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.

West Nile Virus Confirmed in Local Mosquito Samples

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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.