New York State IPM Program

May 2, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Let’s work on being less attractive (to blood-thirsty mosquitos)

Let’s work on being less attractive (to blood-thirsty mosquitos)

We have been thinking a lot about ticks these days, so we are particularly grateful to our guest contributor, Paul Hetzler, for writing about another blood-sucking ectoparasite – mosquitoes.

Originally published on April 28, 2018 – Courtesy of Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County

Hooray—it’s the end of April and the snow has mostly receded. Before it warms up too much, though, we really should try to solve our attractiveness problems. I recommend doing this through some tweaks to our attire, diet and lifestyle. With all the bloodthirsty mosquitoes outside, there is no sense being more alluring than necessary.

The Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is an invasive day-biting mosquito from Asia.

We are lucky in Northern New York that of the approximately 3,000 mosquito species on the planet, fewer than 50 live here. (If only that was the number of mosquitoes, not species.) Some, such as the Culex species which carry the West Nile virus, overwinter as adults and can appear on the first breath of spring. Most spend the winter in the larval or egg stages, and may take a week or more before they take to the skies in the spring.

An article which appeared on April 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences spilled the beans on what mosquitoes find most attractive about us. Number one on the list of what drives female mosquitoes wild: unwashed socks worn for several days by malaria-infected children. You may as well take those out of your sock drawer right now. That particular study, by the way, was aimed at finding the best chemicals to use in mosquito traps, not at giving practical wardrobe advice.

Because all mosquitoes are annoying, and a tiny fraction of them (two species in the U.S. at the moment) can transmit life-threatening illnesses such as the Zika virus, they are the subject of a lot of research. It is good to separate fact from fiction regarding what mosquitoes like and what they don’t.

They like compounds we give off, especially carbon dioxide. Aldehydes are semi-aromatic chemicals, mostly naturally occurring (formaldehyde is an exception; mosquitoes do not fare well in that) on out skin, especially after a beer or two. Lactic acid, another ’skeeter treat, accumulates on our skin when we sweat.

We can rinse often, or maybe skip the drink at a cookout, but some things are harder to avoid. Most people like to exhale on a regular basis, for example. If you have Type O blood, tough luck—you’re a ’skeeter magnet. Type A blood on the other hand, is not at the top of mosquito menus. And expectant women can expect twice as many visits from mosquitoes than those who are not pregnant.

DIYers can treat their own clothing with permethrin. Be sure to read and follow label directions carefully.

Where ’skeeters are concerned, the best defense is a good defense. Clothing that is factory-treated with the insecticide permethrin is excellent at repelling both mosquitoes and ticks. It remains effective for months, through dozens of wash cycles. Permethrin spray can also be purchased at hardware stores for use on clothing and gear. Just don’t use it on your skin.

N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, known affectionately as DEET, has been around since the 1940s, and is labeled for use on both clothing and skin. DEET is effective for roughly seven hours depending on conditions and its strength, which typically ranges from 12 to 30 percent, although 100 percent formulations are available. Picaridin is a less-toxic option which is becoming more widely used. It is equally effective as DEET but may have to be reapplied slightly more often. (Picaradin is not suggested as a tick repellant, though.)

While botanical oils are not effective against ticks, many do keep mosquitoes away. Eucalyptus oil in particular seems to be one of the best. The down side is that they are often only effective for one to two hours.

Apps available for mobile devices claim to keep biting insects at bay, but evidence shows they do not work. Not even a little. And though some people swear by home remedies such as garlic or B-vitamins, repeated trials indicate these are also of no use as repellents. Since these are good for you, in moderation, there is no need to quit — just use something that works in addition.

I always assumed mosquitoes whined to raise the blood pressure of their victim to ensure a fast fill-up. Apparently that is how they communicate — their antennae sense this vibration. In one experiment, if female mosquitoes did not whine, the males paid no attention to them.

In case you think mosquitoes have no redeeming quality, they actually pollinate certain flowers. Photo: k yamada flickr

In case you think mosquitoes have no redeeming quality, they actually pollinate certain flowers. The males in particular, which do not drink blood, can be found visiting sunflowers if you go out at night with a flashlight. Just leave the beer at home.

For more information on mosquitoes and using IPM to prevent them from breeding near your home, visit https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/mosquitoes-and-other-biting-flies.

Paul Hetzler is a natural resource and horticultural educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

October 10, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

These days if you live near anything green — a suburban development, however humble or high-class; a neighborhood park where shrubs and meadow flowers grow — best you’d read up on ticks, be they black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks) or lone-star ticks (so named for the silvery white dot on the female’s back). While you’re at it, read up on Lyme disease and its suite of co-infections, some nastier even than Lyme.

And know this: no magic spray or treatment will eliminate ticks.

Researchers are investigating area-wide tick management options (The Tick Project) and working to understand how habitat management (The Tick Management Handbook; Japanese Barberry Control Methods) and host management (mice, deer) affect tick populations. But it’s up to you to protect yourself — knowing that prevention is the best cure.

  1. Wear tick-killing clothing. Buy over-the-counter permethrin spray and spray it on your clothing and gear. Used according to the label, permethrin binds to the material and can kill ticks, mosquitoes and other pests following a lethal exposure. Do-it-yourself treatments can remain effective for up to seven washes. Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments. These can be protected for up to 70 washes.

    Follow label instructions for do-it-yourself clothing treatments.

  2. Use repellants. DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 all repel ticks. The percentage of active ingredient on the label indicates how long that product will be active in the field. For more on choosing the right repellant see our previous post, “Understanding over-the-counter sprays for mosquitoes and ticks” (June 2, 2015) and this guide from Consumers Reports.
  3. Ticks wait for a passing host on vegetation or in leaf litter. Staying on trails can reduce your exposure to ticks.

    Recognize and avoid tick habitat.Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out. The blacklegged tick (transmits Lyme disease) is found at adult knee-height and below in wooded or brushy areas. When hiking, stay on the trail and away from these areas. If you’ll be in tick habitat, take precautions by wearing long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. These steps make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin. If you’ve treated your clothing with permethrin, this can also increase the exposure of the ticks to the acaracide — the tick-killing substance.

  4. Steer clear of hitchhikers. 

    Isolate exposed items in large, zippered plastic bags to avoid bringing ticks indoors.

    Ticks can be carried on clothing or gear that you used outdoors — gear that you haven’t used permethrin or a repellent on. True, ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still — you’re safest if you change your clothes and place exposed items in a large, zippered plastic bag in an entryway. Put them in a clothes dryer and run on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters. [Note: don’t wash clothes first. Even the hottest cycle might not kill ticks, and it increases the drying time needed.]

  5. Check for ticks. Taking all these steps doesn’t mean you will avoid ticks 100% of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the marks on your skin and recognize new ones. New marks that, if you touch them, just happen to have legs.
  6. Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see our post “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.
  7. Protect your pets.

    Grooming after outdoor activity with a fine-toothed brush can remove ticks in pet fur.

    Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. If your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. TickEncounter describes some of the options available for your pets, including oral and spot-on medications as well as collars. Speak to your veterinarian about the best option for protecting your pet against tick bites. Regular grooming with a fine-tooth comb after being outdoors can help to remove ticks that have not attached to your pet’s skin.

Additional Resources:
What’s Bugging You? tick page
Other tick-related posts

June 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Trickery and Lyme Disease: the Great Imitator? Sometimes.

Tick Trickery and Lyme Disease: the Great Imitator? Sometimes.

Remember the days when we could play with our tykes in tall grass near a wooded hedgerow? When we could wander at will through open meadows, picking wildflowers? When we could have impromptu picnics in the shade of tall oaks and basswoods deep in wild violets and leaf litter where a park blended into a tennis court, say, or a golf course rough? (Here, “rough” is a technical term used by the golf literati.)

Those days are gone. Now people in the Northeast and upper Midwest who live near anything green also live in a world that — subjectively at least — seems dominated by ticks. Blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks) especially come to mind, but others are coming down the pike. (Lone star tick, anyone?)

The Southeast, eastern Texas, and the Pacific coast likewise see blacklegged ticks setting up shop.

Now — and remember this before you freak out — by no means does every tick vector Lyme disease or any of its coinfections, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a bountiful supply of carefully researched  information on these diseases.

CDC and NIH also keep tabs on long-term effects of Lyme — for instance, complications  like Lyme carditis and Lyme encephalopathy — that are important to understand.

And because Lyme can also mimic a considerable range of diseases — many less than pleasant — NIH and PubMed (the website is admittedly a bit of a slog) fund a considerable amount of research on these sorts of things.

Researchers might find, for instance, that what appeared to be ALS was actually  Lyme — for this patient, surely an enormous relief. A course of antibiotics and it was over. But if you find websites that link Lyme with upward of 300 diseases, best be skeptical until you can confirm the  science behind the claims that interest you most.

So let’s circle back to where we began.  Yes, you can still get your fill of nature. You can still hang out in your yard. You just need to know some basics. Prevention, in a word. That IPM mantra.

Prevent — well, most of us especially want to know how to keep those little buggers off us. So … how then? Well, consider the permethrin route. Permethrin is synthesized from a compound — pyrethrin — found in the seed cases of chrysanthemums. (Know that many plants include toxins to a lesser or greater degree — it’s the nature of nature. But that’s a whole other post.)

So take a hike over to Tick Encounter and learn all about treating your clothes, your shoes, whatever, with permethrin. Other search terms for permethrin, whether at Tick Encounter or elsewhere, might include “treat backpacks, tents, ground cloths …” You get the idea. But please — keep your antennae tuned for potentially bogus claims.

Want to learn everything you can about the ecology and biology behind ticks and Lyme disease? The Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies is where you belong.

And if you’re perplexed by where “blacklegged tick” comes from when “deer tick” seemed to say it all — well, it’s worth knowing that deer aren’t the reservoir hosts; they don’t carry Lyme. Essentially it was a case of mistaken identity. Back in the day, when Lyme first erupted, researchers thought they’d discovered a tick new to North America; its common name became “deer tick.” A few years later scientists discovered that this deer tick was none other than the already-known blacklegged tick. There you have it and so it remains.

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