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NUTS & BOLTS / PATRICK MOTT

How to Take a Bite Out of Mosquito Population

August 01, 1992|PATRICK MOTT

Ugly, grotesque creatures that rise out of murky pools of slime and fly through the night to suck blood.

Now that's what the mosquito-repellent people ought to put at the top of their ads if they want sales to skyrocket. None of this "they-don't-bite-they-don't-even-light" stuff. Let's recognize the little Draculas for what they are: the most loathsome form of life existing on earth today, apart from Charles Barkley.

God was on a coffee break when mosquitoes were created. Either that, or they're here solely for the purpose of keeping us honest by giving us a taste of what hell is like. Imagine it: an eternity of that horrible buzzing crescendo in your ear in the middle of the night. Year after endless year of useless swatting and hand waving. Torturous millennia of standing up to your nostrils in vats of calamine lotion.

Mosquitoes are filthy, rotten, miserable, evil, despicable little hellions. Every one of them deserves a slow, painful, exquisitely excruciating head start on extinction and, my friends, it's our duty as patriotic Americans to give it to them.

But to banish them from our picnics and barbecues forever, we must know our enemy. Just who are these Saddam Husseins of the insect world?

They're born in muck, they live fast and die hard, and they reproduce faster than a warehouse full of Xerox machines. Eggs are usually deposited in pools of stagnant water and hatch into tiny wormlike larvae. The larvae then pupate and finally turn into flying mosquitoes. A complete life cycle takes anywhere from 10 days to several weeks, depending on the species.

And, said Fred Beams, assistant manager of the Orange County Vector Control District, Orange County is home to at least 21 of those species.

We only have to worry about half of them, however--the female half. They're the ones who lay the eggs (as many as 1,000 during one lifetime), and to do it, they require a protein-rich diet. That means blood. Our blood.

So, how to wipe them out? Trapping them and pulling their little wings off individually before squashing them slowly in a vise may sound delightful but, alas, it's impractical. We're talking mosquito genocide here, and to pull it off we have to get 'em young. That means removing their breeding grounds.

The Vector Control District does that on a large scale, chemically treating such mosquito Disneylands as flood control channels and catch basins at street intersections--anywhere water is likely to accumulate.

On private property, however, some homeowners can be lax about dumping water from old tires, rain gutters, birdbaths, puddles, trash can lids, barbecues, lawn chairs and even empty cans (Beams said about 700 mosquitoes can breed in a water-filled coffee can in two weeks during the hot summer months).

Even swimming pool water, if left unfiltered and untreated with chlorine for as little as two weeks "becomes a swamp," said Beams, forming algae, which is tantamount to a huge mosquito condo.

And, said Beams, once the mosquitoes grow into actual flying, buzzing, ravenous dive-bombing blood-suckers, commercially available insecticides don't do much good.

"Even we don't try to control them in the adult stages," said Beams. "It's just not cost-effective. We try to get them in the immature stages."

Don't want to drain the ornamental fish pond? Beams said the Vector Control District can provide you with a handful of tiny mosquito fish--for free. Bred by the district in the millions, they feast on mosquito eggs.

But mosquitoes, like the devil himself, are tenacious, and can breed and attack your weenie roast from Command Central--a neighbor's coffee can. And what attracts them?

"Only one thing attracts them in large amounts, and that's carbon dioxide," Beams said. Anything, he said, that results in more CO3acts like a magnet: respiration, size of skin pores, moving around vigorously. Mosquitoes also may be more attracted to women than men, to dark clothing and to perspiration and perfume.

At that point, you may not be able to kill them but, said Beams, commercially available repellents are usually effective in keeping them away.

There may, however, be bad news on that front for Californians: The state, said Beams, recently canceled the registration of the chemical known as EEET, the principal ingredient in all of the major repellents, because it was found to cause a rash in some users.

Repellents containing EEET are still available, but Beams said the stock likely will be depleted by next summer. And he isn't sure whether a new, effective chemical is being developed.

Personally, I'm optimistic. Surely the chemical company guys hate mosquitoes just as profoundly as the rest of us. Also, if they're in the market for a catchy product name, how about Wooden Stake? They can even use the first line in this story for the TV ads if they like.

And I'll waive my usual immense reprint fee in exchange for a lifetime supply of the stuff.

How Do You Rate as Mosquito Bait?

Appetites vary among the world's 3,000 mosquito species, but most have an appetite for blood and a keen sense of where to find it. Mosquitoes love warm, moist, moving bodies. They also love carbon (a byproduct of breathing) and favor dark, non-reflective clothing. The female hormone estrogen attracts mosquitoes, but they find the insecticide pyrethroid deadly, according to the American Mosquito Control Assn. Men Sitting Still Breathing: 1 point Women Moving Around Warm Body Wearing Cologne/Perfume Wearing No Repellant Wearing Dark Clothes: 2 Points Perspiring Vigorous Movement: 3 Points

Source: American Mosquito Control Association

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