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The Plant Doctor: Outdoors still can be fun with mosquito prevention

Eventually the rain will end — I think. What will remain as the rain departs will be the most extraordinary breeding ground for our annual visitor, the dreaded mosquito.

This unwelcome guest adds insult to injury, literally. It’s not enough that mosquitoes produce an itchy welt, but they may also deposit the West Nile virus.

It is estimated that about 170 mosquito species call North America their home. They are spectacularly equipped with a host of sensory organs that help them find human and animal hosts, whether in daylight, dusk or in the darkest of evenings.

These sensory organs are gathered in their antennae and are so sensitive that they can sense your breath and, excuse the description, body odors, from up to 100 feet away. Once they get close enough, they can detect the warmth and moisture of your skin: They now are on target for the attack.

The female mosquito, requiring the protein from your blood to develop her eggs, stabs you with her proboscis until she finds a blood vessel. The female’s saliva then flows into the wound to keep the blood from clotting. Incidentally, your skin’s reaction to the saliva is what causes those itchy welts.

Prevention is by far the best medicine. You can help reduce mosquito populations by eliminating damp breeding places such as clogged gutters, tree stump holes and any other object that can hold stagnant water. In summer, mosquito eggs hatch within two to three days. The larvae feed in the water for a week, then pupate for two or three days at the water’s surface.

Cutting weeds and tall grasses near your home will help to reduce areas that harbor mosquitoes. Fluorescent and incandescent lights are attractive to mosquitoes; less attractive sodium lights appear to work best. As far as electronic bug zappers, sorry to say they probably kill more beneficial insects than they do mosquitoes.

Personal protection comes in a variety of packages. Repellents confuse or inhibit the mosquitoes’ sensory stimuli and are the best way to avoid mosquito bites. Avoid wearing dark colors since mosquitoes can see movement of dark colors during the day. Mosquitoes are most active early in the morning and at dusk, so if you can avoid being outdoors during this time you will be less likely to be greeted by this flying parasite.

In addition to repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Also, a breezy location will provide additional confusion to mosquitoes that apparently are so fragile that they have difficulty flying even in light wind.

Now for the “relief” part. You have done all you can to prevent the intruder, yet it still has managed to penetrate your defenses. Calamine lotion or other anti-itch creams should prove effective.

Alas, some people are really hypersensitive to mosquito bites. If the swelling becomes unusually large, your best bet is to see a doctor who may prescribe antihistamines or steroids to treat the swelling and reduce discomfort.

Finally, expressed as tongue in cheek, start a “bat” colony. The flying rodents are remarkable mosquito hunters.

Questions or concerns regarding gardening or houseplants can be addressed by e-mail to Harvey.Goodman@att.net.

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