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Peak season’s here: Mosquito Control is treating areas in the Cape

By Staff | Jun 24, 2020

If you’ve been slapping at your skin more often to ward off a pesky insect, that’s probably because of a few unusual factors that have occurred early in mosquito season.

The Lee County Mosquito Control District has been out in full force, working to control the populations of mosquitoes around the county in all settings — from docksides to downtowns.

“There’s been a lot more activity this spring than last year,” said LCMCD spokesperson Eric Jackson. “People are going to notice our helicopters out a lot – it’s common anyway, but even more so than last year. (We’re) trying to get ahead of the problem and get as much done as possible.”

Jackson said drought-like conditions earlier in the year provided even more of a breeding ground for saltwater mosquitoes that lay their eggs in saltmarsh areas. When the heavy rains came in after a long spell of dry weather, eggs began to hatch.

“That water got into those areas of the saltmarshes where there were just billions of eggs that were laid, and there was a mass emergence,” Jackson said. “For Lee County, it’s been an exceptional year for activity.”

While these saltwater mosquitoes will have less ground to breed on as we work into the rainier, summer months — freshwater mosquitoes will have their time.

Here in Cape Coral, LCMCD is already out treating areas in many different ways, especially along the western side of the Cape that includes saltmarshes.

“Treatments are non-stop,” Jackson said. “It’s been larviciding every single day in the marshes — or inspecting for that larva, and we’ve had lots of missions out at night going after the adult mosquitoes,” Jackson said.

The LCMCD has been trying to focus its efforts on getting to mosquitoes as larva before they become biting adults, Jackson said. With the conditions just right for mass amounts of mosquitoes this year, Mosquito Control’s attention can also turn to adulticiding, or controlling mosquitoes in their adult stage.

LCMCD uses surveillance, traps, trucks, rigs and citizen information to help with mitigation.

“As the calls start coming in and we send inspectors out to those different areas, we verify that, ‘yes, there is a big mosquito problem here,’ and collect that data which helps us determine whether we need to send trucks to a specific area at night to treat for a smaller scale operation or put an aircraft up.”

Jackson said from July to August is when you really see an increase of freshwater mosquitoes that use any standing water as a breeding ground.

As those later summer months bring more rain and flooding potential, it also brings conditions for these buzzing, potential disease-carrying pests to multiply.

These insects can also travel great lengths in their short life span. Jackson said if winds are right, mosquitoes that originate in western Cape Coral could make their way out to Alva or even LaBelle.

“They’re strong flyers,” Jackson said. “They can fly 30 to 40 miles just within their lifetime. They’ll stay in the area where they are if that’s where they’re getting their blood meals, but if the wind is pushing them and they move in, they’re going to.”

Jackson said there are 48 species of mosquitoes in Lee County, 10 of which are of “a nuisance or pest problem.”

Jackson said the species they study in terms of effects on humans come from freshwater areas. These are the mosquitoes capable of carrying disease such as West Nile or St. Louis Encephalitis.

“It’s usually freshwater mosquitoes and those mosquitoes that grow right around urban areas that tend to be a problem with disease,” Jackson said.

LCMCD uses sentinel chickens to help track the presence of mosquito-carried viruses.

They take to the ground and air to treat areas, and have even incorporated drones into their larvicide missions.

While the public can do little to combat saltmarsh mosquitoes, there are measures homeowners can take to help reduce some of the freshwater mosquito populations in the area.

“An important thing is to really keep up with their properties,” Jackson said.

Residents can drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flowerpots or any other containers where sprinkler or rainwater has collected. Empty and clean birdbaths and pets’ water bowls at least twice per week. Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that do not hold water.

“Look for those things that you don’t normally think of,” he said.

Jackson noted that even an empty bottle cap could serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“Anything that can contain water can grow them,” he said.

An innovative way LCMCD is working to combat the mosquito population is that for the first time ever, the district has released sterile male mosquitoes on Captiva Island that will mate with wild females, rendering them unable to produce offspring.

LCMCD used X-ray technology on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are a species capable of spreading dangerous diseases such as Zika, to sterilize them.

“That’s a major accomplishment,” Jackson said. “We’ll be monitoring it. This is a method we think could be very helpful in reducing those populations, especially because that particular mosquito has shown some resistance to chemical control we’ve used in the past.”

Jackson said it could take a few months to see how effective this practice can be in Southwest Florida.

“And if you’re noticing a larger-than-normal issue with mosquitoes, give us a call or go on the Website and make a service request,” Jackson said.

This summer, the LCMCD launched the Fight the Bite campaign. The public outreach effort provides information on how to make a service request, what to do at home, ways to protect pets and more.

“It also kind of outlines what we do in our district to protect the public,” he said.

For more information, visit www.lcmcd.com.

To submit a service request, visit online or call 239-694-2174.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj