Late spring means mosquito, tick delay but they’re still coming

Sorry to be the bearer of more bad news (did you hear it’s going to snow again today?), but the late spring likely won’t have an impact on the size of this year’s mosquito population.

Jim Stark, who directs the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, said the mosquitoes will simply start showing up a little later than usual. Last year with the early spring, people started noticing mosquitoes in mid- to late May. Surely, I told Stark, that must mean mosquitoes won’t show up this year until the 4th of July, right?

“No, we won’t go that long, believe me, we won’t be that lucky,” Stark said.

A closeup of what we’ll all be experiencing soon (Thinkstock image).

Stark said the overall population will have more to do with how much rain we get in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, he recommends getting rid of mosquito breeding grounds like standing water in bird baths and old tires.

The news on the tick front isn’t much better. The Minnesota Department of Health has already received reports of blacklegged tick sightings (formerly called deer ticks). As soon as the snow melts, people should protect themselves from ticks when walking around in wooded areas, said David Neitzel, an epidemiologist for the health department specializing in tick and mosquito-borne diseases.

“Their activity depends on the temperature,” Neitzel said, adding that the ticks just go dormant when it’s cold, unlike mosquitoes that die out when there’s a frost.

Health Department epidemiologist Dave Neitzel shows off a black-legged tick on his arm on May 6, 2011. (MPR Photo/Lorna Benson)

Neitzel said the late spring could help delay the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. The virus needs long periods of hot, dry weather to thrive — like what Minnesota saw last year.

“It did turn out to be an outbreak year,” he said. “The shorter the growing season, the lower the risk.”

So maybe the late spring will shorten that growing season and give us less West Nile? Not so fast, Neitzel said. An unusually warm fall could derail that idea.

“I can give you an accurate picture sometime in November,” Neitzel jokes.

Ahh well, not much of a silver lining to this late spring on the insect front.

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