Mosquito Madness

Features - Pests

From larvae to adult, mosquitoes complicate golf course operations. As mosquito season picks up throughout the United States, superintendents and pest management professionals increase measures to kill them off.

August 16, 2016

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Whether they are swarming around a group of golfers finishing a round at dusk or a stand of spectators at a PGA Tour event, mosquitoes have presented many a problem for the golf course superintendent. However, both superintendents and pest control experts have found success in both killing the larvae and the blood-suckers themselves to reduce problems on golf courses.

A recreation of natural cycles kills off mosquitoes at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill. Superintendent Dan Dinelli maintains flocks of purple martins, barn swallows, tree swallows and dragonflies that attack the insects by air, and releases fathead minnows into his demonstration wetland to eat the mosquito larvae.

The golf course’s workers try to avoid letting water sit in tires and buckets, but if it does sit, they place mosquito donuts inside, Dinelli says. “It’s naturally occurring bacteria — you’re just stepping it up,” he says. “And it’s safe for fish and everything.”

Mosquitoes still carry the West Nile Virus around Glenview, about 20 miles north of Chicago, Dinelli says. Throughout an approximate 30-mile radius of Glenview, the number of crows has remained low as what he presumes is a result of their contracting the virus.

West Nile mosquitoes show up in Chicago every year, says Dr. Stan Cope, director of entomology and regulatory services at Terminix. They tend to breed in municipal storm drains in big cities. However, the fact that mosquitoes and birds carry the virus does not necessarily mean it will show up in human populations, he says. Although effects of the virus can be serious, about one in 200 people who contract it develop a severe illness.

Still, Dinelli doesn’t want to take any chances. “It makes it worth putting up these defenses,” he says. “It makes it worthwhile just to keep that disease to a minimum.”

Knowing where mosquitoes reside is a key step in being able to reduce their populations, Cope says. “Adult mosquitoes like to rest where it’s cool, dark, moist and out of the wind,” he says. “They’ll sit there until they sense a host coming by, whether it’s a person or an animal.”

Mosquitoes congregate near standing water and lay their eggs there, says Robert Scott, global category development manager at Mosquito Magnet. “A mosquito could in theory breed inside of a soda bottle cap,” he says. “It really does not need to be much water at all.” Because mosquito populations are less likely to swarm around flowing water, he says, pond aeration practices could help keep mosquitoes at bay.

Manholes are one place where mosquitoes can breed and superintendents might not realize it, Dinelli says. If a drought occurs and the systems have not flushed, water can sit below the drain.

Turf drainage is also important, Dinelli says. The North Shore course is flat with heavy soil, so it doesn’t naturally drain well, but workers constantly repair drainage and add to the system.

Superintendents could also find standing water in a saucer underneath a potted plant, on a tarp, in a wheelbarrow or on the top of a five-gallon drum, Cope says. If they find standing water in one of these items, they can simply tip the item over. “It’s always better, if you can, to control the immature stages, which are not only the larvae but also the pupal stage, which is the stage between the larvae and the adult, where the adult just develops,” Cope says. “For one thing, they’re concentrated in the water. They’re also not biting people yet, or biting animals.”

If superintendents can’t locate all of the breeding areas or effectively treat those areas, they should contact a pest management professional, Cope says. Despite superintendents’ best efforts to treat or remove breeding sites, mosquitoes still fly out of their pupae. Pest management companies offer truck-mounted spray programs and longer-lasting barrier spray treatments for adult mosquitoes.

For the past two years, Terminix has treated mosquitoes at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn., in preparation for the FedEx St. Jude Classic, targeting areas with high vegetation and foot traffic with its Attractive Targeted Sugar Bait. The spray contains a mixture of fruit juices, date syrup and microencapsulated garlic oil, Cope says. “It’s not regulated by the EPA — that’s how safe it is — and the label actually says it’s safe for people, pets and food,” he says. “You don’t see that on too many insecticides.”

Mosquito Magnet is beginning to test its mosquito traps on golf courses, Scott says. “We have done a little work with them last year, specifically a couple of courses out in the Midwest, just to see how our products would work within that type of environment, because we haven’t really targeted that market too much yet,” he says.

The company’s traps take propane tanks and emit the propane into carbon dioxide, mimicking human breath, Scott says. The CO2 acts as a primary attractant, and the trap contains a secondary attractant of either Octenol or Lurex, which both mimic human sweats and oils. The company’s patented “Counterflow Technology” then sucks the mosquitoes up into a net, dehydrating and killing them. “There’s a variety of solutions out there to help target mosquitoes at different times in their development,” Scott says. “Our traps in particular are for the adult mosquitoes.”

For a mosquito to develop from an egg, the outside temperature must be at least 50 degrees, Scott says. Southern mosquitoes like Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) and Aedes aegypti (yellow fever mosquito) often bite during the day. Northern Culex mosquitoes often come out in the morning and evening, he says.

At the Raymond C. Firestone Public 9 in Akron, Ohio, mosquitoes become more of a nuisance in the mornings and evenings of the summer season, says superintendent Stephen Seaburn. On humid mornings, some crew members opt to wear netted hardhats.

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The water on the course’s approximately one-third-acre irrigation pond is relatively stagnant and gives rise to some biters, Seaburn says. “It’s not like a swamp where you have an infestation of mosquitoes, but you do have some activity,” he says.

Crew at the Public 9 largely avoid mosquitoes on the course by maintaining quality drainage, Seaburn says. They have installed bat houses and barn swallow nests near water features and native areas, including two bat houses near the irrigation pond. “Every winter we make a certain type of barn swallow house, and then we put them throughout the golf courses—mainly towards our native areas or off the beaten trail,” Seaburn says.

The adjacent Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, which hosted the World Golf Championships British Invitational June 30 through July 3, has less of a problem with mosquitoes than the Public 9.

Although crew have built bat houses at the country club, mosquitoes were never much of an issue there to begin with, says Larry Napora, director of golf course operations.

The Firestone Reservoir, which sits north of the country club and south of the public course, could be to thank, Napora says. “We always seem to have a constant breeze, and what I’ve found is, if you have a breeze, the mosquitoes don’t seem to hang out with you,” he says.

Patrick Williams is a GCI editorial contributor.