Mosquitos are getting an early start, but numbers may be down this year

Get that insect repellent ready. Blood-sucking mosquitoes are already out searching for a meal.

A lack of snowmelt and scant precipitation combined with unseasonable warmth has the first batch of the buzzing insects taking flight, bringing on the swatting and slapping season about a month early in a year when everything weather-related seems to be way ahead of schedule.

“We have had reports of adult mosquitos flying around and that is not surprising,” said Alex Carlson, a spokesman with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District (MMCD), the agency tasked with keeping the population suppressed. “They come out of hibernation when the weather warms up.”

Their early emergence doesn’t mean there will be a bumper crop of the pests this year. Early indications suggest far fewer mosquitos this season, a big change from last year when a spring surge pushed numbers well above the 10-year average in the metro for the first half of the summer.

“Earlier, but not as abundant,” Carlson said. Of course, the prediction is weather dependent, and a soggy April “could have them thriving everywhere.”

The agency uses a scale it has devised to determine when to begin treating about 200,000 acres of wetlands, ponds and marshes in the metro area. Each spring, the scale uses a formula that assigns one point for every degree the high temperature at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport rises above 40. A high temperature of 56 degrees, for example, would result in 16 points for the day.

When the total reaches 200, the district begins dropping pellets containing a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, or Bti, into the water. The pellets have a texture resembling Grape-Nuts cereal. Larvae ingest the pellets, killing them on the spot, the MMCD says.

The pellets are not harmful to humans or other animals, Carlson told the Star Tribune last year.

By the end of the week, Carlson said the scale would be at about 114, and at the current pace would reach the “magic number” by the first week of April.

That has the MMCD working to get seasonal staff hired, trained and out into the field about two weeks earlier than in most years, Carlson said.

To aid its fight against mosquitos, the MMCD two years ago used a drone to drop pellets in hard-to-reach places. This year the agency is adding two more drones and will use them in Anoka, Hennepin and Carver counties, Carlson said.

The MMCD found its first mosquito larva on Feb. 26 in Burnsville, something that didn’t happen last year until April, Carlson said.

Anoka County in the north metro is expected to have the most mosquitoes this year because of its numerous swamps and insect-producing habitat. Lower concentrations can be expected elsewhere across the seven-county area, the MMCD said.

Minnesota has 52 species of mosquitoes, with snowmelt variety the first to come out, and they will be coming, Carlson said.

“Now is the time to start taking preparations, dump standing water and get the bug spray ready,” he added.

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