How to Keep Water Activities From Breeding Mosquitoes

It’s hard to believe that we are halfway through 2020 although some might say it’s the longest year on record. As we approach the hottest month of the year the yard is filling with toys to keep our kids cool. Slip n’ slides and water balloon fun can help make for an exciting afternoon outside while keeping the family cool, but they are also a potential attractant for mosquitoes. As always, we want to help you keep that mosquito population down and are here to point out some ways to do just that.

Water games are popular in Texas, and with good reason. In the mid-afternoon sun, you and your kids can overheat quickly. It’s what you do after the games are finished that will have a big impact on the number of mosquitoes in your yard. After all, mosquitoes need water to lay their eggs. The more water the merrier as far as they are concerned, but they don’t need much. Just one teaspoon of water provides enough surface area for 300 eggs!  So, the key to managing the population is in how you put the toys away.

Slip n’ slides and kiddie pools are often emptied of water and left to dry. If they are put away when they are still wet, pockets of water can attract mosquitoes.  Compound that with how we store them – often in a dark place – and we just made the mosquitoes a most excellent home. Ideally you want to hang these toys up to drip dry and then fold them and store them in a sealed location.

Buckets and water balloon toys often have the same fate. We hide them away in a tub or in a garage, but we don’t remove all the water before we do. Since these places are cool and shaded, mosquitoes will welcome the opportunity to lay their eggs in these locations and before you know it you have quite the population boom.

A simple and fun afternoon can be spent running around with a sprinkler in the yard. Where things can often go wrong is when other toys, inevitably in the yard as well, are hit with the sprinkler and fill up with water. We recently had a customer who was having continual issues under his car port. We made multiple visits to try and determine the issue with no luck. Finally, one day we arrived early, to find an outdoor play kitchen out in the yard. We realized that it was full of mosquito larvae (on the face of it looked very clean, but inside the walls of the kitchen was stagnant water). Turns out, the customer was putting the toy in his garage before we came to treat and then returning it outside for the grandkids. We estimated about 1.5 gallons of water in when we emptied it.

The key takeaway here is to just to be conscious of mosquitoes and their behavior when you clean up the yard after a day of play. Make sure everything is dry and that your storage location is completely sealed. Damp, shady places with pockets of water will breed millions of mosquitoes. Check slides and playhouses for water and get rid of as much as you can by rotating it or moving it into a sunny area.

We hope you create some great memories with your kids and none of them involve bug bites and if they do, give us a call and we will be happy to make your outside a fun place to be.

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Things to Do at Home

For the introverts amongst us, staying at home is not much of a change in routine.  But for the extrovert, thumb twiddling could become the next sport.  We thought we would gather together some ideas to keep you busy during this strange time.

If you are looking for some “big” ideas, consider learning a new language or taking up an art form. From painting to simple doodling, you can pass a few happy hours this way: watercolor, oil paint, drawing, sculpting and so on.   There are a lot of tutorials available on YouTube for every art medium you can think of. If you want something that requires less skill, check out some of the new paint by number options out there. You can paint some pretty impressive and large pieces of art these days. You can also consider scrapbooking. Do you have a pile of old photos you’ve always been meaning to sort out? Now is a great time to sit down and create some albums for your family to treasure. Create a vision board and get your kids to do the same.

Baking is a great hobby that has the added benefit of filling up your kitchen with yummy treats. The only down-side here is the possible lack of ingredients in your local stores.  Check out Instagram for streaming bread-making classes, or, again, head to YouTube for some free lessons. There are also a multitude of companies that offer classes online if you want to take that path.

If you love to organize, now is a great time to set about with a plan to sort out your home.  Marie Kondo and her book “The Magic Art of Tidying Up” approaches tidying from a new perspective and you can drill down and get your whole house revamped in a few weeks.  It’s also a great time for all those honey-do’s that there is never any time for.

Gardening is another great hobby that you can really enjoy this time of year. Maybe you’ve always intended on laying a new bed or revamping some old ones. Getting outside can really keep your spirits up when you are asked to stay home and what better way to use your time than to make some changes and upgrade your curb appeal.

If gardening isn’t for you, work on the inside of your home and consider painting a new color on the wall or moving some furniture around.

If you have children, you know that starting a new hobby is not as easy as it sounds. But consider making it a family affair and learn something new together. Have an afternoon of art, create a fairy garden outside or sort out their toys with them. Pulling out some cards or jigsaw’s or games is a great way to spend time together. Think about putting a tent up in the yard and going on a “camping trip” or build a fort in the game room.

Speaking of the kids, consider getting everyone involved in some family exercise like yoga or aerobics. An hour of expending some energy will help everyone’s sanity. Opt for a picnic in the garden instead of dinner at the table if the weather allows. The key with kids is having some kind of routine to make each day have purpose. Honestly, routine is key with us adults too. Consider writing down all the tasks you wish you had time for, and all the things you wish you had time to learn.  Then create a calendar to get those things accomplished. Just don’t forget to intersperse some fun in there!

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How Do I Get Rid of Fire Ants?

This is the second installment in the series. If you want to check out information on chiggers and fleas head over to our last blog post. We are so often asked “how do I get rid of *fill in the blank*?” that we thought it would be useful to write a post on the most common pests we are asked about. This month we look at fire ants, bed bugs and fruit flies/house flies.

How do I get rid of fire ants?

Fire ants are migratory, so getting rid of fire ants is not a one-shot deal. It requires upkeep to maintain a fire ant-free zone in your yard. Each year, new queens are born. They mate and then fly up to 3 miles, before landing to nest. She feeds off her wings and then burrows below to lay her eggs. In this way new colonies of ants are established constantly when the temperatures are between 70 and 95 degrees.

Many folks are familiar with the fire ant poison you can purchase at large home supply stores. Once spread in your yard it requires watering in. Essentially the water releases the poison into the soil and kills any ants it comes into contact with. The problem with this is that fire ant nests are a little bit like icebergs. What you see above the ground is just a small hint of what lies beneath, and the poison only kills what it contacts.

At Mosquito Joe we prefer a 2-part method to make, and keep, your yard fire ant free. The first requires a bait. Since fire ants share all the food they bring to the nest, and since the queen (and the responsibly party for all the ants in your yard) also feats on the same, a bait will get rid of the source of the problem. The fire ant queen waits 2 days before eating any food brought back. She will only eat once those 2 days have past and the taster ants are still living. To get by this safety measure, we use a bait with a 3-day delay. In this way we can circumvent the safety mechanism she has in place. We combine this treatment with a mound service, designed to kill the population of each nest. Since there is much more going on beneath the ground than above, this must be combined with the bait program to be effective.

Unfortunately, there are no preventative actions you can take to reduce the numbers in your yard. Fire ants are not fussy, and don’t particularly care if your yard is neat or messy, leaf filled or raked. It’s all the same to them.

How do I get rid of bed bugs?

We are going to go on record here, right out of the gate, and state that we do not treat for, nor are we experts in bed bugs. That being said, we get the question a lot, so we thought this topic was worthy of a conversation.

Firstly, we need to dispel the myth that bed bugs are only found in dirty homes. Bed bugs are everywhere – public buildings, schools, gyms, airplanes, in all 50 states and globally. They hitch hike from one place to the next, whether it be in furniture, your gym bag, wild animals, clothing or any number of ways. Just like mosquitoes, bed bugs find their food source through carbon dioxide and are bloodsuckers, feeding of exposed skin, then dropping off and hiding until the next feed (typically in the mattress). The preferred location is the bed as sleeping exposed skin is the easiest meal. While some humans have no reaction to them, the other 80% reacts with small red bumps.

Heat is the enemy of the bed bug, and treatment will include laundering sheets at a high temperature, possibly removing the mattress and disposing (marking it “bed bugs” so the cycle is broken) treating the room and the furniture, box spring, mattress (if you choose to keep it), the air and crevices with heat and insecticides. It is possible to do this yourself, but most people would rather have an expert come in and manage the infestation.

The only prevention is to be alert to their presence, and to take precautions after visiting an infested site. It is advisable to check the bed in a new lodging before taking your suitcase in, and never leave your clothing on the floor. Look for white small eggs and fecal matter in and around furniture, crevices and mattresses. Adults measure 4-5mm long and can be seen with the human eye. It is said that they smell like “rotting raspberries” and trained dogs are able to detect them.

How do I get rid of fruit flies and house flies?

There is a lot of information online on this topic, but often the misinformation comes from the identification of the fly itself. We’ve had customers complain about fruit fly’s only to discover they have issues with house flies and vice versa. A fruit fly measures about 1/8” and is brown, while a house fly is 1/8 – ¼” long and dark grey. You can also find gnats, drain flies and several other species causing issues for you inside and out. Fruit flies often feed from decomposing fruit, typically that rotting lemon forgotten at the bottom of your fruit bowl. These small flies, sometimes known as vinegar flies, can be trapped and killed by placing a solution of apple cider vinegar and liquid soap around the house. The flies are attracted to the vinegar and then drown in the solution as the soap coats their wings and prevents them from flying. There are various other methods, involving red wine, mashed bananas and so on.

For gnats the easiest remedy, and you should do this twice a year whether you have a problem or not, is to clean your drains. For this you pour about a gallon of bleach into each drain (especially those in a guest bath or shower that gets little use) followed by 10 minutes of hot water. This will flush and clean the drains, preventing new little homes for gnats in your house.

We also often get asked about flies in the yard, which often turn out to be blow flies and house flies. The easiest way to manage these is to manage the stuff they are attracted to. Open trash, pet excrement, and for the blow fly, decaying meat. Mosquito Joe can treat for flies for you, but our treatment is only good when the smell we spray is stronger than the others around it. We place an attractant, coated in pesticide, on the trunk of trees and other areas close enough to your living area to attract them, while far enough away not to be noticed by you. Because scents are short lasting, we recommend the service for a party or outside celebration and always let our customers know that it is not long lasting, and the flies will return in time.

To help yourself in the yard, keep your grass short and your yard tidy. That means keeping up with leaf litter and your pet(s), making sure any compost is far away from your home, and understanding that new mulch and manure will bring them in. The popular suggestion of hanging a bag of water up does not work, in our experience. Homemade fly traps can be helpful, but they can also attract more flies than you otherwise would have.

We hope this series has been useful for you. If you would like us to write on another topic just send us an email with the subject line “blog topic”. For us, pest control is more than killing bugs. It is educating and helping our customers gain a better understanding of how they can help themselves.

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How Do I Get Rid of Chiggers?

Every day we are asked “how do I get rid of *fill in the blank*?”  We thought it would be useful to write a post on the most common pests we are asked about.  This month we look at chiggers and fleas.

How do I get rid of chiggers?

Chiggers come from the mite family and are also known as berry bugs and harvest mites, to name a few.  They are microscopic in size (1/60th of an inch) and are actually a relative of the tick.  In their larval stage they attach to animals (us included) and feed.  They don’t bite, but instead inject digestive enzymes that break down skin cells.  After feeding they drop to the ground, leaving behind an irritated and itchy lesion.  The itch only occurs after they drop off.

Chiggers can be found anywhere, but they gravitate to dense vegetation and are at their peak in early summer.  In Texas, they are a problem for far longer than the northern states. You can’t do much for the itch except calamine, hydro-cortisone and other topical options.

Prevention is in two parts.  Firstly, minimize your contact with chiggers by wearing tall socks (a stylish look in the summer) and tightly fitting clothing.  An insect spray containing DEET will help ward them off.

Secondly, in your own yard you can reduce their numbers by cleaning up.  Overgrown weeds and shrubs, tall grass, twig piles and leaf litter. The less home they have the better.  Mosquito Joe can treat your grass on a cycle to dramatically reduce the numbers, so feel free to give us a call for more information.

How do I get rid of fleas?

The flea is no joke and getting rid of them is no joke either.  Fleas consume blood to live and they are not picky on whose blood they drink.  The easiest way to determine if you have a flea issue in your home or yard is to either walk around in some white socks and take a close look, or you can lay some white paper in your yard and check it in a few minutes.

Fleas are about 3mm long and are easiest to spot by their jumping – they can leap 7 inches and are considered the second-best jumper in the world.  They have a rapid life cycle and no one has determined how to kill them in their larval stage. There is also no way to kill them in egg form, and considering the average female lays several thousand in her lifetime (2-3 months) it is easy to see why they are so hard to manage.  Whatever pest control option you opt for, it is ESSENTIAL that you repeat it several times in order to gain control.

In Texas, particularly in the country, controlling fleas in your yard is very difficult.  While you may have a fence, a mouse, rat, deer or other wildlife can bring them in. A good rule of thumb for fleas is if you see one you have many and they will be everywhere.

There are a number of home remedies banded about on the internet.  It’s safe to say they all sound good and all work badly. If you have pets it is imperative that you treat them.  Otherwise they will shuttle your fleas back and forth for you. You must treat both the inside and the outside of your home.  You can bomb inside and then vacuum (cleaning out the bags as soon as you have finished to get rid of the eggs). Repeat this several times over a week to kill the larvae and eggs you could not kill.  For the outside you really do need a pest control company and we don’t say this to sell ourselves. Our customers who have flea treatments receive them on a regular cycle so we can gain control and maintain control over the population.  Fleas will gravitate to shady areas that are cool and sandy, so again year clean-up is important.

Next month we will tackle fruit flies, bed bugs and fire ants. 

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When do mosquitoes come out in Texas?

We get this question a lot and the answer is never the one folks want to hear.  The fact is, in our area, mosquitoes rarely “go in”. Mosquitoes hibernate when temperatures remain under 55 degrees for a full week or we have three deep freezes in a row.  Over the last 5 years, this has happened once, and it lasted for a week.  We then jumped right back up into the 60’s and the mosquitoes were back at it.
In short, mosquito season is really nonexistent in this area of the south. Because of this many of our customers opt to go year-round with their service. Managing mosquitoes in the cooler months can make a dramatic difference when the temperatures start to climb as well. The less mosquitoes in your yard, the less eggs are laid. We often see customers putting off service until April, and then panic in February and call to try and get on our route sooner. Of course, with our no contract model, we always let our customers decide. But we are here to offer advice and suggestions to make sure your yard is a fun place to be.

When are mosquitoes most active?

While our “season” is not so much a season as it is a way of life, there are certainly times when mosquitoes are more active than others. The biggest driver of mosquito activity for us is rain. The more water on the ground, the more eggs hatch. Mosquitoes breed as soon as they hatch, and the females then seek a blood meal so they can produce and lay their eggs. You can go from 10 to over a million in no time flat. When our temperatures are really hot, and the weather is dry, we can actually see a population reduction as the water they need to hatch dries up. Quite the opposite of what many people expect, as they tend to associate high heat with high mosquito population.

In terms of the time of day, mosquitoes as a general rule are more active at dawn and dusk. They are sun-phobic and will seek out the shelter of leaves during the day. However, as with all things mosquito, there are exceptions to every rule. We have several types of mosquitoes, including the Asian Tiger, who are not so bothered by the sun and will happily eat away at you in the heat of the day. If you see a large black and white mosquito in the middle of the day looking for a meal you can be quite confident that you have Asian Tigers.

How can I get rid of mosquitoes?

The easiest way is to call us. But managing your water will bring the greatest reduction for you. Only 1 teaspoon of water will result in 300 mosquito eggs, so don’t overlook the small amounts. Dump all the water you can, turning containers upside-down and paying attention to plant pot saucers and kid’s toys. Since the aim is to also keep your yard as dry as possible (mosquitoes will lay eggs on damp ground if they can’t find water) keep your leaves raked up and ground cover to a minimum (pine needles or anything that will keep the grounded shaded and wet). Don’t forget your gutters as they need to be cleaned regularly and can really be a source for mosquitoes. The tidier your yard the drier!

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