July 6, 2022

Years of continued drought prove a pest for mosquito population in Alberta

UCalgary entomologist says biting insects will be relatively rare this summer
lirtlon / Adobe Stock

It’s going to be one lousy summer — for mosquitoes, that is.

Despite rain and heat and more rain, a University of Calgary mosquito expert (and self-avowed admirer) says 2022 is looking like a real buzz-kill for the winged insects in Alberta.

“While we’re seeing a few more mosquitoes right now, it’s all relative,” says John Swann, an entomologist and BIOL technician at UCalgary.

“We are in the fourth year of a drought cycle in Alberta, and it’s been so dry that even when we get rain, there’s a huge capacity to soak up all the moisture.”

No standing water = no chance for mosquito romance

For a creature that depends on standing pools of water for breeding, that’s bad news indeed.

‘Few and far between’ might best describe the likely situation for mosquitoes in 2022, and Swann compares that to years like 2011, when Edmonton’s CFL team was forced to practise indoors due to the sheer number of biting pests.

“Compared to typical years, it won’t be so bad,” he says.

John Swann

John Swann manager of the invertebrate section of the Museum of Zoology in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

West Nile still a serious concern

But that doesn’t mean Albertans can relax when it comes to avoiding the bite, cautions Swann.

Fewer breeding spots may mean fewer skeeters on the fly, but it also concentrates the number of thirsty creatures (including birds) which carry harmful diseases like West Nile virus.

Swann says that might mean a higher percentage of mosquitoes who feast on birds become carriers of the potentially serious virus, which in rare cases can infect the central nervous system.

“Just because the number of mosquitoes isn’t that bad doesn’t mean you can go without repellent,” he cautions.

Repellent is a must

Swann suggests Picaridin or DEET as a repellent — applied only after any sunscreen has dried — and avoiding outdoor time at dawn and dusk, when the insects are most active.

As for some of the supposed technological breakthroughs in keeping the skeeters at bay, Swann is skeptical, saying long sleeves, pants and lighter colours are probably more effective than sonic repellents and backyard bug zappers.

“Studies on those electrified zappers show they actually attract more mosquitoes to your yard than were there in the first place,” says Swann.

“Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it is.”

Winged wonders, in spite of it all

You’d think an insect best avoided would also be universally loathed, but Swann admits to admiring mosquitoes, which play a key role in the ecosystem as food for fish, birds and bats.

Furthermore, male mosquitoes do not seek blood, and instead can act as pollinators as they eat nectar from flowers.

“Mosquitoes are integral to the ecosystem. That being said, you don’t want to get bitten by them,” says Swann.

“Even someone who admires them doesn’t want to be bitten.”