Thanks to a particularly wet spring, researchers warn of a giant mosquito invasion across the northeast this summer. Here's what to watch out for.
Summer's back . . . and so are the unwelcome guests everyone dreads.
The never-ending spring rainstorms that drenched the East Coast in March, and the hot days that followed in April, were the perfect storm for mosquitoes, say experts, breeding millions of bloodsuckers that came early and could stay for the season.
"As of right now, it's really ramping up in a big way in the Northeast, as it is down here in the Southeast where I am in Florida," said Joe Conlon, technical adviser with the American Mosquito Control Association.
West Coast citizens may be in for a fun summer, too. While it's typically the Northeast that has to fight off the little creatures, health officials in one California county have already issued a general health alert -- with the usual warnings about changing the water in the bird baths and keeping the gutters clear of standing water. And Maricopa County, Ariz., reports discovery of a West Nile-infected mosquito.
But it's the swampy East Coast conditions that leave experts worried.
"What standing water is left [after a storm] breeds an enormous numbers of mosquitoes," Conlon said. And March's drenching downfalls left an awful lot. Massachusetts and Maryland slogged through the wettest months on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center, and Florida, Virginia and pretty much every state north of them saw precipitation above normal.
Rain from storms actually kills mosquitoes, Conlon explained, but new larvae breed in the standing water that remains -- especially in the warmer-than-average weather that swept each of those states in April.
That puddle in the lawn that's persisted for a few weeks? That could be bad news.
"They can breed in 6 feet of water as easily as they can breed in 2 feet of water," said Stephen Rich, professor of medical entomology and head of the Plant, Soil & Insect Sciences department at the University of Massachusetts.
His part of the Bay State appears to be in a drought, and mosquitoes are traditionally more active in late August anyway, Rich told FoxNews.com. But most of Massachusetts is suffering the onslaught of a severe early mosquito season.
"The whole mosquito cycle has been pushed ahead," David Henley, superintendent of the East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project, told the Boston Globe. "And they're actively biting people because we've had so many warm nights."
"It's very difficult to predict how the mosquito season is going to go," Conlon cautions. "If rainfall starts going down, the production throughout the mosquito season is going to go down." The amount of sunlight, the temperature and rainfall will determine how many mosquitoes you'll see at your next barbecue, added Stephen Rich.
And while enjoying that cheeseburger, consider this: It's only the female mosquitoes that suck your blood. Males feed only on plant nectars.
Although we call those summer scratchers "mosquito bites," the creatures suck rather than bite. "They have several stylets -- they're kind of like needles that they insert into your skin," Conlon explained. "It's not like a syringe per se, because the saliva goes out and blood comes up through the same channel."
Female mosquitoes feed on the protein from human and animal blood to build eggs, Conlon said. "She's just bringing in the blood so she can build eggs inside of her. Then she fertilizes them from stored sperm from the males," he said.
According to Conlon, the 176 species of mosquitoes in the United States feed on birds, reptiles, humans and other animals, but those that feed on birds and humans are the most dangerous.
The fight against mosquitoes varies from county to county based on need, and since it will be impossible to wipe them all out, containment is key. "The vast majority of mosquitoes are not transmitting any disease. You can get epidemic transmission if 1 out of 1,000 is transmitting disease," Conlon said. "We don't have to kill all of the mosquitoes, but if we kill some of them or prevent some from being born that will lessen the amount that transmits to humans."
Although West Nile has dropped from the news a bit in recent years (and is prevalent mainly in late summer and early fall), Conlon said it's still a threat. "Unfortunately, it's fallen off the radar. We've had West Nile cases already this year. What's happening is that the conditions aren't ripe for a large amount of transmission right now."
To ward off the pesky insects, wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, experts say. And use a CDC-approved repellent such as Deet, Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, suggested avoiding open-toe shoes and perfumes. Cut down tree limbs and keep windows and doors properly screened, she added.