Mosquitoes, they are some of the worst party crashers that can ruin your barbecue or pool party in no time flat. They are some of the most prevalent household pests and can turn your summer fun and outdoor activities into itchy, annoying torture. What’s more, they can carry diseases, some that are quite serious and even deadly. So how do you control mosquitoes? How to get rid of mosquitoes in your yard or home effectively? Where do mosquitoes live and what attracts them to your yard? Do mosquito control services really work? You will find these answers and more in this helpful guide.
What are Mosquitoes?
Most people don’t connect mosquitoes to any specific class of insects. In fact, the mosquito’s closest cousin is the midge fly. Mosquitoes are part of the superfamily Culicoidea which falls within the order Diptera . Flies and gnats are insects of this order, meaning that mosquitoes are actually flies.
Mosquitoes are small insects with an appearance that most closely resembles a midge fly. In most species, the females are ectoparasites, meaning that they live outside of their host, like fleas or ticks. There are more than 3,000 known species of mosquitos although there are only three species that have been identified as vectors of human disease: Anopheles, Culex, and Aedes. There are only 150 species that are found in the United States.
All species of mosquitoes have one pair of wings that are scaled and a pair of small, dumbbell shaped organs behind the wings, called halteres. They are very small, typically less than 15 mm in length. They have a round head, three pair of long legs, and a slender body which gives them a delicate or fragile appearance. However, they are very resilient and hardy insects .
Both the female and male mosquitoes feed on plant juices, nectar, and honeydew as their sustenance for life. Female mosquitoes are the biters, seeking out blood meals from animals and humans. This blood meal is necessary in order for her to produce eggs . So when a mosquito is biting you, it isn’t just being an annoyance, it is using your blood to create and nourish their young to bring even more mosquitoes into the world.
Adult mosquitoes are not very adept flyers and are rather slow when compared to other insects. They reach speeds of only around 1 to 1.5 miles an hour. Their wings beat very fast, though, around 300 to 600 times a second which accounts for the annoying buzzing sound for which they are so well known .
Types of Mosquitoes
There are about 150 species of mosquitoes found in the United States. Not all carry disease, some species don’t bother humans, only biting birds, amphibians, or reptiles, and at least one species doesn’t even bite at all! Some species are only found in certain parts of the country while others are prevalent everywhere. The most common genera in the U.S. that are known vectors of disease are Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex. Each has distinct differences in egg, larval stage, and adult appearance .
- Aedes – This genus makes up approximately half of the North American mosquito population. Most of the species do not require tropical climates, but actually thrive in cooler temperatures. Their eggs are quite hardy, withstanding harsh conditions such as cold or being dry for long periods of time. This is why there is often a surge in mosquito populations following heavy rains or flooding; the water has activated the eggs which hatch and grow into adults. The various species within this genus are known to be vicious biters and can be vectors for disease.
- Anopheles – At least one species of mosquito in the Anopheles genus can be found in every state in the U.S. with the exception of Hawaii. They are the easiest to identify because all Anopheles, regardless of species, maintain a slanted position while at rest. They were once linked to the transmission of malaria but that is rare in the U.S. now although it is still somewhat common in other countries.
- Culex – Species within this genus prefer tropical climates and only about 12 species are common in the U.S. Several prefer coastal areas and the Southeast, but at least one species, the Culex pipiens, can be found in every state. The females in this genus tend to bite late in the day, mostly at dusk or at night. They have been identified as carriers of several diseases like encephalitis.
- Culiseta – There are only about 8 species of this genus found in the U.S. They don’t mind cold weather, making them rather unusual. They have been known to come out of hibernation in southern states during the middle of winter when there are several warmer days. Adults tend to prefer animals over humans and have been linked to equine encephalitis.
- Mansonia – This genus tends to prefer tropical weather, so there is only one species that is of any real significance in the U.S. It is the Mansonia titillans and is found primarily in Florida.
- Psorophora – Around 15 species of this genus are in the United States, mainly in the south and east. Their eggs can go months without any moisture, withstanding a very dry environment. However, when there is rain, or a flood, they activate and hatch very quickly.
- Toxorhynchites – This genus is considered a minor genus that is found in the U.S. The most notable characteristic about this mosquito is that it does not bite. It does not seek a blood meal; both males and females live on fruit and nectar. Its larvae are very large, though, and eat other mosquito larvae.
Lifecycle of Mosquitoes
All species of mosquitoes go through four stages during their lifecycle . Each one is separate and distinct but knowing them and understanding them can help you considerably when you want to get rid of mosquitoes. The mosquito life cycle stages are:
While the adult mosquito is a flying (and biting – the females anyway) insect, the first three stages take place in water. The entire life cycle can take as few as 4 days or as long as 4 weeks, depending on conditions and environment.
The female mosquito bites a human, animal, bird, or reptile (some species have preferences) and obtains a blood meal. Once she has done this, she lays her eggs on the water or sometimes near it in soil or at the base of certain plants that might fill with water. The eggs hatch when they are exposed to water. The species of mosquito as well as access to food and water temperature all determine the length of time it takes for the eggs to hatch.
The larvae emerge from the hatched eggs. Also called “wrigglers,” mosquito larvae molt several times before reaching the next stage. In most species the larvae must come to the surface to breathe air; they cannot live underwater. They feed and live exclusively in the water as they grow and develop into the next stage of the life cycle.
The pupae grow from the larvae and are often referred to as “tumblers.” Like the larvae, they live exclusively in the water, but they do not feed. This stage can last anywhere from two days to a week.
The end of the pupal stage, and the beginning of the fourth stage of the life cycle begins with the emergence of the adult mosquito from the pupal case and onto the surface of the water. It then flies away, seeking a blood meal so it can begin its own life cycle .
Some adult mosquito species can live as long as 5 or months and an adult female can lay eggs as often as every 3 days. Most will stay near the area where they hatched but certain species, like salt marsh mosquitoes will fly great distances, some as much as 100 miles, to find a new home that offers suitable food and harborage .
Are Mosquitoes Beneficial?
Scientists have long researched the benefits of mosquitoes and their contributions to the ecosystem. The results have been inconclusive at best. While it is true that various very beneficial insects and animals, like fish, feed on the larvae and adult mosquitoes, there is no real proof that any ecosystem would necessarily suffer if they were removed. There is also no real proof that it wouldn’t. There are many things to consider. Chemicals that may be used to kill them could also kill useful organisms that would indeed upset the ecosystem’s balance as well as potential ramifications if mosquitoes were eradicated completely. Scientists are still studying the possible long term effects of a world without mosquitoes and weighing the costs (as known disease vectors – some deadly – the costs can be great) against the benefits.
What Causes Mosquitoes?
Adult female mosquitoes rely on body temperature, body odors, and exhaled carbon dioxide to find the hosts for their blood meals. They have an incredible range, detecting carbon dioxide from up to 75 feet away .
You can get many clues about what causes mosquitoes by looking at their life cycle. Any standing water, even if it is very small, like a tablespoon, is a potential nursery where the female mosquito can lay her eggs. This includes children’s toys, buckets, pet water dishes, the crotch of a tree, old tires, and puddles.
Areas with a lot of shade or thick foliage are also very attractive to mosquitoes. Lots of trees, thick bushes, tall grass, and abundant plants are all a perfect harborage for the insects. When you have a combination of standing water and dense foliage, you have prime conditions for an infestation.
Do Mosquitoes Bite?
The adult female mosquito bites. Male mosquitoes do not. The female requires a blood meal for reproductive purposes. She is equipped with a mouthpart called a proboscis. It is hollow, like a hypodermic needle. She uses the proboscis to pierce the skin of her host, at the same time injecting a little of her own saliva which has an anti-coagulating effect, then probes the area in order to find a capillary that will supply her with the blood she is seeking.
It is the saliva that causes the itchy, red bump, an allergic reaction. It is also how she can transmit diseases to her host, injecting it directly into the bloodstream 
It may seem that some people seem like mosquito magnets and there is scientific evidence that this may indeed be the case. Studies show that around 20 percent of people are more attractive to mosquitoes. There are several factors that could be the reason that mosquitoes prefer some people over others. They include:
- Blood type
- Carbon dioxide
- Substances expelled through sweat (lactic acid, ammonia, uric acid, etc.)
- Certain bacteria on the skin
- Alcohol and beer
- Color of clothing (red, dark blue, black)
Some people secrete natural mosquito repellants and scientists are studying this to see if they can replicate it . This would not only bring relief to those who are frequently bitten, it would also decrease the instances of mosquito transmitted diseases.
Do Mosquitoes Carry Diseases?
Omar Akbari, PhD calls mosquitoes the most dangerous animal in the world. He should know. He is an assistant professor of entomology at the Center for Disease Vector Research at the University of California Riverside. His reasoning for this alarming moniker is due to the mosquito’s propensity as a primary vector for several deadly and debilitating diseases in humans including dengue fever, malaria, encephalitis, and yellow fever, among others. According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting a mosquito borne disease .
There are several serious diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes:
- Malaria – not as prevalent in the U.S. as it once was, but sporadic outbreaks do occur. Returning tourists and illegal immigrants could lead to future outbreaks.
- Chikungunya – A virus based in the Caribbean, cases of Chikungunya have been found in the United States with 2 locally transmitted cases in Florida in 2014 and 497 travel related cases in 35 states.
- Dengue – Cases of locally transmitted dengue have been found in several southern states like Florida and Texas with at least one reported fatality (although Dengue is typically not fatal). It has also been reported in Hawaii and the Florida Keys.
- Yellow Fever – On the average 200,000 cases of yellow fever and 30,000 deaths are reported each year. These cases occur in 33 countries, including the United States, but not in Asia. In the U.S. it is usually travel related.
- Eastern Equine Encephalitis – Both humans and horses can be infected with this disease that is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is most prevalent in the freshwater swampland along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic states in eastern North America.
- West Nile Virus – This virus has been reported in states across the U.S. with several deaths including humans, horses, and birds. The virus has flu like symptoms, but other types that fall under that umbrella and are also transmitted by mosquitoes include West Nile meningitis and West Nile encephalitis.
- Zika Virus – As of April 28, 2016, all 426 cases of Zika virus that have been reported are travel related. There has been some concern that Zika infected mosquitoes could make their way into the U.S. but there have been no locally transmitted cases reported yet.
Mosquitoes can also cause Dirofilaria immitis, dog heartworm, which can be life threatening for dogs .
In horses, mosquitoes can transmit the deadly Equine Infectious Anemia, or “Swamp Fever.” This disease is fatal in most horses, but those that do survive carry the virus for life, meaning that if they are bitten by a mosquito they can transmit the virus to other horses.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published some very good information on how you can protect yourself againstMosquito Borne Diseases on their website.
How to get Rid of Mosquitoes
Getting rid of mosquitoes can be a little tricky considering they are able to fly and can move from someone else’s yard to yours. However, there are some methods that are quite effective in at least controlling mosquitoes in your yard.
- Citronella – These products have long been used to repel mosquitoes and when used correctly they are quite effective. They typically come in the form of a candle or torch and you burn them to keep away mosquitoes. They key is to get several and place them a few feet apart for maximum effectiveness.
- Screens or netting – By screening in outdoor areas or using netting, it creates a barrier between the humans and the mosquitoes. However, this is impractical for pool parties and barbecues.
- Fans – Mosquitoes are not good flyers so positioning a couple of fans on the perimeter of the area where people are gathering can create a barrier that they are unable to fly through. Do not position the fans so they blow across the perimeter, rather along it.
- Mosquito Traps – These can be very effective, but should be places on the far edge of the property, as far away from people as possible. The reason is that the traps attract mosquitoes so you don’t want to draw them into an area where people will be gathering.
- “Bug Zappers” – Like the mosquito traps, these devices attract mosquitoes so you want to place them on the edge of the property as far from people as possible.
- Lights that don’t Attract Mosquitoes – Mosquitoes are drawn to light but there are some light sources that they don’t respond to or that repel them: LED lights, yellow bug lights, and sodium lamps.
- Home Remedies to Kill Mosquitoes – There are many home remedies that people claim are good for getting rid of mosquitoes .
- Red Cedar Mulch – Many people use this for their yard or garden to not only beautify it but also keep mosquitoes at bay.
- Peppermint Oil – You can make a natural insecticide by mixing peppermint oil and water in a spray bottle.
- Garlic – Crush some fresh garlic and boil until you have a strong, garlicky reduction. Put in a spray bottle, add a little water if necessary, and spray in areas where you have mosquito problems.
- Insecticides that Kill Mosquitoes – There are over the counter insecticides that are marketed as killing and repelling mosquitoes, but the reviews on their effectiveness are mixed. If you do go with a pesticide, get one that EPA approved with an EPA registration number.
How to Prevent Mosquitoes
The best way to get rid of mosquitoes is to make your yard unappealing to them. Prevention is the key to preventing most insect infestations and mosquitoes are no exception [15, 16].
- Get rid of any standing water – A female mosquito can lay 200 to 300 eggs in the amount of water it takes to fill a soda bottle cap. Go through your yard and tip over all items that are holding water. If you are going to refill with fresh water, such as with bird baths and pet water bowls, scrub them well, especially just above the water line before refilling them. Items that may hold water include:
- Loose tarps
- Pet bowls
- Garden ponds
- Standing water in low lying areas of the yard
- Flower pot drip trays
- Bird baths
- Old tires and other items that can catch rain water
- Drip pan for your AC
- Gutters that may be clogged and holding water
- Children’s toys
- Keep trash containers covered
- Tree stumps and hollows in trees
- Boats, canoes, and kayaks (turn them over)
- Keep your grass cut
- Trim or remove bushes, shrubs, and overhanging trees
- Remove dense foliage or thin it out
Pest Control for Mosquitoes
Sometimes it is necessary to seek professional pest control services or products to treat your mosquito problem. There are pest control companies that offer mosquito services and they are somewhat effective. They key is frequent and regular application of the pest control product in order to maintain the effectiveness. This option also works best if your neighbors are also taking proactive steps to reduce mosquito populations in their own yards and using a mosquito control service as well.
There are DIY mosquito control products that are professional grade and they also work quite well. You will need a back pack sprayer or mosquito sprayer in order to maintain proper control. There are two products that are recommended to DIY pest control of mosquitoes: Bifen IT and Pivot – especially when used together or sold as a mosquito control kit. Many mosquito kits will not only kill and repel mosquitoes, but other common insects like ticks, fleas, and roaches as well.
If you choose the DIY mosquito control option, make sure that you wear the recommended apparel and safety gear and follow all safety guidelines and product instructions to the letter. Then you can enjoy your great outdoors mosquito free.
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