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Tactics for Avoiding the Bite of Mosquitoes

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Mosquitoes bite, carry diseases, and are responsible for more human deaths than any other insect in the world.  These diseases have included West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and St. Louis encephalitis. Recently, mosquitoes have been found carrying the Zika virus and again are a major health concern in the United States.

Mosquito control is difficult and usually limited to prevention methods.  Homeowners can most effectively reduce the number of mosquitoes around their homes and neighborhoods by eliminating standing water. Mosquitoes need water for the immature stages to develop, therefore, reducing standing water will reduce adult populations.  Female mosquitoes lay their eggs on water or moist substrates such as soil and the interior of walls of treeholes, cans, and old tires that are likely to be flooded by water. Most larvae hatch within 48 hours and then live in the water for a little while longer. Adult mosquitoes emerge soon after.

Start by placing these tactics on your mosquito control to-do-list:

  • Dispose of any refuse that can hold water, including containers, tin cans, and old tires.
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers and check uncovered junk piles.
  • Clean clogged roof gutters every year, check storm drains, and leaky outdoor faucets.
  • Empty accumulated water from wheelbarrows, boats, cargo trailers, pet dishes, toys, and ceramic pots. If possible, turn these items over when not in use.
  • Do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths, ornamental pools, water gardens, and swimming pools or their covers.
  • Swimming pools should be cleaned and chlorinated when not in use.
  • Alter the landscape of your property to eliminate standing water. Keep in mind that during warm weather, mosquitoes can breed in any puddle of water.
  • Eliminate seepage from cisterns, cesspools, and septic tanks.
  • Water plants and lawns in the morning and so that water is not left standing for several days.
  • Change the water in pet bowls daily.
  • Clean livestock-watering troughs monthly.
  • Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. People with lily ponds can get mosquito fish (Gambusia), which eat mosquito larvae and live happily with goldfish.
  • Larvicides or “mosquito dunks” are highly effective in controlling immature mosquitoes and should be considered when standing water cannot be eliminated.

Preventing mosquito bites is the next best tactic.  Start by avoiding outdoor activities between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are looking for a blood meal. If not, cover up by wearing shoes, socks, long pants, and long sleeved shirts; light-colored clothing is better. Apply a “bug spray” or repellent for personal protection. Those containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) are effective in discouraging mosquitoes from biting. The higher the percentage of DEET in the product, the longer the protection lasts. Non-Deet repellants may provide some relief but typically do not persist as long.

Eliminating adult mosquitoes all together would be the perfect solution, but in reality is a major undertaking and impossible.  One can try by managing the home landscape vegetation since adult mosquitoes rest on dense vegetation during the day. Cut tall weeds, and keep shrubs and trees trimmed away from the house to increase air circulation.

Spray shrubs and the lower branches of trees where mosquitoes rest with an insecticide. Registered insecticide for adult mosquito control include cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, and permethrin, Yard foggers, which typically contain pyrethrins may be set off shortly before an outside activity to provide temporary relief from mosquitoes.

Note – insecticides used in an area provide temporary relief of mosquitoes and not long term control.  Like most insects, mosquitoes have the ability to reproduce rapidly and replace any dent that might occur in the population.

Finally, beware of mosquito control gimmicks such as bug zappers, traps, electronic devices, candles, plants, etc. Research studies have proven that most of them are not only costly but quite ineffective in controlling or providing relief of mosquitoes. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

By Shane Harris

Alabama Master Naturalist Program

egret standing on driftwood in a wetland area

The Alabama Master Naturalist program is a new statewide program whose goal is to help promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Alabama’s natural world among Alabama’s citizens and visitors. In addition, the AMN program will also develop a statewide corps of well-informed volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities.

Learn more about how you can participate today!