A wing and a prayer
Here's the buzz: There are plenty of ways to keep mosquitoes away
Pardon us. We hate to ruin your picnic plans or interrupt your morning on the porch swing. But, uh, just in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s mosquito season.
If you haven’t been bitten yet just wait.
Unless you’re an entomologist, you probably want to ensure that you and mosquitoes stay in opposite corners of the yard. But now that the dangerous pesticide DDT is banned and those violent bug zappers have been zzzzt-ed out of style, what’s a mosquito-hater to do?
For now, use the sports section to slap those mosquitoes away. “This” section’s going to give you tips for summer mosquito avoidance. We’ve talked to bug experts to find out which methods work and which ones don’t and we’ve learned that there are eco-friendly elimination options. Follow this guide and you won’t have to, you know … wing it.
Mosquito-trapping machines. These are fairly new. They’re a couple of feet tall and not much bigger than a breadbox, and quite expensive (most are $450-$1,400). Here’s how they work: Mosquitoes are attracted to warmth and carbon dioxide (which is why we humans are so attractive to the insects). The machines emit a moist cloud of carbon dioxide; mosquitoes gather round, thinking it’s a food source, and they’re vacuumed up into the trap, where they dehydrate and die.
Harsh? Maybe a little. Effective? Absolutely. These devices can protect a fairly large area your back yard, for instance.
The good news is that only biting insects (mosquitoes, black flies, etc.) have receptors that draw them to carbon dioxide. The beneficial insects of the world (beetles, moths, those lovely ladybugs) won’t be attracted to the trap.
The cheaper machines use electricity and require an extension cord in the yard; the pricier ones run on propane. A few brands to get you started: Mosquito Magnet, Lentek Mosquito Trap, Mega-Catch Mosquito Trap, Dragonfly Mosquito System.
Larvicide. Avoid infestation by getting to the mosquito eggs before they hatch. Try some Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, also known as “Bti” or “mosquito dunk.” This is a bacteria that kills mosquito larvae. You can buy it in briquets, then toss it into standing water, where mosquitoes love to breed.
Look for brand names like Aquabac, Bactimos and VectoBac. The best news about Bti: It kills only mosquito larvae. For pets and humans, it’s harmless.
DEET repellent. Sometimes your best option is to keep the mosquitoes off “you.” And here’s the stuff to do it: DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the active ingredient you’ll find in repellents such as Off! and Cutter products.
“There’s no doubt about it, that stuff does work,” says Susan Maggy, who’s in charge of public education for the American Mosquito Control Assn. In the past, people have fretted about whether the chemical is a health hazard but in 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency declared DEET to be safe for all ages, as long as people follow instructions for use.
What sort-of works
Citronella products. Citronella oil is the trendiest mosquito repellent on the market these days. At any store you’ll find all varieties of citronella candles, citronella incense, citronella wrist bands.
“Citronella can be a very effective repellent,” says Dr. Mark Lacey, director of technical and field services for the National Pest Management Assn.
The only problem is, you have to stay pretty close to the candle to feel any benefit. So for a backyard party, you’ll need to have citronella burning all over the yard.
“If you have citronella candles sitting all around your deck and you are 50 feet away playing horseshoes, those citronella candles aren’t going to do any good,” Lacey says.
If everyone’s huddled around a picnic table, though, a candle or two will probably do the trick.
If there’s much of a breeze, forget about citronella. The mosquito-repelling smoke will be gone with the wind.
Exclusion. This seems basic, but try putting up barriers so mosquitoes can’t get to you. Close the screen door. If you have a deck, consider putting up screens. The more barriers you put up, the less likely you are to encounter mosquitoes at all so protect the area where you’re most likely to hang out.
What doesn’t work
Citrosa plant. Some people claim that the citrosa plant will repel mosquitoes because it’s genetically engineered to contain citronella oil. It doesn’t work at least, not enough to make a difference. When the citrosa plant was tested, mosquitoes landed freely on the plant’s leaves. Apparently, you can get mosquito relief from a citrosa plant if you crush it up and rub it on your body. But this doesn’t seem worth the effort.
Bug zappers. At their peak in the 1980s, the violent zappers which attract bugs with ultraviolet light then electrocute them with a loud pop are now a bit passe. And it’s just as well: “Bug zappers don’t attract mosquitoes,” Lacey says.
Research has shown that these zappers kill mostly moths, beetles and beneficial insects; mosquitoes make up only a small percentage of electrocution victims.
Bats. Bats eat mosquitoes, and many people believe that a bat house or roost in the back yard is the solution to mosquito elimination.
That’s not exactly true, Lacey says. Bats eat more moths and beetles than anything else the very same insects gobbled up by bug zappers. Mosquitoes are only a small part of a bat’s natural diet and while inviting bats to live in your yard isn’t a bad idea, it won’t get rid of your mosquito problem completely.