Red Deer taking the bite out of mosquitoes

Spring, so far, has been virtually mosquito-free.

Spring, so far, has been virtually mosquito-free.

But with some rain in the forecast, Red Deer City workers are hoping their biological mosquito control program will pay off in reducing larvae and keeping the adult bloodsuckers in check.

“It’s always weather dependent. All it takes is a little rain and heat” to create a mosquito plague, said Dave Matthews, parks planning and technical services supervisor for the City of Red Deer.

Parks staff had a later than usual start to their annual effort to spread the microbial pesticide Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis isrealensis) in ditches, wetlands and other spots where mosquito larvae hatch, as ponds were ice-covered well into April.

Otherwise, everything — including larval numbers — looks pretty typical, said Matthews.

He can’t predict what kind of mosquito season lies ahead, but believes that unless we have an unseasonably wet summer, Red Deer should see a significant reduction in the mosquito population, thanks to the environmentally friendly control program that’s been used in the city for the last 20 years.

Bti is a bacterial formula that specifically targets the pesky insects’ larvae, leaving other aquatic organisms and wildlife unaffected.

Lacombe and most other Central Albertan communities do not use this or any other form of mosquito control.

Considering the number of large water bodies surrounding Lacombe, a program would be cost-prohibitive and likely ineffective, said the city’s communications co-ordinator Daven Kumar.

Instead, the City of Lacombe has launched a public awareness campaign encouraging residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites and the potentially deadly West Nile virus.

Central Albertans are being told to cover up whenever possible with long sleeves and pants in light colours and to use an effective mosquito repellent with DEET.

Traps around Red Deer have caught a very low number of mosquitoes that can carry the virus, which is contracted from birds the mosquitoes feeds on before passing it to humans. “For hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes, there were only one or two of the kind of species that can carry it,” said Matthews.

But despite this low risk, he added area residents shouldn’t take the West Nile virus for granted because of the potential severity of the illness. The affects can range from no symptoms to causing disability and death.

Matthews said the more aggressive biting mosquitoes are now known to breed primarily in larger water bodies. This takes some burden from homeowners, who were once told to prevent standing water in birdbaths and rain barrels. These are no longer thought to contribute significantly to the problem.

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