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Yukon heat warning could mean increased mosquito activity

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Fly, buzz, itch. Yukoners might be surprised to learn that the mosquitoes they squashed were the result of a snowy winter.

The territory had a record winter for snowfall and precipitation where the majority of surveyed sites met or exceeded historical monthly records.

With the extra snow, that means more water and wetlands as well as a later start to spring.

Both lead to greater mosquito activity, according to Curtis Fediuk, a biologist and owner of Duka Environment Services Ltd., an environmental company that runs the territorial government’s mosquito management program.

“Overall we are noticing that there has been more larval development than normal, and that’s just a function of more snowmelt and more water than normal and also precipitation. Summer has been wet and wet,” he said.

Fediuk said Yukoners should be prepared for more mosquitoes during warmer temperatures.

Recently, Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a heat warning in the Yukon and northern British Columbia with temperatures reaching 28°C in Whitehorse combined with overnight lows near 13°C.

“Adult mosquitoes, like mosquito larvae, are cold-blooded animals. So when the water is warm, mosquitoes grow faster or when the air is warm, these are good conditions for mosquitoes to more active adults,” Fediuk said.

Curtis Fediuk is a biologist and owner of Duka Environment Services Ltd. which manages the Yukon Territorial Government’s Mosquito Management Program. (Submitted by Curtis Fediuk)

Fediuk said mosquito populations usually start to decline around mid-July, but with the late start to the season, that decline could be delayed.

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Kill mosquitoes early

Mosquitoes need 7-14 days to develop.

That’s why, as part of the stewardship program, someone from Duka Environment Services checks for standing water in and around Whitehorse every eight to ten days.

The staff member checks the larvae, to manage the mosquito population in its development phase.

Larval development could be 5 to 10 or 100 to 200 depending on the site, Fediuk explained. If the sampling sites contain larvae, the staff member applies a larvicide or bacteria that only affects the stomachs of the mosquitoes.

“It’s actually the small protein chain that’s toxic to mosquito larvae,” Fediuk said.

He said the bacteria, discovered in 1976, does not affect any other natural insects or predators such as dragonflies, diving beetles, fish, birds or others.

“It really is a miracle paper product.”

Wet sites in communities across the territory are checked every two to three weeks due to distance.

Truck spraying is a thing of the past

According to Fediuk, the easiest way to reduce the mosquito population is to reduce larval habitats, i.e. water.

“We don’t spray adult mosquitoes anymore, so when the public phones to complain about mosquitoes, there’s not really much we can do,” Fediuk said. “The days of driving with a sprayer truck are over.”

Instead, Fediuk suggested cutting grass, mosquito nets and mosquito magnets on windows to reduce mosquito activity near residents’ homes.

Although residents cannot drain swamps, they can focus on small bodies of water like kiddie pools and remove stale water in tires, boats, or woodpiles to reduce larval habitats.

“Mosquitoes need water to thrive. Draining water from these will definitely reduce the possibility for mosquitoes to thrive,” he said.