Like backyard barbecues and fireflies at night, mosquitos are a part of summer. Mosquito bites are generally unpleasant in their own right, but when they bring with them diseases such as Zika and West Nile virus the impulse is often to use brute force, blanketing the landscape with pesticides rather than taking a more measured approach. We know that such dramatic measures often have unintended and far reaching consequences. Instead, there are many proactive measures we can take to limit mosquito breeding and negative human health impacts.
Dump it out, turn it over – Because mosquitos require stagnant water for breeding, the first step in mosquito-proofing your home should be to identify any sources of standing water. After a rainfall, walk around your home and look for items and areas that may collect water including buckets, pots, cans, or old tires. Turn them upside down or otherwise remove them to areas where they cannot collect water. When covering outdoor items with tarps, be sure to pull them taut to limit any ponding or low areas where water can collect. Change birdbath water regularly (it’s healthier for the birds too!). Think about less-obvious areas that may not be at eye-level such as rain gutters that may not be draining properly.
Keep ‘em out – All doors and windows should close tightly and contain screens that do not have holes or tears. Limit opening and closing doors or windows during the hours that mosquitos are most active, from dusk to dawn.
Dress for success – Like fashionable urbanites, mosquitos are attracted to dark colors. Wear light-colored, long sleeved, loose clothing to keep mosquitos away from skin.
Use repellent – Both synthetic and plant-based insect repellents can be effective at keeping mosquitos at bay. Products containing DEET provide the longest lasting protection, generally effective for one to five hours depending on the strength of the repellent and factors such as perspiration. Plant-based products require reapplication in as little as 20 minutes but some soybean oil based products provide up to 90 minutes of protection. Always follow application instructions. If using DEET, apply to clothing and be careful to limit direct exposure to skin.
Set a trap – Once you’ve eliminated all other sources of standing water, you can create a mosquito breeding trap by placing outside a container of water laced with Bti, the commercially available form of a naturally occurring bacterium found in soils. This bacterium acts as a larvacide targeting only mosquitos, biting flies, and some gnats. Studies show it has low toxicity to bees and other invertebrates, and is not directly harmful to amphibians, birds, or other wildlife. Bti is available as granules or as donut shaped disks known as ‘dunks’. Read directions thoroughly and replace the Bti water solution as needed, typically every 30 days depending on the product used.
Encourage natural predators – While most people think of bats, birds, or frogs as the most vociferous predators of mosquitos, dragonflies are the true heroes of the mosquito killing armada! Dragonflies spend the majority of their lives as larvae in ponds and still water where they voraciously gobble up mosquito larvae—and as adults they may eats hundreds of mosquitoes each day. You can learn all about creating a backyard dragonfly habitat here.
Embrace a breeze – Light and little, mosquitos can be blown off-course by even slight breezes. A simple box or oscillating fan set at low or medium speed may be all the protection you need to keep mosquitos from landing on you. And on a hot summer day, who doesn’t love a nice breeze?
By being proactive, using personal protection and prevention – we can all do our part to keep mosquitos at bay.