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plants near the pool

New research targets mosquitos where they feed

The relationship between people and mosquitos is not the healthiest. It is, in essence, a bit one-sided, with the bugs having a lot more love for us than we have for them. Since the dawn of time, humans have been swatting and slapping and spraying to keep them away – but the mosquitos keep coming back for more of our blood.

The battlefield, though, is changing. Recent years have seen the possibility of gene manipulation to eradicate an insect population that spreads such diseases as Zika, malaria, dengue, and chikungunya. And the latest front in the war on mosquitos is being fought in territory where they tend to feed: our gardens.

Preventing malaria through gardening

According to the World Health Organization, malaria continues to be a risk for half of the world’s population, with sub-Saharan Africa carrying a disproportionately high rate of infection. It’s no wonder, then, that public health officials are desperate to interrupt the spread of the disease.

Working in Mali, researchers believed that by getting rid of mature female Anopheles mosquitos they could interrupt the cycle of malaria transmission. Just as with the mosquitos that transmit Zika, it’s the females that feed on human blood. Once a young female Anopheles feeds on a malaria-infected human host, it takes 10 days for her to become contagious to people. At that point in the mosquito’s life, she’s an old lady.

Breaking the malaria cycle

While the older females still feed on humans and spread the disease, they also feed on flower nectar. In Mali, an invasive shrub, Prosopis juliflora, is a nectar buffet for mosquitos. By eliminating the shrub, researchers hoped to starve older female mosquitos, thereby reducing their population, as well as preventing young female mosquitos from becoming infected.

Nine villages were chosen: six with lots of the flowering shrub and three without. In three of the six, researchers removed the flowers. In the villages where flowers were removed, the total mosquito population dropped by almost 60%.

While there is still no proof that the mosquitos starved, early results seem promising and could be a game changer for how to deal with Anopheles and other mosquito species, including Aedes aegypti, the pest responsible for spreading Zika.

Preventing mosquitos in your South Florida garden

When it comes to South Florida gardens, researchers have learned that certain common plants have nectar proteins that are especially attractive to A. aegypti. These are:

  • Impatiens walleriana, or the common impatiens
  • Asclepias curassavica, or tropical milkweed
  • Campsis radicans, or trumpet vine
  • Passiflora edulis, or passion flower vine

There’s also the issue of bromeliads – beautiful, easy to grow, and able to hold water. At a time when gardeners and homeowners are told to be vigilant about standing water, is there really a place for bromeliads in the South Florida garden?

According to the University of Florida, of the 78 mosquito species in Florida, none were specifically associated with bromeliads. That being said, some species are drawn to bromeliads under certain conditions.

When it comes to bromeliads, treat them the same way you would manage any water feature in your gardens, such as a birdbath or fountain. The water can be sprinkled with granules of Bacillus thuringiensis israaelensi (Bti), a bacterial toxin. In addition, bromeliads can be flushed out with a stream of water and birdbaths should be cleaned and scrubbed on a weekly basis.

One more prevention tip

To help win the war on mosquitos in your yard, you may want to consider an automatic home misting system. Platinum Mosquito Protection can provide you with a system that best meets the needs of your residential, commercial, or equestrian property. For a free onsite consultation on living a life without mosquitos, contact us today.

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