Pest Paradise: Result of recent rains means big bug gains

Published on Thursday, 10 July 2014 23:00 - Written by Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

Kris Fischer was being protective of her 2-month-old grandson during a Fourth of July fireworks show on Friday. She worried about mosquitoes.

The boy was too young for mosquito spray, so Ms. Fischer wrapped him in a lightweight blanket to keep mosquitoes and other flying biters away.

After the show ended, Ms. Fischer unwrapped an unscathed grandson but found her arm had more than a dozen telltale, raised red bumps from mosquito bites.

“I don’t know how they were able to get to me,” she said. “Nobody else got bit, but my arm looked diseased afterward.”

Recent rains across East Texas have answered some people’s prayers but the subsequent humidity and summer heat are an answered prayer for little flying and crawling pests.

Conditions are optimal for pests such as mosquitoes, flies and chiggers, said Texas A&M Agrilife Extension urban entomologist Mike Merchant. Calls about mosquitoes and flies are typical for the past few years, but inquiries about chiggers are up, he said.

“There’s no scientific poll of calls, but from the number of calls it would suggest their numbers are up this year,” he said.

William Godwin, entomologist and adjunct biology professor at Jarvis Christian College, said he believes the previous years of drought may have set up conditions for a bumper year for chiggers. He said wet conditions can actually minimize the number of chiggers in their early stages because they are vulnerable to fungus.

“All animals and plants go through booms and busts,” he said.

Godwin’s two young boys were covered in chigger bites after a fishing trip this past weekend, he said.

Merchant said pest activity is peaking due to conditions outside. Garden mites are attacking tomatoes. Fire ants are menacing people and pets in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chiggers are hanging out, waiting to hitch a ride and bite unsuspecting hosts. House flies and their biting cousins, stable and horse flies, are bombarding outdoor gatherings searching for a buffet.

At one Fourth of July potluck picnic Friday, swarms of flies gathered on spilled dip, shards of watermelon and outside slight cracks between dish and cellophane, as if waiting for the doorman to pull away the velvet rope for entry. Patrons swatted with plates and waved with hands but it only stirred the black swarms.

Brenda Elrod, environmental health director for the North East Public Health District, said finding and controlling the source is the best way to minimize summertime pests. It might be as easy as washing out the birdbath or cutting back tall grass, she said.

Mosquitoes love stagnant water, she said. It takes less than a cup of water to make a breeding ground, she added.

“Mosquitoes were eating me up at my house, and I kept looking for a spot where they could breed, and I couldn’t find anything,” she said. “I looked for days and then looked behind my shed, and I hadn’t turned over my wheelbarrow. It was full of water and wigglers (mosquito larvae).”

Ms. Elrod said the district works around the city to help residents minimize pests, such as helping restaurants control flies and treat areas where complaints of mosquitoes are prevalent. She said concerted neighborhood efforts are the best ways to fight them.

Merchant said there is new concern about mosquitoes after the first case of West Nile was reported this past week. The latest threat is the Chikungunya virus, he said. The first case in Texas was confirmed near Austin Tuesday.

The case involved a traveler who recently returned from the Caribbean, but because the disease can be transferred by mosquitoes from person to person and is primarily carried via a species prevalent in Texas, it could pose statewide problems.

The Asian tiger mosquito — a persistent, black and white striped, blood sucker — is the primary carrier, he said.

“Chikungunya is nothing to be taken lightly,” he said. “And I would expect a lot more cases.”

Merchant has consolidated information regarding pests and tips on how to deal with them at citybugs.tamu.edu.