Wet summer equals more mosquitoes in the High Country
Summit Daily News
It was late spring and we clambered up to our camp on a ridge overlooking the Gore Range.
In past years, we haven’t been bugged by mosquitoes at high elevations, but this trip was different.
We wildly waved our hands and looked at each other with discomfort.
Should we stay?
We did, but not without trying everything under the sun to ward off the mosquitoes.
Like lighting sagebrush on fire and dancing in the smoke.
Or rubbing fresh leaves on our bare skin.
Or starting a fire while the sun still beat down and loading it with wet brush to smoke the skeeters away.
We considered running to the convenience store for repellent, but opted instead for full-body clothes coverage until the sun went down.
I’m certain this camping party wasn’t alone in its battle with mosquitoes this summer.
It’s not just perception that they swarmed the High Country the past few months. It’s reality.
Mosquitoes have been far more populous this summer than years past because of the wet weather and prolonged pools of standing water.
In the High Country, mosquito species are grouped into a category known as flood water mosquitoes. It’s comprised of roughly 35 to 40 species that lay durable eggs at the edges of ponds and marshes. The eggs can withstand heat and cold and will shrivel up in dry weather. They can last for years, said Mike Weissmann, surveillance manager, aka “resident bug geek,” at Colorado Mosquito Control.
The eggs may not hatch for years, but when the water comes, they flourish.
“They’re sitting there, just waiting for the water to rise,” Weissmann said. The more water, the more eggs hatch.
Abundant wildflowers also help the mosquito life cycle in a wet year, as the insects are nectar feeders like butterflies. The only reason the females bite humans is to glean some protein to help them lay eggs, Weissmann said.
It’s been a noticeable change for the High Country. Weissmann said the last time Colorado Mosquito Control did a capture in Summit County was 2007, and they didn’t find many mosquitoes. The area was still in drought, he said, which meant the insects weren’t living and the eggs weren’t hatching.
But this year, the immense snowpack rebuilt the population.
CSU Extension agent Whitney Cranshaw said it’s common that wet years in the mountains breed what he called “snowpool mosquitoes.” Though, he said, the insect hatches were roughly three weeks behind traditional timeframes because it remained cold well into spring.
Most larvae live as long as three weeks in water, developing slower the colder the water. Some species develop all winter under the snow, Weissmann said. They then move into the pupae stage for a few days before becoming adults.
To live a long life as adults, mosquitoes need the right mix of wet weather, nectar abundance and shade. In the mountains, they can live several weeks to a month in most summers, whereas Front Range mosquitoes are generally affected by hot, dry weather and die off more quickly.
Though the mosquitoes are abundant this year, they’re not the type that carry West Nile Virus, Weissmann said. Those species, like Culex tarsalis, live below 8,000 feet.
“In general, Summit County is a place to go to escape West Nile Virus. The ones that are biting there are just a nuisance,” he said.
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