Bugs

We won’t just talk about bugs, but also all mosquito eating wildlife and the different types of mosquitoes.

 

Mosquito Eaters

Mosquito eaters are simply the kinds of wildlife that feed on mosquitoes. Even though mosquitoes don’t have any one natural predator that threatens the species, there are many types of animals that feed on them.

Long before humans began relying on pesticides or other modern conveniences, using natural control, like predators, infected-mosquitowas one of the few weapons in the war on mosquitoes. Now that it is becoming clear that pesticides have such severe ecological drawbacks, both for humans and wildlife, it is important to know what kinds of wildlife can help reduce mosquito populations.

Just as organic gardeners use beneficial insects to control garden pests, these mosquito eaters help to control mosquitoes.

Some have more of a reputation for being mosquito eaters than is warranted, in other
cases, the label is a fit.

Here are just a few of the more common mosquito eaters:

BIRDS

There are many types of adult and juvenile waterfowl that eatmosquitoes. And quite a few species of migratory songbirds do also. The most common bird reputed to eat mosquitoes is the purple martin.In reality, purple martins eat few mosquitoes. Instead, one of their relatives, the tree swallowis a much more voracious mosquito eater. They are the avian equivalent of the gardener’s beneficial insect, when it come to home mosquito control.Tree swallows are native to most of the United States and Canada, except for the Southeastern United States.

Keep in mind though, that birds are a mosquito’s favorite dining target. Some mosquito species will choose a bird for feeding before choosing a human. The problem is that mosquitoes outnumber both birds and humans, and feed on both. And, some birds are an integral part in the transmission of some types of encephalitis. On the other hand, unless you live in an area completely without trees and vegetation, you couldn’t keep birds out of your yard if you tried.

BATS

Some people have touted bats as an effective means of reducing mosquito populations. While some bats eat mosquitoes, it depends on which bat species you have around your home. Bats normally consume 500-1200 insects an hour, but not that many are mosquitoes. The Large Brown Bat goes for bigger prey. They have a very fast metabolism and need lots of food. Mosquitoes are simply too small to meet their dietary needs. They prefer larger targets like moths, June beetles, and stink bugs(now there’s a plus.)

Little Brown Bats, on the other hand, will eat more mosquitoes, if they can find them. Mosquitoes are most active, generally, around dusk and dawn. While bats begin feeding then, they are more active after dark. At night, mosquitoes tend to hide in leaves and other vegetation, so the bats don’t find them. And, mosquitoes do not swarm, so finding a few is not enough to meet even this smaller bat’s food needs.

Some people have excessive fears about bat’s ability to transmit rabies. It is true that bats get the disease, but there have only been 15 bat related rabies deaths in the United States in the past 40 years. You are much more likely to find a rabid skunk. If you see a bat out during the day, avoid it. If you find a sick one, or a dead one, don’t touch it,just remove it with a shovel.

If you choose to install a bat house, be sure it is away from a dwelling, in full sun and about 15 feet off the ground. Just don’t expect that the bats you are encouraging to live there are going to make any real inroads in your mosquito population. If you have a bad problem with stink bugs, that is another matter!

AMPHIBIANS

Frogs and toads both feed on mosquitoes. Both beasts need a water source to breed, but frogs need to be in a moist environment at all times to keep their skin wet.

TOADS

live easily in drier environments and if happy, will stay in the same garden for up to 20 years. Both frog and toad tadpoles will also feed on mosquito larvae. A toad can consume up to 50-100 mosquitoes and slugs a night, and the average yard can support several toads. They are a care free way to add more mosquito eaters to your yard and garden.

FISH

If you have a pond or water garden, several types of fish are great mosquito eaters. They help by feeding on mosquito larvae. Mosquito fish are just one kind that will eat the larvae. You can also stock your pond with guppies, flathead minnows, shad, killifish, or small goldfish, which are all great mosquito eaters.

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BIOLOGICAL CONTROLS

Scientists and researchers are turning increasingly to finding natural, biological controls for reducing mosquito populations. Many species of mosquitoes are developing resistance to pesticides, causing more concern for their use. And, the harm to the environment is a growing reason not to continue using toxic chemicals.

It can cost up to 50 million dollars to develop new pesticides, and chemical companies are becoming more reluctant to expend so much on items that may not survive the government’s scrutiny. So researchers are looking for more natural biological weapons, like these.

Now scientists are taking a cue from organic gardeners and finding beneficial controls that parallel the helpful control activities of long used beneficial insects.

COPEPODS

What, you are thinking, is a copepod? Good question. Not your average wildlife friend. They are microscopic crustaceans. In other words, you can’t see them easily. They may be in ponds and still waters around your home, but you wouldn’t know it. Somewhat crablike in appearance, they are found in both ocean and freshwater
environments. Find out more about Copepods below.

FUNGUS

Certain types of aquatic fungus can cause certain death for mosquito lavae. Mushrooms, the garden types, are fungus also. And, just as they release spores that produce other mushrooms, these aquatic fungus produce spores to reproduce. When the larvae eat the spores, they rapidly reproduce killing the larvae in a matter of days. While perhaps not exactly mosquito eaters, these spores are great at destroying the larvae.

PREDATORY MOSQUITOES

One type of mosquito species, Toxorhynchites does not bite humans, but their larvae eat the larvae of other mosquito
species. This is best case scenario, mosquitoes that are mosquito eaters. Talk about beneficial insects!

PARASITIC NEMATODES

Nematodes are small, unsegmented worms that are found everywhere. Many live in soil, but some aquatic species are very effective as parasites that quickly kill mosquito larvae.As mosquitoes become more resistant to pesticides, we can hope to find more effective biological means like Bti, to combat the growing problems of mosquitoes and the diseases they spread.

Dragonflies

Dragonflies are so pretty and seemingly so harmless, . . . . but not if you are a mosquito.What a nice surprise to find that one of a mosquito’s fiercest natural predators is this colorful, graceful insect.Yet, they are voracious feeders whenit comes to mosquitoes. Even better,the adults prey on the flying adult mosquito and the larvae feed on mosquito larvae. The classic two for one special!

Like mosquitoes, dragonflies lay their eggs in standing water. When the larvae, known as nymphs, emerge they feed on the mosquito larvae likely to have hatched in the same place. The nymphs, unlike their parents, are anything but attractive. Despite their charming name, they are un-distinctive little insects, except for a large beak that they use to consume their prey.

Luckily, the nymphs can remain in the larval stage for up to three years. Mosquito larvae generally reach adulthood in a matter of days. So the nymphs can feed on many generations of mosquito larvae before leaving their watery home.

The adults feed primarily on mosquitoes, gnats and flies. In fact, their common name comes from the fact that they have large, crushing jaws that make them lethal opponents. Many people know them as mosquito hawks because they are such aggressive mosquito predators. And, as a plus, they also dine on many other garden pests that are less than desirable. Not usually classified as a “beneficial insect, they really are a great tool for making your outdoor life easier.

Dragonfly nymphs are commercially available, and while not inexpensive, their population will build over time, if a new batch is added each year. So, the expense is more than justified. And, the nymphs you raise are then available for mating with wild populations.

And, besides being truly beneficial insects, they are fascinating additions to your garden. Dragonflies will give you lots of reasons to find them a great addition to your outdoor living environment.

If you decide to invest in dragonfly nymphs, do not place them into water that has been treated with Mosquito Dunks or Mosquito Bits. The nymphs will also feed on the Bti and it will kill them along with the mosquito larvae. Instead, if you choose this route, keep one container just for the nymphs and put the Bti elsewhere.

If you are serious about taking action to get rid of mosquitoes, you should think about adding dragonflies to your mosquito arsenal. Few other mosquito predators are as effective, and you get to enjoy these fascinating gossamer insects in the process.

Now, On to Types of Mosquitoes

Predatory Mosquitoes

Imagine. . . predatory mosquitoes that feed on other mosquito larvae. Just the kind of mosquito you want around your home and patio, in your yard and garden. Toxorhynchites, while sounding like some long extinct type of dinosaur, is the species name for a non-biting mosquito.

Experiments with using them for a biological mosquito control come from two very important characteristics. First, they do not feed on blood, and second, their larvae are extremely aggressive feeders on the larvae of other species of mosquitoes.

They are also the largest species of mosquito, with some breeds having a wingspan of up to one inch. Instead of the straight, pointed beak, or proboscis, that biting species use to feed, this mosquito has a long beak that curves downward. Both the adult males and females feed on plant nectar. While the females need protein for egg production, just like other species, they apparently get it from the protein they consume in the larval stages.

There are 71 species found around the globe, most of them inhabit tropical forests. In the United States, they are mostly found in the South, but some have been located as far North as New York. They have been used as a successful biological control for mosquitoes in the Caribbean, Japan, South East Asia and the United States.

The adults are very poor flyers and breed in small containers, not in larger ponds or pools. In nature, they will breed in tree holes, or where available, man-made containers like tires, cans, and buckets. One toxorhynchite larvae can consume up to 400 other mosquito larvae before it reaches the pupae stage.

They generally feed on the larvae of other mosquito species, but will engage in cannibalism if food supplies are limited. And, for some reason, they go on killing binges right before they molt into pupae, and randomly kill lots of other mosquito larvae that they do not eat.

They can over winter in the late larval stage. They are very susceptible to toxic pesticides, and of course, Bti
will kill them also.

Dragonfly nymphs

A successful biological control program using these predatory mosquitoes depends on breeding and release programs. So far, they have not been found to establish themselves quickly in transplanted habitats, so repeated release is necessary. It is possible though, that as more is learned about this species, this flaw can be corrected. This mosquito has not been studied as thoroughly as the biting species, because they have never posed a health threat to humans. That is changing, now that toxorhynchites is viewed as a potential environmentally safe means of reducing biting mosquito populations with predatory mosquitoes.

Culex Mosquito

The Culex mosquito is found more often around the world than any other kind. It inhabits all continents, except Antarctica. It is most often found in urban settings and areas inhabited by humans.The female prefers to lay her eggs in polluted or stagnant waters. In fact, the presence of these mosquitoes is one way to test for the prevalence of this kind of water. Culex females are container breeders. They will lay their eggs in buckets, tin cans, tires, storm drains, unused swimming pools or birdbaths which hold stagnant water.

In fact, she will lay her eggs in septic tanks,even underground, and the larvae develop easily in this polluted environment. Her eggs are usually laid in rafts that float on the water.

Culex mosquitoes feed at night. She prefers to find food around structures, like homes, workshops and sheds. She will rest during the day in cool, damp spots, like under leaves, while her blood meal is digested. This cycle is usually repeated from 1-3 times before she will develop a clutch of eggs.

Before winter, the adults mate and then the female will build up body fat by eating carbohydrates, like plant nectar. She will then find shelter in a place where the temperature remains above freezing.

Her metabolism slows and she spends the winter in a state of hibernation until the weather warms. Then she will seek out a blood meal, and lay her eggs, repeating the bite and reproduction cycle.

Normally, their preferred hosts are birds. In some more urban areas, they will readily feed on humans. Culex mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus and several other encephalitic diseases. Because the female feeds on both humans and birds, these diseases spread quickly because birds are so mobile. In fact, public health authorities and research scientists test dead birds for these diseases as a means of tracking their prevalence. All in all, the Culex mosquito is one of our biggest mosquito kill challenges. Luckily, they respond well to the bait ofoctenol and carbon dioxide.

Copepod Mosquitos

What are these tiny beasts called copepods? They are pretty creepy looking, crablike crustaceans. And what does that have to do with mosquito kill? . . . Plenty! They may hold a lot of promise as a natural weapon in the war on mosquitoes.They are common in South Florida fresh waters, are microscopic crustaceans that may be a significant potential mosquito eater.

Copepods are not new to the arena of mosquito control, having been used in this way in Vietnam and Australia so far. Research into their mosquito killing capacity is ongoing not only in Florida, but in Thailand as well.

The most promising species is Macrocyclops albidus. Part of their name comes from the fact that they have only one eye. This copepod holds great promise as a superlative bio-control.

These aggressive little creatures will attack mosquito larvae, even when they are not in mood to eat them. The attack leaves the mosquito larvae weakened and then they die. In field tests, the hungry crustaceans reduced the mosquito population by almost 90%.

Their habitat requirements are very simple. Any standing water without chlorine will suffice. They can be cheaply bred in small containers, like kiddy pools and garbage cans and they reproduce at a phenomenal rate.

They are native not only to Florida, but in water sources around the world, which lessens concerns about disrupting eco-systems by the introduction of new species.

These crablike little creatures inhabit both fresh and sea waters and are an important food source for many fish and even some whales. In fresh waters, their habitat varies widely. They can be found in streams in temperate to tropical regions, and in lakes high in the Himalayas.

While they often float in the water waiting on food, they are capable of quite rapid propulsion. Many are particle feeders, but some species, like the ones being studied in Florida, are quite predatory.

They have very powerful jaws, which they use to tear pieces of flesh from their prey, like mosquito larvae and small fish. Oddly enough, they are not killed by the pesticides used to kill mosquitoes. While not advocating the use of pesticides, it shows just how hardy these tiny predators really are.

Commercial production has not yet begun, but rapid advances are being made. They can be used by governmental vector control agencies for treatment of large areas, like swamps, marshes, and large freshwater ponds.

They can withstand refrigeration, and can tolerate dry conditions, so shipping should not be a problem. And, it appears that they can be disbursed over large areas with minor modifications to regular sprayers.

All in all, it appears that copepods hold great promise as a potential mosquito predator, and rapid progress is being made to advance their use.

Asian Tiger Mosquito

The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus . is a worldwide pest. Originally from the more Southern parts of Asia, its range now includes pretty much all continents, except Antarctica.

It was first discovered in the United States in 1985 breeding in tires in Houston, Texas. As best as can be determined, the eggs, and maybe some larvae, had been secreted in a shipment of tires from Japan. Within two years, its range had spread to 17 states, and it is now found in 30 of the United States.

It quickly spread throughout the Southeastern United States, and by 1995, it has been found as far north as New Jersey. And, it you want to enjoy an outdoor life, this pest is one of your biggest challenges. It was first discovered in Europe in Albania in 1979 and is now firmly established in most of Italy. Specimens have been discovered in France as well.

It is aptly named for both its appearance and its behavior. Asian tiger mosquitoes are black with white stripes, resembling tiger stripes. And, they have a characteristic white “racing” stripe down their backs. And, as far as predatory aggression goes a feline tiger probably wouldn’t measure up to this fierce insect. People and other mammals are more likely to be bitten by the Asian tiger mosquito than any other species. It is considered an opportunistic feeder. It will attack any blood-bearing host, regardless of time of day.

Most other mosquitoes prefer the hours around dusk and dawn, this mosquito is most active from 10 AM to 3 PM, but will feed anytime a host is around. It rarely travels far from the site where it was bred; so public programs targeted at its eradication are not as effective as individual effort. This is particularly true since they are container breeders. Many mosquito species prefer marshes and swamps, which governmental authorities can target. This mosquito makes good use of man made containers, most of which are out of the reach of vector control organizations because they are most often found on private property.

Beyond that, the eggs are quite impervious to dry spells. The female will lay her eggs on the side of a container that is dry. The eggs seem to need a period of dryness to develop properly. Then, as the container floods, the eggs hatch. The eggs easily ride out extremely cold temperatures during winter. So, your summer outdoor activities will bear the fruit of this mosquito’s tenacity. Before the ready availability of man-made containers, the females would lay their eggs in natural water collecting spots, like tree holes, and water collecting plants.
One of the problems with controlling this mosquito is that many females still resort to this practice. Humans can clear away artificial breeding spots, like tin cans, tires, and birdbaths, but the mosquito will resort to her ancestral habits and still find a place to breed. As far as preferred breeding spots go, the Asian tiger mosquito is especially drawn to tire casings. This has been a major contributing factor in the expansion of their territory. In the United States alone, million of tires are transported around the country, and it imports millions of used tires from Asia, each year. While the federal government requires imported tires to be clean, dry and insect free, only about 5% of imported tires are inspected.

And so, the Asian tiger mosquito continues to hitch a free ride around the globe on a continuing migration. And, let’ not even talk about bringing home a case of virus when you travel. Before importation of the Asian tiger mosquito, the most prevalent mosquito in the urban areas was the Yellow Fever Mosquito “Aeges aegypti.” Now, mosquito control authorities get far more complaints about the Asian tiger mosquito.

Asian tiger mosquitoes are far more aggressive and persistent biters than the previous common types. And, they are active throughout the day, and their bite causes more irritation.Unlike other mosquitoes, this mosquito will find a target, fly straight in for the bite and leave, making it much harder to swat them away. They are also more pesticide
resistant than other species. In addition to being a biting nuisance, they are carriers for Dengue fever, encephalitis,
yellow fever and dog heart worms. Efforts to prevent their spread have not met with much success. Control on an individual basis is, so far, the best way to reduce their numbers by eliminating breeding sites.

Both individuals and public health authorities continue to seek ways to stop this pest from
causing further damage. Driven to be creative in ways to stop their spread, some researchers have recently begun to experiment with the use of copper to reduce breeding. Cemetery workers in Louisiana reported that bronze vases for graveside flowers seemed to have fewer mosquito larvae than ceramic or cement vases. Research is now being conducted to see if adding copper tubing or pennies to breeding grounds inhibits reproduction. No reports of valid findings are in yet.

At this point, whether imported or not, the Asian Tiger Mosquito is now becoming an indigenous pest worldwide. The best course of action for anyone is to be sure no breeding sites are available around the home, and to be sure neighbors do the same. And, we can all hope that better mosquito kill technology will soon be on the horizon.
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