gardening or a jog down the pathway. Following the plume – whether it is emitted by us, our furry companions, or a mockingbird up in the trees – brings them closer to the potential host.

Once the carbon dioxide has drawn her within sight, she is further attracted by dark colors and high-contrast patterns. Remember this the next time you reach for something to wear to the neighborhood picnic. Long, loose, light-colored clothing with a tight weave is a good first defense against the piercing mouthparts of the female mosquito. She seeks a blood meal, not to feed herself, but in pursuit of protein to make eggs.  You might be surprised to know that mosquitoes drink plant nectar to fuel their bodies, and pollinate plants in the process.

Getting warmer

Cues

When within three feet the mosquito can sense the heat signature of your body, differentiating you from say, a park bench. Investigating further, she hones in on a specific area to land using “smells” she picks up through her antennae. Lactic acid, uric acid, and ammonia in sweat, as well as the scent of fabric softeners, perfumes and colognes can all attract mosquitoes.

Cloaking spray

DSC_0024

Mosquito repellants can employ a couple different mechanisms in your defense. One is to jam chemical signals from reaching a mosquito’s antennae. The other is to be offensive to the mosquito once she lands and can “taste” it with her feet.  Repellents may use one or both mechanisms – termed primary and secondary repellency.

As we each have a unique chemical signature, try a few repellents to find the one that’s most effective for you. Look past the brand name on the front of the bottle to the bottom. There you’ll find one of the active ingredients the CDC recommends: Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, DEET, or IR3535. What works best for you might be different from your partner or kids.

Sensory Trickery

Mosquito_Trap with Lure

The Mosquito Surveillance & Education Program of The Woodlands Township uses the mosquito’s keen sensory perception to our advantage. We use a variety of lures and baits to attract mosquitoes into traps for weekly monitoring throughout the Township. For example, the Biogents Sentinel trap uses a lure that smells a lot like stinky gym socks. It also has a high-contrast color pattern and can be made more appealing by the addition of dry ice to emit carbon dioxide. These three features mimic a human host, drawing the mosquitoes close enough to be sucked into a net by a battery-powered fan. The captured mosquitoes are collected the next morning and sent to a laboratory for identification and disease testing. Tracking changes in the number of mosquitoes caught, species present, and disease trends over time provides the foundation for mosquito control activities in The Woodlands.

Learn more about mosquitoes and how to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne disease at http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/MosquitoInfo. To report a mosquito concern email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800.

Hiring! Seasonal Mosquito Technicians

The Environmental Services Department is looking for enthusiastic, dedicated, independent individuals to join the Mosquito Team. Increase your field and laboratory experience while being an important part of this public health and outreach program.

  • Work as part of a team to monitor for mosquito-borne diseases
  • Deploy traps throughout The Woodlands that target different species
  • Use your interpersonal skills while sharing information with the public
  • Delve into the world of mosquito anatomy and identification in the lab
  • Expand your knowledge of water conservation, recycling right, sustainable landscapes and more supporting Environmental Services programs and events

Positions are from mid-May through end of November with an opportunity to extend the term of employment (can also accommodate students returning to college in August).

Apply today!

Applications will be accepted until April 19, 2019, or until position is filled. Interested candidates are encouraged to submit applications early. View the full job description here.

Questions? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call Environmental Services 281-210-3800.

Established in 2005, the mission of the Mosquito Surveillance & Education Program is to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne disease transmission for the protection and wellbeing of The Woodlands residents through the application of Integrated Mosquito Management. Learn what you can do to target mosquitoes.

 

Weigh the options for mosquito prevention responsibly

Are you ready to go all out with a backyard pest prevention plan? Before you drop a bunch of cash, consider this…

Searching for help controlling mosquitoes in your backyard yields plenty of available services and products. To help you wade through the sometimes confusing information, we’ve culled the key points to know about mosquito prevention.

Mosquito graphic A

The concept in the above illustration is shown simply, but its message is clear…

     …the most effective way to manage mosquitoes is by         managing their breeding sites.

And the experts* at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University, and Texas Tech University agree, “The first step in any mosquito control effort is to find and eliminate the mosquito breeding sites from your backyard.”

So, for no to very little cost and the few minutes each week it would take to walk your property to find and remove standing water, you can provide the most effective mosquito prevention to safeguard your family. Nice.

What about other considerations, in addition to eliminating breeding sites? Which home mosquito control methods are most effective? Which have potentially harmful side effects to our environment? Take a look at the chart below for a comparative look at some of the options.

Mosquito graphic B

*Merchant, Swiger, and Presley; Do-It-Yourself Backyard Mosquito Control, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

For more information about mosquitoes and their prevention, visit the Mosquito Control page of the Environmental Services section of The Woodlands Township website.

Is There a Tiger in your Yard?

[Guest blog post & original art by Melissa Birdwell, EfTA Intern]

tiger text_mbirdwell2018

AMCA-18-Mosquito-AW-Banner-F

Tiger-Control Tips

Protect yourself from mosquitoes by regularly dumping out containers holding standing water and wearing CDC-approved mosquito repellent. This is especially important considering that West Nile continues to surface in our local mosquito population this season.

The mosquito mentioned in the image above, the Asian Tiger, is the vector for Dengue and Zika viruses. These mosquitoes are active during the daytime and readily bite humans. Emptying containers of standing water could protect you from diseases carried by the Asian Tiger Mosquito, as that will prevent them from breeding near your home.

The objects shown in the image above are only some of the possible containers that could house mosquito eggs and larvae. Something as small as a bottle cap could be enough to produce a new generation of mosquitoes in only seven days.

Melissa Birdwell completed an 80-hour internship with Environmental Services as part of the Education for Tomorrow Alliance Student Internship Program. She is a rising senior at The Woodlands Christian Academy and has an interest in biological research.


Education for Tomorrow Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting the business and education communities in Montgomery County, Texas. With innovative programs focused on career, leadership and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) preparation, EfTA has become the portal through which business leaders can access and strengthen local education.

The Woodlands Township a proud partner of EfTA, providing four or more Interns each summer with valuable field and laboratory experience as part of the Mosquito Surveillance & Education Program.

 

West Nile Virus Confirmed in Local Mosquito Samples

mosquito-contol-_-4ds-_-tw

The Montgomery County Mosquito Abatement team has detected the first and second mosquito samples to test positive for West Nile virus in The Woodlands Township. With this heightened risk of transmission residents should be diligent in protecting themselves and loved ones from mosquito-borne disease.

There have been no reports of human West Nile virus cases in Montgomery or Harris Counties at this time by the Texas Department of Health Services. However, mosquito surveillance programs exist because detecting the virus in mosquitoes provides the early warning system that protects our community from infection.

Treatment of the affected areas has been completed. Please visit South County Mosquito Abatement to view a map of the treatment areas.

Do Your Part to Prevent Mosquito-Borne Disease…

  • Use mosquito repellent when you are outside – day or night. Choose one with an active ingredient recommended by the Centers for Disease Control : DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus are proven effective by research.
  • Monitor and eliminate all sources of standing water around your property.
  • Treat standing water that cannot be drained with a biological larvicide such as Mosquito Dunks® or Mosquito Bits® – which are available for purchase at local home and garden centers.

think-wet-mosquito-blog

For more tips on protecting your family from mosquito-borne diseases, please visit the Mosquito Control webpage.

To schedule a presentation about reducing mosquitoes for neighborhoods or groups, please call The Woodlands Township Environmental Services at 281-210-3800.