Bugged by summer

Jun 13, 2019

Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

You take the good with the bad in Alaska summers — the salmon are returning, the sun is at least periodically shining and daylight is nearly endless. But there are a few million obstacles to being outside enjoying those things.

Seemingly overnight, our blissfully mosquito-free spring took a turn for the annoying.

“What happens is they hold over as eggs over in the wet areas," said Casey Matney, an agriculture and horticulture agent with the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service in Soldotna. "Those larvae develop fairly rapidly and you see them as the little wigglers in water. And then, yeah, it’s been about a week to a week and a half ago that we really saw them come out of the water, and now they’re looking for areas to feed."

“Those females need that blood meal so that they can produce more eggs and more mosquitoes," Matney said. "The females can breed a few times so they’re going to lay lot more eggs and, so, we’re going to start to see more mosquitoes throughout the year.”

Matney says there are some things we can do to reduce mosquitoes around our homes. If there’s any standing water — in a tire, a bucket, a wheel barrel, dump it out. If you live next to a small to moderate amount of standing water that you can’t drain — like a ditch or a low spot in the yard — you can buy wildlife and pet-safe pellets or biscuits that will treat the water for mosquitoes. If you live next to a marsh, though, sorry about that.

Warm-blooded animals aren’t the only targets of swarms of insects this time of year. Spruce trees are again getting hit by bark beetles.

“We have been seeing a lot of calls on the spruce beetle. Actually, we’ve got people that have been coming into the office and seen spruce beetles landing on the side of the house because there’s a lot of adults moving around right now," Matney said.

If an older tree is showing signs of extensive damage from infestation, like dying limbs and needles turning red, it’s probably best to remove the tree. A younger tree that’s newly hit might still be salvageable. Look for pitch tubes in the bark about 6 feet up, where the tree is trying to protect itself by flushing out burrowing beetles.

“Some of the trees may have just started to have some spruce beetle damage, and those cases it might make sense still to do a proscribed treatment,” Matney said. "And we do have applicators that will do injections or other treatments to apply a pesticide directly to a tree."

Matney says gardeners should be on the lookout for root maggots — which target brassicas and root crops — and cutworms, which will eat just about any green they can get their mouths on. Keep your plants as healthy as possible to protect them from damage.

“One of the biggest things that we face early on this year is people watering not enough or watering too much for plants," he said. "Keep an eye on that and that way your plants won’t be so stressed if they do encounter an insect pest.”

The Cooperative Extension Service has an invasive pest management program, where they recruit Alaskans to keep an eye out for any new plants or insects they find and report them through an online portal. Check that out at pestreporter.alaska.edu.