Mosquito season is here, and a ‘stealthy little ankle-biter’ is out for your blood

It was a slow start to mosquito season in Edmonton but that’s set to end.

A dry beginning to spring meant many species of mosquitoes, ones that are usually the first to hatch, failed to thrive.

Populations of these “aggressive daytime biters” will remain low, but a different kind of mosquito is now taking flight in a big way, Mike Jenkins, the City of Edmonton’s pest management co-ordinator, said Wednesday.

The new threat — Aedes vexans by name — is a “dawn- and dusk-biting, stealthy little ankle-biter,” Jenkins said.

“Our little summer floodwater mosquitoes are much stealthier and faster, and they’ll come in and they can get a blood meal and they’re already gone by the time you realize you’ve been bitten.”

In other words, it’s time to get out the bug zapper and citronella coils. 

‘Seeking blood meals’

“We’re not expecting sort of record numbers or anything along those lines, but we are expecting a noticeable number of mosquitoes in the next week or so,” Jenkins said.

Two significant factors will contribute to the itchy season ahead, Jenkins said. The first is the recent rains that have left behind stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed.

Secondly, a change in the city’s pest management strategy will see larvicide used less frequently in the swampy areas where mosquitoes hatch. That will mean more of the biting bugs, especially in outlying areas of the city.

“Those mosquito larvae that are developing now in those habitats that would have been treated by the helicopter program, they’re certainly going to be seeking blood meals and we’re going to see increased biting,” Jenkins said.

Natural enemies 

Edmonton city council has been grappling with how best to control mosquitoes. In April, council voted to cancel the aerial insecticide program and redirect $507,000 toward developing more natural tactics to fight the swarms, including mosquito traps and predator control.

Michael Jenkins, pest management co-ordinator with the City of Edmonton, is forecasting a busy mosquito season. (John Shypitka/CBC)

That could include new city-operated bat houses or new city landscaping designed to attract other mosquito-eaters including dragonflies, diving beetles and flatworms.

Under the aerial mosquito program, launched in 1974, helicopters dropped ground-up corn cobs treated with larvicide into temporary swamps and ponds in fields and ravines.

The biopesticide, called Bti, is lethal for mosquito larvae and some related species, such as blackfly and fungus gnat.

According to city estimates, the aerial program killed off hundreds of millions of mosquitoes each year before they hatched.

As part of the new pest management strategy, staff on foot or travelling by tank truck will continue to spray larvicide along city roads and ditches but these treatments will not cover as much ground as the choppers once did, Jenkins said.

The city will also map out mosquito breeding grounds, with the aim of eventually eliminating them with improved landscaping. 

At a council meeting in May, several Edmontonians called for the city to ban pesticides.

Aaron Paquette, councillor for Ward Dene, said it should be fairly straightforward to inform people how they can deter and prevent mosquitoes in their own properties.

“Use an oscillating fan, make sure there’s no standing water, use mosquito spray,” Paquette suggested at the meeting.

Jenkins said that as part of the new strategy, a public education campaign will tell Edmontonians how they can tackle mosquitoes in their own backyards.

He noted the campaign will include “house calls” for homeowners struggling to keep the insects at bay.

In the meantime, stocking up on bug spray may be a wise idea. The city is home to 30 species of mosquitoes — each, Jenkins noted, with its own “biting style.”

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