It seems that anything and everything that bites, stings, or feeds on blood is back with a vengeance this summer. Although we take the usual precautions to protect ourselves against the elements, it is inevitable that interactions pest insects will occur. Though we can never hope to avoid bites and stings altogether, there are several steps you can take to discourage pest insects during the summer months.
Mosquitoes: As nuisances and disease vectors, mosquitoes can turn any outdoor activity into misery. Mosquitoes are most active during early morning and evening hours, but can also be active during the day if you have stagnant water around your home. Female mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing bodies of water, and the larvae are aquatic. In order to control mosquito populations, make sure to remove all standing bodies of water from around your home, including unused potting containers, bird baths, or flower pots. Improve drainage in your yard if you have areas that allow rainwater to puddle and decorative ponds or pools can be treated with Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis.
Biting flies: Belonging to the horse fly family, yellow flies are tinier versions of their more robust cousin and are highly aggressive and persistent pests to both humans and animals. Yellow flies use rasping mouthparts that act as tiny saws to break open the skin and feed on blood. In order to keep the blood flowing, yellow flies excrete anti-coagulating enzymes, to which some people are highly allergic. Yellow flies are most active in hot, humid weather following major rain events with peak activity occurring through August. Just like with mosquitoes, yellow flies tend to congregate in areas with standing bodies of water, so drain any standing water from around your yard, including bird baths, rain barrels, and tires. Yellow flies are not deterred by insect sprays, so wearing long sleeves and pants is the best form of protection. Wear protective headwear as they also tend to attack your head, neck, or even face.
Bees and wasps: In general, bees and wasps will attack only if threatened. Bee stings are not uncommon, but they are less likely than wasp stings. Because of their territorial behavior, wasps such as yellow jackets and hornets can be problematic if they are nesting in your yard or on the eaves of your home. Yellow jackets are ground-dwelling wasps that can be identified by their yellow and black striped markings on their abdomens, and make tunnels near exposed tree roots or small mammal holes. If yellow jackets are in your lawn, an application of carbaryl dust or acephate is recommended. Avoid swatting or crushing bees or wasps as it can be perceived as a threat and increase aggression.
Apply insecticides in early evening or at night when wasps are not active, repeating applications as necessary. Once a nest is destroyed, plug holes to discourage future nesting. Wasps that form paper nests on the eaves of homes should be treated in the same manner, and nests should be removed at least 48 hours after treatment. Wild honeybee swarms can be removed by professionals for a small fee.
Using repellents responsibly
In most cases DEET or permethrin products can provide adequate protection against insects. Be aware that these products are poisons and can cause injury if not used appropriately. Never apply when skin conditions like cuts or sunburns are present. Permethrin products are never applied directly to skin and are for use on clothing only. Once indoors, wash away repellants with warm soap and water as soon as possible.
Living with insects
Although it is inevitable that we encounter biting and stinging insects during the summer, there are ways to mitigate the occurrence of attacks. For the most part, insect control starts with making habitat less suitable with the ultimate goal being control, not eradication. Know the biology of the pest and have it properly identified before treatment. Biting and stinging insects have made a strong showing this summer; and though I appreciate what they do, the itching welts on my legs and arms suggest otherwise.
For more advice on insect identification and control options, visit ces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.
Sam Marshall is the horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Brunswick County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.