Drought leaves lowest number of mosquitos since 2006 in Iowa

BY JOE HITCHON | JULY 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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There may be one good thing to come out of the drought affecting Iowans and much of the rest of the country: fewer mosquitoes.

Because mosquitoes need bodies of water to breed and lay their larvae, the dry summer has resulted in noticeably lower numbers across the state.

According to a Mosquito Surveillance Study carried out by the Iowa State University Medical Entomology Laboratory that monitors mosquito populations and mosquito-borne disease in Iowa, 2012 has registered the lowest number of mosquitoes since 2006. Furthermore, this summer has witnessed the second lowest reading of mosquito numbers since the study began in 1969.

"Aside from the obvious benefit of not stinging people, lower mosquito numbers mean lower number of diseases such as West Nile virus and LaCross encephalitis we're seeing this year," said Lyric Bartholomay, an associate professor at Iowa State University and supervisor of the study. "The main reason for these low numbers would be the reduction in breeding grounds due to drought."

However, Robin Pruisner, the state entomologist in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, warned that mosquito populations could bounce back quickly if and when rain returns.

"Mosquito eggs are hardy and can survive in dry areas for a long time waiting for it to get wet again," she said. "We will see a significant increase in mosquito populations as soon as we have areas of standing water again."

One expert says the lack of mosquitoes has led to an increase in other insects.

Laura Jesse of the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic at Iowa State, said there is always an adverse effect to significant weather changes, so while the drought has had a negative impact on insects that need water to lay their eggs, others have been quick to capitalize on the dry conditions.

"We have seen a marked increase in pests like spider mites and aphids, which do well in hot, dry weather," she said. "While high numbers of mosquitoes have a negative effect because they bite us, high numbers of pests like spider mites negatively affect farmers because they are a problem for crops. Normally, they would get washed off from rainfall, and there are diseases that keep them under control in wet conditions."

Along with mosquitoes, the long spring and dry summer has also had an effect on gardening businesses, which are seeing lower sales than in previous summers.

"Business has been a little slower this summer with the drought and the heat," said Holly Heusinkveld, a sales associate at Earl May Nursery and Garden Center. "We have many mosquito products, and those sales have been particularly slow."

However, the reduced need for mosquito products have been welcomed by gardeners.

Lavon Yeggy, master gardener of Iowa State, said gardening is more enjoyable without the fear of mosquito bites.

"We're using less bug killer, and the more we can avoid chemicals, the better it is for everyone. Of course I want to protect myself against the diseases mosquitoes carry, and I don't like having to cover myself in chemicals to do so," she said. "The lower numbers have certainly made going out into the garden more pleasant — as long as you can handle the 100-degree heat."

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