Hurricane Matthew didn’t just bring down trees and power lines as it blew through coastal Georgia. The storm that hit Liberty County on Oct. 7 also led to what county officials termed "a huge onslaught of mosquitoes," in a press release sent Tuesday.
Others call it something else.
Liberty County Clerk of Courts Barry Wilkes posted on his Facebook page Friday that he was outside his home in Hinesville when "I heard a tremendous roaring sound coming toward me. I thought it was a freight train. Suddenly, the sky turned black and, all at once, I realized that was in a vortex, surrounded by the biggest vampire mosquitoes that I have ever seen."
Another woman posted on social media that the mosquitoes in her neighborhood were about to carry off her dogs, and there were plenty of other stories making the rounds.
While these people may - or may not be - exaggerating for comic effect, the swarms of mosquitoes left behind by Hurricane Matthew are joke. In addition to the insects being a nuisance, they can carry disease.
Now, both Liberty County Mosquito Control and Hinesville Mosquito Control are trying to put a lid on the pests. Both departments are working overtime, their directors say, in the effort to keep mosquitoes at bay and give residents some relief.
"We have increased our spray activities and are currently spraying six days a week on designated route schedules," said Frazier Sylvers, the director of the county’s mosquito control program. "Knocking down these large number of mosquitoes is a huge job but we are determined to get the upper hand."
Kenna Graham, who heads Hinesville’s mosquito control program, said he’s working seven days a week and is spraying every route in the city twice a week. Both departments are trapping mosquitoes for identification in
order to track those types which can transmit diseases.
And in that regard, the mosquitoes Graham and Sylvers are battling differ from one another.
"The mosquitoes that we are seeing in the coastal area are mostly the salt marsh mosquitoes," Sylvers said, noting these mosquitoes, called Ochlerotaus taeniorhynchus and sollictans, emerge in large numbers after heavy rains and floods.
He said they’re aggressive biters and can migrate as much as 25 miles from where they hatch, and the female will attack at any time of day.
The county’s also seeing mosquitoes known as Psorophora ferox, or the white boot mosquito. Unlike their salt marsh cousins, these tend to stay closer to where they’re hatched. But they’re aggressive and have a painful bite, Sylvers said.
Graham said Hinesville is primarily seeing a boom in the population of mosquitoes known as Psophora ciliata, or more commony as the gallinipper.
Though not usually found in Hinesville, the gallinipper, or the "biggest mosquito this side of Georgia," is what Graham called a temporary floodwater mosquito that hatches in ditches and other places where there’s available water.
"They lay their eggs in low lying places, and the water comes along and hatches them," Graham said.
There are things residents can do to limit their exposure. Because mosquitoes are most active in the early morning hours and at dusk, it’s smart to avoid being outside during those hours.
"If you must be outside, wear light colored clothes and use an insect repellent that has deet in it," Sylvers said. "Look around your home and eliminate mosquito breeding areas. Get rid of old tires, buckets and anything that holds water. Even the smallest container that has water in it is a breeding problem."
The mosquitoes probably aren’t going anywhere soon, either, despite the best mosquito control efforts.
Graham, who is vice president of the Georgia Mosquito Control Association, said he expects the pests to be here another two weeks, unless there is a freeze to kill them off. But if misery loves company, then at least local residents aren’t alone.
"Mosquitoes are this bad here in Georgia, and in South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina," Graham said. "Everyone on the southeast coast is having the same problem."
In the meantime, both Graham and Sylvers ask that residents contact them for information or help.
"We do appreciate the phone calls as this assists us in determining concentrated areas of those most heavily affected," Sylvers said.
To call Liberty County mosquito control, call 884-2065.
To contact Hinesville mosquito control, call 876-8216.