How to Mosquito Proof Your Home
Vampires in your backyard?
Are there really such things as vampires? ...YES! In the animal world, blood-feeding insects and mammals really do exist - even in our own backyards!
Many insects like midges, ticks and fleas as well as mosquitoes, feed on blood. Protein, the building blocks of all cells, is found in blood, and it's the protein in blood that mosquitoes require before they can produce and lay a batch of eggs.
Thanks to Dracula, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight, vampires are hot and popular. However, there is one little bloodsucker that will never be welcome – the mosquito! While there’s no risk of turning into a vampire yourself overnight; it only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to contract a serious, and sometimes fatal disease.
1. Mosquito Traps
A good mosquito trap is a very effective weapon for use in open spaces like backyards - because the best method of controlling mosquitoes is to stop them breeding. Mosquito traps should be used as the first line of defense, and set up around the perimeter. The trap will then act like a decoy in a sense; attracting mosquitoes towards it and away from humans. Never put mosquito traps near people (20-30 feet is the recommended distance) because given the choice most mosquitoes will go for real rather than replica any day!
The effectiveness of mosquito traps does vary from brand to brand and location to location. However Mega-Catch™ machines have performed consistently well in a number of independent studies. Maybe because Mega-Catch™ traps employ a wide range of stimuli to attract mosquitoes and other biting insects including black flies, sand flies and midges. These traps have proven to be effective against a wider range of mosquito species including daytime biters like the yellow fever (Aedes aegypti) and Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes who rely on visual cues including movement and color, as well as chemical cues like CO2 and sweat to find their targets.
By daily trapping during the season to interrupt breeding cycles, you can decrease the number of mosquitoes, reduce backyard biting incidences and the potential for disease transmission.
2. Mosquito Repelling PlantsClick thumbnail to view full-size
There are certain plants which will have some effect in repelling mosquitoes from around your home and garden. Here are five of the most effective, which are easy to grow in most regions of the US:
Marigolds are hardy annual plants that prefer full sunlight and reasonably fertile soil. They have a distinctive smell, possibly the Pyrethrum, which mosquitoes (and some gardeners) don't like. Pyrethrum, is a compound used in many insect repellents.
When buying citronella, look for the true varieties, Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. Other plants sold as ‘citronella scented’ do not have the mosquito repelling qualities of true citronella.
Citronella, a perennial ‘clumping’ grass which grows to a height of 5 – 6 ft can be grown in pots or directly in the ground in frost free areas. If grown in the ground it should be planted behind smaller decorative flowers and shrubs.
Also known as Flossflowers, Ageratum produces a smell which mosquitoes find particularly offensive. Ageratum secretes coumarin, which is widely used in commercial mosquito repellents.
It is a low-lying annual ornamental plant which reaches heights of 8 – 18”. Easily recognizable by its blue flowers (although there are varieties with pink, white and violet blooms),
Ageratum will thrive in full or partial sun and doesn't require rich soil.
Horsemint is fast growing, shade-tolerant and a drought-resistant plant which reaches a height and width of 2 – 3 feet. Also known as Beebalm, Horsemint is an adaptable perennial plant which repels mosquitoes much the same as citronella. It gives off a strong incense-like odor which confuses mosquitoes by masking the smell of its usual hosts.
Catnip, Nepeta cateria, is very easy to grow. This perennial herb is related to mint, and grows readily both as a weed and a commercially cultivated plant in most areas of the US.
While catnip will repel mosquitoes in close proximity to the plant, some people apply the crushed leaves or catnip oil for stronger protection. Entomologists at Iowa State University (2010) reported that Catnip was ten times more effective than DEET.
3. Spatial Repellents
Spatial insect repellents work by releasing a repellent material in the form of a smoke or vapor. Two general types of spatial repellent; coils and candles/torches have been available for many years all over the world. Unlike mosquito traps, candles and torches should be placed close to where people sit for them to be effective.
Mosquito coils offer some protection if they contain insecticides but there is growing opinion amongst experts that these provide only limited protection against nuisance-biting and/or mosquito-borne disease risk. An Australian study has shown that burning devices that contain botanical products provide up to a 70% reduction in landing mosquitoes. However the same study found that applying DEET stopped 100% of landings.
4. Mosquito Nets & Screens
Some mosquitoes like to come indoors. Keep them outside by having well-fitting screens on both windows and doors.
Mosquito nets can be used to provide protection inside your home i.e. in the bedroom or for your outdoor areas including gazebos and patios. A mesh size of 1.2mm X 1.2mm is large enough for air circulation, but small enough to keep mosquitoes out. However if biting midges are also a problem then a smaller mesh size is required. And for added protection the netting can also be treated with Insect Shield (Permethrin), one of the world's safest and most widely-used insect control products, to kill mosquitoes (and midges!) once they land on them.
Permethrin, one of the most common chemicals used by local mosquito control programs, kills mosquitoes on contact by disrupting their central nervous systems. However, eggs and larvae often are not affected. And once the insecticide dissipates, mosquitoes can return.
Another option may be to wear clothing that is actually impregnated with permethrin. Marketed under the name of Insect Shield, the permethrin is impregnated into the fabric by a process that ensures it will retain its repellency through 70 washings. According to the American Mosquito Control Association, the Department of Defense uses this process to impregnate battle dress uniforms for the operational forces in order to protect the troops from arthropod-borne diseases overseas. The EPA has registered permethrin for this use and this method of repellency is endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
6. Personal Protection - Mosquito Repellents
Because there are still no vaccines to protect against many mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend preventing against mosquito bites as the best protection. Despite rumors and anecdotes of everything from banana peels to garlic tablets warding off mosquitoes the CDC recommend only four active ingredients as being safe and effective for use in insect repellents:
- DEET remains the standard by which all other repellents are judged. DEET was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was registered for use by the general public in 1957. It is effective against mosquitoes, biting flies, chiggers, fleas, and ticks.
- Picaridin by Bayer. This repellent is the most widely used repellent in the world outside of the United States and is marketed as Cutter Advanced. Picaridin is odorless, has a pleasant feel and doesn't plasticize like DEET. Studies have shown it to be as fully repellent to mosquitoes as DEET and can also be applied on infants as young as 2 months.
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, often the choice of those wanting a natural product, is OLE, sold as Repel®. Repel is a 40% formulation of naturally-derived eucalyptus and has a pleasant scent and feel without any plasticizing properties. It is also effective at repelling ticks.
- IR3535 (marketed as Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard) is recommended by the CDC as an alternative to DEET. Reports have shown that it performs as well as DEET against deer ticks and the Culex mosquitoes that sometimes carry West Nile virus, though the 20% formulation was slightly less effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes that may carry yellow fever, dengue, and encephalitis. IR3535 can be irritating to the eyes and may dissolve or damage plastics, but poses few other safety risks.
According to Maria Diuk-Wasser at the Yale School of Public Health, global warming is likely to increase the infection rates of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever and West Nile virus by creating more mosquito-friendly habitats. Unfortunately there is no single solution that will rid you entirely of the little bloodsuckers. Mosquitoes have evolved over time, adapting to the climatic environment and building up resistance to the many chemicals used to control them and the emergence of insecticide-resistant strains of mosquitoes has become an increasing problem worldwide.
It's not just humans that mosquitoes attack. These bloodthirsty insects are also known to feed on horses, cows, cats and dogs, as well as birds, lizards, fish, bats and even caterpillars. To keep the bites at bay, prevention is by far the best protection, wherever you live, because somewhere in the world it’s summer and those vampires of the insect world are out to get you.