I’ve posted a few pics of the invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) on Instagram but thought I’d feature my full collection in a post. The insect is extremely photogenic but it’s also good to let people know what different stages look like so that everyone can kill them. I still need some early-instar pics as well as some showing spotted lanternflies being consumed by parasites and fungi.
Health officials love to remind people to use DEET and other CDC-approved repellents, but they tend to shy away from telling the public what doesn’t work. As a result, millions of people adopt ineffective techniques and gimmicky devices. These people are not only subjecting themselves to annoying mosquito bites, they are increasing the likelihood that family members will contract West Nile virus disease,Zika virus disease, eastern equine encephalitis, and other mosquito-borne diseases. So I thought I’d make a list of the top myths and scams just in case skeptical people are Googling.
1. Mosquito-repelling plants
Despite the claims of thousands of posts on Facebook and Pinterest, there are no plants that, when planted around your yard, repel mosquitoes. And, just to be clear, the plant marketed as “mosquito plant” does not repel mosquitoes. I know this is deeply upsetting news to many plant fans. I’m just the messenger.
2. Ultrasonic devices and apps
None of these have been found to work (details). It’s too bad. It would be really cool if they did. The FTC has taken some companies to court. There is, however, a device called The Mosquito that is effective at repelling teenagers.
3. Bags of water suspended from ceiling
This belief is common in Mexico, Central America, Spain, and certain pockets in the U.S. south. It’s a variation of the equally-ineffective tradition of hanging bags of water to repel house flies. Some people insist that you have to add coins (and just the right number).
Nope — even when mixed with other ingredients like beer and epsom salts, spraying Listerine around your yard won’t repel mosquitoes. Just another internet rumor started by somebody with too much free time.
5. Citronella candles
Citronella candles only seem to work if you surround yourself with a lot of them, ideally in a protected area so that wind doesn’t dissipate the smoke. Similarly, Tiki torches that burn citronella-laced oil are ineffective. They smell great, though. The pleasant smell most likely contributes to the strong placebo effect. People absolutely believe they work even though they do not.
6. Bounce dryer sheets
Per one study fungus gnats (which don’t bite) were mildly repelled by dryer sheets. I’d wager these sheets might actually be attractive to mosquitoes (some species home in on perfumes).
7. Wrist bands with natural oils
At best, wrist bands will reduce the number of mosquito bites on your wrist. But they will not emit enough volatile compounds to shield the rest of you. NB: currently there are no wristbands that contain DEET or other CDC-approved repellent. Details.
8. Stickers laced with natural oils
Stickers only prevent mosquitoes from biting the flesh directly underneath the sticker. You’d need an awful lot of stickers for full protection. If you can rock that look, I say go for it. Note, same conclusion for the stickers that claim to infuse your bloodstream with B1.
These devices are adored by people because they make a satisfying crackle when an insect meets its end. Indeed, people who own these seem to delight in the attention these things get when friends come over in the evening. But if you dump all the carcasses on a table and sort them (good family fun), you’ll find that only a small fraction of the victims will be mosquitoes. In one study, 0.22% were mosquitoes. Mostly you’ve just electrocuted thousands of small, defenseless moths and night-active beetles. That’s a lot of bad karma. More details.
Sadly, it’s a myth that constructing a bat or bird hotel in your backyard will eliminate your mosquito problem. Bats and birds will certainly eat mosquitoes under some circumstances (e.g., when they are caged with nothing else) but under natural conditions they prefer to eat larger insects. You should still construct bird and bat houses, though. Details.
The most effective, cheapest way to control mosquitoes is to eliminate the standing water that larvae need to develop. A dry yard doesn’t have mosquitoes. It’s really that simple. Below is a list of objects to get rid of or dump regularly. Please share with your neighbors.
This is at the top of the list because almost all houses have gutters and almost all homeowners hate to clean them out. Check for blocked gutters weekly if you have a lot of trees nearby. If gutter status is hard to see, buy a drone to facilitate inspections. If you can’t afford a drone just get an extra-long, telescoping selfie stick for your smartphone.
2. Flexible downspout extenders
Flexible downspout extenders are perfect for mosquito larvae — the ridges hold water and the black absorbs heat from sunlight (thus speeding development). They are especially bad if nestled in shrubs and ground cover. Note that they hold water even if they are sloped downward. Get rid of them. All of them.
If you leave a tarp in your yard, you’ve created lots of nooks in which water and debris will accumulate. I frequently see tarps covering soggy logs that owners seem to have no real intention of ever splitting into firewood. I think people view tarps as cloaks of invisibility, magically hiding loathsome to-do items from spouse.
Sandbox toys, sleds, wagons, and kiddie pools seem as if they were specifically designed to encourage mosquitoes. I.e., even when stored upside down they have nooks that collect enough rainwater to allow mosquito larvae to mature. Store them in the garage. If you think covering them with a tarp will work, please see #3.
5. Bird baths
Everyone should have a bird bath. But if you do, you need to either have a water bubbler/agitator (mosquitoes hate that) or you need to kill the larvae by adding granules of Bacillus thuringiensis var israelensis (abbreviated, Bti). Bti is extremely effective: you can add it a container that has thousands wriggling of larvae (see movie) and they will all be dead within hours. Just add it every two weeks and your bath will always be mosquito free. But don’t forget — make yourself a smartphone reminder or write on paper calendar.
6. Trash and recycling bins
If you can’t store your trash and recycling containers under a roofed area, keep a lid on them. I found the ones below behind a local church. Tens of thousands of larvae within.
7. Watering cans
Watering cans are rarely transparent so you can’t see the mosquito larvae inside, but they are present if you leave them around the yard when it’s been raining a lot. Store them empty, in garage.
Just keep them propped up vertically so they don’t accumulate rain water. Or drill holes.
9. Rain barrels
Just put screening over the top. Or add Bti every other week. I don’t recommend adding mosquito-eating fish because they die when water level gets low (plus the fish suffer before dying).
10. Pot saucers
Pot saucers are unneeded outside so it’s easy to eliminate them. If you like them for decorative reasons you’ll need to add Bti regularly. It’s better to just get rid of them because you’ll eventually forget. You know you will.
Other places where mosquitoes larvae thrive
Other objects of concern are: pool covers, pot saucers, grill covers, plastic kid toys, tires, unattached hoses, empty glazed pots, shovels, construction materials, garbage cans, garbage can lids, containers in recycling bins, bottle caps, cemetery vases, decorative shells, empty coconuts, papaya tree stumps, downspout troughs, spigot drips, ollas, pickup truck beds, window wells, septic tanks, uncapped metal fence posts, animal tracks. Mosquitoes will also lay eggs inside in toilet bowls, animal water dishes, and French drains.