Ahhhh. The sounds of summer: the crash of ocean waves, the crackle and bang of Fourth of July fireworks, the sizzle of burgers on the grill.
Unfortunately, the sounds of summer also include the whine of pesky mosquitoes. But there's plenty you can do to turn down the volume of that buzz so you can enjoy the lazy, hazy days of summer.
Learning how to kill mosquitoes naturally is important beyond ensuring a comfortable backyard cookout. Mosquitoes present a health risk to everyone in the family — even Fido. Mosquito-borne diseases — which kill 1 million people worldwide every year — include malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis and, more commonly in the United States, West Nile virus. Mosquitoes also carry heartworm, a life-threatening disease for dogs.
So, it’s worth the effort to control mosquitoes around your house and to reduce your risk of getting bit. Here are some tips for backyard mosquito control:
Don't give mosquitoes a nearby place to breed
Most mosquitoes can fly no more than one to three miles, and some mosquitoes such as the Asian tiger mosquito have a flight range of just 100 yards or so. So they're always looking for a place to land or a place to lay eggs, and water is an attractive option.
Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes breed by emptying the saucers for plants, hauling off old tires, cleaning rain gutters and frequently changing the water in birdbaths. Don't leave pet bowls filled with water outside when your pets are indoors. Look out for water that gathers in pool covers, buckets and trash cans. Even discarded Frisbees, toys and lids can collect water after it rains and attract mosquitoes.
Walk around your property with an eye for puddles. Fix the problem, and mosquitoes won't have a place to lay eggs.
Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito fish that eat the larva or treat the water with larvicide mosquito rings sold at home and garden stores.
Like their fellow bloodsuckers, vampires, adult mosquitoes rest during daylight. Mosquitoes spend daylight hours hiding among vegetation. Reduce mosquito shelter in your yard by trimming weeds and keeping the grass short.
Plant some natural repellents
Rosemary naturally repels mosquitoes. (Photo: Alice Henneman/Flickr)
You can grow a garden full of your own pest control by choosing plants that naturally keep mosquitoes at bay. There are all sorts of lovely herbs and flowers that look great but also have powerful repellent properties. An added plus: most of these plants also fight back against flies, gnats, no-see-ums and other pesky insects that make being outdoors not so fun in the summer.
Some herbs to consider: basil, lavender, lemongrass, lemon thyme, mint, rosemary and lemon balm.
If flowers sound more appealing, try marigolds or common lantanas to create a mosquito-free yard.
Prevent mosquito larvae from maturing
You can stop mosquitoes from maturing by using mosquito dunks and bits. These products contain Bacillus thurengiensis israelensis (Bti), a naturally occurring soil bacteria that works as a larvicide. When the larvae of mosquitoes — as well as black flies and fungus gnats — consume Bti, it affects their stomachs making them no longer able to eat. Within several days, they die of starvation.
The bacteria is all natural and doesn't harm other wildlife or the environment.
Dunks float in water and can be anchored with a string. Bits are granules or pellets that can be scattered in soil, plant trays or other areas. Apply them to places where there is standing water, as well as muddy, shady areas.
Invite bats to your yard
You can get rid of mosquitoes by attracting bats, one of their most-feared predators. In one night, one single brown bat can eat 1,000 mosquito-sized insects.
To make that dinnertime feat easier, why not install a bat house to create a mosquito-free yard? Typically made of wood, bat houses can take many forms and can be many sizes. They can be small, backyard boxes or freestanding towers on tall poles to support colonies. Place the house where it will get at least six hours of sunlight per day — facing south, east or southeast in most climates — and paint the outside a dark color to absorb heat.
Then sit back and wait. The bats will come and the mosquitoes will go.
Create your own breeze
Strategically placed fans will keep a deck or porch free of mosquitoes, says Joseph Conlon of the American Mosquito Control Association. "Mosquitoes are weak flyers and will not be able to navigate properly against or within the air stream," Conlon says. "There is no set formula for how large a fan or how many you'll need. It's simply a matter of experimenting until you obtain the desired effect. It's simple, yet very effective."
In fact, a 2003 Michigan State University study discovered just how well an electric fan messes with a mosquito's flying ability. The university entomologists tested electric fans with mosquito traps set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Michigan wetland. They used carbon monoxide in the traps to lure the mosquitoes, but found that the winds from the fans "strongly reduced" the number of insects that were caught.
In addition, fans break the flow of carbon dioxide, throwing mosquitoes off guard when they're trying to figure out exactly where you are. And, as an extra bonus, a fan keeps you cool. When you're not sweating as much and giving off as much body heat, the mosquitoes also have a more difficult time finding you and biting you.
The researchers recommend setting the fans on medium or high to get the best results.
Use insect repellent if you need to
Not everyone is a fan of bug spray, but sometimes, you need it when dealing with mosquitoes. Just breathing will draw mosquitoes to you. Mosquitoes are attracted to, among other things, the heat from our bodies and the carbon dioxide in our breath.
Richard Pollack, an instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health and adviser to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, tells ABC News that mosquitoes are able to determine where their target is by following exhale trails.
"If you were to exercise vigorously, you would produce more carbon dioxide for a brief period," Pollack says. "You might [then] perhaps be a little more attractive to mosquitoes."
If you're being bitten, your options are to stop breathing (not really an option) or to go inside. Or you can just make yourself less attractive to the thirsty bloodsuckers.
There are a number of proven-effective insect repellants that provide hours of protection. There are four repellants that have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535, an amino acid that interferes with mosquitoes' sense of smell. The EPA considers DEET and picaridin "conventional repellents" and oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 as "biopesticide repellents," which are made from natural materials. =
The EPA offers these guidelines for the safe use of insect repellents:
- Repellents should be applied only to exposed skin and/or clothing. Do not use under clothing.
- Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.
- When using sprays, do not spray directly into your face; spray on hands first and then apply to your face.
- Never use repellents over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
- After returning indoors, wash treated skin and clothes with soap and water.
DEET is considered the most effective insect repellent, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends DEET not be used on infants less than 2 months old. The label on products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus warns against use on children younger than age 3.
Don't waste your money on bug zappers. Mosquito traps that attract mosquitoes using carbon dioxide may kill bugs, but they may not be trapping the mosquitoes that are biting you.
If all else fails, play this song
It's always a surprise to know what scientists deem worthy of research, but when it results in useful answers, why not? Researchers knew mosquitoes responded to low-frequency vibrations, so they wondered what would happen if they introduced something more noisy, specifically "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" by dubstep artist Skrillex. And it worked. Their research, published in the journal Acta Tropica, revealed that hungry female mosquitoes had less sex and attacked less often after listening to 10 minutes of the Skrillex song.
Of course, playing that tune nonstop on your patio isn't for everyone, so here's a suggestion for a DIY mosquito repellent using lime and cloves:
This story was originally published in June 2011 and has been updated with more recent information.