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Dry weather could take sting out of mosquitoes

May 30, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

Mosquitoes and good news don't usually go together, but this season Tri-State area residents may have two reasons to cheer.

Cool and dry weather is staving off the biting bugs. And for those communities that still have unbearable mosquito problems, a kinder and gentler pesticide is available, experts say.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture originally predicted a nasty mosquito season, much like last year's, because of a mild winter.

Luckily, that hasn't held true in Western Maryland, where a light snow melt and dry spring left the insects with fewer puddles of still water in which to breed, said Mike Cantwell, entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

"It's all quiet on the western front," he said.

Similar conditions have kept the mosquitoes dormant in the rest of the Tri-State area, other insect experts said.

But all bets could be off if we get a wet and hot summer, said Charles Coffman, entomologist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. "If it suddenly warms up, I think you'll begin to see them."

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A cool spring that has delayed home garden planting also has delayed the mosquitoes, said Bob Kessler, Franklin County, Pa., agriculture extension agent.

"In the next few weeks, expect them to hatch out," Kessler said.

Some Maryland communities pay to have their area's sprayed for mosquitoes. The state government and local residents split the cost for the program, run by Cantwell's office.

West Virginia and Pennsylvania used to have similar programs, but they were cut from state budgets years ago.

The five Washington County communities that participate - Hancock, Funkstown, Spring Valley, Northbrook Estates and Highland View Academy - will have the advantage of a better pesticide spray, Cantwell said.

Permethrin, which is practically odorless, kills up to 90 percent of mosquitoes that come into contact with the pesticide fog, he said.

That compares the smellier malathion, which kills 50 percent to 70 percent, he said.

Permethrin is highly toxic to insects, but it won't harm mammals such as birds and squirrels.

Once a week, program workers test whether they need to spray using a less than scientific but effective gauge.

A technician exposes a bare arm for up to 10 minutes and counts the mosquito bites. If the average is one per minute or more, the technician will spray, Cantwell said.

"Live bait works better than anything," he said.

Last year, the worst year in recent memory for mosquitoes, workers didn't subject themselves to the torture.

"The technician would record, `Too numerous to count.' He would have mosquitoes swarming him," he said.

When it comes to preventing mosquitoes in your own back yard, there isn't a whole lot that can be done, Coffman said.

Suggestions include keeping tall vegetation mowed, eliminating standing water around the yard in old tires, wading pools and clogged rain gutters.

When outside, wear long sleeves and cover exposed skin with a repellent.

Burning citronella candles helps, but not as much as wearing repellent.

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