The mosquito isn’t the state bird of Georgia. Several states make that proboscis-in-cheek claim, notably Minnesota, Maine, Alaska and Florida. Still, Georgia prides itself on outdoorsy activities, and those backyard bloodsuckers, those needle-nosed Nosferatu of the night, can be the bane of summer.
The high-pitched whine in the ear, the unexpected bites and maddening welts all add up to major annoyances. Mosquitoes become more sinister when you consider their status as “vector agents” for disease, including malaria and yellow fever, which can ruin more than a picnic. Mosquitoes can be formidable opponents, but a few facts and strategies can better equip you for this battle of wits.
Mosquitoes like you not just because of the yummy, mouth-watering blood in your veins, but because of the carbon dioxide you give off. Sure, you could just hold your breath while outdoors, but your skin gives off CO2, too.
First, don’t encourage them. Like vampires, mosquitoes often need invitations to invade your space. Mosquitoes lay their eggs either in stagnant water or just above the water line of containers like birdbaths and kiddie pools. Pour out the likes of the half-empty watering cans and scrub the sides. If you can’t bear to go without a pet’s water bowl or a birdbath, change the water at least every two days. Plus, you can use the mosquitoes’ affinity for water against them. Mosquitoes will sink into a bucket of soapy water and won’t be able to escape. Have a good swim, skeets!
You can’t use DDT, even if it was still legal, because mosquitoes have allegedly developed immunity to it. (They’re always one step ahead!) For powerful, effective repellents, WebMD recommends DEET and DEET-based products. While acknowledging that Skin-So-Soft has many loyal users, a New England Journal of Medicine study found that it repelled mosquitoes for about 10 minutes, not nearly as long as DEET or “a 2% soybean oil product called Bite Blocker for Kids (that) protected against bites for an average of 94 minutes.”
For “green” solutions, I turned to Tiny Game Hunting: Environmentally Healthy Ways to Trap and Kill the Pests in Your House and Garden. To repel mosquitoes, authors Hilary Dole Klein and Adrian M. Wenner point to the popularity and success rate of pennyroyal and citronella oil. Some of their suggestions sound anecdotal and, frankly, delicious. To dispel mosquitoes at nighttime barbecues or campfires, throw herbs such as sage and parsley onto the coals. Eat garlicky dinners before bedtime to avoid being feasted upon during your sleep. They also suggest rubbing parsley or apple cider vinegar on exposed skin.
If you get bites, follow the “duh” rules: Wash immediately and don’t scratch. I’ve heard from several sources that, in addition to familiar remedies like calamine lotion or baking soda, toothpaste works for topical relief. The fluoride allegedly acts as an antihistamine, without giving your welts “medicine breath.”
But enough about prevention and healing: How do you take the fight to them, short of burning your house down? Bug zappers have been known to do more harm to the insects that prey on mosquitoes rather than the pests themselves, so the gadgets could exacerbate your problem. If you have an ornamental pond, try stocking it with a diminutive fish called the Gambusia, also known as topminnows or mosquitofish, which love to eat the buzzing menaces.
Bats are also big mosquito eaters. According to Bat Conservation International, one can eat 500-1,000 per night. See if your yard is suitable for a bat box. The site www.batmanagement.com presents some helpful, highly specific advice to enlist some allies in the fight. One simple, seasonal pleasure is watching bats make their seemingly erratic nocturnal flight patterns. Think of the joy you’d feel watching your bats and knowing that they’re feeding on mosquitoes, so the mosquitoes won’t feed off of you.
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