ATHENS, Ga. — Mosquito season has begun and will only get worse as we head into June, July and August.
For the second year in a row, Atlanta ranked as the worst city in the U.S. for mosquitoes, according to the pest control company, Orkin.
But imagine a world without mosquitoes. Groundbreaking research at the University of Georgia could bring an end to the buzzing, biting insects sooner rather than later.
Researchers in the Department of Entomology at UGA have discovered a reproductive hormone that triggers mosquitoes to lay eggs. Now that the trigger is known, scientists could in theory develop an insecticide to attack that hormone, ultimately eliminating or at least controlling the mosquito population.
About 65 kinds of mosquito live in Georgia. University of Georgia Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Kevin Vogel knows every one, down to their reproductive hormones.
“What we’ve discovered is that there’s a receptor on the surface of eggs that binds a particular hormone that triggers the formation of eggs. Without that hormone, they can’t develop a clutch of eggs … If you could block that hormone, you could stop mosquitoes from reproducing,” explains Vogel.
By theoretically blocking the hormone with a specially designed insecticide for example, scientists could in essence be able to control the mosquito population.
"That's obviously in the future in terms of what we're going to do," says Vogel.
Most mosquitoes in cities like Atlanta are “container breeders,” meaning they need standing water to reproduce. Look for an old tire, bird bath or flower pot in which water might collect. If you see little larvae swimming, you’re likely breeding mosquitoes.
“Eliminating their breeding habits will reduce their numbers and reduce both the ansnoyance to you and the possibility of them transmitting disease,” says Vogel.
Vogel explains the West Nile Virus is what North Georgians should be most concerned with. Since Georgia’s first case in 2001, there have been 367 reported to the CDC in this state alone.
“They can live up to three to four weeks, giving them ample opportunity to reproduce multiple times and bite lots of people. How you get disease transmission is when you have a mosquito biting an infected person and then that pathogen or whatever it is reproduces in the mosquito. When the mosquito bites another person, they transmit that pathogen to a new uninfected person,” says Vogel.
The Southern House Mosquito and Asian Tiger Mosquito are the main virus-carrying mosquitoes here in Georgia.
Both females and males feed on sugar and nectar, but only females bite because the females require blood to make eggs, explains Dr. Michael Strand, Regents Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Georgia.
“If something lands on you, it’s about 100 percent certain it’s a female,” says Strand.
Mosquitoes respond to our sweat, basically our smell.
“They sense the heat you’re emanating, the carbon dioxide coming off you and the compounds in your sweat … changing your deodorant isn’t going to help,” says Vogel.
If you’re tired of being an insect’s snack, wear long sleeves and pants from dusk to dawn when they’re most active and remember repellent.
“Insect repellents are actually very effective, so things that have DEET in it as an active ingredient are very effective at preventing mosquito bites,” says Vogel.