Monday, August 20, 2012
Mosquitoes and Purple Martins
The rain Saturday was such a blessing; it was perfect… not too much and not too little. It was exciting to see it at a distance slowly rolling toward us. First the wind arrived, lowering the temperatures ten degrees in half an hour. The sky darkened and it began to pour; it was lovely! Several weeks ago a meteorologist reported two tenths of an inch arriving with several intermittent rains is better for breaking a drought than a three inch gully washer so we were in luck.
Our devastating drought did provide an unexpected boon… we have not had many mosquitoes. Mosquitoes eggs are laid in water and the larva and pupa require it to reach adulthood. The pupa are those squiggly little black ‘bugs’ jerking about in water and the adult emerges as a mature pupa floats to the surface. Their lifespan is anywhere from several weeks to several months. All mosquitoes are bloodsucking and as such, their bite will carry with it whatever the prior host had coursing through their blood.
Apparently the rains that missed us and poured in central Texas during the summer created perfect conditions for mosquitoes. Dallas and the surrounding areas are experiencing an alarming outbreak of West Nile Virus which is caused by a mosquito biting an infected bird, and then a human. Dallas is currently aerial spraying each morning and evening to kill the mosquitoes and stem the outbreak. Since we finally had rain, it will be necessary to scout the garden and dump any standing water… a creative mosquito will lay eggs in water left in a saucer under a plant!
Fogging for mosquitoes in the 1940-70's
The natural way to curb the mosquito populations is the lovely Purple Martin. This little bird gets all of its food and water while in flight and skims the surface of ponds scooping up water in its lower bill. Each Purple Martin can eat over 10,000 mosquitoes a day.
For over 100 years it has nested almost exclusively in backyard birdhouses, making it very people friendly. Native Americans knew the benefits of the Purple Martin and hung empty gourds for them long before the arrival of the first Europeans.
They migrate to Brazil for the winter and return each spring with older Martins returning to places they have inhabited before. Several weeks later younger birds arrive and several couples are happy to take up residence in bird houses resembling apartment complexes. For a conservative method of mosquito control, they are simply the best alternative available.