For Release September 12, 2004
What's Eating You?
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
Normally, by the time we get to September, we don't expect to have a lot of problems with stinging and biting insects. Over the last several years, anyway, that has been the case. The hot dry summers, of the past four years, have certainly caused problems with mosquitoes, chiggers and ticks to be greatly reduced. This is a different year all together. The cooler then normal summer and slightly wetter conditions, to some extent, have caused a marked increase in things that find you an option for lunch!
Mosquitoes have diminished across much of the area with the drier weather in August. But we are a long way from the end of the mosquito season. With September showers we will see more standing water and the warm temperatures will result in a fairly quick generation cycle. We also know that as the season progresses, the risk of West Nile Virus increases. This phenomenon comes from the habit of the mosquito species that carry the West Nile Virus start to switch from feeding exclusively on birds early in the summer start to feed more on humans later in the summer. Continue to use repellents, keep as much skin covered as possible and reduce outdoor activity in the early evening when mosquitoes can be most active.
Chiggers, that ankle, and other unspeakable locations, biting pest has usually well departed by now. But this year, we seem to have a rebound of the populations here in late summer. Chiggers are not an insect, they are a mite. All life stages of chiggers feed on plants EXCEPT the larval form that feeds on warm blooded species, like us. They usually attach to a hair and then insert their feeding tube into the skin cells, inject their saliva into that feeding tube which then dissolves the cells and allows them to suck up the cell contents.
Chiggers will feed for two to four days if not washed off. They do not burrow into the skin. The severe itching is usually an allergic reaction to the chigger's saliva. Wear a repellent containing DEET. As a good option you can treat clothing with one of the permethrin containing products. After coming in from an outdoor outing, a good scrubbing with soap and water can help remove chiggers, and ticks which are seeing an increase in activity as well. Treat the itching with one of the steroid anti-itch products. Products that help seal the bite off from the air, ointments as opposed to creams, are more effective also.
The last little fun creature of late summer is the yellowjacket. This wasp looks like a streamlined honeybee with an attitude. Yellowjackets nest in the ground, usually in an old rodent or snake tunnel. Late in the season these colonies become large enough to have specialized workers and they will start to defend the nest much more aggressively. There are also specialized workers that collect food. These are the "bees" that you will see anyplace there is food or drink outdoors up until a good frost. While unsettling, these food gatherers are rather calm and as long as you don't start swinging and swatting at them, you'll be left alone. Just be sure to keep drinks covered so you don't try to drink one! If you find a yellowjacket nest you can treat it, in the evening, with a wasp and hornet killer. If you are having a picnic, set out some of the yellowjacket traps a few days ahead of time. September and October are great months to be outside. Don't let a few things that buzz, crawl, bite or sting keep you from enjoying autumn!
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