As you know, we recently had another couple of hurricanes in the southern U.S. Or, as I like to think of them, reminders that we do not live separately from and unaffected by nature.
Harvey and Irma were worse than the storms in 2016, but the mosquitoes that followed are nothing new and, sadly, the reaction to them is equally predictable. Here’s what happened then if you want to get caught up: Hurricane cleanup, mosquitoes and poisoning problems away . (There’s also advice in that post that may not be repeated in this one.)
Basically, I got fogged again with chemicals meant to kill mosquitoes. I was so busy trying to keep an eye on my own mosquito control district that I forgot about the adjacent one. That’s right, I have to keep an eye on two since I’m right on the border, and neither of them keeps citizens sufficiently informed. So I got sick. Again. Literally and figuratively.
But that’s not even the worst part. After the storms last year, mosquitoes were just as horrible as people in other areas, even my own neighborhood, complained about. And they sprayed and fogged over and over, and it didn’t help a bit. The only relief we got was when the temp. dipped enough to start killing them off. Naturally. Then this July, I covered a huge area with two loads of wood chips that had all kinds of leaves and sticks poking up out of them. And I’ve never seen so many dragonflies, or so many types of them, in my life! I used to get so excited to see just a handful in my yard, but this summer there were hundreds at a time, maybe more…nymphs that eat mosquito larvae and adults that can each eat 30-100 mosquitoes a day! Frogs and lizards too…so many lizards. And I haven’t had to put my homemade bug spray on myself or my dogs since. Not once. We worked in our yard and enjoyed the hell out of it all summer after that.
The morning after the fogging I almost couldn’t bear to go outside. I knew what I’d see—or, rather, what I wouldn’t see. But, you know…dogs. Sure enough, I could only find three dragonflies. Three. That was the same, or even worse, as before the wood chips. And, big surprise, the bloodsuckers found me in minutes with no winged predators to stop them.
And I’m over here like
So if you want to revisit what’s in these chemicals and their effects, read the companion post to this one, What’s in mosquito spray and how could it affect you? Or, in the paraphrased words of Matt Damon in The Martian: Let’s science the shit out of this. It’s the science, the explanation of how these chemicals work, the studies that the companies who want to sell them don’t submit to the EPA for review. I’ll wait for you, and then respond to some of the questions posed, issues raised, etc. during this debate, including what we should be doing instead.
One reason I wanted to separate the technical talk is that whether these chemicals are as toxic as they’ve been proven to be or as safe as the chemical companies would like the EPA to tell everyone they are is almost irrelevant. The more salient point, which is an answer to another frequently relied-on argument and, even more frighteningly, the mindset reflected in a conversation I had with a mosquito control board member, is that somehow people have fallen into a dichotomous trap, a false choice: either we use chemicals to kill mosquitoes or leave ourselves unprotected from diseases.
Folks, there’s a door number 3 (and 4 and 5 and…). Maybe it’s because these other methods of protecting ourselves are a process? Maybe it’s because they involve some effort? Some education? A different way of thinking about our relationship with nature? A change in habits and priorities versus a quick fix? I’d hate to think of the motivation behind the theory that we’re purposely presented with a false choice. What I do know is that working with nature, as opposed to fighting it or trying to bend it to our will, always ends better in some way—reduced cost, reduced effort, reduced negative effects from toxic chemicals, or any number of other benefits.
So then what’s behind those other doors? What do we do about the mosquitoes?
Imagine this scenario: You walk into a mall food court and look around. All the restaurants are closed even though it’s lunchtime. You look closer. For some reason, they’re all out of business. There’s nothing here to eat and there never will be! Then you realize there are no tables or chairs. There’s nowhere to sit! The mall is open, but there are no movie posters or ads on the walls to read. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing to do. And you can’t go into any of the stores because every time you try, a security guard maces you. So, of course, no one comes here. There are no friends to hang out with, no girls to hit on. Nobody. What do you do? You leave, obviously. And you tell everybody you know not to go to that mall. That’s kind of how it is for the mosquito-eaters outside most homes. Only the bad kids show up at a place like that.
- Cancel your lawn service
There, you just saved about $400 a year. For those of you in other parts of the country/world who don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, don’t worry—I didn’t either when I first moved to Florida. It just wasn’t done where I’m from. But here it’s super-common to see pest service trucks at almost every house, technicians dragging hoses or wearing backpacks, squirting chemicals all over the yard. Why? The homeowner’s goal is to not see a single ant, spider, fly, gnat, mosquito or anything else of that sort in his or her yard. Ever. Why would one want that? I don’t know…fear of nature? First, good luck with that. Talk about a Sisyphean task! Second, you know what else you won’t see much of? Birds, dragonflies, bats or any of the other good guys. The American lawn is a wasteland, a food desert, to them…that really bad mall.
- Stop the poison from above
As long as there’s nothing to eat the mosquitoes, you will forever be locked in a cycle of chemical dependence to try to control them. Help stop the use of mosquito-predator-killing pesticides. Join organizations like Beyond Pesticides and join or start local groups like Citizens Against Organophosphate Spraying. Tell your elected officials you don’t want aerial spraying and ground fogging. Call, email, post on the municipality’s Facebook page. Their job, contrary to what some citizens have heard in conversations with them, is not to spray (there’s no state statute in, for example, Florida that requires spraying); it’s to protect citizens from disease. And that can be accomplished without toxins. Yes, there might be more mosquitoes initially, but the payoff will be huge. It’ll be even bigger when we realize one day that paying taxes for a “mosquito control district” is like paying a drug pusher a retainer fee. But that’s a fight for another day.
- Renovate your “mall” for the good kids
You don’t have a mosquito overpopulation problem; you have a mosquito predator underpopulation problem. So make your yard and neighborhood attractive to them. Letting things they can eat flourish is the first step. Now plant trees (aka bird perches), bushes (aka lizard hideouts) and flowers (aka frog futons). Cover a good portion of your backyard in wood chips—the real ones with sticks and leaves in them, not the bagged pine bark from Lowe’s—dragonflies love them. You’ll go from seeing five in your yard to seeing hundreds, and, again, EACH of them can eat 30-100s of mosquitoes a day. Congrats, you just reopened all those restaurants, put out the tables and chairs, spread a few games out, fired that security guard and invited the mosquito predators and all their friends.
- Flying night-puppies
Install a bat house. A single brown bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour. The reason it’s not my first suggestion is that bats can be kind of picky about where they set up house. The conditions have to be right and it can take them a while to decide they want to stay. What I’m saying is, install your bat house, but also encourage all the other predators. They all work together. Meanwhile, bat houses aren’t the only option. They love tree snags, the pockets of dried palm fronds (just got you out a lot of yard work—you’re welcome), and structures, like bridges, that they can get underneath and roost in. One issue raised during the aerial spraying debate was the fear of bats. Thanks, Hollywood. If you have a fear of bats, change your mindset. Don’t think Dracula; think flying night-puppies. You’re WAY more likely to get bitten by a dog or cat than by a bat.
- Plant ‘er up
Okay, so now you’ve stopped poisoning mosquito predators and invited them in instead. You’ve recruited an entire pest control army that you don’t have to pay! That, and all the common mosquito-fighting advice mentioned in last year’s post, like dumping out standing water and so on, would be enough, but who wouldn’t want another layer of protection that also provides medicinal and/or food benefits? So plant things mosquitoes don’t like. Lemongrass, sage, oregano, native American beautyberry, rosemary and bee balm are just a few that work really well in North Florida, but there are a ton of others that work just as well in places where those plants might not.
- Go, go, Gadget
Use gadgets, citronella candles, dunks, fans, etc. if you’re into that and feel it’s necessary. You won’t need those measures if you take the basic mosquito protection precautions and make your yard friendly to their predators, but those traps reportedly work. Oh, and you can also learn what mosquitoes think smells tasty, and then do what you can to not smell like that. For example, they think you smell great after a workout!
- To everything there is a season
Remember that mosquitoes have a season in most places. It won’t last forever. Be patient. Give the natural predators time to discover that your yard (and then maybe your neighborhood, your town, your region—a girl can dream) is no longer a deserted mall, to build their numbers, and to do their work. And before you know it, the weather will turn and it will be too cold for mosquitoes anyway.
As always, there’s more, but that’s what your green living consultant is for. Let me just leave you with this thought: An acquaintance recently had an enlightening meeting with someone in charge of mosquito control who said the best way to eliminate or reduce the “need” for spraying was for residents to be educated about, and buy in to, reducing mosquito-breeding on their own properties…and that mosquito control had no budget for education.
I know, right? Obviously, the long road to preventing dis-ease from both mosquitoes and toxins is going to have to be trod by those of us willing to make some sense!
Try though I did, there’s no way to cover all the arguments against toxic pesticides, all the questions that come up about this topic or all the methods of natural mosquito-borne disease prevention in a single blog post, so it’s your turn. Weigh in, ask questions, add to the pesticide discussion. Are you pro or con and why? What’s your favorite anti-mosquito advice? Oh, and don’t forget to read the companion post for the technical details.