The Zika virus is here in Florida. The first documented local transmission of the virus happened in late July, right in the middle of a particularly bad mosquito season. Did you know that places like Florida are extremely susceptible to mosquito borne diseases? Our typical mosquito season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Factors, such as El Niño, affect mosquito season because mosquitoes reproduce all year long! This is already the norm in some parts of Florida. So, conditions like El Niño can make mosquito season even worse. Without the dormancy period of a stronger winter, mosquito populations positively boom. This is what we are facing in 2016.
In the face of this threat, we’ve compiled some crucial information about mosquitoes to help our readers understand the possible impact of this year’s brutal mosquito season. Understanding the threat is the first step in defending yourself against it. We discuss the two broad categories of mosquitoes in Florida, various species of mosquitoes in Florida, and the impact mosquitoes have on human health. With the threat of Zika already confirmed in Florida, understanding mosquitoes has never been more important.
Two Types of Mosquitoes in Florida
Two broad categories of mosquitoes that exist in our area are permanent water mosquitoes and floodwater mosquitoes. These categories are based on how they lay their eggs. Permanent water mosquitoes, for example, require stagnant water to lay their eggs. Some local species of permanent water mosquitoes include Anopheles quadrimaculatus, Culex quinquefasciatus, and Mansonia dyari. Dry conditions are deadly to these mosquitoes’ eggs. As such, removing standing water will destroy their eggs and larvae. However, the other type of mosquito does not require standing water to lay its eggs.
The second category of mosquitoes, floodwater mosquitoes, can lay eggs in moist soil. Some local examples of these mosquitoes include Culex nigripalpus, Ochlerotatus taeniorhyncus, and Psorophora columbiae. These species’ eggs can withstand drier conditions and even need to dry out to hatch. They can even stay dormant through an entire dry season. Once the floodwater area fills with rain, the water sends a signal to the eggs that it is time to hatch. Then, they begin the standard mosquito life cycle. Ideal breeding grounds for floodwater mosquitoes include citrus groves, pastures, and swamp areas.
Does that sound like anywhere we know?
The Life Stages of Mosquitoes
There are four distinct life-cycles of a mosquito. First is the egg stage. Second, they become larvae, also called wrigglers. Wrigglers live in the water, and they require it to survive. They feed and store nutrition for the third stage, which is the pupa stage. Pupae are also aquatic based. They breathe air by touching the surface of the water. During this stage, they do not feed. Instead, they use the energy and nutrition stores from the larval stage.
After the pupa stage, mosquitoes emerge from the water as full adults. Surprisingly, mosquitoes generally feed on plant sugars. In fact, only females feed on blood. This “bloodmeal” is required for the breeding process. So, every time you get bitten by a mosquito, it is by a female who is trying to complete the development of her eggs.
Species that are Active in Mosquito Season
According to the Florida Medical Entomology Website, 80 species of mosquitoes exist in Florida. This is more than any other state in the United States. 33 of these species are considered pests. They cause problems for humans and domestic animals. Thirteen species of these mosquitoes are able to transmit disease to both humans and animals. To make matters worse, each individual species has a unique preference for blood meals, egg laying, the time of day they will fly, temperature during which they are active, and seasonality. This makes predicting their behavior difficult, especially with so many types of species.
The Health Impact of Mosquitoes
A Mosquito-borne disease is passed from mosquitoes to humans or animals. This includes domestic animals such as horses and dogs. This is especially important to know during mosquito season. In Florida, diseases that are more commonly passed from mosquito to humans include West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. Mosquitoes spread diseases in Florida that originate in different parts of the world. These include: chikungunya fever, dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, the Zika virus, and Rift Valley fever. Mosquitoes do not spread AIDS and HIV.
Mosquitoes also affect many domestic animals as well. Pet owners typically know that mosquitoes can cause a myriad of problem in their pets. These problems include dog heartworm, West Nile virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis. Because of this, it is crucial for Floridians to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart worms and the other various diseases spread by mosquitoes. Keep up with vet appointments and heart worm medications. While these aren’t fool proof methods, they can certainly help.
Types of Mosquitoes that Spread Disease
According to the CDC, the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are mosquitoes that are highly adaptable to urban environments. Aedes aegypti, specifically, is one of the most dangerous mosquitoes because it mostly feeds on humans and can survive our environment. Furthermore, these mosquitoes’ eggs are easily transported to other areas because they survive dry conditions. Both of these mosquitoes transmit dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika viruses. However, Aedes albopictus has not been a proven carrier of yellow fever.
St. Louis encephalitis is maintained in a cycle between Culex mosquitoes and birds. Eastern Equine Encephalitis is spread by Culiseta melanura. Birds are are also the source of infection for these mosquitoes. However, Culiseta melanura is only located in certain wooded swamp conditions. Mosquitoes also spread Malaria. According to the World Health Organization, Malaria is only spread by certain species of the Anopheles genus.
Stay Safe During Mosquito Season
Many of us don’t really think about how much of an impact mosquitoes can have on our health. In fact, with outbreaks few and far between in the United States, people often ignore mosquito-borne diseases. However, recent headlines concerning the Zika virus in Florida make it obvious that we must find ways to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Using a mosquito repellent is essential. There are even ways to help prevent mosquito breeding and lower the population of mosquitoes in the natural environment. We will explore the pros and cons of these methods in part two of our mosquito series.