Well, it’s happened again. Florida had a hurricane/tropical storm/bad hair day, depending on where you were. ‘Bye, Hermine.
On the TOA homestead, the only casualty was a single pepper plant.
But no matter how you fared, we all have storm cleanup to do, even if you live in an apartment. Heck, even if you live outside of Florida! And I’ll tell you why—mosquitoes. And self-destruction.
It all started with Zika, the raison d’jour for raining poison down upon man and beast.
Newsflash: Pesticide kills bugs. Bees, wasps, butterflies – countless pollinators we depend on for the diversity of food we stuff in our pie holes – are bugs.
So regardless of what dousing ourselves with pesticide does to our own physiology, it most definitely kills pollinators like the ones that made the news at the very end of August when parts of South Carolina did their first aerial spraying in 14 years. Not because there have been any locally acquired cases in that state. Just. Because.
Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.
― Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of the German Empire
But even before that, there was the FDA’s approval to release genetically modified mosquitoes in Key West. (They’ve already been released in other countries.) The idea is that when these modified mosquitoes breed, their offspring don’t fully mature, resulting, in theory at least, in the eventual eradication of the target species.
Look, I live in Florida. On the edge of a swamp. We Floridians get it—mosquitoes suck.
They’re pesky, their bites hurt and they carry diseases. It sometimes seems they exist for no other purpose than to plague us. Thing is, we need mosquitoes because, in addition to the billions of human life-sustaining pollinator insects we kill trying to get rid of them, we also depend on birds, bats and countless other animals for whom mosquitoes are a major food source.
Fortunately, many of the Keys residents don’t want to be guinea pigs any more than the rest of us and are fighting the release. One article that includes a link to a Change.org petition points out that the company behind the development of the largely untested mosquito stands to gain $400 million in annual sales. Maybe they’ll use some of that money to develop AI pollinators they can sell once all the bees, birds and bats are gone?
The point is that eradication is a fool’s errand, and efforts like the GMO mosquitoes in Key West and indiscriminate spraying are counterproductive, dangerous and unnecessary.
So how do we live and let live? The big picture involves bolstering the populations of animals that eat mosquitoes. Get help with that if you need it. Some bird populations have decreased 80 percent since 1967. It also involves doing what you can to mitigate climate change. Get help with that too if you need it. As a species, we have to stop trying to poison our way out of “problems” and start working with nature. Aaand, there’s also help with that.
But let’s get back to the hurricane for a second. And the mosquitoes.
We had relatively little rain this summer, so the mosquitoes hadn’t been bad at all. But that changes the second it rains around here, so part of my storm cleanup was the same as it is after every rain and should be something we all do. Walk your property, no matter its size, and dump out any standing water. Do that a few times and you’ll find all the little puddles. Eventually, going straight to those places to check will become habit. Common hot spots are the three Ts—tires, tarps and toys. My dog’s favorite toys, Frisbees, are a great example. On apartment/townhouse balconies and patios, check plant drip trays, items like cups that have been left outside, tables and chairs, grill covers. That should take about two seconds. Then recruit your neighbors to help search common areas. If you work together, it should only take a few minutes.
But, of course, you can’t completely eliminate breeding spots, especially if there are natural areas nearby like swamps, nor should we want to for the reasons above. You can protect yourself by wearing long pants and sleeves (although anyone who deals with mosquitoes daily can tell you they’ll stab you right through your clothes) and all the other standard recommendations, but here are a few more from a Floridian on the ground:
• Mozzies will follow your chemical trail. So you don’t have to “not go outside at dusk” so much as try to stay away from their hangouts when they’re more active and, if you do have to go into their preferred habitat, do it when you’ll be going back inside as opposed to staying outside…unless you have your bug spray on.
• Speaking of bug spray, what’s the point of protecting yourself from mosquito-borne diseases if you’re just going to douse yourself in neurotoxins and other chemicals damaging to your health? Skeptics say “natural” bug sprays don’t work. I know this: The day I went out to do mozzie control after the hurricane, I forgot to put on my trusty spray, which is mostly lemongrass oil and water. Within three minutes, I had a bite on my hip. That’s right, straight through my “long pants.” I went inside and treated it (see below) and put on my spray…not a single bite the rest of the time I was outside.
But you have to put the stuff on right: Don’t just treat exposed skin—rub it on your clothes, a little in your hair, on your ears…everywhere. Not a problem when it’s so nontoxic you don’t have to worry about showering it off, washing all your clothes or about how much has soaked into your skin! P.S. There are many more plant-based preventives. Southeastern Native Americans used to rub the leaves of the native beautyberry plant on their skin to repel bugs.
• If you do get a bite, would you rather use repeated applications of a chemical spray or cream to ease the pain and itch before giving up and spending the next week trying not to scratch, or would you rather put one drop of a completely natural, nontoxic oil derived from a plant on it, get immediate relief and not even be able to find where the bite was an hour later? So get or make some oregano oil. Bonus: Oregano oil has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, just the thing for bug bites, scrapes…whatever ails you. (Obvious disclaimer: Be smart when using herbals. Do your research, patch test, consult a professional. You know the drill.)
• Ditch your lawn-desert. We have an unhealthy obsession with expanses of neatly cropped grass in this country. Know what that looks like to birds, bats and other insect-control animals? An uninhabitable wasteland. Which makes it a predator-free party zone for the mozzies. Break it up with trees (aka bird perches), fruiting bushes, low plants and rocks for the lizards and toads, taller plants for the dragonflies and so on. Oh, and put up a bat house or three. A single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour. Here in Florida, they’re also partial to palm trees and can often be seen wearing little Hawaiian shirts. (Okay, I made up that last part, but how cute would that be?!)
There are a ton of other tips you can learn through a consultation, but the point is that there are a whooole bunch of things we can do to limit our exposure to mosquito-borne diseases that don’t involve carpet-bombing ourselves and every other living thing. Let’s give that a shot, m’kay?
Please share your tips, concerns, bite remedies and anything else in the comments below, and share this with friends!
I leave you with this bit of adorable: