Residents returning to Beaufort County after Hurricane Matthew were greeted – and feasted upon – by the “millions and millions” of salt marsh mosquitoes that spawned in the wake of storm.
Mosquitoes bred in unusual numbers in the standing freshwater pools in ditches, yards and various ponds left by the storm on Oct. 8, adding to the swarms of the insect already found in the Lowcountry this time of year, according to Gregg Hunt, director of Beaufort County Mosquito Control.
Hunt said the mosquito complaints have been pouring in as people return from their evacuation spots.
County mosquito control has received at least 109 requests for service since Oct. 9 –nearly all of those came in Wednesday and Thursday this week and more are expected.
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That’s compared to 239 requests for service between Sept. 19 and Oct. 8.
239 Requests for mosquito service Sept. 19 to Oct. 8
109 Requests for mosquito service Oct. 9 to 20 (most of which came in Oct. 19-20)
“(People) are focusing, really, on the damage to their properties and probably getting food back on their shelves and in the refrigerators and freezers – that probably took a higher priority,” Hunt said. “Once they were outside playing or working, then they realized how bad the mosquitoes are right now.”
Mosquito control anticipates the abnormally high mosquito levels to persist for the next three to four weeks, “until we receive some cooler temperatures,” Hunt said.
What’s being done
The county’s mosquito trucks have been spraying insecticide in the night – typically between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. – and the department’s aircraft have been active all this week to combat the mosquito problem following the storm, Hunt said.
Beaufort County Mosquito Control uses its fixed-wing airplane and a helicopter for aerial mosquito spraying – both of which were evacuated to Columbia before the storm.
The helicopter came back on Oct. 9 and the fixed-wing aircraft followed on Oct. 13.
But there will also be some challenges for county mosquito control following the storm.
The Beaufort County Airport – also known as “Frogmore International” – was damaged by flooding on Lady’s Island, Hunt said. Mosquito control equipment stored at the airport including mobile generators, a scissor lift, various avionics and mechanical tools were damaged by the saltwater intrusion, he said.
Downed trees throughout the county have also presented a problem.
“We could not get our spray trucks into the neighborhoods because of the blockage,” Hunt said. “Most of those have been cleared off the main streets and roads, so now we have access to the various neighborhoods.”
Threat of Zika?
If you get bit by a mosquito, Hunt said not to worry too much – it likely will not be carrying the Zika virus.
The primary carrier of Zika – Aedes aegypti – does not live in Beaufort County. Secondary carriers – Aedes albopictus – do occur in the county, but in “low numbers,” Hunt said.
“What we’re seeing now as far as pests is the salt marsh mosquitoes and the various freshwater ones,” he said. “(Aedes albopictus) are short fliers – maybe a few hundred feet from their breeding source. They’re daytime biters, in the morning and afternoon, and they are low-flying. You typically see them around your ankles and lower leg.”
What we’re seeing now as far as pests is the salt marsh mosquitoes and the various freshwater ones.
Gregg Hunt, director of Beaufort County Mosquito Control
What you can do
▪ Mosquito spray will be one of your best friends for the next few weeks, Hunt said.
▪ If you’re concerned about being bit, wearing protective clothing – long sleeves, long pants/skirts and boots – can help.
“I recognize that’s a challenge for a lot of people when it’s hot and humid out,” Hunt said.
▪ Hunt recommends avoiding peak mosquito-biting hours – early evenings and the hours from sunset to sunrise.
▪ To prevent mosquitoes from breeding, eliminate any pools of standing water on your property if at all possible. That means anything from bird baths, water bowls, or any areas where water may have collected during the storm – inside old tires, empty barrels, etc.
“Those would represent ideal breeding habitats for mosquitoes,” Hunt said. “Dump it or discard it.”