NEWBURYPORT — If you've ventured outdoors at night the last few days, you know they're back. And you may even have the bite to prove it.
Though a colder-than-usual spring kept mosquitoes at bay for most of June, the wet weather that accompanied the cooler temperatures last month left behind ideal breeding environments for some of the most tenacious breeds of summer pests.
And locals have been feeling their presence.
"It's definitely heavier than last year, and we're starting to see some species that are maybe three weeks earlier than normal," said Jack Card, director of the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito & Wetlands Management District. "It sounds like what's going on this year is we're getting about 10 times more (mosquitoes) than normal."
Of special concern for specialists like Card is the fact that some of those mosquitoes are the very kind known to carry eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.
Those species, which belong to the Culex family of mosquitoes, don't usually start showing up until late July. But the right mix of weather conditions has led to their early arrival.
"Some of the mosquitoes we're still getting right now are spring brood mosquitoes," Card said. "They've been continuing (breeding), and we're also starting to get all our summer mosquitoes, as well. We're starting to see an increase in our Culex mosquitoes, which are the ones that carry West Nile virus."
The Culex bloodsuckers tend to breed best in backyard basins, where residents may have an unknown source of standing water that's ripe for their development.
"Those mosquitoes like man-made things, catch basins in the streets and things that people have in their yards that hold water," Card said. "They come and go. It depends on the community and the heat and weather conditions. We're finding them in different locations. It's not everywhere, or in every basin."
Card has sent a variety of specimens collected from local receptacles and surveillance traps for testing at the state Department of Public Health lab, which annually begins routine testing on June 20.
He wasn't expecting any results back until this week. But there hasn't been any reports of the virus so far this season.
According to the Department of Public Health, most confirmed cases of EEE and West Nile virus occur in late summer or early fall, but it's advised that residents take precautions all summer long to protect themselves against becoming ill from mosquito bites.
The state advises using bug sprays containing DEET, permethrin, IR3535 or picaridin. Officials say oil of lemon eucalyptus has also been found to be an equally effective natural preventative. Children's arms and legs should be covered when playing outdoors, and mosquito netting should be placed around baby carriages and playpens when they're outside.
To keep mosquitoes out of homes, DPH reminds homeowners to fix any holes in window screens and make sure they are tightly attached to doors and windows. Most importantly, officials advise removing sources of standing water around the home.
"Mosquitoes will begin to breed in any puddle or standing water that lasts for more than four days," DPH spokeswoman Julia Hurley said. "Check gutters, ceramic pots, trash cans, recycling containers, old tires, wading pools, bird baths, etc."