Mosquito Alert!

By Paul James

A small percentage of people on the planet don’t get mosquito bites. I’m one of them. My daughter in law and granddaughter, on the other hand, can be sitting right next to me on the patio and get two dozen bites in five minutes. So what gives? And what can they do to protect themselves?

First, the what gives. Turns out mosquitoes don’t like the way I smell, and according to microbiologists who study such things, that’s due to a particular scent emitted by the trillion or so bacteria that inhabit my skin. (And for the record, most people think I smell just fine, thank you. At least most of the time.)

But the bacteria that live on my daughter’s and granddaughter’s skin emit an odor that’s apparently and unfortunately attractive to mosquitoes, which explains why they’re both basically mosquito magnets. And by the way, there’s nothing they can do to change that.

So now let’s talk protection. First and foremost, you have to eliminate the habitat mosquitoes love, and that’s standing water – in plant saucers, in wheelbarrows, in clogged or sagging gutters, in kiddy pools – anywhere and everywhere water remains for more than a few hours. And you’ve got to encourage your neighbors to do likewise, because mosquitoes can travel from their yard to yours.

Bt dunks, donuts, or granules should be used in birdbaths, water features, holes in trees where water collects, and anywhere else standing water can’t be eliminated. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) is an all-natural biological control that targets only mosquitoes, and it’s extremely effective.

Beyond that, you need to rely on repellents, of which there are many. When trying to control mosquitoes on the patio, options include citronella candles (which may also contain rosemary, thyme, and other oils), incense sticks that also contain those and other oils, and various sprays. Deet is still the most effective spray, but a lot of folks think it’s harmful, despite considerable research to the contrary. Picaridin, an alternative to Deet that was developed in Australia, has for decades been used there and throughout Europe with no reported health risks. Plants such as citronella and lemon grass, despite what you may have heard or read, simply do not work unless you crush the leaves and rub them on your skin. However, a powerful fan will work because mosquitoes can’t fly in winds above 15 mph.

For broader control, there are also repellents that contain various natural oils, are pleasantly scented, and can be applied as granules or sprays to the entire yard. Many of them last for up to three weeks depending on rainfall. And there are chemical foggers, including automated systems that spray chemicals in the air at preset intervals. I’m not too keen on having chemicals in the air while I’m hanging out in the yard, but then I’m the guy who doesn’t attract mosquitoes.

As for bat and purple martin houses, research makes it clear that while they do indeed eat mosquitoes, neither can eat enough in a day to make a noticeable dent in the population. After all, even though female mosquitoes generally don’t live longer than a week, they lay up to 300 eggs a day.

And finally, there’s one sure way to attract mosquitoes, and that’s to drink a beer. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide, and there’s plenty of that in the beer and in the belches that invariably follow consumption.