Condon’s Corner: Mosquito Control
by Marlene Condon
In May I gave a talk in Scottsville and the subject of mosquitoes came up. Apparently this small town in southern Albemarle County supports a noticeable population of these biting insects.
The townsfolk seem to think that this situation is unavoidable because of the town’s proximity to the James River. But moving water is not where mosquitoes reproduce because the larvae would just wash away!
Life for a mosquito starts as an egg laid on the surface of standing water (water that is not moving). Depending upon the species, the egg might be laid singly or in an irregularly shaped mass or floating raft of eggs.
Before man came along, an adult female mosquito wanting to lay eggs would find standing water only in tree holes, temporary puddles formed in animal tracks, still ponds, or in areas of slow-draining soil. In such naturally wet situations, the mosquito eggs or larvae (the eggs hatch very quickly, often within two days, depending upon species and temperature) would be subject to predation.
Birds obtaining water from tree-hole puddles would slurp up mosquito eggs or young. Amphibians roaming around on the ground at night could find the developing mosquitoes and eat them. Newts (a type of salamander), dragonfly and damselfly larvae, and predacious beetles that live in ponds would take advantage of the floating mosquito meals easily accessible to them.
Sadly, human habitats are—more often than not—inhospitable to these natural predators. Landscaping for wildlife, instead of just human life, would alleviate many of the problems that people have in their yards by supporting the natural system of checks and balances.
However, even if your yard is wildlife friendly, you still need to consciously avoid the inadvertent creation of mosquito habitat on your property. Do not leave anything lying about that can collect water. If you have tarps over lawn equipment or outdoor furniture, be sure to shake the water off after every rain.
Children’s toys and toddler swimming pools, flower-pot saucers, and empty buckets and tires are obvious water collectors. If you can not avoid leaving these items outside, you must empty them shortly after every rain or use so that eggs can not be laid in the water or remain there long enough for the mosquitoes to hatch out.
Areas out of sight and therefore out of mind, such as roof gutters, are prime breeding areas for mosquitoes. They should be checked periodically to keep them clear of debris and able to drain.
If you own a bird bath, there is no need to spend money on mosquito dunks that unnecessarily kill other kinds of insects besides mosquitoes.
Simply empty the bird bath every day and refill it with clean water. Bird baths will be soiled daily by bird droppings and other debris. By changing the water every day, you help to keep the bath clean so that you don’t need to scrub it down as often.
In times of drought, use the cold water from your faucet that precedes the hot water you need for a shower. Simply fill containers with the water that is not yet warm enough for you to bathe in.
Avoid installing a water feature (a so-called pond or water garden that does not function like a natural pond with live animals in it) because these basins of water provide prime habitat for mosquito eggs. Although people can buy mosquito dunks composed of the bacteria BTI (Bacillus thuringiensis isralenis) to control mosquito reproduction in such decorative structures, this bacterium also kills insects related to mosquitoes, such as midges and black flies which are extremely important food sources for aquatic animals. It’s never environmentally sound to needlessly kill untargeted insects.
It makes sense to limit mosquito populations because of the possibility of contracting West Nile Virus (although only certain species of mosquitoes carry diseases). The possibility of severe illness or death by West Nile Virus is miniscule but real, especially for older folks.
However, people should not demand large-scale pesticide spraying that kills many other kinds of insects and which only serves to create “superbugs.” Such a response is environmentally unsound. Mosquitoes do not need to be eradicated nor should they be. These insects are a vital food source for numerous other kinds of critters, such as birds, bats, and fish.
Chemical formulations are usually quick—but temporary—fixes to problems that are caused by unwise environmental alterations. Therefore pesticides provide short-term relief while doing absolutely nothing to cure the actual problem.
Instead of wasting taxpayer or your own dollars on pesticides, take responsibility for your own welfare. Eliminate standing water in your yard so that mosquitoes can not successfully reproduce.
© Marlene A. Condon