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Spring floods bring bumper crop of mosquitoes

A mosquito
flickr user trebol-a
Mosquito picando

The worst mosquito swarms I’ve ever experienced are at my dad’s house in the country.

I’ll let my stepmom, Patty, explain:

“We actually run from the house to the car and when you open the door you get many in there, probably 30-40 mosquitoes, so you start swatting and you have to roll down your window and drive, as you’re getting eaten, to try to get the mosquitoes out.”

She says this spring is the worst she’s ever seen. It’s so bad, they attack you the minute you walk out the door and bite you through your clothes.  

So I decided to turn to a mosquito expert to find out what’s going on.

I called Michael Kaufman. He’s an associate professor in the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University.

"I get this question a lot: Is it worse than ever before? And I don’t think so. It’s not uncommon to get a burst of spring mosquito activity. I think it was just magnified this year because of the extensive flooding. So most people who live along riverine floodplains, and I guess that includes a lot of people in Michigan, are probably experiencing a heavier-than-normal population level of certain species that are out there. Myself included by the way. I think they’re really irritating. Right now, where I am it’s kind of hard to go outside in some places and not be really attacked."

He says different species of mosquitoes boom at different times during the spring and summer.

"That’s one of the reasons that we have such an unusual pattern right now. It’s a species of mosquito now that would be coming out in the spring normally, and there are others that would be coming out in the spring as well. And then there are some that need higher water temperatures to really get going, and then there are others that live in permanent water that come out later in the summer. So this year we got a huge rain, so we not only picked up the regular groups that would come out in a normal year, but the water levels were high enough to flood the eggs that had been there for many years. So we got this extra boost of spring and actually some of the summer floodwater species are already out too."

He says our warming climate is encouraging some species of mosquitoes to move north into Michigan.

"I think in the long term, I mean, long term being a decade or something, that we’ll start seeing the Asian tiger mosquito in parts of Michigan. It’s a fairly nasty day biter and it can transmit a number of other diseases, and it’s already well established in most of the eastern United States, say into southern Indiana and southern Illinois. It’s not that big of a jump to make it into Michigan."

Kaufman says the key to the Asian tiger mosquito's establishment here will be warmer winters.

"It tends not to do well in areas that have fairly severe winters, but as the winters become more mild, the chances of that species surviving and becoming established in Michigan really, really accelerate."

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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