Waste Not

Mosquitoes feed birds, bats, other insects, spiders, salamanders, lizards and frogs. Mosquito larvae are an important food source in aquatic ecology. They pollinate tropical crops like cacao, used to make chocolate.

On the other hand, they leave itchy welts. In some settings, such as wetlands or deep woods, they are so populous it is hard for other life to cope. Mosquitoes spread deadly diseases including malaria and West Nile virus.

In 2010, Nature, an international weekly journal of science, challenged scientists to determine whether mosquitoes served an ecological role. With some argument for the bugs and their larvae as a food source and human population control through the spread of disease, Washington Nature writer Janet Fang found that ultimately the world would be fine without mosquitoes and in some cases better off.

However, despite annual efforts to ward them off, mosquitoes thrive.

Cities pay companies to spray chemicals into the air. Homeowners pay companies to spray chemicals onto the grass. Numerous pesticides are available at department stores.

Adulticide sprays immediately kill flying mosquitoes. Larvicide sprays kill mosquito larvae that hatch from eggs and lasts longer than adulticide sprays. Both products will temporarily reduce mosquito populations in an area, but will not permanently get rid of them, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says it is safe for humans and pets to be outside during spraying, when it is done correctly, but to contact a physician if conditions result following contact.

While chemicals may knock back the mosquitoes, as applications occur year after year, they may be causing increasing environmental harm, said a 2017 report in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. While only the abstract of the article is immediately available for perusal, the writers attempted to show changes due to toxicity in various living species as well as through clinical reports. The goal was to show potential side effects of uncontrolled use of insect repellents.

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved a number of pesticides for residential spraying, saying they are generally safe when used properly. But the agency also warns that any chemical spray poses some risks.

“Misapplied chemicals can result in more toxins reaching your children and pets, and they can harm natural foliage and nonthreatening insects (some of which have protective effects). They can also breed insecticide resistance, which will make any existing insect problems much worse,” says a recent article in Consumer Reports.

The CDC and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency say integrated pest management is the best first step to fighting mosquitoes. Before resorting to spray, eliminate standing water from pet dishes, old tires, bird feeders, planters and other receptacles. Some mosquitoes breed in standing water.

In addition, repair screens on doors and windows. The CDC recommends insect repellent when outside. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts can stop the biting bugs.

Many like to use citronella oil burners to deter mosquitoes.

At Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve, the staff uses sage. First, said gift shop manager Brenda King, a smoking smudge is passed across the body to put the smell on the skin and clothes. Then, once outside, the stick of sage is left burning.

A May 2018 article in Good Housekeeping suggests burning sage or rosemary as a repellent. It suggests growing lemon balm, catnip, basil, lavender, peppermint and citrosum, also known as the mosquito plant.

Do you have any awesome environmentally friendly mosquito remedies? Please share them with the readers of Waste Not.

Waste Not is a weekly column highlighting conservation and the responsible, sustainable use of products and resources. Readers are encouraged to email tips, ideas and concerns to aoberlin@kpcmedia.com.

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