June 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

Wet spring brings out mosquito swarms early

Ted Supal, left, and Ken Elkin play chess Friday evening near the fountain at Wahby Park in St. Clair Shores. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

Stock up on the bug spray and citronella candles because the summer mosquito invasion looks like it’ll be a big one.

“I anticipate a bad mosquito season, unfortunately,” said Edward “Ned” Walker, a Michigan State University professor of entomology, microbiology and molecular genetics. His research focuses on mosquitoes and infectious diseases.

“We already have a bad one and it’s not going to get better for a while,”he said, noting the preponderance of the pests poised to prick their prey.

Experts differ on whether the bugs have shown up earlier than usual this year. Nevertheless, some predict the blood-sucking bugs’ incursion will be pretty big this summer. And since the mosquito’s summer arrival always raises concerns about the West Nile virus, some communities have started efforts to keep the bugs from breeding.

Mary McCarry, a biologist with the Michigan Mosquito Control Association in Bay City, said mosquitoes seem to have shown up early this summer, thanks to a cool, soggy spring.

“We had quite a bit of rain in May,” said McCarry, who is also a biologist with Bay County’s Mosquito Control program. “So it seems like they’ve arrived earlier in the year than usual.”

Metro Detroit’s rainfall totaled 4.87 inches in May, about an inch and a half more than normal, according to the National Weather Service. The area’s rainfall has been slightly below average for June: about 0.44 inches, down about 0.14 inches from the norm, the agency said.

However, Walker said he thinks the bugs were late for the dinner reservations because of this past winter’s brutal cold and heavy snowfall.

“We usually see mosquitoes start to hatch in early May,” he said. “Usually, we have a horde of these mosquitoes by Memorial Day. This year, they weren’t too bad.

“The mosquito population is just now starting to be noticeable, especially since the weather is warming up.”

Walker also predicts Metro Detroiters and the rest of the state will have a tough time dealing with a mosquito vortex this summer.

“It’s a double-whammy,” he said. “We’ve got spring mosquitoes around and we’ve got summer floodwater mosquitoes mingled in with them at the same time.”

McCarry said, however, it’s difficult to predict since the mosquito population “is a reflection of how much rain we get.”

The rule of thumb is less rainfall means fewer mosquitoes, she said. But, one good thunderstorm can turn the tide in the bug’s favor.

At the moment, most of the mosquitoes buzzing aren’t the kind that carry diseases such as the West Nile virus, experts said. Those pests thrive when the weather is hot and dry.

West Nile causes inflammation of the brain, or encephalitis. Adults who are 50 and older have the highest risk of illness from the virus. Last year, the West Nile virus was responsible for 36 illnesses and two fatalities in the state, according to the state’s community health department.

The appearance of the bugs had one Macomb County city starting its mosquito elimination sweep last week. It’s the second year in a row for the effort.

Workers for Michigan’s third largest city will deposit insecticides for mosquitoes in the community’s 18,000 catch basins and city inspectors will be looking for areas where the bugs can breed.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said he’s also asking residents to make sure there isn’t any stagnant standing water on their properties, or face a fine of up to $1,000.

Most of Oakland County’s communities, including Ferndale, Novi and Rochester Hills, participate in the county’s West Nile virus abatement program. County grants help the municipalities pay for insecticides deposited into catch basins or insect repellent for residents.

Bay County launched in April its annual mosquito control program, which uses planes to spray a bacteria that kills the bug’s larvae in standing water on about 40,000 acres of flooded woodlots.

Angela Minicuci, a Michigan Department of Community Health spokeswoman, said ultimately the weather will determine how big this summer’s mosquito attack will be.

“We can’t predict what the weather is going to bring, so it’s hard for us to say what we’re going to get in terms of mosquito population,” she said. “But obviously, anytime the warmer weather starts coming around, that’s when we want people to think about (mosquitoes).”

cramirez@detroitnews.com
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