Like many stinging and biting insects, mosquitoes have earned a worldwide reputation for causing aggravation and exasperation. What’s more, they live almost everywhere, so even in temperate regions, you can expect their presence in the warmer months.
In addition, as the American Mosquito Control Association explains, “Mosquitoes cause more human suffering than any other organism.” Not only do a million people worldwide die from mosquito-borne diseases every year, these insects also transmit diseases and parasites to animals like dogs and horses. This makes it all the more important to keep this insect under control.
Risks of Mosquito-Borne Disease
Mosquitoes serve as vectors, or carriers, of protozoan-caused diseases like malaria, filarial diseases such as dog heartworm, and viruses such as dengue, encephalitis, and yellow fever. That’s even apart from the fact that the mosquito’s bite causes severe skin irritation through an allergic reaction to the its saliva—this is what causes the red bump and itching.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention out that the Zika virus, known for causing birth defects in fetuses and paralysis in rare cases of children and adults, is transmitted by two common mosquitoes, the Northern House Mosquito (Culex pipiens) and the Eastern Treehole Mosquito (Aedes triseriatus).
Malaria, a severe and sometimes deadly disease caused by a plasmodium parasite and exhibiting flu-like symtpoms, is transmitted by around 30 to 40 species of mosquitoes. It reaches humans through female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. These females take bloodmeals to carry out egg production, which serve as the link between the human and mosquito hosts in the parasite life cycle.
Besides Zika and malaria, you need to be aware of the following mosquito-borne illnesses:
- Dog heartworm
- Dengue fever
- Yellow fever
- Eastern Equine Encephalitis
- St. Louis Encephalitis
- LaCrosse Encephalitis
- Western Equine Encephalitis
- West Nile Virus
Dogs and horses are also susceptible to several mosquito-borne diseases, such as dog heartworm, which is a potentially life-threatening disease for canines. If you live in areas where mosquito-borne diseases are common, it’s very important to protect your animals as well as you. A qualified veterinarian can offer more specific advice along these lines.
Facts and Statistics
Mosquitoes are a very serious problem in much of the world. According to the World Health Organization, “Malaria is endemic in 91 countries, with about 40% of the world’s population at risk. Up to 500 million cases occur every year, 90% of them in Africa, and there are up to 2.7 million deaths annually.” Moreover, “Dengue is the world’s most important mosquito-borne virus disease, with 2500 million people worldwide at risk of infection and 20 million cases a year in more than 100 countries.”
With mosquitoes found in every continent on Earth except Antarctica, it is difficult in many cases to prevent their presence. More than 3,500 species exist, many of which feed on humans, which they home in on by detecting the carbon dioxide they exhale.
Mosquitoes can also carry diseases to birds and mammals. While only the female mosquito bug bites (males feed on nectar) female mosquitoes still need blood to prepare them for reproduction, and those female mosquitoes can drink up to three times their weight in blood, and can lay up to 300 eggs at a time. In short, a single female feeding on you can soon become hundreds if steps aren’t taken to eliminate mosquitoes and stop them from coming back.
Mosquitoes can also carry diseases to birds and mammals. Only the female mosquito bug bites. Males feed on nectar, while mosquitoes need blood to prepare them for reproduction. A mosquito can drink up to three times its weight in blood, and can lay up to 300 eggs at a time, meaning a single female feeding on you can soon become hundreds if steps aren’t taken to identify and prevent their occurrence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maps specific disease locations, including those outlining the prevalence of the Zika virus.)
Mosquito Identification and Evidence
If your property is flooded with mosquitoes, it’s very likely that these insects have established a presence in nearby homes, gardens, parks, and other outdoor settings. That means that the best way to reduce mosquitoes is for everyone to take steps against them in tandem.
But even if you cannot completely control areas outside your own property, it’s still helpful to know the signs of mosquitoes so that you can respond accordingly.
The first and most obvious sign of mosquito presence is the mosquitoes themselves. You may see or hear the flying adult mosquitoes, or get bitten by them; their bites leave red, itchy welts that are distinguished from the bites of other insects by a gently sloping, pink or reddish mound which can grow to anywhere from a few millimeters to an inch across, depending on the severity of a person’s reaction to their saliva. In many cases, the bump will disappear without incident – faster if you do not scratch and spread the poison – but some people will develop welts that last for days.
The second major sign of mosquitoes is the presence of their eggs and larvae. Mosquito eggs are arranged differently depending on the species, explains the New Mexico Department of Health. Species of the Anopheles and Aedes genuses lay their eggs singly in water, while Culex and Culiseta “also oviposit on the water, but glue their eggs into a raft.” Whatever species are in your area, you will notice whitish specks floating on its surface, which is a telltale sign of their presence.
Once hatched, the larvae also live in the water, directly under its surface. Some may lie along the top of the water, while others hang suspended from it by breathing tubes. Whatever species you have, you can check for their presence by scooping up some water from a pond, water feature, bucket or other standing water source and examining it closely. You will see the wriggling larvae anywhere mosquitoes are established.
Types of Mosquitoes
There are 41 genera of mosquitoes. The Culex genus includes several hundred species, including the Southern House Mosquito and Northern House Mosquito. The Anapholes genus includes those species that carry malaria, one of the most common of which is the Common Malaria Mosquito. The Aedes genus includes the Asian Tiger Mosquito and the Yellow Fever Mosquito, responsible for much of the transmission of this disease, which is characterized by nausea and vomiting and, in rarer cases, fatal conditions of the heart, liver and kidney.
Mosquitoes vary in appearance in many ways: color, length of legs and proboscis, wing shape, body hair and more. Their differences are usually only obvious to the expert eye, however, and the specific characteristics of each mosquito don’t matter as much as knowing where to look for them and how to protect yourself against them.
Common Mosquito Locations
Adult mosquitoes love standing water. It is where they lay eggs and where larvae hatch, so you will never find them far from stagnant bodies of water such as puddles, ponds, slow-moving streams, water features, or ditches. They can also collect in potted plants, garden beds, and areas of poor drainage.
Once they make their way indoors, they also frequently haunt bedrooms at night, which makes mosquito netting important in countries where mosquitoes are prevalent.
During the day and later at night, mosquitoes tend to be less prevalent, since most species only come out to feed at these times. However, the Aedes species bites all the time, making it important to protect yourself throughout the day.
Treatment Types: An Overview
There are many methods for repelling mosquitoes, but some are more effective than others. You can, for instance, treat the environment. There exist many approaches to ridding your home and landscape of mosquitoes, but these are often only temporarily effective, because mosquitoes can move so freely from other areas. However, discouraging breeding nearby is typically a practical move.
The best way to avoid being bitten is simply to protect yourself with bug spray at all times.
Treatment Types: An Overview
There are many methods for repelling mosquitoes and reducing mosquito populations, but some are more effective than others. You can, for instance, treat the environment. There exist many approaches to ridding your home and landscape of mosquitoes, but these are often only temporarily effective, because mosquitoes can move so freely from other areas. Another strategy is to focus on treating standing water in your vicinity to make sure it doesn’t serve as a mosquito breeding ground. There are also some herbal and natural approaches both to controlling mosquito populations and repelling them. Finally, the best way to avoid being bitten is simply to repel mosquitoes by protecting yourself with bug spray at all times.
Treating the Environment
Methods of outdoor mosquito control come in many forms, including broadcast treatments, water treatments, natural treatments and traps, but not all of them have been shown to effectively get rid of mosquitoes.
According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, a garden sprayer can be used to apply pyrethroid sprays to treat shady areas around the house, especially around entryways where resting mosquitoes are more likely to come indoors when you enter and leave. Sprays like lambda-cyhalothrin, cyfluthrin and others can work on soffits and wood siding, but they may need to be reapplied more frequently on brick to reduce the mosquito population in the vicinity..
There are also hose sprays with pyrethroid insecticides that can work on mosquitoes. These sprays should be applied to shady areas outside where mosquitoes hide in the daytime.
Note that these applications are not appropriate for use indoors, and that you should stay away from treated areas once you have applied the spray. A common approach is to create a perimeter around the edge of the yard so that the space within it remains relatively mosquito-free.
Treat Standing or Stagnant Water
Adult mosquitoes can lay up to 200 eggs per batch, making them capable of reproducing at alarming rates. According to the University of Florida Mosquito Information Website, “Water is necessary to complete the life cycle, and soon the larva will change into pupa and then emerge into an adult that is hungry for blood.” So while it’s good to keep a focus on repelling mosquitoes, treating breeding areas — that is, any areas of standing or stagnant water — is also an important means to get rid of mosquitoes.
If you’ve done all you can to eliminate standing water on your property, you can turn to some popular natural treatments to keep larvae from maturing in any remaining pools or puddles.
Coffee grounds can be used to repel mosquitoes from water, preventing adults from laying eggs in an area. A 2015 study showed that adult mosquitoes will not lay eggs in water treated with coffee — when you place enough grounds in the water it makes the water into a liquid similar to the coffee in your coffee cup. The mosquitoes avoid the liquid and go elsewhere.
It’s been clinically proven that pennies left in small containers of water prevent mosquito larvae from developing out of eggs. These may not work for large bodies of water like ponds or reflecting pools, but may work for smaller containers like birdbaths and architectural elements.
If you’re prepared to use chemicals in order to eliminate mosquito larvae from the standing water in your vicinity, you also have a range of options:
Mosquito dunks are a product of proven effectiveness that you can buy and place in standing water to eliminate mosquito larvae. These chemical treatments, which often come in brick or doughnut shapes, can in fact be very effective in eliminating larvae from standing water, and can safely be used even in ponds with fish. They typically last a month or two before you need to reapply. Note, too, that a recent study showed that using a smaller portion of the dunk than recommended worked just as well as using a whole dunk.
Liquid larvicide products are applied directly to water using backpack sprayers and truck or aircraft-mounted sprayers. To learn more about which larvicides are safe for children and pregnant women see the EPA’s approved list.
If you wish to avoid using chemicals, you can use Bacillus thurengiensis israeliensis, or Bti, a type of bacterium that is harmful to mosquito and black fly larva, but won’t harm plants, fish or animals that drink from the water.
Natural and Non-Pesticide Approaches to Mosquito Control
Controlling mosquitoes near your home and keeping them off of your person is obviously important, but are there products you can use that do not contain potentially harmful chemicals? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Crushed herbs placed around the house and garden are a common anti-mosquito treatment, for example, and there are a number of additional natural mosquito repellent products and DIY options for keeping mosquitoes at bay, and many of them can be quite effective.
Note: in dangerous areas, DEET is still preferable. Please keep in mind that if you are in an area where mosquitoes carry dangerous diseases, such as Zika or dengue, it is prudent to choose a DEET insect repellent solution to ensure you have the best protection available. The EPA has studied DEET several times, most recently in 2014, and states, “We continue to believe that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, including children.”
Recommendations for natural mosquito repellents include:
A variety of essential oils, including lavender oil, citronella oil, and neem oil, to list a few, are reputed to repel mosquitoes, but not all essential oils are created equal in this regard, with many being of dubious value. A recent study confirms, however, that lavender oil does repel mosquitoes, so it is effective, and can be used by applying it to outdoor seating areas or windowsills, or by burning candles that contain lavender oil. In a similar vein, citronella candles, made with citronella oil, are especially popular for this purpose.
Coconut oil combined with neem oil in a 1:1 ratio has been shown to repel mosquitoes from humans for up to 12 hours. Coconut oil is also an excellent moisturizer for the skin, so you can repel mosquitoes and enjoy a great moisturizer at the same time.
Some people claim that if you consume enough apple cider vinegar, you will be less appealing to mosquitoes, making this pantry staple an effective way to repel them. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to back up its use as a repellent. However, apple cider vinegar can help ease the itching that occurs after you are bit. It can also be combined with essential oils, like citronella, in a spray bottle and applied to your body to ward off mosquitoes.
Lemon balm is a popular herb in many herb gardens, and for good reason. It smells wonderful and is a nice addition to various dishes. Lemon balm is also great for repelling mosquitoes because it contains a high concentration of citronella – one of the most popular natural repellents out there. You can crush up lemon balm and rub it on your skin, especially areas that mosquitoes like, including your ankles and arms.
There are a lot of homemade recipes out there for mosquito control, but one of the strangest has to be combining Epsom salt with beer and Listerine mouthwash and applying it to the skin. As weird as it sounds, though, it has been studied and shown to be effective.
Placing a dryer sheet in your pocket has been a popular method of mosquito repellent gardeners have employed for years. There was a study conducted to see if dryer sheets repelled gnats, and it demonstrated that the dryer sheets worked as a repellent – but they only tested it on gnats. It is possible that the sheets will repel mosquitoes, but has not been proven.
Mosquito Traps and Zappers
Traps are another way of dealing with mosquitoes without applying chemicals. Mosquito traps work by baiting mosquitoes into an enclosed area, where they are either trapped with a net, become stuck to an adhesive, or are electrocuted on contact. Different types of mosquitoes respond differently to different mosquito traps, however, so no one type is effective for every species. If you have more than one kind in your area, which most people do, this may not be the best method to rely on. However, it may prove to be a good additional measure.
Mosquito Magnet is another product that is widely used for controlling mosquitoes, a trap that draws in the insects and eliminates them. A study has demonstrated that the Mosquito Magnet is quite effective, even more effective than some other traps available commercially.
The American Mosquito Control Association says that bug zappers do kill mosquitoes – however, they do not kill a substantial amount. Studies showed that there were the same amount of mosquitoes in the yards of homes with or without bug zappers. Bug zappers also kill a wide variety of other insects, which may have a negative impact on the surrounding area.
More effective mosquito solutions involve protecting your own skin, so that no matter where you go, you’ll keep mosquitoes away, and, in turn, the diseases they carry. When it comes to bug repellents, you can opt for chemical repellents or natural methods.
A staple of movies set in the tropics, mosquito netting is nevertheless a highly effect means of keeping mosquitoes at bay. If you’d rather not apply repellent to your skin in order to sit on your porch, you can hang mosquito netting or buy a pavilion or tent equipped with netting to enjoy the outdoors free of insects.
For consistent (and mobile) protection from mosquitoes, however, your best bet is DEET, less commonly known as N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide. This active ingredient is present in most mosquito repellents and is very effective. While the mechanisms for DEET’s effectiveness are still unclear, it most likely works because mosquitoes hate its smell.
Natural and DIY Applications
As noted above, natural alternatives to DEET include repellents made from essential oils such as mint, lavender, citronella, cloves, eucalyptus, lemongrass, tea tree, and rosemary. Combined with water and witch hazel and applied to the skin, many trust these substances to keep mosquitoes away. However, they should not be relied on in areas where diseases like malaria or Zika are common. Natural repellents are a better option in areas with a low prevalence of mosquitoes inside the home, or in areas where mosquitoes are less dangerous.
One popular way to keep mosquitoes away is to consume garlic. It’s not clear why garlic makes humans less attractive to mosquitoes, but studies have shown that when people consume this herb in significant quantities, they’re less likely to get bitten. Garlic also works as an effective repellent, and several commercial mosquito treatments use garlic and essences of garlic as an active ingredient.
Offering Your Pets Personal Protection
Dogs, cats, and horses are also susceptible to some diseases carried by mosquitoes. Heartworm can be fatal to dogs if unchecked. Some formulas such as DEET aren’t options, as they work differently on animal nervous systems than on human ones. Some dog treatments, such as K9 Advantix II, are effective repellents but are also toxic to cats. The best approach is to consult a veterinarian, who can discuss the best options for treating all your pets without endangering any of them.
Population Elimination and Ongoing Prevention
The best way to ensure your safety from mosquitoes is to eliminate the population in the surrounding area. Obviously, this isn’t entirely within a homeowner’s control. But even if a next-door neighbor keeps standing rain barrels in their yard, you can still do much to reduce the incidence of mosquitoes in your own home.
Eliminate Standing Water
The first step to controlling mosquitoes in your environment is to eliminate as much standing water as possible. Take a careful look around your home, search for all areas where water might collect, and remove water sources from your yard.
Even a few ounces of water can hold multiple rafts of mosquito eggs or hundreds of single eggs, so a plant pot with a few cups of water in it can, for example, pose a significant problem.You will want to keep your gutters cleaned out so they drain properly, hang tarps so they do not pool water, turn over old tires, and get rid of anything you can that can act as a source of water.
Ensure, too, that potted plants, both indoors and out, never have standing water in the soil or trays. If you cannot store water-collecting items inside or upside down, drill drainage holes in them so any accumulated water will always run through. If you keep rain barrels or other rain-collection devices in your yard, keep lids on them when no rain is falling. Despite your best efforts, there may be some places where pooling is inevitable, so try to keep a regular schedule of dumping any standing water you find.
Ensure adequate drainage in your garden, fill in unnecessary ditches, change water in birdbaths several times a week, and treat swimming pools, ponds, and any other bodies of water in your yard for larvae with formulas safe for people and animals. Periodically pull up a cup of water from these areas and check for the presence of larvae, and treat or call in a professional if necessary.
Keep in mind that not all mosquitoes need standing water to lay eggs. They just need water for the eggs to hatch. Eliminating standing water will help, but there is still a chance that you’ll have to take other measures to get rid of mosquitoes in your yard. All the same, chemical and natural approaches are much less effective when mosquitoes continue to have access to the breeding grounds that standing water represents.
When to Call a Professional
The best way to deal with mosquitoes on a day-to-day basis is simply to protect yourself and your family with regular applications of a verified mosquito repellent containing DEET. You can augment these applications with herbal formulas, if you wish.
If the mosquito problem in your area appears to be out of control, you may wish to call in professional mosquito control. This is the best option if you want to spray large areas of your yard or treat large standing bodies of water.
Professionals can ensure that you don’t use the wrong chemicals, accidentally use toxic amounts, or employ formulas unsafe for your family or pets. Their treatments are more likely to take all variables into account and ensure that your money is well spent.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention