‘It’s unreal. You can’t stand still.’

An explosion of mosquitoes that spawned after heavy rain, heat has made working, playing outside miserable, prompts runs on bug spray

IN AN ATTEMPT to enjoy the outdoors while avoiding the swarms of mosquitoes that have invaded the area with the hot weather and recent flooding, Toni Schwartz doused her granddaughter Zoey Unti, 3, with repellent Saturday when they visited Waubedonia Park in Fredonia. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The recent warm weather and blue skies have created picture-perfect, balmy days to close out summer — but appearances can be deceiving.

Just ask anyone who spends any time outside and they’ll all tell you the same thing.

“It’s horrible,” said Kevin Zirbes of Nate’s Lawn Maintenance in Belgium.

The culprit, as anyone who has stepped outside recently knows, is mosquitoes. While the pesky insects emerge every year, the August flood and persistent rain have seemingly created swarms of the biting bug.

“Heat and water equal mosquitoes,” said Andrea Diss-Torrance, invasive forest insects program coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“When you get flooding and puddles and ponding, water gets in everything that will hold it, and the mosquitoes get in and breed — voilá, we have tons of mosquitoes.”

Stores can’t keep repellent on the shelves, and parents are lamenting the fact they can’t send their children outside on these otherwise beautiful summery days. 

Runners and other athletes are feeling the effects as well.

“It probably looked like I was doing a dance during the halftime talk,” Port Washington High School soccer coach Sean O’Brien said of the Sept. 13 game. “It’s unreal. You can’t stand still. We’re bundled up on the sideline — eyes visible, that’s about all.”

The football field at Cedar Grove-Belgium High School was sprayed last Friday morning to try and deal with the pests, but coach Dan Schreurs said it didn’t help. He called on some outside help to deal with the bugs.

“At halftime, the fire department brought in some of their big fans and put them on our sideline,” he said. “That pretty much blew them away from us.”

Dave Didier of the Port Washington-Saukville Rotary Club decided to spray around the beer garden area in Upper Lake Park last Saturday to keep the bugs at bay and customers coming. 

“I figured it couldn’t hurt,” he said. “I didn’t want people to say, ‘It’s going to be nuts’ and stay away.”

It seemed to work, he said.

“We sold a lot of beer,” Didier said. “We didn’t do any worse than last year.”

Zirbes said he’s been buying repellent wherever he can find it to help protect his workers.

“Everyone’s out of it,” he said, adding he was lucky Tuesday to stop at Drew’s True Value just after the store restocked its shelves.

He’s also bought some nets for workers to wear over their heads, Zirbes said.

“Whatever we can do,” he said. “It’s just really buggy.”

Diss-Torrance said people need to eliminate breeding places as best they can by removing anything that can hold water — everything from watering cans to puddles and birdbaths and watering cans. Even plastic covers for grills and garbage bags can sag and hold water, creating a breeding ground.

Areas of standing water such as ponds can be treated with products containing Bti, a natural larvicide that controls mosquito larvae for as long as 30 days but is harmless to people, pets, birds, fish and other wildlife, she added.

Both male and female mosquitoes dine on nectar, but only the females bite, Diss-Torrance said. They need the protein in blood to make eggs. 

According to the Purdue University Department of Entomology, each female lays as many as 400 eggs after a blood meal, and those eggs may hatch in less than three days. If temperatures are ideal, the eggs hatch and mature into adult mosquitoes in as few as 10 days.

Mosquitoes have a number of predators, including bats, swallows, martins, panfish, but at times like this, there aren’t enough out there to make a difference, Diss-Torrance said.

She recommended people wear shirts with long sleeves and pants with socks thick enough to prevent mosquitoes from biting through them. The biting bugs are attracted to dark colored clothing, so she recommended wearing light, bright clothes.

“Any skin that’s exposed they’ll find,” Diss-Torrance said. 

But even covering up won’t stop skeeters, Diss-Torrance said.

“They’ll find where it’s folded against you and go right through,” she said.

Repellents with 30% DEET or more are suggested, and can be sprayed on skin or clothing, Diss-Torrance said.

“If it’s really horrible out, I like mosquito clothing,” she said. 

Mosquito clothing covers much of the skin, has a hood with a mesh screen to cover the face and mesh panels to help keep the wearer cool, and can be found in outdoors stores, she said.

“Working in the garden with these things is really helpful,” she said. “It’s cooler than a lot of other options.”

Pets should also be kept in screened areas to protect them from mosquitoes, Diss-Torrance said, adding veterinarians can also recommend repellents for animals.

If you do get stung, pharmacists can recommend treatments for the bites, she said. Natural treatments such as aloe can also be used.

West Nile disease can be transmitted by mosquitoes, but the odds of being infected are relatively small. The DNR estimates only 80% of people infected never experience symptoms. Most of the remaining 20% will experience relatively mild symptoms, with less than one percent or one of every 150 people, becoming seriously ill. There has not been a case of a person infected with the disease in Ozaukee County this year, and only two confirmed and four suspected cases in the state, according to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

Even as they continue to swat at the skeeters, people can take some solace in the fact that mosquito season doesn’t last forever, Diss-Torrance said.

“As soon as it gets cool again, we’ll get a respite,” she said. “And remember — these aren’t yellow jackets.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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