How to reduce your chances of West Nile Virus

Pools are open and grills are going, but are you cooking up a breeding ground for mosquitoes? Make your yard a mosquito-free zone: clear roof gutters of debris; drill holes in the bottom of yard debris containers ; clean pet water dishes and bird baths at least once a week; check and empty children’s toys; repair leaky outdoor faucets. 

Why is this important? 

The Woodlands Township Mosquito Surveillance & Education program recorded the first positive sample for West Nile virus in Panther Creek earlier this month. South Montgomery County Mosquito Abatement responded by spraying about a square-mile area. Take a minute to access this map and input your address to see which zone you live in. Residents of Creekside Park can check the Harris County Treatment Map.

This is a normal time of year to see the start of disease activity in local mosquitoes, and serves as a reminder to do a check of your property for items holding water and protect yourself when outdoors.  

The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) recommends people follow the three D’s to keep mosquitoes away:  

  • 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 

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.”  

He further states, “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.”  

So take a moment to check these simple ways to mosquito-proof your patio and make your next grilling session much more pleasant. Are your neighbors aware it’s just that easy? Share with them and increase the mosquito-free zone around your house even more. Collectively you can make a difference to Fight the Bite and reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases, like West Nile Virus. 

Increase your awareness with more mosquito-proofing tips or contact us at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.  

Behold, the power of invisibility

There are two ways to guarantee that mosquitoes won’t bite you. 

  1. Get a shield 
  2. Go incognito 

Let’s start with number 2 first. What if I told you that there is a magical coating that cloaks you from marauding hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes, no matter where you go? An invisibility cape that takes about 20 seconds to put on. Would you wear it?  Like standing upwind of a deer hides your location, wearing repellent has a similar effect when mosquitoes try to track down their next target, as explained here in How mosquitoes find you.  

The biggest problem with the efficacy of repellent is that people don’t wear it. If you are complaining about mosquitoes and not wearing repellent, you may as well criticize the government but not exercise your right to vote.

Here are the top 3 reasons people give for not wearing mosquito repellent:

It stinks

Certainly some repellents are more heavily scented than others (we’re looking at you DEET), but two have almost no smell at all. Look at the front of the bottle and go for one that contains picaridin or IR3535 (also sometimes listed by its chemical name, ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninate). If odor is your issue, these are the two you want.

It doesn’t work

There are people at universities that make a living studying the effectiveness of mosquito repellents. One thing they can agree on is that there are 4 effective active ingredients. 

Have you tried each of these? Not everyone will find the same one the most effective. Keep trying until one works for you; it might not be the same one that works for your friends.  Also, note the percentage of active ingredient. It tells you how much of every spray is actual cloaking juice. The more active ingredient, the longer it will repel before you need to reapply. If you’re out where ticks are also abundant, choose one that is effective for both and more highly concentrated. 

Active IngredientPicaridinIR3535Oil of Lemon EucalyptusDEET
% Ingredient15 to 20%15 to 20 %30 to 40%10 to 30%
Fights AgainstMosquitoesMosquitoes and TicksMosquitoesMosquitoes and Ticks
Age Restrictions> 2 months> 2 months> 3 years> 2 months
Derived FromSynthetic version of piperine, found in group of plants that produce black peppercornsStructurally similar to the natural substance β-alanine – a component of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)Derived from lemon eucalyptus tree branches and leaves or a synthetic version of the same (PMD)Synthetic repellent invented by the US Army for use by military personnel in insect-infested areas
Also Listed AsIcaridin, KBR 3023ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninatePara-methane-diol or PMDN, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide
Additional InformationNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact Sheet

I don’t want to bathe in chemicals

Does anyone want to expose themselves to harmful substances? Of course not. Rest assured that repellents are approved through the EPA and safe for use – read the label. If you use fabric softener, you are exposing yourself to more unknown chemicals formulations than you would be with repellent. Some people are sensitive to DEET and can develop a rash. If the concern is to find a more “natural” mosquito repellent, then check out oil of lemon eucalyptus. It’s derived from an actual lemon eucalyptus tree, but standardized so that the same amount of active ingredient is in each batch. See this previous post for guidelines on using repellents safely.  

Back to Number 1

When weighing all the options to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites, and thus the risk of mosquito-borne disease, nothing beats an impenetrable shield. Anything that physically separates those piercing, sucking mouthparts from your skin provides the ultimate protection. This usually begins in the form of clothing with a tight weave that hangs loosely, away from the body. 

Bug nets around strollers are the best protection for babies before they’re old enough to wear repellent (see above). Bug jackets are available for adults too – and depending on your situation you might consider it! When treating post-Harvey floodwaters for mosquito larvae, Township staff used these to protect against the swarms of floodwater mosquitoes.  

Fighting off mosquitoes starts by protecting yourself but remember that you can also fight back by treating and removing common breeding places around the home. By protecting yourself with these two simple steps above, you can once again comfortably enjoy your time outside. Just remember that you are only invisible to the mosquitoes, the rest of the world can still see you! 

Questions, comments or to report a mosquito concern, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

Apply today!

Applications will be accepted through April 17, 2020, or until position is filled. Interested candidates are encouraged to submit applications early for a seasonal, part-time position with the Mosquito Surveillance Team.

Conduct mosquito surveillance operations for disease carrying and nuisance mosquitoes in both the field and laboratory. $11-$12/hour, Monday through Friday with occasional Saturdays; 25 hrs/week, May through August or November. View the full job description here and apply here.

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 out the mower, 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 blade, 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, there is 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 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: Storm 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 storm 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