Mosquitoes are nasty little beggars, and if you’re unlucky enough to suffer painful effects of their bite, or sting, then you’re entitled to call them something much more derogative.
Mosquitoes ‘Understand Your Enemy’!
It’s only the female mozzie that ‘bite’, using their mouth-part called a proboscis. She will use the serrated proboscis to pierce her victim’s skin, locate a blood capillary, then she will draw blood through one of two tubes. While one tube in the proboscis is engaged in drawing blood, the second tube pumps into your skin saliva, containing a mild painkiller, and an anti-coagulant. Many people can have a minor (sometimes major) allergic reaction to the saliva, and it is this that causes the area around the bite to painfully swell, and itch.
Once she’s had her fill of blood, which can be up to three times her weight, the female will rest for a couple of days before laying her eggs. She can lay up to 300 eggs at a time, and throughout her life she can go through this process of laying eggs three times before she dies.
She will lay her eggs in stagnant water, which will hatch out into what are called ‘wigglers’. The wigglers feed on the organic matter in the stagnant water, and will breathe oxygen from the surface of the water.
After 10 days or so, the wrigglers evolve into pupae. Whilst in this pupae state; they don’t eat as they are partially encased in cocoons. It takes just several days for the pupae to change into adult mosquitoes.
Because they are cold-blooded, some mosquitoes die, and other species shutdown, and hibernate when temperatures drop to less than 10C. They thrive when temperatures rise to over 25C. Depending on the species, some adult females find holes where they wait for warmer weather, and that can be a six month wait. Other species lay their eggs in freezing water then die, where the eggs keep until the warmer weather arrives.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) that we exhale when we breath, attracts the females, and this can even be from some 75ft away. CO2 plumes rise into the air, acting as trails for the mosquitoes to follow through receptors on their antennae in their hunt to find their dinner, which just happens to be our ‘life’s blood’.
Sweat also helps mosquitoes find their victims. When we sweat our skin produces more than 340 chemical odours, including the chemical octenol which excite those hungry females, as does cholesterol, folic acid, certain bacteria, skin lotions, and perfumes.
If you happen to be on a ketogenic diet (akin to the Atkins diet), where you encourage your body to run on ketones instead of carbohydrates, then you have nothing to fear as mozzies hate the smell of ketones. Some sources say that nail varnish remover (which contains acetones) can act as a repellent. [The word ketone derives its name from Aketon, an old German word for acetone.]
Body heat can also be a ‘waving flag’ for mosquitoes to find you, so you’d be wise to wear light coloured clothing as dark clothing can make you feel hot. Plus dark clothing seems to appeal to the mosquito, especially navy blue!
One of the several dreaded diseases passed on by the mosquito, is malaria. This gives the mosquito the disrepute of being the creature that has killed more humans than any other.
Malaria is caused by a parasite that lives in mosquitoes. The parasite gets into mosquito saliva, and is passed on when the insect bites their victim. West Nile and other viruses are passed the same way. Mosquitoes can also carry and pass on canine heartworm, which is a horrendous illness for a dog to suffer. Dogs who sleep overnight in outdoor kennels are especially vulnerable to heartworm.
Mosquitoes have had 210 million years to hone their blood sucking, homicidal, tactics. Even poor Alexander the Great is believed to have died of a mosquito bite, which gave him malaria in 323 B.C.
Fortunately for us, mosquitoes do not transmit HIV. The virus that causes AIDS does not reproduce in mosquitoes as their stomach actually breaks down the virus without it being passed on
History of Malaria in Spain
Malaria was considered the biggest single health risk by the Spanish authorities at the turn of the 20th century. An estimated 800,000 people had malaria in Spain, with some 4,000 dying every year.
This concern in 1918 led to the passing of the ‘Cambó’ Law, giving legal backing to the already strong trend of draining wetlands, which had been practised since the middle 19th century. The law was often ineffective as it allowed for wetlands to be converted into rice fields. Nevertheless, the law was responsible for the destruction of much of Spain’s wetland surface area. In 1964, just in time for the mass tourism to Spain, malaria was officially declared by the Spanish Authorities to be eradicated. The ‘Cambó’ Law was annulled in the early 1980’s.
Along with draining the wetlands, one of the most effective controls of the mosquito was the release in 1921 of a fish called ‘gambusia’ or mosquitofish. Incidentally the fish is now probably the most widespread freshwater fish in the world. This little fish is a voracious devourer of mosquito larva, and it rapidly thrived in Iberian waters. Improvements in housing, public health and sanitation, and a falling rural population all helped to cut back the parasite in Spain.
So how can we keep ourselves safe from these little horrors?
DEET is considered the ‘gold standard’ of mosquito repellents. It is a solvent, so be careful using it with clothing made from man-made fibres as it could make holes in them. DEET can stain, so protect all clothing.
There have been health concerns concerning DEET, but scientists appear to have come to the conclusion that DEET based repellents can be safely used, as they balance out the dangers of contracting malaria. I guess you have to outweigh the safety of using DEET in Spain, where there is hardly, to no risk, of contracting malaria, (see more on this), though personally I’m reluctant to put anything toxic on my skin, let alone put something that ‘melts’ labels near the skin of a child. In my way of thinking, it’s best to use a ‘safer’ deterrent method – but this depends on assessing how much the risk of contracting malaria would be. For example, if I had the urge to float down the River Amazon, then I’d have a bath in DEET before I set off!
But… in the attempt to stop getting bitten by mosquitoes, just how safe is it to coat yourself in DEET?
“[DEET] has been in use for over 40 years, and has a remarkable safety record. Only few hospitalisations have been reported, and these were mainly due to gross overuse,” says a correspondent on WebMD. The American Academy of Paediatrics states that low concentrations of DEET (10% or less) are safe to use on infants over 2 months old. A product containing 10% DEET can protect you for up to 90 minutes. A product containing 50% DEET is considered to be highly effective.
DEET doesn’t kill the mosquito, nor does it dull the insect’s senses; it is merely a repellent because the insect doesn’t like the smell of DEET.
There are other repellents like picaridin, citronella, lemon-eucalyptus oil (see more below). Talking about ‘citronella’, and as a side note; I’ve often wondered why there are mosquitoes in Algorfa, when you consider we are surrounded by citrus trees!
We’re off to make war on the mozzie, prevention is the key to winning!
You’ll have to do your own assessment of what does or doesn’t work. Below are only suggestions for you to try. You might have your own family preference.
From my experience, zappers appear to be useless! But then I’ve never been lucky enough to have an industrial sized zapper.
In the Garden:
Watering garden plants, and leaving water to stagnate in plant pot drip trays to stagnate, creates an ideal mosquito breeding ground. Automatic water irrigation in your garden can cause these problems when you are not in residence.
Cutting vegetation around the edges of any water would help avoid a mosquito breeding environment.
Drill holes in any outside receptacle like a dustbin to drain out any rainwater that can accumulate.
Should you spot a wriggler in a water feature, sterilise the area with normal household bleach. Keeping the water in a water feature moving, and aerated, should deter the female from laying her eggs in the water.
If you do have a water-feature in your garden; and if you can keep them safe from cats, then get a couple of goldfish. They just love mosquitoes and wrigglers. Mosquitofish would work of course too, but they are ferocious eaters, and would eat dragonflies (and their larvae), which are of course mosquito predators.
After a heavy rain, take a look around your property for puddles that could stagnate through not draining away. In my experience, even damp areas topped with dead vegetation can breed little nasties.
Clean out bird baths every couple of days, and don’t forget to refresh the dog’s outside water bowl everyday.
Mosquito Repellent Light Bulb
We’ve had good (nay brilliant!) results from using special electric light bulbs [available in E27] which work on a frequency that deters mosquitoes within some 12m2. Having one of these bulbs at the entrance or porch to external doors (and open windows) helps to keep your home mozzie free at night. If the external doors are open in the evening, we flick the light switch on, even though there’s an hour or two of daylight left in the day. They work like a dream. AKI in the ‘Habaneras Centre’ (Torrevieja), sell them for about 12 euros. Presently they can be found on the racking behind the cash tills.
If you happen to be a handy DIY type, or just like to
mess experiment, there is a home-made mozzie trap you can make.
Placed near mosquito breeding grounds, these traps have been known to knock the mozzie population back.
The YouTube presenter states this trap could work for about 2 weeks.
Caution: Keep away from small children and animals.
I’ve seen a ‘pretty’ finca where the occupant had spent hours, over time, arranging coils of lemon and orange peel around his garden. The citrus were peeled spirally into corkscrews. Whether or not it worked, I’ve no idea; but it did look attractive.
Try rubbing orange or lemon peel on your skin – at a pinch, this could make a good substitute if you find yourself outside in the ‘big-outdoors’ without any repellent to hand.
Mozzies can bite through clothing, so take care when wearing loose weaved fabrics.
Try not to wear dark clothing in the evening as they tend to be warmer; mosquitoes are attracted to heat. It’s believed they are particularly drawn to navy blue.
Studies show that people who’ve had a few beers, score the most mosquito bites at the barbecue. Snack on some Limburger cheese while enjoying a beer, and you will open yourself up to an all out assault. Limburger cheese is made with the same bacteria that makes your feet stink.
Body odour is a big draw to mozzies – if your al fresco for the evening, then you might find it worthwhile to change your socks.
Take care when exercising during dusk; catching your breath after exercise is all well and good, but remember not to kick off your trainers while you are still outside.
Around the Home:
Keep gutters clean and maintained.
Keep swimming pools clean and chlorinated.
Make life hard for the mosquito, they don’t like air conditioning, or fans.
Repelling and Attracting:
Avon do a range of products, called ‘Skin So Soft‘ – Reviews state that ‘Skin So Soft’ works very well, almost as good as DEET.
You can buy chemically impregnated plastic wrist, or ankle bands that help deter the mozzies. These bands are easy to wear at night, although they appear to shrink when you get warm (or is it that my feet or hands get swollen in the evening?). I once wore one of these bands in bed, and awoke to a blinding headache. The problem was that I had the band on my wrist, and while asleep my wrist, with the band, was tucked just under my nose. That sort of put me off from wearing them. Local ‘Consum’ supermarkets sell these bands.
Oil of eucalyptus products, even better; use oil of lemon eucalyptus. Dab a little around your pulse points.
In the last few years, non chemical repellents worn as skin patches and containingthiamine (vitamin B1) can be found on sale. The science behind this repellent comes from a study done in the 1960s. It showed that thiamine (B1) produces a skin odour that female mosquitoes don’t like. But no other studies have confirmed that thiamine is effective as a ‘commercial’ mosquito repellent when worn on the skin.
Be careful when wearing perfume or shaving cologne. Floral scents are especially attractive to mosquitoes.
Lactic acid, which our bodies produce naturally, is a big draw for mosquitoes. It just so happens that many skin care products contain lactic acid too, and so might help boost your chemistry in attracting these blood-seeking insects. Lotions and creams labelled “alpha hydroxy,” provide the most lactic acid.
Nail varnish remover, as mentioned above, is a big turn-off to a mozzie. They don’t care much for acetone.
Protect Your Pets
Use mint on your cats and dogs to keep biting insects off of them.
Crush a few mint leaves between your hands to release the oils. Rub the substance off your hands and onto your cat or dog’s fur before he goes outside. Mint is an effective and safe insect repellent.