Wet conditions this past year could result in a bigger problem with mosquitoes.
“All they need is water,” said Sherry Dawson, director of operations for the Mosquito Joe franchise of south-central Pennsylvania.
Heavy rain and snow melt has increased the risk of standing water and the opportunities for adult female insects to lay hundreds of eggs in surfaces as small as a bottle cap of water.
Those eggs need only a sustained temperature of 50 degrees or higher to hatch and develop into larvae, Dawson said. She said there were times last year when the mosquito index on the Weather Channel peaked at the extreme top end of the scale.
“We got a tremendous amount of calls,” Dawson said. Part of the service her company provides is to educate customers on the need to dump water that has collected in outdoor planters, grill covers, dog bowls or other open containers.
“They could all be a breeding source for mosquitoes,” Dawson said. “Toss the water out. Once they hatch, they look for blood so they can lay more eggs.”
Staff members with the Cumberland County vector control department are already pretreating known areas of standing water and past trouble spots, said Marcus Snyder, a public health technician.
“We are trying to take care of those areas early on so that they are more manageable,” he said. “It really depends on how much water we get during the warmer season. … What happens in the next couple weeks if the water sticks around or goes away.”
Like Snyder, Dawson and the staff of Mosquito Joe are treating properties before the insect eggs that survived the winter hatch.
Like mosquitos, tick eggs go dormant over the winter months. To become active, the eggs must warm to a consistent temperature of about 45 degrees, Dawson said.
She expects milder temperatures this winter may result in a greater tick population. Pennsylvania reported 10,000 cases of Lyme disease last year, but there is reason to believe the number of unreported cases may be 10 times greater because the symptoms resembles other diseases, Dawson said.
There is also the problem of detection. Ticks can be as small as a period or a dot when they first latch onto a host. The size of the tick increases as it gorges on blood.
Chances are more cases are going to be reported this year, Dawson said. “Ticks are not just in the woods. They are in the backyard. They wait for a host on tall grass, in tree lines and on shrubs. They just wait for you to brush by and attach.
“Make sure the lawn is cut. Remove bushes. Trim tall grass,” Dawson said. She suggested putting in a three-foot-wide gravel area between a yard and wooded area to deter ticks from crawling over. Both ticks and mosquitoes love shady spots in yards.
This year, vector control is participating in a statewide surveillance of ticks to track the life cycle of the pest to determine its most active stages, Snyder said.