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A Morgan County truck driven by Wendel McLemore sprays pesticides in a Priceville neighborhood Tuesday.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
A Morgan County truck driven by Wendel McLemore sprays pesticides in a Priceville neighborhood Tuesday.

Silver lining: Lack of water means fewer mosquitoes

By Paul Huggins · 340-2395

Mosquitoes are part of life for people like Mona Charest, who live near the backwaters of the Tennessee River.

But this year, in what is shaping up to be the driest year on record, the normal abundance of stagnant water where mosquitoes breed has dried up.

“I haven’t been bothered with them all that much. It’s not as bad as usual,” said Charest, who lives near Somerville.

“You don’t notice any mosquitoes on the river at all, and usually you notice some,” she said. “And I was barely bothered by them when picking blackberries, so you know that’s a rarity. I usually get eat up picking blackberries.”

The lower number of mosquitoes and some other pests like fleas and ticks is perhaps the only silver lining when the Decatur area is more than 20 inches below normal rainfall and mired in the worst drought in more than a century.

The low mosquito numbers are a combination of two years of dry weather, said Gary Mullen, medical entomologist at Auburn University.

Last year’s dry weather meant fewer mosquitoes reproduced and laid eggs for the next year, so 2007 was already going to start with a smaller mosquito population, he said.

But untold numbers remain dormant in dry creek beds and empty containers, waiting for a heavy shower.

Charest said she noticed mosquitoes quickly reappeared after the rain this weekend, and Mullen said that’s usually the case but only for a select number.

Alabama has about 60 mosquito species, and each has different reproduction cycles and water needs.

Some can reproduce multiple times in a season with ample water, whereas others reproduce only once. Some can lay eggs that will survive without water for several years, Mullen said.

The ones that can reproduce multiple times in a season and lay eggs in tree holes and artificial containers such as discarded tires and bird baths generally create the most nuisance, he said.

They can reproduce in water that stands for as few as 10 days to two weeks, Mullen said.

The mosquitoes that reproduce just once, often do so in the late spring and early summer, he said, so their numbers were significantly down in June.

Morgan County District I Commissioner Jeff Clark said mosquito numbers were so low in early summer, he didn’t have to run the pesticide-spraying truck as often. It’s back on normal schedules now, though, running every day, he said.

Fewer sprayings

Decatur Public Works Coordinator Julia Chenault initially was certain she received fewer requests for mosquito spraying this summer, but after checking her records she said Public Works received 55 requests this summer, five more than the same time period last year.

“It really seems like we’ve got fewer mosquitoes this year,” she said, noting the spraying program has been less intensive.

Though the lack of mosquitoes makes the outdoors more inviting, there is an economic tradeoff for stores selling insect repellents.

Marcus Solomon, assistant manager at the Morgan County Co-op, said sales are far below normal.

“Most of the stuff I got this year is still on the shelves,” he said, adding by this time each summer, he has usually re-stocked the shelves for next season.

As for how long the mosquito populations would remain at bay, Mullen said numbers probably wouldn’t return to normal in one year, even with abundant rainfall, but they can make substantial recoveries in a wet summer.

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