Don't let mosquitoes ruin outdoor fun

Posted July 27, 2009

Summertime is all about being outside. But along with outdoor activities come some of nature’s peskiest critters: biting insects. Mosquitoes and other flying bugs can put a real damper on backyard activities.

In North Carolina, mosquitoes are simply nuisances. Other parts of the world have it much worse.

“The chances of you getting a disease from a mosquito are very small,” says Charles Apperson, professor of entomology at North Carolina State University. “In Third World countries, mosquitoes aren’t just an annoyance – they’re a threat to their health.”

Although there’s no way to completely get rid of insects – and the food chain wouldn’t like it if they were eradicated, anyway – there are ways to reduce the number of flying annoyances. Here’s how to start winning the battle of the bugs.

Dump standing water

While most folks know about this step, it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent mosquitoes from driving you crazy all summer.

“All mosquitoes have one common requirement,” Apperson says. “They all need water to reproduce.”

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, and even a couple of inches can become a nursery for mosquito larvae and pupae. The larvae and pupae are easy to see – little, twitchy, comma-shaped critters jerking around in the water. They have to come to the surface to breathe, but they dive down in the water if they’re disturbed. Your goal is to disturb them. At this stage, they can’t live out of water.

Dump out flowerpot saucers, be sure gutters are draining properly and regularly scrub the birdbath. Even the kids’ sandbox toys aren’t immune. Enlist the kids on a mosquito patrol after it rains. (“Let’s see how much rain water we can find!”) Empty unused wading pools and pour water off the top of pool covers.

Be vigilant about your rainwater patrol. “They only need about a week before adults are produced,” Apperson says.

Call in backups

Some critters dine on mosquitoes in all their life stages. But only a small percentage of mosquitoes are eaten by creatures like bats and purple martins, according to Apperson. If you have a pond or decorative water source – welcoming habitats for mosquito larvae – consider adding natural predators like mosquito fish or goldfish, who love to snack on the larvae. Dragonflies also eat mosquitoes, and they would enjoy your backyard pond.

Alternatively, you can drop in mosquito “doughnuts” – a product called “Mosquito Dunk”  is available at hardware stores. Crumble the little rings into birdbaths or ponds to prevent mosquitoes from hatching.

You can also try technology. There are plenty of products on the market that claim to help defeat annoying insect problems around the home and yard. The bad news is you may have mixed results. Some users have found great success with one product, while others return to fly swatters and DEET.

Two available products are a SkeeterVac from Blue Rhino and a backyard bug-control spray. The SkeeterVac promises to protect up to an acre at a cost of $300. You’ll also need a propane tank (like for the grill) to power it, sticky traps and a “lure” that attracts mosquitoes. The unit works by emitting signals that attract mosquitoes so they move away from you and toward the SkeeterVac, where they’re sucked in. Cutter's backyard bug control spray can blanket the area around your deck or patio, repelling mosquitoes and other insects.

A bug zapper once was the siren songster of the American backyard (“zzzzt, zzzzzt”), but many people have thrown in the towel on this one. They do attract insects, but it turns out those are mostly moths and beetles – not many mosquitoes.

Go natural

In addition to enlisting the aid of natural predators, there are some eco-friendly ways to try to keep the bugs at bay.

Off! makes a citronella candle lantern that drives citronella-hating bugs away from it – and you. While somewhat effective, its range is limited, so you’ll have to set up several around your porch or deck. And if there’s a breeze, save it for another day.

Install ceiling fans on your porch or use standing fans on your deck. Insects have a harder time flying in a breeze, and you’ll get the added benefit of cooling off, too. Apperson suggests setting up a couple of fans at floor level to create a cross breeze.

Avoid being outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. Think you’re a “mosquito magnet” while your spouse goes bite-free? It’s true. Some people are naturally more attractive to mosquitoes.

Make it a community affair

Even if you’re diligent about emptying water containers on your property, if your neighbors don’t do the same, you might still fall victim to the mosquito population.

“Everybody has to empty their standing water,” Apperson says. “If you dump all the containers in your yard, but your neighbor two doors down has an old tire half-buried under overgrowth, they could easily be responsible for the mosquitoes covering the whole neighborhood.”

Have your children make and distribute fliers or send information out on neighborhood e-mail lists.

While folklore is full of methods to get rid of mosquitoes, Apperson says most are pretty ineffective. By simply eliminating standing water, you can increase your chances of taking back your backyard.


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