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Wet Days Bring Swarming And Swatting of Insects

Winter of snow spawns summer of bugs, and consumers flee toward repellents


Call it the Year of the Mosquito. Add the no-see-ums, too, and all kinds of flies.

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Yes, this summer has become an entomologist's dream and a series of bites for everyone else.

``We had such a wet and prolonged winter with moisture just everywhere, it left a perfect environment for mosquitoes,'' says Richard Weir, a horticulturist at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Plainview, N.Y.

This is not news to Scott Simmons, who recounts a recent evening wedding on the shores of Long Island Sound in Greenwich, Conn. ``There was a dock leading out to the Sound and a lot of people took that long walk down the pier and then discovered you couldn't be out for more than 30 seconds without being devoured. The bugs were out of control.''

They were different bugs, but the same experience for Linda Cameron, a Bethlehem, Pa. native who was visiting Marietta, Ohio. ``They were just little flies that bit you from ankle to knee. They went right through my father's socks.''

The surge in such complaints has led Long Island counties to do helicopter spraying over the salt marshes where mosquitoes hang out and breed. ``The mosquito population is declining now,'' reports Charles Bartha, the chief deputy commissioner of public works for Suffolk County in New York.

But recent rains in the Midwest have created a mosquito heaven. ``They are going to be with us for weeks,'' says Dr. Daniel Lawson, a research entomologist at S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. a Racine, Wis., manufacturer of insect repellents.

Recently, Mr. Lawson headed for the golf course after work. ``Suddenly, I realized I had no repellent - of all people - and instead went to the driving range where there weren't any bushes for the mosquitoes to hide in,'' he says.

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The swarm has been a boon for sellers of repellent. ``We're selling quite a bit of Avon Products Skin-So-Soft [bath oil] and citronella candles,'' reports Tony Defalco, a salesman at Nobman's Hardware Store in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Mr. Lawson confirms that business at S.C. Johnson - which makes Off! - has been on.

All the insect slapping must have put the repellent manufacturers in the mood to go after each other. In May, Johnson ran ads comparing its product with Avon's bath oil, which consumers buy to keep the bugs away. Avon, which recently introduced its own new bug repellent, is now slapping back - in court.

The invasion has led to some unusual ways to beat the insects. For example, deer flies typically swarm around the head and shoulders of a victim.

Golfer Sue Simmons, however, discovered they would also swarm around the head of her golf club as she walked around the Saucon Valley golf course near Bethlehem, Pa. ``I know it looks funny, but it works,'' she says.

And so does the old-fashioned method. Swat!

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