Compared to your garden variety mosquitoes, these pests are smaller, quieter and a potential menace to public health.
Margaret Sohn’s Normal Heights home has a lovely yard — “one of the reasons why I bought this house,” she said — but she hasn’t spent much time there this summer.
“It’s terrible,” Sohn said of the tiny mosquitoes infesting her property. “It’s just miserable.”
For better or — ouch! — worse, this is the new normal. Several years ago, three nonnative mosquito species moved into San Diego County, bringing a whole new twist on this warm-weather nuisance. Compared to your garden variety mosquito, these pests are smaller, quieter and — at least potentially — a greater menace to public health.
Why could they be more dangerous? The most common of the trio, Aedes aegypti, is popularly known as the yellow fever mosquito. Although the invasive mosquito is capable of spreading tropical diseases such as yellow fever, dengue and Zika, Chris Conlan, the county’s supervising vector ecologist, stressed that the region has seen no cases of these dread ailments.
On the other hand, Aedes aegypti, Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) and Aedes notoscriptus (Australian backyard mosquito) are attacking local residents like Sohn in unprecedented numbers.
“They are not supposed to be here,” said Conlan, superivising vector ecologist for the county, “but they’ve decided to call San Diego County home.”
Conlan and others in the county’s vector control program started getting calls on these mosquitoes last year. Then came the rains of last fall and this spring. These “ankle biters,” so called because they seem drawn to the lower extremities, can lay their eggs in just a small amount of still water — as little as a bottlecap, Conlan said.
Since spring, the pests have been reported from Oceanside to the Mexican border, from Point Loma to El Cajon.
“We are getting a lot more reports from people who said they never used to have problems with mosquitoes and now they can’t even go outside to have a meal, say, without getting bitten,” Conlan said. “It’s an avid biter of people, very adept at entering homes and bothering people in their homes.”
Because they are smaller than their native counterparts, these invasive mosquitoes are harder to see. And unlike the mosquitoes most of us grew up with, these don’t make the telltale buzz as they approach.
“Silent and deadly,” said B.J. Tibbett, a construction worker from Santee, while fielding fly balls with members of his softball team Monday. “You don’t notice them until there are a bunch on your legs. You don’t hear anything.”
Fast, quiet, determined — but not invincible. Conlan said the first line of defense is to patrol your own property, eliminating all pools of standing water. Ask neighbors to do the same, denying the mosquitoes a local foothold.
“The good news about these mosquitoes,” he said, “is they don’t fly very far.”
The county sends teams on foot or by helicopter to drop pellets of larvacide in larger bodies of sluggish or still water. The next aerial application is scheduled for Sept. 18, followed by Oct. 9 if necessary.
Residents whose work or play exposes them to mosquito-prone areas can use over-the-counter insect repellents. Tibbett wears a DEET bracelet; his teammate in left field, Randy Witzel, favors Off! and citronella candles. Vicki Pinkus, a retired real estate salesperson and journalist, covers up as much as possible, even in hot weather.
“We have a lovely backyard with a sort of canyon views,” the Kensington resident said. “So we love to go outside.”
“I’ve always been a magnet,” Pinkus said. “If there’s a mosquito out there, it’s always going to be biting me.”
If bitten, do not rub or scratch the affected area. Ice may reduce the stinging. Anti-itching sprays can help. And fight back by alerting the county to possible breeding areas.
“We can’t be aware of every little tiny breeding site,” Conlan said. “We need the help of the general public.”