We need to learn how to kill mosquitoes responsibly, for our own good. Man has been plagued with mosquitoes since there’s been plagues. The best thing we could say about them is that they and their larvae are food for other creatures. They still feed on us, though. Once in a while, they will even carry disease. Malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, Zika, West Nile. Mosquitoes are vectors for a host of diseases that in history have killed millions. For this, they have been called the most dangerous animal on the planet.
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How NOT to Kill Mosquitoes Responsibly
Fortunately, the mosquitoes that breed in our yards, the Aedes, are extremely unlikely to carry Zika or West Nile, or dengue fever. Malaria is of course carried by the Anopheles mosquito, which is extremely unlikely ever to show up in anyone’s backyard around here. In general, it has been in the tropics where we see outbreaks, That doesn’t stop those in the “mosquito control” industry from spreading falsehoods about our need to defend ourselves against these exotic tropical diseases, whether that’s from ignorance or cynicism.
They of course always claim that their pesticides are safe, but that doesn’t explain the yellow flags.
Safe For Whom?
If people really believed these chemicals were safe, you’d see them out on their lawns more. We’d also see more insects in our yards generally. Where did the fireflies go? Or the Cicadas? Fireflies live in the ground two years, cicadas seventeen. Did anyone growing up here now even notice they are mostly missing? You wont’ see them on treated lawns. They are dying in the ground, our chemically over-treated ground.
The Suburban Lawn: An Insect Killing Field
For this, the suburban lawn itself needs to die. It is an ecological catastrophe that is helping to precipitate local environmental collapse. Kentucky Bluegrass is in fact from Eurasia and is an invasive species. We should be trying to attract insects to our yard by replacing lawns with native plants. Only then will we have created the habitat our local wildlife needs to survive.
Safe for humans? Maybe. Safe for insects? Absolutely not, and that in turn is an existential threat to life on this planet. The Insect Apocalypse is upon us. Globally, we have lost 75% of our insects over the last 50 years. As the late E.O. Wilson put it,
If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”E.O. Wilson
It’s Not The Farms, It’s Consumer Marketing That Is Poisoning Us
Suffolk County uses far more pesticides than any other county in New York. While there is significant agriculture out east, this has more to do with the fact that people on suburban Long Island love their lawns. We put 10X more pesticides per acre on them than what farmers put on their crops. Everybody has a can of RAID or Black Flag in the cupboard.
A prime example of how not to kill mosquitoes responsibly: Our tax dollars funds helicopters spraying methoprene on what little there is left of our marshes, further degrading them, and even killing other arthropods like the dragonfly, which otherwise would be eating them. Mosquitoes love disturbed habitat, and as our marshes and lakes ponds and streams degrade, the problem of course gets worse.
Killing Mosquitoes Responsibly: Bti
So what does a homeowner do? What can a neighborhood do? Turns out, the best way to manage mosquitoes, to kill them responsibly, is to use mosquito dunks and the naturally occurring larvicide Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis). Whereas Methoprene is a broad spectrum toxin, Bti affects the larvae of the mosquito, the blackfly, and the fungus gnat. I am sure the latter two have important roles in the food web, but still I want to hang out in my backyard unperturbed by that buzzing sound.
Now without any further ado, here is what you do: Set up a couple of mosquito dunks around the yard. Get a bucket. Fill it halfway. Toss 1/4 of a tablet in. That will be good for a month. The mosquitoes will then breed in the water, and the Bti kills the larvae. Make sure you toss a chunk in any place where there is standing water too.
Because freshwater mosquitoes are weak flyers, if you are bitten the odds are 80% that the mosquito was spawned within a hundred feet. Look then for any place where water collects — tires, gutters, birdbaths.
Kill Mosquitoes Responsibly and Communally
What of the mosquitoes that come from your neighbor’s yards? The good news is a whole neighborhood could act in concert, with mosquito dunks on every property. Research has shown that such a community dunking initiative lowers the mosquito population by 70%.
Even better news? It’s cheap to do. At $10 a six pack, enough to dose 24 dunk buckets a month, that is far cheaper — and responsible — than any alternative, and quite effective. Bti is also sprayed from helicopters onto marshes, is applied industrially, but it’s collateral damage is far less.
So get yourself a couple of buckets, set up your dunks, get the neighbors involved, and enjoy having fewer of these pests around. Hopefully you will have some neighbors who will follow suit.
Will People Hear This With All the Marketing Buzz?
I don’t know what one blog post can do against billions of dollars of advertising, and against our seemingly innate disgust for insects. But it is quickly killing us. We either figure out how to responsibly share this planet, or the planet will make some decisions of its own.
In Half-Earth (2016), his final work, Wilson does offer a roadmap to our collective survival. Everyone interested in sowing a livable future should read it. Today, though, we are living out a second Silent Spring as our war on nature continues unabated. We can still dedicate half of the earth to Nature. It’s not to late, but it’s getting there quickly.
Kill mosquitoes responsibly. Little things mean a lot.