What do ponds, eavestroughs, bird baths and patio furniture have in common?
According to Mike Jenkins, all-around bug guy and a Pest Management Coordinator with the City of Edmonton, they’re all ground zero for one of the summer’s biggest nuisances, the mosquito. “The City of Edmonton and the mosquito have a storied history,” begins Jenkins. Developed by researchers at the University of Alberta in 1974, the Mosquito Control Program was one of the first integrated programs in Canada. “Instead of targeting adult mosquitoes with clouds of DDT, researchers targeted the mosquito’s more vulnerable larval stage,” explains Jenkins. Forty-seven years later, the City of Edmonton still targets mosquito larvae to significantly reduce populations via the robust ditch and ground control program. “By only targeting temporary habitats, there is minimal impact on the other species of insects ensuring that enough food remains for insect-eating birds and amphibians,” Jenkins adds.
The dragonfly effect
In addition to biological controls, the pest management team is always looking for innovative ways to reduce pests. “You may have noticed an absence of mosquitoes wherever you see dragonflies or bats. This isn’t a coincidence. For example, the dragonfly is a mosquito-eating machine and can eat hundreds each day,” Jenkins explains.
“Young dragonflies are called nymphs, and in that stage of their development they’ll eat pretty much anything, including mosquito larva,” adds Jenkins. With that in mind, shouldn’t we be able to breed thousands of dragonflies and release them into mosquito habitats? Not so fast, cautions Mike. “Raising dragonflies in captivity is extremely difficult—they can take up to five years to mature and need live food.” Thankfully, Mike and the pest control team have other strategies for allowing mosquito predators to flourish.
Healthy habitats, healthy populations
The City’s plan to improve the populations of dragonflies and other mosquito predators includes preserving wetlands and increasing naturalization around Stormwater Management Facilities. Naturalization includes planting native trees and shrubs, and stopping mowing to allow native plants, birds and other wildlife populations to re-establish themselves. “If we work to re-establish natural habitats, mosquito-eating animals will return and help keep populations in check,” Jenkins explains.
Naturalizing areas around Stormwater Management Facilities allows for the development of vegetation such as reeds and cattails that are very attractive to dragonflies and other mosquito predators. “Dragonflies aren’t the only animals that feed on mosquitoes—amphibians, birds, and bats also aid control initiatives if allowed to thrive in their natural ecosystems. In short, if we can create diverse, ecologically-responsible habitats where mosquito predators can flourish, then they will!”
You can read more about naturalization at edmonton.ca/Naturalization and learn how we control mosquitoes in this video:
Mike’s tips to fight the bite
Over the last few years, Mike and the Pest Management team have observed a new, opportunistic species of mosquito. “Most of our mosquitoes are floodwater species that depend on rain or melting snow to inundate eggs laid on the edges of ponds,” Jenkins explains. “However, this new species of mosquito, named Culex pipiens, can lay eggs right on top of very temporary water like eavestroughs, bird baths and even in pooled water on patio furniture,” continues Jenkins. As this new species of mosquito becomes increasingly common, Mike recommends limiting their egg-laying real estate by ensuring surfaces and containers stay dry. Remember: if it can hold water, even for a short time, then mosquitos can lay eggs in it!
Mike also recommends avoiding mosquito hotspots during dusk and dawn, such as in long grass or near shaded bushes. Edmontonians can also fight the bite by using a repellent with DEET and covering skin with long sleeves and pants.
You can find more information on The City of Edmonton’s Mosquito Control Program at edmonton.ca/MosquitoControl.
Editor’s note: The pic at the top of the post shows Mike Jenkins searching for mosquitoes hiding in the reeds and cattails. This vegetation is also an ideal habitat for mosquito predators like dragonflies and amphibians.