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Mosquito sprayers are doing brisk business this summer

Paul Miller, owner of Evergreen Lawn Service, applies a spray onto the growth along a driveway last week. The spray is supposed to control mosquitos for three weeks. (Steve Kuchera / / 2
Paul Miller, owner of Evergreen Lawn Service, prepares to start the pump that helps apply the spray that kills mosquitoes. (Steve Kuchera / / 2

Advertisements for Mosquito Squad spraying service feature a muscular, strong-chinned character armed with a device better suited for a battlefield than a backyard.

For sprayers across Northeastern Minnesota this summer, another army of blood-thirsty mosquitoes means war.

“It feels like every year for the last three years has been getting worse,” said Debbie Fenlason, a sprayer for the Mosquito Squad of Northeast Minnesota, one of several businesses offering mosquito-control spraying in the area. “It feels like, as we’re spraying, there are more and more mosquitoes out there.”

Mosquito numbers aren’t necessarily higher this summer, experts say, but the manner in which the mosquitos arrived might make it seem that way.

A cold, wet spring suddenly morphed into a warm spell at the beginning of June. The snowmelt and rain provided plenty of stagnant water in which mosquito eggs could incubate, and hot, humid air — a favorite of mosquitoes — greeted them when they hatched, seemingly all at once.

Fenlason says Mosquito Squad of Northeast Minnesota, based in Saginaw, has sprayed more than 1,700 properties this season, well ahead of last year’s pace.

“We were expecting to double our business from last year,” she said. “We’re well above that.”

The business exceeded projections for June to the extent that it fell behind on yards and had to hire six new employees.

Adding to the flood of customers is Mosquito Squad’s recommendation that properties be re-sprayed to keep mosquitoes in check. The service’s most popular mosquito-control treatment, an insecticide with two phases — the first designed to wipe out existing mosquitoes along property lines and the second to keep new mosquitoes from coming in — lasts for up to three weeks. Each treatment costs $109 per half-acre and $10 per additional half-acre.

Sandy Lonne has had her property on Ely Lake near Eveleth sprayed each of the last two years. She said one spray has been enough to do the trick on her yard, even though the business recommends that properties be sprayed at least three times.

“I love the way it works,” Lonne said. “Last year, we didn’t see a mosquito until the end of July, and at that point, who cares?”

The spray is capable of reducing more than just mosquito populations. It also can kill off what are sometimes referred to as “beneficial” insects, such as dragonflies and butterflies.

To minimize the harm they cause those insects, Fenlason says sprayers aim to treat only narrow bands of property, paying special attention to vertical surfaces, which mosquitoes land on more often than most insects.

“Can we still kill dragonflies and butterflies and other insects?” Fenlason said. “Certainly. But the way we spray targets mostly mosquitoes.”

Lonne says she hasn’t noticed any negative impacts the spray might be having on other insects in her yard.

“The black flies are awful,” she said. “I know it doesn’t work on them.”

Mosquito Squad also carries a natural treatment derived from garlic, but Fenlason said the Northeast Minnesota branch recently stopped using the treatment because the chemical one has been so popular.

That popularity hasn’t been lost on Paul Miller, owner of Evergreen Lawn Service in Duluth.

Miller, who added a mosquito-control program to his lawn-care company this summer, said his sprayers have treated nearly 100 properties with a repellent derived from chrysanthemums.

Insects are naturally turned off by chrysanthemums because of substances called pyrethrins, which are two organic compounds that attack insect nervous systems. High concentrations of pyrethrins can kill mosquitoes and other insects within seconds, while lower concentrations only cause duress.

Like Mosquito Squad, Evergreen sprays the repellent along property boundaries, primarily in bushes and shrubs, which frequently are occupied by mosquitoes.

“In those foliage areas — that’s where mosquitoes harbor during the day,” Miller said. “The spray knocks them out almost immediately and creates a kind of protective wall for three weeks.”

Mosquito control is a slight departure from Evergreen’s business as usual. Miller has focused mostly on fertilizing and maintaining lawns since he founded the company in 1981.

“We’d been exploring the idea for a while,” he said. “It was a good fit.”

After recent batches of rain, and with the hottest days of the summer most likely ahead, conditions might soon be primed for another mosquito offensive.

For those in the right line of work, that’s a good problem to have.

“Fortunately for us,” Miller said, “it’s been a big year for mosquitoes.”