The Problem in the Fight Against Mosquito-Borne Illness and How Local Residents Can Make a Healthy Impactful Difference

Kathy LaFollett
Mosquito larvae do well in the collected water spots hidden in the dense palm fronds.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Florida’s buzzing molesting mosquitoes. It’s always mosquito season. They thrive in the mangroves, bogs, lakes, ponds, thick undergrowth, and darkly cool damp spots that are in abundance. Florida not only has 2550 miles of exterior and intracoastal shores, we’ve got untold miles of interior waterways, pools, canals, and lakes. And we don’t have winter. If mosquitos designed a lifestyle, they’d have designed Florida. In cahoots with Noseeums, most likely.
Adult mosquitoes live an average of two weeks. Their larvae take 8-10 days to fly.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Mosquitoes and their larvae are an important food source for bats, birds, frogs, lizards, turtles, and fish. Their numbers sufficient to feed the local wildlife well while supporting their own lifecycle. Until we broke the symbiotic lifecycle through over-development, pollution, insecticides, pesticides, golf courses, lawns, non-native landscaping, and waterway’s de- and reconstruction. We drained a swamp, dammed it, and filled it with invasive snakes that took the mosquito eating animals. We created canals to control the water that created areas of stagnant overgrowth that favor the mosquitos with dwindling predators. Florida originally had a river of grass large enough to span the state and create a thriving, balanced, ecosystem quite capable of handling it’s insects. We spray to kill the adults while educating the DNA of their larvae to resist the sprays next round. We destroy the natural Florida plants that were repellant by nature. We scratch our heads and gripe, demand action, and read headlines containing words like battle, win, war, disease, and infestation.
Larvae in various stages of growth. In these stages, they are a rich easy source of food for fish, frogs, turtles, and birds.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

And now, a new mosquito has arrived to live its best life in Florida, Culex lactator. If the name rings a bell, it was Culex that carried West Nile. Florida is a beacon of lifestyle choice for non-native mosquitos. There’s a headcount of 17 named Invasives. We’re a homestead for the local species breeding with the Invasives creating all kinds of new problem carriers. Why, if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was the bug’s fault. It isn’t. If you follow scientists and their studies, you’ll understand the battle isn’t with nature, it’s with us. Lary Reeves, assistant professor @FMELUF, and mosquito whisperer, on Twitter @BiodiversiLary, fills his feeds with mosquito science facts.

Mosquitos aren’t just biting humans. If you love a dog in Florida, you’re investing in flea, mosquito, and heartworm treatments. Mosquitos bite manatee. They bite just about any creature that has available exposed hide or skin leading to blood. We forget that the imbalance created by us affects everything. Balance is hard for humans because humans rationalize their reasons for doing anything into personal favorable context. We just can’t say no to ourselves. Zika, West Nile, Eastern equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. Eight months ago, Miami-Dade Country reported its 1st Dengue Fever case. In December they reported their 43rd. We’ll have to wait until July this year for the next numbers report.
Pesticides, from personal backyard to industrial golf courses, are adding up in a bad equation.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Counties are spraying pesticides and poison creating speed bumps that create more problems for the future, including more mosquitoes more immune to the poisons. The naled and Bti targeted aerial spraying Zika carrying mosquito Aedies aegypti, interrupted the virus transmissions in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in 2017. It also harmed the environment. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, noted then that compared with other insecticides, naled can be harsh on the environment. “It is more environmentally disruptive than the other pesticides that we use,” Schaffner told ABC News in 2016, saying that it doesn’t biodegrade as quickly as other insecticides. “It’s not used in the EU, and it’s generally used in very restricted circumstances.” Alas, the 2016-2017 Zika spraying was extreme and not very restricted. It made an impressive income for a few people. Federal funding has always been helpful that way. Humans have a hard time saying no to themselves. Science and politics have been the real war zone for years. In 2022 the CDC announced a travel warning for Zika in an area north of Miami. Mosquitos infected fifteen people with the virus, four of which were within the same 150-square meter area. Basically, the size of a single-family ranch house.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedman admitted in conference at the time that “aggressive control measures are not working as well as we would like. The mosquitoes could be resistant to the pesticides being used, or the mosquitoes could be hiding in what we call ‘cryptic’ breeding places that are hard to find, like very small amounts of water where they can hatch … The Aedes aegypti (the mosquito responsible for spreading the Zika virus) is a really tough mosquito to control.” That was June 15th, 2022. The war rages on.
The word “pesticide” comes from pestis (#scourge) and carder (#kill).Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Floridahealth offers a UF/IFAS FMEL pdf guide just for homeowners. They preface in the document:

Homeowners who actively participate in reducing mosquitoes around the home can help decrease pesticide use, reduce the risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases, and help ease the financial burden to local governments who are responsible for area-wide control. Modern mosquito control for the homeowner has to be an integrated pest management (IPM) program, utilizing a combination of methods that emphasizes source reduction, eliminating areas where mosquitoes thrive whenever possible. Surveillance for mosquitoes is required prior to the application of any insecticide to determine whether or not an application is necessary. Deterring certain mosquitoes can be accomplished by individuals through the use of screening, sanitation, and other techniques described in this document. The methods recommended in this publication are particularly effective in reducing mosquitoes that transmit diseases. Ultimately, homeowners who take responsibility for identifying and eliminating sources of mosquito production around their homes and neighborhoods will advance the health and quality of life for all Florida residents.

Meanwhile, the over 1250 golf courses in Florida are so high in pesticide that some studies consider them a health risk while playing the game. “The highest single HQ (hazard quota) for a golf course was found in Florida at 40,806. While the region with the highest average hazard quotient was U.S. Northwest at 13,696, with the lowest found in Norway and Denmark at 64. In East Texas and Florida pesticide greens represented the greatest risk, but in all other locations fairways had the highest HQ. Fungicides posed the greatest health risk in Florida, the Midwest, Northeast, and Norway, while herbicides filled this role in East Texas, the Northwest, and Denmark. Insecticides posed the greatest risk for golf courses in the UK.”

Thankfully, there are more residential homes than there are golf courses. Homeowners, apartment renters, condo owners can all make a defining difference. There are effective balanced ways we can normalize mosquito populations in and around our homes. There is no fighting the problem. There is no beating ‘them’. There is only correcting the balance problem locally and personally. Not everything is a battle or war to win or lose. Wildlife needs mosquitoes as a food source. They are integral to several species that we are trying to protect. Cutting off their food supply or poisoning their environment and their food supply gets little but leaves behind big problems. Poisoning local fauna and wildlife is not collateral damage in the war against mosquito-borne diseases. It’s a sales pitch, and a rotten one at that.

It’s the simple, consistent steps that don’t harm the environment that create places where nature can get a toehold onto balance. Balance here can affect the imbalance there.

We as individuals can make a difference without making more problems.
Standing water is a larvae favorite spot.Photo byAdobe Express Pro
Planters and forgotten garden containers are terraformed by nature with great success.Photo byAdobe Express Pro
  • Eliminate standing water. Regular emptying, cleaning, and refilling of birdbaths, wading pools, and plant saucers.
  • Turn parts of your lawn into natural Florida-scape using the plants and aggregate that naturally repel mosquitoes.
  • Keep gutters clear to minimize potential mosquito habitats for larvae.
  • Replace lawns with mosquito repellant beds of citronella, catnip, lemongrass, rosemary, marigolds, and lavender. Strategically place these plants near outdoor seating areas. Create a mosquito-free environment while creating living spaces for small mosquito predators and food for pollinators.
  • Protection from mosquito bites, especially for individuals who seem to be bitten more frequently than others, can be a challenge. Body heat, odor, bacteria, carbon dioxide output, dark clothing, pregnancy (pregnant women exhale more carbon dioxide than not pregnant women), and blood types (mosquito favorite O, least favorite, A), and certain scents can make people more attractive to mosquitoes. Make yourself less attractive to mosquitoes using this list.
  • Use insect repellent containing lemon eucalyptus, peppermint oil, lavender oil, tea tree oil, and citronella, while avoiding mosquito activity around dawn and dusk. Duly note, you apply essential oils directly to the skin without first diluting with a carrier oil, such as almond, jojoba, or coconut. Test a small area before applying over larger areas.
  • Wildlife plays a crucial role in regulating mosquito populations. Encouraging mosquito-eating species to inhabit local ecosystems can significantly contribute to controlling mosquito populations. Install bat houses, bird feeders, and create backyard habitats for frogs, lizards, and fish to support these natural predators. Our patios, planters, gardens, yards, and porches are the frontline for better land, water, and resource management to give nature the toehold needed to bring balance forward. Every choice we make can be a benefit. Ripples of results that set off ripples of success, creating balance.
  • Harness the power of your HOA or neighborhood community groups to work together as a whole, creating a concerted community effort. If an entire neighborhood changes in concert, the entire neighborhood will reap the benefits faster. This includes the wildlife that lives in your area.

Globally, mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths each year than any other animal, including sharks, snakes, and alligators. These global statistics are not the state of affairs inside the United States.

There are facts about mosquitoes that can give us the edge to put them back in their balanced place nature intended:

  • Only female mosquitoes bite: Both male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar, females require a blood meal to lay their eggs. Male mosquitoes do not have the mouthparts to bite.
  • Mosquitoes can detect a host up to 150 feet away by the carbon dioxide, and other chemicals exhaled.
  • Mosquitoes have been around for 100 million years and survived major extinction events. There is no getting rid of them. Only balancing their natural lifecycles.
  • The lifespan of a mosquito varies depending on the species. Most adults live for only a few weeks.
  • Mosquitoes have preferences for certain humans more than others. Blood type, body odor, skin bacteria, Carbon Dioxide output, and clothing color all come into play.
  • Mosquitoes can fly in light rain and can lay eggs on the surface of standing water in a rainstorm.

Evolution created a specialized, special dinner serving species. We can use that to our advantage without harm. That means we’ll have to work together honestly, accept a level of normal mosquito numbers, create a health and wellness system for the small number of viral cases, and create environmental laws and practices geared for long term environmental health and balance. That’s the real battlefield. Not the bugs in the backyard.

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Florida author, speaker, and wildlife/companion animal advocate writing about life in the Sunshine State from my cityscape, St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, FL

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