ROCKFORD – Mosquitoes are already out in force this season. How can we protect ourselves and our families and still enjoy the outdoors?
“Humans are mosquito magnets,” says University of Illinois Extension educator Chris Enroth. “Not only are forgotten plastic kiddie pools in the backyard good for mosquito breeding, we also attract mosquitoes simply by being living, breathing mammals.”
What makes one person more attractive to mosquitoes than others? Enroth says mosquitoes can’t resist carbon dioxide, which means every time we exhale, we draw the bug closer. They are also attracted to lactic acid, high skin temperature cologne and perfume, dark-colored clothing and warm days with low winds.
“Mosquitoes are pretty lousy fliers, so cool days with high winds (over 10 mph) reduce their activity,” Enroth said. “Placing a fan facing an outdoor seating area will keep them at bay.”
Studies have also indicated that some people are just more desirable than others. Because of the complexity of factors that can play into this, researchers are unsure why exactly this is.
The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends DEET as the most effective chemical to use to combat mosquitoes. Look for sprays with DEET at 40 percent or higher for an effective, long-lasting repellents, which should be applied every four to six hours. DEET confuses the mosquito and blocks the females’ ability to detect carbon dioxide, heat, moisture, and human sweat.
Avoidance is only part of the strategy. Controlling mosquito populations though habitat reduction and backyard treatments is another strategy to minimize bites.
“Only female mosquitoes bite,” Enroth said. This is because they need a blood meal (protein) for reproduction. Once she has fed, the female will search out a favorable site to lay her eggs. Anything that holds stagnant water is her target. Preventing her offspring from developing into adult mosquitoes is the most effective control.
Eliminating breeding sites is simple. Experts say to remove remove any object that may hold unnecessary water. For example, tin cans, toys, flower pot saucers, stagnant pools, and the notorious old tire in the backyard. Birdbaths should be changed weekly. Garden ponds should be stocked with top-feeding minnows. Grills, cisterns, rain barrels, or anywhere water is stored should be sealed tightly while gutters, which can be unseen areas of mosquito development, should be kept clean at least in the spring and fall.
- If you can’t remove the standing water, Enroth recommends Standing water that cannot be removed can be treated with Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), which target larvae, Enroth said.
Controlling adult mosquitoes
“Avoid using bug zappers to control flying adults,” Enroth said. “About 90 percent of insects killed with bug zappers are not mosquitoes. In fact several are beneficial insects like the brown lacewing.”