Stopping mosquitoes before they hatch

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Ahhh, spring is here! The deck and patio furniture are set up, the grill is ready to fire, and the garden’s perennials are waking from their winter slumber. As I’m basking in warm sunshine, listening to songbirds, and planning my next spring cleanup task, I hear that dreaded sound that ruins even the most tranquil outdoor moment: the buzzzzzzz of a blood-sucking mosquito! My priorities immediately shift; it’s time to initiate my annual Mosquito Prevention Plan.

Did you know that most mosquitoes only fly up to 300 feet from where they hatch? That means that most mosquitoes that plague your lawn come from your own property. And did you know that mosquitoes require a source of stagnant water to breed? If mosquitoes are running rampant over your family barbeques and kids’ play dates, you have your own property to blame.

Every spring I clean out the rain gutters and inspect my yard for unplanned pooling of water—for me it’s often unused flower pots and planters. One year I realized our tire swing, which the kids didn’t use, was catching and holding water, so that came down fast. Other items to look for are stagnant puddles, disused bird baths and old tires on the ground.

I learned a new prevention method last year for treating bodies of water that are intentional, specifically our two rain barrels from which we almost exclusively water our indoor and outdoor potted plants during the summer. It’s called Bti, which stands for Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis. Bti is a naturally-occurring bacterium found in soils that specifically targets mosquitoes, blackflies and gnats.

It has been well-tested and approved by the EPA as having no risk to humans. Bti is available at local hardware stores and garden centers. The product that I use in our rain barrels is called MosquitoDunks®, and is a simple biscuit-like disk, a quarter of which I place in each rain barrel each month. Bti can be used in other sources of water such as ornamental pools and aquatic gardens.

I have found these mosquito breeding prevention methods to be very effective since I started a vigilant process many years ago, but I would be lying if I said it’s perfect at eliminating these pests. Whether they come from a neighboring property, or there’s a breeding ground that has evaded my eye, these tiny helicopters-of-itch still fly by. A little bug spray, and some long sleeve shirts and pants are helpful, even necessary, on late summer evenings.

While there are many commercial services that can apply sprays to kill adult mosquitoes, it seems to me smarter to prevent them from hatching in the first place. I have chosen not to spray for many reasons—expense, hassle, concern over my animals—but most importantly, concern over my backyard ecosystem.

Most commercial operations use pyrethroids, which are broad-spectrum insecticides that kill ALL insects, including, bees, butterflies, dragonflies and other beneficial insects. Yes, they are modeled after a naturally occurring compound in chrysanthemums. Yes, they are EPA approved. Yes, these companies are licensed by the state to apply the insecticide. But they kill all insects in their path. They are highly toxic to fish and aquatic ecosystems, and harmful to amphibians like frogs and salamanders. And while they likely won’t kill your pets and children, they can cause irritation and vomiting if ingested.

My idea of a perfect summer day includes listening to twittering wrens in the morning, watching butterflies in the afternoon, hearing frogs and toads croaking in the evening, and falling asleep to katydids at night. These wonderful sights and sounds of our New England ecosystem all rely on insect life. If we kill all the insects, what will happen to everything else, including us? I will continue to practice my stagnant water hunting, and suffer some longer pants and sleeves, and a little bug spray, in order to keep my backyard-ecosystem healthy.