Mosquito Myths

It comes as no surprise that there are many myths surrounding the mosquito. Several of these involve ways to control their numbers. Let’s examine some of the most prevalent myths and determine whether there may be a hint of truth in any of these.

Repellants

It is often assumed that the best way to avoid mosquito bites is to repel them, using chemicals – either natural or manufactured. Although some products work with varying levels of success, the act of repelling is not necessarily the same as the act of killing. (Other articles on this web site cover topical repellants, so these are not mentioned here.)

Citronella oil

The citrosa plant is often considered a mosquito deterrent, yet the actual plants do not make enough oil to be effective against mosquitoes. The active ingredient of these plants is citronella oil, an essential oil of citrus plants. This oil is marketed in special candles that purport to repel mosquitoes. The candles can work fairly well, but you must sit near their plume to receive the protection.

Backyard misting

Many homeowners believe scheduled spraying of pesticides into the environment will successfully rid them of a mosquito problem. This method is typically ineffectual in controlling mosquitoes and usually causes more toxic harm than good. Non-targeted insect species, birds, pets, and even humans may be negatively impacted by large scale distribution of chemicals into the air.

Attractants

Although the above-listed options discuss repelling, other methods of mosquito control involve attracting (then killing) the creatures. There are a number of devices that claim to attract mosquitoes and each has variable degrees of success and failures.

Mimic humans – It stands to reason that, to attract mosquitoes, a device should replicate the things that draw mosquitoes to humans. This assumption is the principle behind the many devices on the market that emit carbon dioxide and moist heat (like humans) as a way to attract mosquitoes. Once they approach the devices, the mosquitoes are drawn into a vacuum where they dry up and die. These traps have proven to be fairly successful in reducing mosquito populations (depending on location and proper placement of the devices). There are a number of drawbacks in them, however. The CO2 devices are very expensive and require attentive maintenance; users must change the propane tank and CO2 cartridge every 3 weeks and empty the collection net often.

Mimic mosquitoes

Because mosquitoes locate mates via the high-pitched frequency of wing beats, it is a common misconception that devices emitting an ultrasonic sound will draw mosquitoes. Paired with an adhesive board, these products are widely marketed. Though they no doubt collect many insects, if placed in a crowded area and given enough time, these units are not considered to work successfully.

Ultraviolet light

Ultraviolet light attracts many insects and this is the basis of the popular “bug zappers.” Insects are drawn to the devices and electrocuted when they reach the electrified screen surround the light. Although these devices do manage to kill insects, most of their victims are harmless (and often beneficial) moths and ladybugs. In the end, these devices are not proven to be highly effective for mosquito control.

The Food Chain Approach: Making the Mosquito into Prey

Mosquitoes feed on us, but what feeds on mosquitoes? Many myths concern ways to control mosquitoes by recruiting their natural enemies.

Bats

The usefulness of bats in mosquito control varies by location and depends on the species of mosquito and species of bat in question. In general, however, insectivorous bats eat almost any flying insect; mosquitoes typically do not make up a large enough percentage of bat diet to properly control mosquito populations. Of course, bats can bring problems of their own, so setting up roosts to attract them is not recommended.

Purple martins (birds)

Some species of birds eat large numbers of flying insects, including mosquitoes. The purple martin has gained widespread recognition for its insectivorous diet, and many homeowners spend money on special houses that supposedly attract these birds to their yards. However, purple martins are unlikely to put a dent in your mosquito population. Like bats, they eat many kinds of flying insects – not just mosquitoes. In fact, some of the insects eaten by purple martins are beneficial to your yard’s ecosystem. For example, these birds eat dragonflies and dragonflies eat mosquitoes! Also, purple martins often feed near the tops of trees, which is above the typical flight path of most mosquitoes.

Fish and insects

Some fish and water bugs are predators of mosquito larvae and pupae, though they are unlikely to sufficiently prevent your pond from being a breeding ground.

Miscellaneous Solutions

Bounce Fabric Softener sheets

Though there is a common belief that carrying a fabric softener sheet in your pocket will repel mosquitoes, there is no proof to support this idea.

Cinnamon oil

Recent studies suggest that cinnamon oil may be an effective larvicide, though its efficacy as a repellant against adult mosquitoes has not yet been proven.

So, What DOES Work?

When we finally sift through all the myths and half-truths surrounding mosquitoes, we are left asking the age-old question: what methods DO work in mosquito control?

A number of helpful tips can be found throughout this web site. The use of mosquito netting, protective clothing, certain chemical repellents, or special traps do have proven results in controlling mosquitoes at the adult stage. These should be combined with efforts to control mosquitoes at the egg and larval stage. Homeowners can greatly reduce mosquito numbers by eliminating availability of breeding habitats. Simple measures such as disposing of any containers that collect standing water can go a long way toward reducing a mosquito problem.

Determining the mosquito control solutions that work best for you may depend on your location, the severity of your mosquito problem, and your tolerance for mosquito bites.

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