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Summertime brings out worst in insects
By Bonnie Coblentz
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Insects and humans seem to have the same idea about the nice weather in Mississippi since both are out in number when temperatures are pleasant.
Mosquitoes, wasps, horseflies, deerflies, chiggers and ticks are abundant in the state from late spring to mid-summer. These nuisances make their presence known at picnics, walks outside, swimming holes and other places people like to congregate and relax.
Mike Williams, entomologist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said wearing enough clothing, avoiding certain areas and choosing the time of day to be outside are some of the best ways to avoid insect bites and stings.
"The scantier the clothing, the more area there is for attack," Williams said. "Clothing is probably the first line of defense against most insects."
Repellants sprayed on socks, shoes and pants or bare legs can limit the number of pests which bother people outdoors. Avoid damp areas and places with a lot of standing water to limit the number of mosquitoes, deerflies or horseflies around. Be cautious outside at night, since many insects search for dinner as the sun goes down.
Williams said horseflies and deerflies need a blood meal to reproduce, and if animals are not available, they will bite humans. These insects lay their eggs over water, the eggs fall to the bottom and the young hatch out in the mud.
"If you've got muddy, swampy areas, then you're probably going to have large numbers of horseflies and deerflies," Williams said.
Mosquitoes also require a blood meal to reproduce, and lay eggs in standing water. One way to limit their numbers is to remove available water sources. Fill in mud holes, turn trash cans and containers upside down and get rid of old tires that can store water.
"Good outside cleanliness helps as much as anything in limiting mosquito numbers, except in those areas with a lot of water nearby," Williams said.
Ticks can be a problem with pets, and humans can pick them up when walking in tall grasses. Williams said systemic treatments for fleas and ticks on cats and dogs are very effective, and can limit the number of these pests in yards. Ticks need a blood meal to reproduce, so they climb up on stems of grass and weeds and attach to any warm-blooded creature that walks by.
"The quicker you get a tick off yourself, the better you are," Williams said. "Be sure to remove the head and biting parts when you pull it off, wash the area with soap and water, and wash your hands after removing the tick. Apply a good local antibiotic and treat with a topical solution for itch."
Chiggers are another problem often encountered in the woods. Avoid these by not sitting on the ground and by spraying a repellant on pants and shoes.
Other summertime pests are bees and wasps, but Williams said these are rarely aggressive, mostly stinging only when provoked. They also are useful. Bees produce honey and pollinate flowers, while most wasps are meat eaters and feed on caterpillars and garden pests. In late summer, stinging insects like yellow jackets are attracted to sweet things such as fruit, sugary foods and sweet drinks that children often consume.