Eating and playing outdoors this time of year are two of life’s great pleasures. But that often means exposure to bugs—including mosquitoes and ticks—that can cause serious health consequences.
Elmer Gray, an entomologist with the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, says, “Mosquitoes transmit wide ranges of disease that can be deadly or severely debilitating. Here in the United States, last year was a record year for West Nile virus with cases recorded in all 48 contiguous states, an unprecedented range of occurrence.”
While chemicals remain the top deterrent to bugs, there are also many safe, green approaches you can employ to repel pesky insects.
1. Avoid standing water. Gray says, “Water features are fine, but they have to be maintained. Birdbaths should be rinsed out every five to seven days.” Keep gutters clean and outdoor toys dry when not in use. And if you live in a neighborhood with many foreclosed homes, Gray says to watch out for abandoned swimming pools, which make ideal mosquito breeding environments.
2. Add some fish to any backyard ponds. “Virtually all small fish are predaceous on mosquito larvae.”
3. Green bomb them. “The biological control agent Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies Israelensis is an excellent and completely safe mosquito larvicide. It has no mammalian toxicity, and is safe for children, pets and most other insects. This material is commonly sold as 'mosquito dunks' in hardware stores.” For a list of hardware stores, click here.
4. Invite more frogs, bats and wild birds to your yard. Gray says the best way to protect bug-chomping songbirds is to “discourage free-ranging cats and support catch-and-release spayed/neuter programs.” To find pet stores, check our list here. You may want to call ahead to check to see if they carry food you need to attract some of the bug eating critters.
5. Domesticated ducks and chickens will also eat bugs including ticks.
6. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes. “Research shows that most of the biting flies are attracted to dark colors. Loose-fitting, because mosquitoes will bite through thin, tight-fitting clothing.”
7. Stock up on citronella candles and fans. “Citronella candles will repel mosquitoes in areas that are protected from significant air movement. Back porches, decks and patios that have features that limit air movement are good locations. Fans will help as well. Mosquitoes aren't real strong fliers, so the typical box fan will help a lot in a limited area.”
8. Try a DEET-free bug repellent. Highly rated All-Terrain bug repellent products for kids, adults and pets are DEET-free. Company President David Kulow says, “It has been reported that over 50 perecent of DEET crosses the dermal layer and approximately 17 percent gets into the bloodstream. Pregnant women should never use DEET. A climber founded All Terrain. When he was climbing in Costa Rica, a bottle of DEET insect repellent he was carrying leaked. It ate through his backpack and melted the keys on a calculator he was carrying to figure out the exchange rate. He thought that if DEET does that, it couldn't be very good for him in the long run.”
9. Follow the directions and don’t let kids apply bug repellent. Gray says, “The biggest thing with the repellents is to follow the label carefully. When using repellents with children, it is important to not let the child handle the product. The adult should apply it to their hands, then rub the repellent onto the child. This avoids the children having the repellent on their hands and then putting their hands in their mouth, as children often do.”
10. Wack your weeds. Gray says, “Remove unnecessary brush. The more open the environment, the less attractive it'll be to mosquitoes. From a mosquito, tick and chigger standpoint, mowed grass is the best and everything else is better for the bugs. I am not aware of an insect repellent plant that has been proven effective in a scientific study. In the southeast, English Ivy is particularly bad for mosquitoes. It provides the perfect place for mosquitoes to hide during the heat of the day.”