Keeping those blood-sucking mosquitoes at bay
Fact: Only female mosquitoes suck blood. Males are around for only two purposes; one of them is to help pollinate flowers. This being a family magazine, we'll dispense with the other purpose, though it does provide a great opportunity to explain the birds and bees, so to speak, to the kids.
Fact: Any mosquito that lands on your body is probably a female. Go ahead and swat it.
Fact: The female doesn't feed on the blood. She and he feed on nectar.
Fact: Mosquito populations come and go based on weather conditions. More specifically, on rainfall.
Therein lies the catch. This year's rain patterns will have an effect on mosquito dynamics. Lots of rain and there will be lots of mosquitoes. No rain and the population shrinks. In other words, there is something positive about having a drought.
Blood is needed for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Any type of animal blood will work. Cats, dogs, pigs, cattle and horses are all fair game. Humans just have less body hair or fur than most other animals. It's easy to maneuver between the follicles. And our skin doesn't seem to be as thick and leathery, unless of course you're a construction worker who spends all day in the sun.
Back to the rain. Adult mosquitoes don't need rain to mate. They don't need rain to suck blood; in fact, there is less mosquito activity in the rain. Unfortunately, picnics in the rain aren't that exciting unless you're into mud volleyball.
Water is needed for the larval stage. That's why eggs are usually laid near water sources, The eggs hatch, the larva swim around in water for awhile, and change into adults. That's why you don't find mosquitoes too often in the desert. Or in the middle of a cornfield or forest.
And that's why we find them around lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and any place with stagnant water.
Swimming pool chlorine kills the mosquitoes. Birds frolicking in birdbaths will also keep the larva population down.
However, that old tin can, that gutter that never seems to drain, that tire behind the shed and that ditch that doesn't drain too fast are all mosquito nurseries.
Get rid of those areas. Poke a hole in that gutter if you have to. Turn that can over and dispose of the tire properly. Anything you can do to cut down on standing water will cut down on mosquitoes.
If that doesn't work, stop bathing. Seriously. Human body odor isn't as attractive to the female as all the perfumed soaps and shampoos we use. Makes you wonder if there were less problems when people only bathed on Saturdays.
Keep the perfumes and colognes off your body when walking through mosquito areas. Smelling good may attract members of the opposite sex, but what good is that if you're constantly distorting your body reaching for that itch.
Mosquitoes are also attracted to bright colors and floral prints. If you look like a potential food source, you'll probably be viewed as one. And the added benefit of being thin-skinned and relatively furless makes you a good source for baby production.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck your pant legs into your shoes or boots. Of course, be prepared for heat stroke, but it's harder for the female to penetrate clothing. She'll do it, if necessary, but it's harder.
Repellents should be used carefully and according to instructions. Read and follow all directions. Many should not be applied around the mouth or eyes.
Finally, mosquito repellent plants work for an area about a couple of inches. There is no invisible wall or force field. Mosquitoes will fly around or over the plants. Theoretically, you could cover your body with the plants as you walk through the woods, but watch out for what the deer and rabbits might do.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension. You can write to Robson in care of Illinois Country Living, P.O. Box 3787, Springfield, IL 62708. Telephone: (217) 782-6515. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
16 ILLINOIS COUNTRY LIVING • JULY 2000