GALVESTON, Texas -- Get ready for mosquito season — the little critters are about to descend on the unwary living near the county’s beaches and southern bayside areas.
Nurtured by high tides at the beginning of the month that were reinforced by last Friday’s heavy rains, the insects’ larvae are about to hatch for the first serious swarm of salt marsh mosquitoes this year.
Fortunately for humans, salt marsh mosquitoes do not carry the West Nile virus or St. Louis encephalitis, but their bloodsucking still can be a major source of discomfort.
John Marshall, director of the county’s mosquito control district, expects the hatchoff to begin as early as this evening and continue throughout the weekend on Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston’s West End, southwest Hitchcock and, to a lesser extent, the eastern fringe of Texas City.
He expects inland areas to be spared because the heavy rain dried out quickly except in the areas alongside the county’s beaches and coastal marshlands.
"We will wait until (today) to decide when to start spraying," he said.
"We will be sending our trucks to each affected area about twice during the next week, and our new plane will make as many flights as needed to control the areas the trucks can’t reach."
Control district officials will wait until the hatchoff is about 50 percent complete before sending up their turboprop plane because it uses $4,700 worth of insecticide per hour, far more than it costs to fly the plane.
The insecticide is a 40-micron mist the consistency of hair spray. To be effective, it must touch the insects, so the district sprays during the light-wind hours of early evening and morning, when the mosquitoes are active.
"We don’t go out when they’re resting in long grass during the day," Marshall said, "because the insecticide won’t reach them."
Once the district’s trucks and plane are deployed fully, it will take about a week to bring the mosquitoes under control, even though Marshall expects this weekend’s birthrate to be "light to medium."
He said that expression describes official estimates of the average number of insects landing on the lower half of human bodies in any one minute during the swarm.
"Most people in the affected areas will have six or seven mosquitoes per minute landing between their belt buckle and their ankle from this evening through Monday evening," he said.
"But some could experience about 15 and, at the upper limit, the number could reach 25."
Whatever the number attacking any particular person, Marshall said it will come as a shock after a mosquito-free winter and spring.
"We’ve forgotten about seeing them and dealing with them," he said. "But now we have to remember to do all the things necessary to overcome their inconvenience, especially for young children playing outside around sunset."
He warned parents to keep their children inside or well covered from about 45 minutes before sunset each day and to use plenty of mosquito repellent on any exposed skin.