Silver lining in historic U.S. drought: fewer mosquitoes

KANSAS CITY, Kansas Thu Jul 19, 2012 5:53am EDT

Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field near Evansville, Indiana, July 18, 2012. REUTERS/John Sommers II

Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field near Evansville, Indiana, July 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/John Sommers II

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Reuters) - Something good is coming out of one of the worst droughts in the United States in decades -- fewer mosquitoes.

The insects breed in standing water, and there is not much of that in Missouri, Kansas and other states that are suffering devastating dry spells.

"I can live with that part of the drought," said Scott Trout as he left a playground in a park in Westwood, Kansas, with his wife and two children on Tuesday evening. "In late spring, the mosquitoes were bad, but they are not as bad now."

Thomas Gieseke, who lives two blocks from the park, built a barbecue pit and sitting area in his backyard this year. That would normally be a place where mosquitoes feasted.

"They are some mosquitoes around, but I have not noticed as many," Gieseke said.

Mosquitoes have not bugged campers, hikers and anglers at Roaring River State Park in Missouri, which is among the driest states in the nation. Only one person has complained of a mosquito bite, said Hannah Elkins, a park fee collector.

Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water on the ground or in objects such as pails, old tires, and clogged gutters.

"It does not take much and it can be very shallow water," said Ludek Zurek, an entomologist at Kansas State University. If and when rain finally arrives this summer, mosquitoes would rebound because their eggs can still hatch, he said.

Many counties and cities create mosquito traps in the summer to monitor populations of mosquitoes because they can spread diseases, such as West Nile virus. Among counties reporting mosquitoes in Missouri, "everybody's numbers are down," said Natasha Sullivan, vice president of the Missouri Mosquito and Vector Control Association.

While drought has been tough on mosquitoes, the heat wave is not, Sullivan said. She said eggs of a mosquito can hatch in as little as three days in standing water in extreme heat. She advised people against leaving containers around that hold even a few ounces of water.

Sullivan said that neither drought nor heat do anything to kill off another summer pest that can bite and spread diseases: wood ticks.

"We have just as many," Sullivan said. (Reporting By Greg McCune; Editing by Paul Simao)

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