Category Archives: Education

Mosquito traps that work

Spring is officially here so I’ve deployed my collection of mosquito traps (photographs below). In case you haven’t seen them before, each is filled with water and decomposing plant matter (hay and compressed rabbit food), then equipped with special lids (and sticky cards) that prevent females from escaping once they get inside. In addition, eggs that the female might lay are also prevented from developing. All of this happens passively, 24/7, all summer long, without the use of chemicals. I have two from BioCare (~$30 from Gardeners Supply), two from Biogents (~$24 from BioQuip), and one that I made last year (~ $5 in supplies).

Every homeowner should have them. Coupled with other preventative measures (eliminating stagnant water, reducing excess vegetation, etc.), you can knock back mosquito levels and enjoy your yard again. Five units is probably sufficient for an average yard but I plan on making a few more this summer just to make sure.

Ideally, everyone on your block should have them, too, so if you are planning on ordering some you should first send a note to all your neighbors to see whether you can make a bulk order. E.g., if you order a lot of Biogents you can shave a few dollars off of each unit. Buying a bunch might seem like a lot of money but compare it to the cost (~$700) of having a company like Mosquito Squad spray your yard with pyrethroids every several weeks (every year). Using these passive traps also saves all the pollinators that are killed by those pesticides.

Neighborhood Mosquito Watch

During a run this week I passed an abandoned, 30-gallon aquarium with easily 10,000 larvae doing their thing (wriggling). I came back later, took some photographs (on my Instagram soon if you’re into that), and then dumped it, sending the larvae to their deaths but also releasing a cloud of perhaps 100 newly-eclosed adults. I suspect the aquarium had been there for years, pumping Asian tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) into the neighborhood. Given the aquarium’s location at the edge of busy parking lot I’m sure that thousands of people have looked at it and thought, “Huh. Looks like an abandoned aquarium full of dirty water. Next to a Christmas tree. I bet there’s a story there!”, and then moved on with their lives.

Abandoned aquarium with mosquitoes

In case you are unsure what an infestation looks like, the next two photographs show what the adults, larvae, and eggs look like. Asian tiger mosquitoes lay eggs singly on the sides of containers or on moist objects floating on the water. They can last over a year as an egg, waiting for conditions to be just right.

Male Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) with larvae

Female Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) with larvae and eggs

Here’s a sample of the water I pulled from the tank.

But not all the eggs were Aedes albopictus (there are 60 species in PA alone). Here’s a raft of eggs in the aquarium from a different species (Culex sp.). The raft is lodged on a leaf but normally it just floats around until the larvae pop out. Anopheles (another common genus) has eggs that are deposited singly but float with the help of cute little life preservers.

Raft of mosquito eggs

But that’s not all! Yesterday I found a recycling bin behind a church with similar numbers of larvae. Given the amount of leaves decomposing in the bottom I suspect it has been like this for at least the whole summer. Again, it really is strange that nobody did anything about it. It’s right next to a sidewalk that gets lots of traffic (at least on Sundays) and is probably 10′ away from a playground at an infant/toddler daycare center. Poor kids. (I dumped it.)

Recycling bin with stagnant water

Given how much people hate mosquitoes it left me thinking how the public outreach about mosquito control has failed on the most basic level. Everyone should know enough about mosquito biology to know how and where they breed, and everyone should feel empowered to do something. Being proactive is so much better than adopting what I think is the common view, “Well if the mosquitoes get bad enough I’m sure the government will spray insecticides from planes.

All it would take would be a nicely worded message from a town official to mobilize residents into a mosquito watch. Something like, “If you see mosquito larvae swimming around in a container when you are out walking your dog, please turn the container upside down or alert the owner about it. Thanks.”

For more of my thoughts on mosquito control, please see, “How to rid your yard of mosquitoes.”