Tag Archives: animal facts

Some Facts About Mosquitoes

Conjecture: Mosquitoes are probably the most annoying insects on the planet. Fact: They are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet. They’re a source of discomfort, a vector for disease, and they seem to be everywhere we are when enjoying nature, or lately, even just reading the news. Here at Pocket Ranger®, we and our sponsor Thermacell® want to talk about this pest that has brought itself to the forefront of our thoughts as the weather improves and we are drawn outdoors. We’re here to discuss the facts while underlining the importance of mosquito bite prevention.

mosquitoes are the worst.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito enjoying a meal. It’s astonishing the lengths folks will take to photograph these hungry blighters. [Image: www.cdc.gov/]

The Obvious

  • Mosquitoes make up the family Culicidae, approximately 3,500 flying, biting insect species best known for drinking blood from mammals, reptiles, birds, and basically anything else with blood they can sink their proboscises into. They tend to be crepuscular feeders, taking their meals at dawn or dusk.
  • In most mosquito species, female mosquitoes drink blood for protein that is essential to produce eggs before or after mating. Some species are capable of drinking as much as three times their bodyweight.
  • Particularly before they begin mating, female mosquitoes, like their male counterparts, subsist on the sugar from fruit and flower nectar.
  • The mosquito is a food source for birds, bats, amphibians, reptiles, and other animals, despite being a fairly well adapted hunter itself.

Mosquitoes in the U. S. of A.

A map showing mosquito ranges

This map shows the potential ranges of the invasive mosquito species Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictis in the United States, but does not detail the mosquitoes’ populations or risk of disease transmission. Aedes aegypti is a known carrier of the Zika Virus. Aedes albopictis is not confirmed as a vector here, but could become a viable transmitter of Zika and other diseases. [Image: www.cdc.gov/]

Though West Nile Virus is now endemic in California, mosquito-borne illnesses like Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, Dengue, Malaria, and other dangerous infections are not common in the continental United States. From a historical standpoint, and as a sweeping general rule, the roughly 200 species of mosquitoes in the U.S. tend to be a nuisance to folks spending time outdoors rather than a transmitter of diseases. We’ve been very fortunate in that way.

However, these days, particularly while discussing mosquitoes, we can’t help but talk about the very present context of the Zika Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Aedes aegypti has been indicated as the primary agent of Zika, largely because it favors living in close proximity to its preferred food source: humans. Aedes aegypti enjoys a comfortable potential range that would extend throughout much of the southern and coastal portions of the U.S. where weather and temperature are a bit more within the mosquito’s varied tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate preferences. And, well, it’s just good practice to prevent or avoid mosquito bites by any reasonable means, regardless of Zika or any other illness, no matter where you live.

Ways to Naturally Prevent Mosquito Bites and Hinder Population Growth

[Image: www.mosquitomagnet.com]

It looks like a great place to clean your feathers, but it’s not a good idea to have one of these hanging around without also having a way to mitigate the mosquito eggs that could hatch from the waters. [Image: www.mosquitomagnet.com/]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website, “The best way to prevent Zika and other viruses spread through mosquito bites is to prevent mosquito bites.” Well, when you put it like that, CDC! Thankfully, there are many easy and natural ways to reduce the incidence of mosquito presence and mosquito bites.

  • Wear protective clothing. You can wear long sleeves and pants to reduce the area a mosquito can dig in. Or if it’s just too unbearable to wear that much fabric, you can wear bug spray, DEET, or any number of other topical remedies. Just be sure if you’re wearing sunscreen. too, you apply insect repellent last. Or, as we’ll get to in a minute, there’s an alternative to any of that smelly stuff.
  • If the water’s standing, flip it over. Or use it to water a plant. Birdbaths may be quaint, but they are mosquito nurseries. Rainwater repositories, horse or livestock water troughs, your dog’s outside water bowl, a non-aerated koi pond, and any other number of vestibules and yard items can contribute to your home’s immediate mosquito population. You can mitigate this by simply taking steps to make sure water isn’t sitting or stagnating for days after rain.
  • Herbs and flowers can save your skin. You can plant and grow mosquito repellent plants. Do some research about what grows best in your climate, but trust in the staples like peppermint, lemongrass, basil, garlic, the popular citronella, and even catnip! Most of these plants can be bought already grown, are fairly easy to maintain, and have uses beyond driving bugs away.
  • Choose a repeller you trust. In the spirit of saving the very best for last, you’re probably aware by now that there’s a virtually odorless mosquito repellent with a 98 percent effectiveness rating that requires no oily bodily application. Our favorite way to reduce the chance of mosquito bites is with Thermacell® appliances that wield allethrin, a synthetic copy of the natural mosquito repellent found in chrysanthemums that forms a 15′ by 15′ shield around your outdoor work or hangout space. You can find out how this terrific tool works here.

Thermacell logo.

A combination of all these solutions are the ideal way of reducing incidence of mosquito interaction around your home or campsite, but you’d do well to keep your Thermacell appliance nearby wherever you are. [Image: www.thermacell.com/]

For all the frustration mosquitoes might impose on our lives, the world is just too great and offers too many nature-packed reasons to warrant a life confined to netted spaces or freezing climates. Download a Pocket Ranger® mobile app, gear up with your Thermacell®, get out there, and explore!

Wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler

Why is the Prothonotary Warbler considered rare? It seems every time someone utters the magic word, Prothonotary (pro-THON-eh-Ter-ee), everyone goes a little bird crazy. The Prothonotary Warbler is a life bird for many birders; some have seen it only once or twice in their lifetime. Warblers in general are hard to spot, and have been known to cause serious next strains due to their minute size. The Prothonotary Warbler is no different, measuring at 14 cm, it’s especially hard to distinguish among branches and leaves. But more so, these warblers are threatened by habitat destruction, declining food resources, weather variations, and parasitic species. This warbler is listed as endangered in Canada. An estimated 2,000 pairs live in South Carolina’s protected, Francis Beidler Forest.

Prothonotary Warbler in Prospect Park, New York.

This Prothonotary Warbler was taking a stroll around Prospect Park, NY in April. Image Credit: Marc Brawer

See my colors

Among a sea of green leaves, the Prothonotary Warbler’s deep yellow head and underparts stands out. The prothonotary has greenish upperparts, and unmarked bluish-gray wings, white belly and undertail. This helps distinguish it from other yellow warblers. Adults females and immature birds are of a similar shade but with a duller composition. Plumage stays the same throughout the year. If you hear a series of high-pitched tweet-tweet-tweet, sharp and loud, you’ve found it!

Where I call home?

The Prothonotary Warbler is a bird of the southern woodland swamps with a high concentration along the floodplain forests of Lower Wisconsin, Mississippi, and the St. Croix rivers (common to abundant). In the summer they range from southern New Jersey to north-central Florida, west to east-central Texas to southern Michigan. It’s also a visitor of the Appalachian Mountains, sparingly distributed in the northern parts of the states. Their winter range extends from Southern Mexico to Venezuela, and sometimes the warbler plays the role of the island bird in Puerto Rico and Bermuda.

This species breeds in moist bottomland forests either permanently or seasonally flooded with standing water such as sloughs, oxbow ponds and slow-moving backwaters. It tends to find safety above flooder water, which has less risk of nest predations by raccoons— their main nest predator. To defend their territories the tiny male warblers snap their bills and chase away intruders. Males keep watch while the female builds the nest and lays eggs—what a gentleman! To flourish these birds must find breeding habitats in overstay trees with the right kind of cavities for nesting. Typically low cavities such as old Downy Woodpecker holes. Some of the trees they flock to include the swamp white oak, silver maple, green ash and river birch, among others.

 

Why I’m considered rare?

The Prothonotary was included in the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, due to its vulnerable nature and niche habitat. Prothonotaries are prone to suffer from unpredictable ecological changes. For example loss of wetland habitats affects both breeding and wintering grounds. Logging practices are specially harmful to these warblers, since it removes cavity trees. Also some plants like the Reed canary grass, which can dominate the ground layer, impede new trees from growing, thereby turning the bottomland hardwoods unsuitable for Prothonotaries to survive. They also face parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbird, who are known to abandon offsprings in foreign nests. This behavior ruins the warbler’s chance at hatching success, further increasing nestling mortality. In southern Illinois parasitism rates are as high as 50 percent for Prothonotaries.

Climate change is causing a decline in soil moisture, reducing the growth of bottomland hardwood forests, and in turn decreasing available habitat for the birds.  Frequent summer storms and flood events also have a negative impact; they destroy low nests, as it occurred in the Wisconsin River in recent years. Extreme droughts dry backwater sloughs and ponds essential for the warbler’s survival against predators. The overall population is projected to dwindle as the southern part of its main range suffers.

 

Help a bird out

Now that you know about the wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler, plan out some simple ways you can help out this species. During winter, prothonotaries live in mangrove forests; if you have one near you, be sure they’re kept healthy. One sure way to lure these sweet, yellow warblers is by offering a safe habitat for nesting in your backyard. They typically thrive in nesting huts and nest boxes, and are especially drawn to living near water, such a large garden pools, ponds, and marsh. Their favorite trees include willow oak, sweet gum, black gum, bald cypress, tupelo, elms, and river birch. Offer them fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas to keep them around. As everyone knows with warblers, one minute you see them, and the next they’re gone!