By Elmer Gray
As January transitions to February, few of us are thinking about mosquitoes and the multitude of problems they can cause when spring arrives. But with January rain totals well above normal across the Southeast, it is a good time to take inventory of where standing water is holding and what can be done to eliminate it.
All mosquitoes require standing water for their larval and pupal stages to develop. As a result, any standing water that can be eliminated now is one less site where pest populations can develop when temperatures warm in the coming weeks.
Georgia is home to at least 63 species of mosquitoes, a significant number for one state. The many mosquitoes are due largely to the wide range of habitats across the state, from mountains in the north to marshes and swamps in the south.
In the central and northern areas of the state, most mosquito populations will not become active until the warmer days of late February and March. In the more southern and coastal regions, some mosquito activity can occur nearly year-round, although the December 2022 freeze surely inhibited mosquito activity across the entire region.
However, mosquitoes are highly adaptive and one cold snap will do little to impact populations later this spring. Most mosquitoes overwinter as eggs that will not hatch until warmer temperatures, increased daylight and appropriate wetting conditions are present. Some mosquitoes overwinter as adults and spend the colder days of winter hiding in protected areas like catch basins, storm drains, culverts, barns and sheds.
No matter how they overwinter, everyone can take precautions during the winter to help prevent pest populations later in the spring. Take notice of what items and areas may collect standing water and try to eliminate the site. Source reduction — the elimination of standing water — is one of the key premises of an integrated pest management approach to mosquito control, along with education and communication, surveillance, larviciding and adulticiding. By eliminating standing water now, we reduce the potential need for pesticide applications later, protecting pollinators, preserving pest susceptibility and saving money.
Anyone can work toward eliminating standing water on their property and in their communities. Start in your yard by picking up items blown around this winter, emptying buckets and other containers, making sure all tarps and covers aren’t harboring pockets of water, recycling unused tires, and making sure any trays or dishes under last year’s potted plants are empty.
While doing this, try to eliminate items that are not being used or reposition items such that they won’t hold water in the coming months, as March is typically our rainiest month of the year. On a larger scale, clear drains, ditches and downspouts so drainage infrastructure is operating as designed or contact your local governmental agency about sites that could be potential habitats.
Peak mosquito season is a long way off, but the rainy season is here. A little work today can give us the head start we need to enjoy a less pestilent spring.