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Fighting the Endless Skeeter War

John Moe

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Aedes aegypti
(U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
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Let's say you're planning an outdoor party this weekend or a backyard barbecue. Everything is in place. A perfect evening awaits. Then the unwanted guests arrive -- by the thousands. You can't stand those guys -- the dipterous members of the family Culicidae. You know, mosquitoes.

Weekend America's John Moe met up with mosquito expert Mike McLean, who works for the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District in Minnesota's Twin Cities area. In this man-mosquito war, it's important to know your enemy -- so Mike took John to an infested pond near Lake Phalen in St. Paul for a little skeeter primer.

Mike McClean: This site is actually fairly healthy, and there's a lot of things going on in it. There's tadpoles, for one thing. There's some dragonfly nymphs that are going to eat some of the larva, but if you look at the edge of this pond, it's dry. But there are millions of mosquito eggs sitting here waiting for this pond to stretch out and cover them.

John Moe: And then how does it work with the eggs? How long are the eggs just sitting there?

McClean: The eggs will sit there for seven years or maybe longer before they're flooded with water, so they're really well able to withstand drought. If you go through several years of really dry weather, there are a lot of mosquito eggs that are really viable and what happens is you get a lot rainfall in a summer and you can get three or four years of mosquitoes all hatching at once.

Moe: Can you arrange some sort of aerial DEET bombing to stop this from happening, Mike?

McClean: That would be tough, although when the mosquitoes are in the water we contract with seven helicopters that put a bacterium in the water, so the bacterium forms a sort of crystal in their mid-gut and tears them up from the inside out.

Moe: Yuck! So you've got a little bit of germ warfare going on.

McClean: That's right. Biological controls.

Moe: Now, I've been fighting mosquitoes since I was a kid using a method I like to call "slap my arm and cuss a lot."

McClean: Yes, a tried-and-true method.

Moe: I assume that you fancy people with your fancy technologies have had more breakthroughs than that. What is the cutting-edge in mosquito combat?

McClean: Well, for personal protection, you can't beat a mosquito repellant that has DEET in it. That's still the tried-and-true, it's been around for 40 or 50 years and it does a great job. You know, mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors. They're looking for a dark shape that's moving around in the evening. And if you wear something dark they're going to find you a little faster than if you wear light-colored clothing. So we always say, light colored clothing, a long sleeve for obvious reasons -- you know, the more barrier you put there, the less problems you're going to have. And then loose-fitting. Mosquito proboscis can bite through a T-shirt that's a little too tight. So you want to wear long, light and loose. Those are the three Ls. That's without the repellants.

Moe: And why, also, as long as I have you here -- when you're sleeping and they go into your ear and scream? Why do they do that?

McClean: Well, their wings actually give off a sound at a certain frequency, and a lot of times those wing beats serve as a way of attracting a mate.

Moe: They're looking for mates in my ears?

McClean: That could be, but I kind of doubt that. Each species has a wing beat that's a certain frequency and that's how they get together. That's how they don't confuse themselves one with another.

Moe: Realistically, you know, we're not going to wipe these things out. How close are we going to get to not being bit?

McClean: You know, you really have to learn to live with them to a certain extent. If we can keep the level down to where the average person can just enjoy themselves, maybe with a couple of swats here and there, then we're doing our job.

  • Music Bridge:
    Dead Weird Keks
    Artist: Global Goon
    CD: Family Glue (Audio Dregs)


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