By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern
It’s finally summertime; the birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming, but the mosquitoes are biting. In the midst of an otherwise perfect day outdoors, mosquitoes not only have the ability to annoy us, but they can spread harmful diseases as well. For this reason, the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) has declared the week of June 23-29 as the seventeenth annual “National Mosquito Control Awareness Week.” The AMCA started Mosquito Week with the intent to educate the public on the environmental significance of mosquitoes and to promote safe control methods.
Regardless of their bad reputation, mosquitoes serve an important role in local ecosystems. The bug is especially vital to the aquatic food chain, as many fish rely on mosquito larvae for a main source of nutrients. Additionally, many other species consider mosquitoes a major food source, such as bats, spiders, lizards, frogs and several types of birds, including house martins. In tundra areas, mosquitoes are especially important to migratory birds, which would be expected to drop by more than 50 percent if the bug were completely exterminated.
On top of their nutritional significance, mosquitoes pollinate many plants. Since the blood mosquitoes take in is only used to provide protein to their eggs, their normal source of food comes from pollen. In Michigan, mosquitoes are known to help pollinate several different types of flowers, including goldenrod and orchids. On a global scale, mosquitoes in areas of South America pollinate cacao plants, which are used to make chocolate.
Still, while mosquitoes are vital link in our ecosystem, the species creates some serious problems. Mosquitoes are vectors of several viruses, such as West Nile Virus and dengue fever. The bug is also a primary spreader of Malaria, which is becoming especially prominent in many developing areas.
To help combat disease and to enjoy your time outside, it is important to take precautionary measures against the pest. However, some control methods can do more environmental harm than good. Pesticide spray, used through foggers to get rid of mosquitoes in the masses, is toxic to many aquatic species when it washes into bodies of water. Additionally, the spray pollutes the air, harming the humans who breathe it.
Luckily, there are many safe and easy ways to repel mosquitoes. One simple method is to get rid of areas of sitting water, especially artificial containers, as these are common breeding areas for the bug. Changing birdbath water often and mowing high grass can help reduce the amount of sitting water and, therefore, the amount of mosquitoes on your lawn. Also, certain plants, such as basil, marigolds and lemongrass, naturally repel mosquitoes, so having a few of these around could keep you from constantly swatting at the bugs.
Though they may seem like nothing more than a summertime nuisance, mosquitoes play a vital role in our ecosystem. This week remember that, while it is important to protect yourself from this irritating bug, it is also important to do so in an environmentally safe manner.