Beaufort News

Mosquitoes didn't get the memo about the season being over

Command pilot Julian Hill, left, and chief pilot Rob Wright start the engines of Beaufort County’s converted Convair C-131F mosquito plane Thursday morning before a spraying mission over the barrier islands of northern Beaufort County. Wright said they fly early in the morning when the air is cool and calm.
Command pilot Julian Hill, left, and chief pilot Rob Wright start the engines of Beaufort County’s converted Convair C-131F mosquito plane Thursday morning before a spraying mission over the barrier islands of northern Beaufort County. Wright said they fly early in the morning when the air is cool and calm. BOB SOFALY | The Beaufort Gazett

The Beaufort County Mosquito Control Office is working to take a bite out of this fall's infestation, but warm temperatures, rain and high tides have combined to create the most severe mosquito problem in years.

  • The office's director, Gregg Hunt, has received about 1,050 calls for service since April. Of those, 932 were from August through October, the most for any three-month period since Hunt took over the position in 2003.
  • Hunt said most of the complaints occur in northern Beaufort County, particularly on Lady's Island and St. Helena Island.

    Mosquito Control has sent its two planes to spray Environmental Protection Agency-registered public health insecticides at dawn nearly every day this week, concentrating this round on Fripp, Hunting and Harbor islands.

    The office also dispatches six spray trucks in response to calls and field tests. Combined, the office has treated more than 520,000 acres this year, Hunt said.

    The chemical, however, targets only adult mosquitoes, not the larvae. The trucks and aircraft also avoid the environmentally sensitive salt marshes -- where most mosquitoes lay their eggs.

    "It's easy to discard an abandoned tire where mosquitos might be breeding in standing water, but you can't do anything with the salt marsh habitat -- which I wouldn't want to," he said. "So that's the challenge."

    The chemicals break down in a few hours once exposed to sunlight and water, Hunt added.

    Pat Singletary who lives in Indigo Run on Hilton Head Island, said she has had no relief from the bugs. Singletary said she is used to avoiding mosquitoes after sunset during the warmer months, but this year the problem has been so bad she can't work in her garden -- one of her favorite activities -- during the day.

    Singletary has bought insect-repellant candles, sprays and even a full-body mosquito-net suit, which she found too hot to wear.

    "I just get eaten up," she said.

    Singletary has called Mosquito Control twice this year, and she wonders if it's spraying enough.

    Hunt said the office responds within a day or two to every complaint. The insecticide has a 90 percent to 95 percent kill rate, he said, but unharmed eggs and surviving adults mean the population is soon back in force.

    An adult female mosquito can lay 100- to 200-egg batches several times during its three-week life cycle. While Mosquito Control provides temporary relief, the mosquitoes are replaced the next day, Hunt said.

    At Hunting Island State Park, assistant park manager Kenny Heater said the mosquito problem is "pretty bad" during the summer and hasn't subsided because of the 80- and 90-degree days. But he expects the buzz to die down as cooler temperatures arrive.

    "It's just lasted longer because of the warmer weather," he said.

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