FREEPORT, Ill. — Mosquitoes are already out in force this season. How can we protect ourselves and our families and still enjoy the outdoors?
“Humans are mosquito magnets,” says University of Illinois Extension educator Chris Enroth. “Not only are forgotten plastic kiddie pools in the backyard good for mosquito breeding, we also attract mosquitoes simply by being living, breathing mammals.”
What makes one person more attractive to mosquitoes than others? Enroth says mosquitoes can’t resist the following:
- Carbon dioxide: “Yes, every time you exhale, you draw those pesky little blood-suckers closer,” Enroth says.
- Lactic acid: Humans produce lactic acid on our skin. Some produce more than others.
- High skin temperature
- Colognes and perfumes
- Dark-colored clothing
- Warm days with low winds. “Mosquitoes are pretty lousy fliers, so cool days with high winds (over 10 mph) reduce their activity. Placing a fan facing an outdoor seating area will keep them at bay,” Enroth says.
- Studies have also indicated that some people are just more desirable than others. Due to the complexity of factors that can play into this, researchers are unsure why exactly this is.
The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends DEET as the most effective chemical to use to combat mosquitoes. Look for sprays with DEET at 40% or higher for an effective, long-lasting repellants Be sure to re-apply every 4-6 hours. DEET confuses the mosquito and blocks the females’ ability to detect carbon dioxide, heat, moisture, and human sweat.
Avoidance is only part of the strategy. Controlling mosquito populations though habitat reduction and backyard treatments is another strategy to minimize bites.
“Only female mosquitoes bite,” Enroth says. This is because they need a blood meal (protein) for reproduction. Once she has fed, the female will search out a favorable site to lay her eggs. Anything that holds stagnant water is her target. Preventing her offspring from developing into adult mosquitoes is the most effective control. Enroth suggests the following strategies to eliminate breeding sites:
- Remove any object on your property that may hold water. For example, tin cans, toys, flower pot saucers, stagnant pools, and the notorious old tire in the backyard.
- Change water in birdbaths weekly
- Stock garden ponds with top-feeding minnows
- Make sure covers are tight and free of holes over grills, cisterns, rain barrels, or anywhere water is stored
- Clean your gutters. This is often the unseen area for mosquito development. Enroth recommends cleaning out gutters in the fall and spring.
- If you can’t remove the standing water, Enroth recommends treating it with Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis). Bti only targets the larva of mosquitoes and a few species of fly.
Controlling adult mosquitoes
“Avoid using bug zappers to control flying adults,” Enroth says. “About 90% of insects killed with bug zappers are not mosquitoes. In fact several are beneficial insects like the brown lacewing.”
Mosquito foggers work for only a short period of time and are well-suited to being used prior to an outdoor event.
Community-wide control programs work best. “Everyone has a role to play in minimizing mosquito population,” Enroth says.
To prevent getting bitten by female mosquitoes and to minimize the spread of West Nile Virus, Illinoisians should follow the recommendations above for reducing habitat and personal protection.
Source/news writer: Chris Enroth, 309-837-3939, email@example.com
If you have questions about mosquitoes or other garden related questions give us a call at the Master Gardener helpline at (815) 235-4125. A Master Gardener is avaible at the University of Illinois Extension Stephenson County on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. The helpline can also be reached by completing an on-line form at go.illinois.edu/mghelpline .
— University of Illinois Extension Stephenson County
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