The storm washed the bloodsuckers away, but they'll be back.
SARASOTA – Hurricane Irma brought good news and bad news to Florida’s mosquito killers. The good news: Wind and floods flushed entire populations into oblivion. The bad news: Replacements will soon be boiling out with a vengeance.
“What we’ll get is a reprieve for about a week,” says Matt Smith, director of the Sarasota County Mosquito Control District. “There will still be mosquitoes, but there won’t be any major problems until this weekend at the earliest. We should start seeing the numbers beginning to spike on Monday.”
Smith, who pulled mosquito-containment duty on the northern Gulf Coast during hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005, says those with the most to worry about are rural-area residents and the first responders charged with restoring stability to remote locales. That’s because saltwater marsh species are especially aggressive, especially to those in unsheltered positions.
“For people in rural areas who are trying to fix their houses, or if you have a really bad situation where people are displaced and living in tents, and for emergency crews working in areas where they’re exposed all the time, it’s going to be rough,” says Smith. “The mosquitoes we’re talking about here are not disease vectors, but they tend to hatch all at once.
“So you’ll have this gigantic population boom, and they’ll be very ferocious because they’re all competing for resources, for 'bloodmeals.' Those are the ones you’ll see out east in the county and places like that.”
After regaining power late Tuesday afternoon, Sarasota Mosquito Control was up and running Wednesday, with technicians busy surveying debris-cluttered trails leading to traps installed around known breeding sites. Unlike last year, no Zika virus reports have cropped up locally, and Smith anticipates no problems with that much publicized affliction. Other blood-sucking carriers of diseases such as St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile virus reached their high-water mark in June, when 13-inch rains ended a protracted spring drought.
“We had a big spike after they started laying eggs in the early summer because the drought killed a lot of their natural predators,” Smith said. “So we saw a statewide boom early on, but when the predators started returning the numbers began going down.”
For the immediate future, Smith recommends homeowners continue to maintain due diligence by emptying standing water in bromeliads and other tight small containers. That’s where bloodsuckers like Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus – potential disease carriers – like to perpetuate themselves.
“You need to check your yards at least twice a week, especially after a storm, because they blow things around and create new containers you didn’t have before,” he says. “If we can keep those mosquitoes to a minimum by checking our yards, that will further diminish the Zika threat.”