Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Sept. 2, 2002

Local control expert gives advice about how to beat mosquitoes

By Lynda Jensen

Mosquitoes are creatures of habit, and there are several reasons why they are a menace, commented mosquito control expert Ed Meehan of Howard Lake.

A typical day

Mosquitoes get busy before sunrise, depending on the species, with a very active biting period just before dawn. Any angler can testify to this, Meehan said.

Once the sun comes up, mosquitoes usually hide in the grass.

The average mosquito can fly about 6 or 7 mph, and a breeze stronger than this will generally keep them at bay, he said.

About 8 or 9 p.m. at night, mosquitoes become active again because the temperature changes, he said.

They bite until about midnight, and then go dormant for about two hours, Meehan said. About 2 a.m., the pests will become active until dawn, he said.

Much of this schedule is dependent on temperature and moisture, since mosquitoes are very dependent on both of these factors, he said.

In fact, the cycles of mosquitoes are directly correlated to temperature and humidity.

A bad year for the pests corresponds directly to temperature and how wet the season is, since mosquitoes love it hot, he said.

This year is worse than the past five to 10 years, mainly because of the record rain falls, he said. "They love it," he said.

The pests emerge around Memorial Day, and tend to disappear about Sept. 1.

Temperatures lower than 60 degrees makes them lethargic, and lower than 32 degrees will kill them, he said.

Perfect disease spreaders

Mosquitoes are efficient at transmitting deadly diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, having done so for decades in the rest of the world.

The pests can actually continue developing viruses inside their bodies, which are initially taken from infected animals.

From there, they spread the virus freely.

Mosquito species are becoming more and more aggressive, he said.

Other countries pursue mosquito control vigorously for this reason, Meehan said.

"It's a public health issue everywhere else," he said.

Until recently in the US, people might have taken for granted a standard of living that enables them protection against mosquitoes that other countries lack

Something as simple as owning a home with good screen doors and windows, and having access to bug spray or other amenities makes a difference.

For example, many third world countries depend on rainwater as a source of drinking water.

This complicates the issue, leaving the problem of standing water and other related issues to solve.

Third world countries also do not benefit from controlled spraying, he said.

The season for mosquitoes is year-round most other places, such as Africa, and Mexico. In the United States, the season is year-round anywhere there is no frost in the winter.

Alaska summers are the worst, Meehan said, because that state does not regularly spray for the pests.

In Florida, "they hope they get December off," from mosquitoes, he said.

Florida has the most advanced mosquito control program in the world, since the state contains many bogs and other breeding grounds.

Lee County in Florida owns the following equipment for mosquito control: 13 twin engine planes, four to five helicopters, and 15 to 20 pickup trucks with mounted sprayers.

In the United States, mosquito control is generally mandated through the government in some form.

Meehan worked for decades with the government, designing mosquito control plans, as well as doing field work in the application process.

In fact, he started his career at the testing fields in Fort Belvoire, Md.

About 80 percent of his time has been spent travelling and giving seminars about mosquito control in the US and other countries, with the balance being used in applying what he teaches.

Meehan has given instruction in the following countries: Spain, the Philippines, Czechoslovakia, Brazil, Mexico, Britain, and South Africa.

Recently, he rewrote the application equipment history section of a manual for the World Health Organization. He writes regularly for magazines and other publications.

He has a patent for mosquito control equipment as well, which he obtained in the 1970s.

Not bad for a guy who started out as a young man, working for a small manufacturer of mosquito control equipment at Long Lake, Minn.

Meehan jumped into the business when the company, called London Fog, received a large government contract, and one thing led to another.

Spraying is safe, despite perceptions

Spraying for mosquitoes is still the best method known, and is actually much safer than most people think, Meehan said.

Larvicide (eliminating the larvae), which is done by using briquets, is helpful, but does not replace spraying, he said.

A common perception is that spraying is anti-environment. In reality, mosquito control experts are some of the most environment conscious people in the world, he said.

Less than one ounce of spray, or about a shot glass, covers one acre of land. Some sprays break down in the sun, or have an otherwise short life span, he said.

Some sprays are even safe enough to apply on drinking water, and modern technology offers an array of alternatives, Meehan said. Mexico uses this kind of spray a great deal.

"There are tons of worse chemicals under the kitchen sink," he said.

However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, he said. "You can't just spray willy nilly."

"The wrong way is to blindly spray," he said. Control experts would normally test to see if the spraying is needed in the first place, he said.

For example, if July is a dry month, the mosquito population may be low enough to skip spraying that month.

Some cities will always spray every Friday evening, regardless of what the need is, he said. This is a bad idea.

Experts generally test the area first, setting traps and making a determination of the tolerance bite count.

The bite count is done by testing how many mosquito landings and bites occur within one minute, while standing completely still.

The range is generally one to 10 bites per minute. For some areas, one bite may be too many, he noted. For others, more bites are tolerable.

For Minnesotans, the bite tolerance is usually two or three, he said. Other areas generally can withstand more bites, since they are probably used to more mosquitoes.

In the Salt Flats in Utah, as many as 50 to 100 bites have been counted there for a mosquito that breeds in salt water.

Trying to retire

At 62, Meehan was ready to retire this spring, but he is pulled into service as a consultant on a regular basis, he said.

Of course, the West Nile Virus has turned everything upside down in the US. "This is the first time the US has had a public health threat," he commented.

He lives in Howard Lake with his wife, Judy.

Are you raising mosquitoes? Here's how to cut down

"Don't raise the mosquitoes that bite you!" advises mosquito expert Ed Meehan.

A handful of simple tips and a walk-through of private property can cut down mosquito breeding dramatically, mosquito expert Ed Meehan said.

Literally thousands of mosquitoes can breed in a small yard, and items such as plugged eaves on houses can turn out the pests one after the other, he said.

In fact, standing water accounts for a good percentage of mosquito breeding grounds, as much as the traditional swampy area commonly associated with the problem.

Standing water may hold "rafts" of mosquito eggs, with 300 per raft, depending on the species. The eggs hatch every three or four days.

The simple action of disturbing the water will drown the rafts.

Meehan advises property owners to look for ornamental ponds, house cooler drains, as well getting rid of old tires, tin cans, bottles, jars, buckets, drums and other containers, or keep them empty.

Meehan also advises residents to check evaporative cooler for mosquito breeding and move cooler drain frequently. Rain water barrels should be screened and mosquito eating fish placed in the pond.

The following are additional tips to keep the number of mosquitoes down.

Top 10 list of home mosquito control

1. Empty, remove, cover or turn upside down any receptacle that would hold water ­ particularly old bottles and tin cans.

2. Change water and scrub vases holding flowers, or cuttings, twice each week, or grow cuttings in sand.

3. Discard old tires or store them indoors.

4. Screen rain barrels and openings to water tanks or cisterns. Seal cisterns not in actual use.

5. Repair leaky plumbing and outside faucets.They may cause standing water.

6. Connect open waste-water drains to a sewage system, or construct separate sump or leach lines.

7. Clean clogged roof gutters and drain flat roofs.

8. Fill holes in trees with sand or mortar, or drain or spray them, as required.

9. Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating fish.

10. Clean and drain evaporative coolers frequently.

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