Mosquitoes are flying, biting insects well known for the annoying whine of their flight and the itchy bites they leave behind. Mostly just a nuisance, some species in New York also can transmit the pathogens that cause Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus. Only females take a blood meal for the energy to create eggs, but both females and males feed on flower nectar, providing some pollinator services.
Known for their annoying whine, these small (less than 0.5 inch) delicate insects get around on two clear wings. Except for the stripes on the ‘tiger’ mosquito, it is difficult to distinguish between the different types without a microscope. Some prefer different ecosystems, are active at different times of the day, and can carry disease-causing pathogens. Depending on species, the worm-like larvae can be found in different types of water bodies (including containers such as bottle caps) and are notable by their wriggling motion.
Three mosquito groups are a human health concern in New York: Culex, Aedes, and Anopheles. Below are common examples from each group of mosquitoes.
Common house mosquito – Culex pipiens
Culex mosquitoes are persistent biters that feed at dusk, night, and dawn. Culex mosquitoes prefer birds as hosts, but because they make their way into homes, they bite humans and can transmit pathogens that cause encephalitis. These mosquitoes breed in small pools of stagnant water that contain organic debris, and do not move far from breeding sites. The Northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens, are an important mosquito pest in urban and suburban areas. It matures from egg to adult in 7 days; adults generally live 10–60 days.
Asian tiger mosquito – Aedes albopictus
An invasive species originally from Asia, this Aedes mosquitoes is an aggressive and painful biter that feeds during daylight. These mosquitoes breed in containers, needing only ¼” of water to complete their life cycle. Most often found in tropical and sub-tropical locations, it can be found in downstate New York. It is suspected that cold winters are keeping this species from surviving farther north.
Salt marsh mosquito – Aedes sollicitans
As the name implies, this mosquito is found in coastal areas. Aedes mosquitoes are aggressive and painful biters that feed during daylight and prefer human blood. Female mosquitoes will fly several miles from breeding sites (areas that flood), but usually do not enter buildings. Because these mosquitoes are associated with naturally occurring floodwaters, residents need only to be aware of outbreaks, then take measures to avoid being bitten.
These mosquitoes breed in permanent fresh and brackish waters, with eggs laid on the water’s surface. Anopheles mosquitoes transmit the parasite that causes malaria. Although malaria does not normally occur in New York, there have been some rare occurrences downstate.
|Mosquito Group||When They Feed||Where they breed|
|Aedes||Day||Containers, flooded areas|
|Anopheles||Night, dawn||Fresh and brackish water|
|Culex||Dusk, night, dawn||Small pools of stagnant water|
Mosquito-borne illnesses have plagued humans throughout history. Modern vector control and monitoring programs have greatly reduced the incidence of yellow fever, malaria, and encephalitis viruses throughout the United States. Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile encephalitis remain significant diseases that afflict people in New York. Management includes intense surveillance for mosquito outbreaks and routine monitoring for diseases. Much more common is skin irritation caused by scratching, especially for those most sensitive or seemingly more attractive to these biters.
|Eastern equine encephalitis||Aedes sollicitans, Aedes albopictus|
|West Nile virus||Culex pipiens|
|Dog heartworm||Aedes sollicitans, Culex pipiens, Anopheles sp.|
People can also acquire pathogens from mosquitoes while traveling in other parts of the world.
Mosquito larvae, the immature state, develop in water. Therefore, female mosquitoes lay their eggs in, on, or near areas where water will pool. If you live near a swamp or other area with natural standing water, your yard will be prone to these pests. However, container-breeding mosquitoes (Aedes) can use smaller sources of water to reproduce, including old tires, unused plant pots, buckets, gutters and tarps.
Across NY, the most common mosquito is Culex pipiens, which has a very small territory. It usually stays within 300 feet from its breeding site, so ensuring there are no breeding sites on your property can go a long way in protecting you and yours. These mosquitoes aren’t picky about where they lay eggs. Almost any standing water will do. In fact, a bottle cap full of water can provide a breeding site. Check your yard for water in containers, tires, tarps, boats, children’s toys, rain gutters, bird baths, and unfiltered pools. Don’t forget to check your recycling bin.
When you find standing water, simply dump it out. (This just might be the easiest IPM solution ever!) Any existing eggs and larvae will desiccate (dry out) and die.
The next step? Be sure that water can’t collect in that area again (what a great excuse to clean up) — or regularly dump, clean, and refill items such as birdbaths and children’s pools.
Prevent mosquito breeding
- Dump out standing water from containers in the yard, including recycling bins with bottle caps and cans, tires, boats, and tarps.
- Clean debris from rain gutters early in spring and check them regularly. If you are unable to clean them, ask your landscaper or pest control technician. A huge number of mosquitoes can result from clogged gutters.
- Clean, filter, and treat pools. Empty children’s pools and turn them over when not in use. Keep pool covers clean by propping them up to drain water.
- Encourage natural enemies. For example, stock ornamental ponds with goldfish. Mosquitofish (a type of minnow, also known as Gambusia) devour mosquito larvae. Dragonflies and damselflies are mosquito predators.
- Construct goldfish ponds properly. Large goldfish are unable to reach sloping edges of ponds where mosquitoes breed, so be sure your pond has vertical sides. A pond fountain will also reduce mosquito breeding.
- Change the water in birdbaths and fountains twice a week.
- Bti-containing products may be applied to containers by homeowners or renters on property they own or rent. They can be a good option for containers that are difficult to empty regularly (like a lined pond).
- Consider discussing mosquito concerns with neighbors, and work together to reduce breeding areas. This has been a very successful strategy in neighborhoods in the Mid-Atlantic states.
- Attend public forums and educate yourself.
- Remember that electric insect “zappers” do not help to prevent mosquito problems. These devices generally kill more beneficial insects than pests.
- Recognize that light traps and carbon dioxide traps used by mosquito control programs are for monitoring purposes and do not reduce mosquito numbers.
How Do I Protect Myself from Mosquitoes?
- Cover up with loose-fitting, lightweight clothing from dusk to dawn.
- Use insect repellents properly. Read the label and follow precautions.
- Use clothing treatments such as permethrin to kill mosquitoes (and ticks!) on contact.
- Keep household screens in good repair and do not prop open windows or doors.
- Keep topical treatments on hand to reduce the itching and possibility of skin irritation if you or someone in your family has reactions to bites.