What Bugs Us at the Beach

Mar 22, 2019

Nothing ruins a day at the beach quite like biting flies. And mosquitoes, even worse, can carry disease. Of Long Beach Island’s particularly pesky summertime pests – mosquitoes, greenheads, black flies, gnats – mosquitoes, said Daniel J. Krupinski of the LBI Health Department, “are more of a public health concern, although we have been fortunate in this geographical area to not be at risk for many of the more severe mosquito-borne illness that many other parts of the world experience. West Nile and Zika virus made it clear that we should be vigilant in controlling and avoiding mosquitoes, as we cannot always predict the next emerging public health concern.”

“Mosquitoes bite during the day and night,” note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, treat clothing and gear, and take steps to control mosquitoes indoors and outdoors.”

According to the N.J. Department of Health, mosquito-proofing a home at the shore includes: installing or repairing window screens; cleaning out gutters and drains; covering garbage and recycling containers; removing any loose garbage from the yard; draining any standing water from outdoor items such as wheelbarrows, swing sets, lawn furniture and buckets; and regularly changing the water (every four days or so) in containers such as pet dishes, birdbaths, rain barrels and decorative pools. The last can also be stocked with a special type of fish that feed on mosquito larvae.

The department recommends limiting time outdoors when mosquitoes are most active – during dusk and dawn.

When outside, as the CDC notes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best. The state Department of Health suggests light-colored clothing, as “mosquitoes are more attracted to dark-colored clothes.”

In regard to insect repellent, the departments says, “DEET is the ‘gold standard.’ …  Choose the proper percent of DEET for the amount of time you will be spending outdoors. The higher the concentration, the longer the protection. Follow all directions carefully,” which means avoiding spraying near the eyes, mouth and broken skin.

“If you are also using sunscreen,” the CDC states, “apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second.”

DEET should not be sprayed onto clothing; instead, the insecticide permethrin is recommended to treat clothing and gear such as hats, boots and tents. Permethrin-treated clothing and gear are also available. Permethrin products should not be applied directly to skin.

As for natural repellents, the CDC notes, “We do not know the effectiveness of non-Environmental Protection Agency registered insect repellents, including some natural repellents. To protect yourself against diseases spread by mosquitoes, CDC and EPA recommend using an EPA-registered insect repellent. Choosing an EPA-registered repellent ensures the EPA has evaluated the product for effectiveness.

“When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.”

As the the state points out, “DEET and other repellents can be used on children older than 2 months of age. Apply repellent to your hands and then rub onto children,” avoiding the hands, eyes, mouth, cuts and irritated skin.

“Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old,” the CDC warns, and don’t use oil of lemon eucalyptus on children younger than 3 years of age. “Instead, dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs,” and use mosquito netting on infant carriers and strollers.

To find the right insect repellent, use the EPA’s search tool, at epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you.

Call 1-888-NO NJ WNV for more information on mosquito control activities, or to report local mosquito problems.

According to Krupinski from the LBIHD, the more “nuisance-oriented” insects on LBI – greenheads, black flies and gnats – are, unfortunately, not as successfully deterred by repellent.

“These nuisance insects are seasonal (peaking in July) and weather-dependent. For greenheads and black flies, local salt marsh ecology (and) wind intensity and direction (westerly) are a factor,” he added.

Krupinski pointed to an online article by Elton J. Hansens, research professor of entomology and economic zoology, and Stuart R. Race, extension specialist in entomology, from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service/Cook College, that includes directions for building a greenhead trap.

“The salt marsh greenhead fly, Tabanus nigrovittatus, is an abundant and bothersome summertime pest along our coastal marshes,” Hansens and Race write. “Because the females bite during daylight, and because they occur in large numbers, have a long flight range, and attack persistently, they interfere with the enjoyment of coastal areas throughout much of the summer.

“Conventional methods of biting fly control, such as those used for mosquitoes, are either environmentally undesirable or economically impractical,” they added. “Both adults and larvae of greenhead flies are large in comparison to other, non-target organisms. Generally, more insecticide is needed to kill larger insects. The higher concentrations or greater amounts of toxic material needed to obtain greenhead control have undesirable effects on other insects and animals. Marsh water management by ditching may actually enhance greenhead production. Although high-level impoundments reduce the numbers of developing greenhead larvae, this is a costly and impractical approach to fly control for much of our coastal wetlands.

“For a number of years Rutgers research has been directed toward control of the salt marsh greenhead in southern New Jersey. Now we can recommend a trap which will greatly reduce greenhead annoyance in many areas. Further research is planned to develop even better controls which are effective and have no harmful side effects.”

To learn more about greenheads and to access directions for building a box trap, visit atlantic-county.org/mosquito-control/greenhead.asp.

And Krupinski noted, “There are plenty of great summer days without greenheads; just hope you luck out and are visiting the seashore on those days.”

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch


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