Skirmishing with skeeters: How to enjoy your yard despite the pests
If you are plagued by mosquitoes while relaxing in your carefully cultivated backyard, you may have yourself (or your landscaper) to blame.
Verdant spaces often contain shrubs and bushes that provide a good resting spot for mosquitoes, says Chris Stone, a medical entomologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, a research institution at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Areas that are more bare with less tree cover are less hospitable to the nuisance insects, which Stone says are beginning to emerge and reproduce in advance of peak mosquito season in July and August.
But combating the northern house mosquito, which is most common in this area, doesn't mean nature lovers have to replace flower gardens with rock gardens. A few preventive measures can ensure skeeters don't disturb your summer.
"Around your house and in the backyard, keep an eye out for anything that can hold water," Stone said.
"There are lots of easy-to-overlook locations around the house that can be mosquito breeding sites," he said.
Among them are bird baths, poorly maintained pools and uncovered garbage cans where water collects, as well as gutters, downspout extenders and rain barrels. Emptying anything that collects water will help thwart mosquitoes.
A study by an entomologist colleague found "something like 60% of rain barrels have mosquitoes because people don't maintain them properly," Stone said.
He encourages homeowners to keep their home in order, pointing out that one neglected house can cause problems for an entire neighborhood.
When it comes to bug spray or other insect repellents, Stone suggests using products recommended by the Centers for Disease Control or the Environmental Protection Agency. To that end, those containing DEET are most effective.
"We have very good evidence they do work," he said. And products don't have to be applied to one's skin; they can be sprayed on clothes.
Another option is permethrin-treated clothing, which he says has been shown to be effective against ticks.
"One thing to be aware of," Stone said, "permethrin does seem to be toxic to cats. If you have cats it might not be an ideal method."
When it comes to mosquito foggers, the manner and frequency of application determines how effective they are, Stone said.
But there is an effective low-tech solution: Place two fans at a cross angle, making it more difficult for mosquitoes to locate a meal source, he said.
While Stone acknowledges mosquito and tick-borne diseases, including West Nile virus, he says people can keep themselves safe by taking precautions.
"The best thing we can do is keep mosquito numbers as low as we can," he said.
And by all means, get outside.
"The health benefits you get from spending time in nature outweigh those diseases as long as you follow precautions," Stone said.