Please Help Save the Bees
Let’s face it, no one mourns a dead mosquito. The flying insect vampires can make a summer evening outside miserable and also including ticks, they can spread serious diseases. Increasingly homeowners are turning to having their yards sprayed to control mosquitos, but is that the best solution? The first thing to know is that the pesticides sprayed by these companies are Pyrethrins which are not selective insecticides. Pyrethrins kill essentially all insects, including bees, butterflies, moths, ladybugs, and lightning bugs. Pyrethrins are used by mosquito abatement programs and health departments when there are severe outbreaks of West Nile or encephalitis viruses, but the aim there is to kill flying adult mosquitos, not to try to coat plants and other surfaces with insecticides.
It is also important to recall that adult mosquitos get their nutrition from flower nectar – male mosquitos don’t bite any animals – and females take blood only to feed their young. So, if pyrethrins end up on flowers they will kill mosquitos and every other pollinator that visits that flower. Honeybees and other insects that we absolutely depend upon to pollinate food crops are in decline and nonspecific pesticides are a big part of that problem. No bees means no tomatoes. Even insects that eat other insects like lightning bugs and ladybugs are both directly killed by pyrethrins if they come in contact. Pyrethrins are not toxic to birds or land animals, but they are deadly to fish. And many species of birds depend upon insects for food. North America has lost an estimated 3 Billion birds in part due to loss of food sources.
Another question that has to be asked is how often would home mosquito spraying have to occur to be effective? To control West Nile Virus in Dallas in 2012 health authorities completed three evening aerial sprays in two weeks along with treatments for mosquito larva in standing water. The goal of these sprays is to hit flying adult mosquitos directly since pyrethrins breakdown rapidly in sunlight and do not persist in the environment. They are also washed off by rain which kills fish.
So, if you are paying for a monthly yard spray of a chemical that breaks down in 1-2 days and is done during daylight hours, are you really getting your money’s worth? Is there a better way? Control of mosquitos is best done by putting Bt discs (mosquito dunks) in all standing water sources once a month or so. Smaller basins (like bird baths) can get by with a quarter of a dunk or less. And to back this up, use mosquito repellants. DEET-containing sprays or lotions work the best and DEET is not toxic – even for young children. Any concentration above 20% will work, but higher concentrations last longer. Lower concentrations may need to be re-applied in as little as two hours. DEET will sting if you get it in your eyes but won’t do lasting harm. Newer so called “Dry” formulations containing DEET are kinder to fabrics and upholstery. DEET repels ticks, fleas, and midges as well. Picaridin (5-20%) is an alternative to DEET, as is Oil of Lemon-Eucalyptus (10-30%) and although the latter is a natural product, it is the most likely of the three to cause allergic skin reactions.
And while you are helping out our insect neighbors, could you consider turning off the yard lights? Lightning bugs flash to attract mates and won’t frequent areas with artificial lights. June and July are prime time for adult lightning bugs.
Lawn grub controls – good news and bad news.
Chemicals in grub control products for lawns is fairly specific to insects that chew on plant materials. It is not a broad spectrum insecticide and generally won’t kill soil dwelling insects (like native bees) that don’t eat plant roots.