Gardening

How to Safely Kill Mosquitoes In Your Yard

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Want to have a safe, healthy, mosquito-free yard and neighborhood? Follow the steps in this flier then print and share them with your neighbors!

(click image to enlarge)

Click here to download the printable 8.5 x 10″ PDF version of the above flier.

Read the full article below for details, references, and helpful mosquito facts!


We should preface this article by saying that we love insects. Lacewings, praying mantises, ladybugs, wheel bugs, wasps, bees, etc.. With few exceptions, insects are welcome in our yard, even common pest insects like aphids, which we consider to be “bait” for our predatory insects.

We also do our best to plant a diversity of flowering plants to attract, feed, and provide breeding habitat for insects. Most predatory insects also eat nectar (sugar/carbohydrates) and pollen (protein and fat) in addition to other insects.

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Beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterflies pollinating zinnias in our garden. They're quite charismatic as adults, but people often spray their larvae with insecticides because they look scary.

Beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterflies pollinating zinnias in our garden. They’re quite charismatic as adults, but people often spray their larvae with insecticides because they look scary.

However, there are some insects that we sometimes wish would permanently vanish from the face of the earth. One such insect is the mosquito, which is universally reviled by virtually every human culture on the planet.

Mosquitos Can Be Good?

Yes, we know that there are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes and only a few hundred of those species bite. We also know that mosquitoes are a great food source for lots of other creatures; that male mosquitoes can’t bite; that both male and female mosquitoes are actually good pollinators.

A mosquito pollinating a marigold flower; image CC courtesy wikimedia.

A mosquito pollinating a marigold flower; image CC courtesy wikimedia.

But given the long list of terrible diseases that blood-sucking and blood-transferring mosquitoes spread to people – malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya virus, West Nile virus, Zika virus, to name but a few – it’s easy to understand why these insects are so hated. Not to mention, nothing ruins a beautiful summer day faster than a swarm of biting mosquitoes.

What Would Happen If We Killed Every Mosquito In The World?

So what would happen if every biting mosquito on earth were to vanish? Scientists debate that question, but the general consensus seems to be that despite a few negative ecological impacts, other insect species would fill the void left by mosquitoes, and the overall results for people and planet would be a net positive.

While the complete global eradication of every “good” or “bad” mosquito species is a purely hypothetical and unrealistic aim, it’s not at all unrealistic to try to kill or prevent mosquitoes in your own yard, as long as you do it in a way that’s ecologically rational (e.g. it doesn’t risk harming other organisms, including people and pets).

Reciting the names of every mosquito body part from memory makes a great impression on a first date.

Reciting the names of every mosquito body part from memory makes a great impression on a first date.

In fact, our yard, which is right smack in the middle of the hot, humid southeastern US (aka mosquito heaven), has virtually no mosquitoes. And we’ve managed to get it there with no discernible negative impact to other species. The cost? You’ve probably paid more for lunch.

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Here’s how we got rid of our mosquitoes using safe, organic methods and how you can too…

Want To Safely Kill Mosquitoes? First Understand Them.

If you want to get rid of mosquitoes in your yard, you have to start by understanding the life cycle of mosquitoes and what they’re attracted to. From there, the solutions will start making sense to you and are pretty straightforward.

Very quickly, here’s a quick rundown of some of the things you need to know about mosquitoes:

A. Mosquito Life Cycle

The life cycle of a mosquito is: Egg > Larva > Pupa > Adult.

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Mosquito larva. No, this is not actual size.

Mosquito larva. No, this is not actual size.

Depending on the species, a female ADULT mosquito will live anywhere between 6-8 weeks and a male adult mosquito will live about 10 days. The time it takes them to go from egg to adult (the “aquatic cycle”) can take a few days or a couple of weeks depending on the species, but the process is sped up by hot weather and ideal breeding grounds, e.g. stagnant water with decomposing organic matter (leaves and plant material).

B. How Far Can Mosquitos Fly?

The distance a mosquito can fly depends on the species. For instance, Aedes Aegypti (the mosquitos responsible for the recent spread of Zika Virus) will only travel about 50-100 meters. Others can fly for many miles over the course of their lives. But the better the conditions are in a given spot, the more likely they are to stay there and the more they’re going to reproduce.  

C. What Attracts Mosquitoes?

Female mosquitoes need to ingest animal blood in order to get the macronutrients they need to produce eggs. Then they have to lay their eggs somewhere that:

  1. Will have *standing water for 3-10 days straight. (*Species of flood water mosquitoes lay their eggs in the soil on flood plains which then hatch next time there’s standing water, but this likely does not apply to your home landscape unless you have gills or scales.
  2. Has water that contains the decomposing plant matter that fosters the microorganisms (algae, plankton, fungi and bacteria) their larvae need to eat in order to grow into pupa. Mosquitoes don’t eat during the pupal stage.

A single mating pair of mosquitoes can breed thousands of new adult mosquitoes over the course of their short lifecycle. If you’ve ever been near a swamp in the summertime, you’ve had firsthand experience of how quickly mosquitoes can breed under ideal circumstances.

Now that you know the basics mosquitoes need to complete their lifecycle, it’s time for you to learn how to break their lifecycle and safely kill mosquitoes in your yard…

Step By Step: How to Safely Kill Mosquitoes In Your Yard

First, get rid of all standing water in your yard including. Common sources of standing water include:

  • clogged gutters
  • stored buckets
  • saucers underneath potted plants
  • bird baths (unless you change them daily)
  • pet water dishes (unless you change them daily)
  • water on certain plants that hold water (example: we grow pineapples in pots and have to turn over the plants to drain the small pools of water that form in the leaf-axils after a rain)

Second, you’re going to want to attract any female mosquitos that happen to be in your yard to lay their eggs in water that is going to kill their larvae. What to use – Poison? Nuclear weapons?

Nope, you’re going to harness the power of a simple bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), to do the mosquito-larvae-murdering for you, safely and efficiently. You don’t have to be a microbiologist to use Bti. In fact, you can buy a summer’s-long supply of the same Bti mosquito “dunks” that we use for $20 on Amazon.

*Note: 1) These dunks are certified organic by the US EPA, and are deemed harmless to beneficial insects, pets, birds, fish or other wildlife. 2) The above link is an Amazon affiliate link which means if you buy your mosquito dunks after clicking the link, we’ll make a small commission – think of it as leaving us a little tip for taking the time to write this article!

Once you have your mosquito dunks, just follow these steps to get the most bang for your buck while minimizing the potential harm to other wildlife:

Step 1: Fill small buckets with water.

Step 2: Add a small bit of dead plant matter (old leaves, grass clippings, etc) to help make the water smell even more attractive to female egg-laying mosquitos. The dunks are made of corn cob bits coated in Bti, so they’ll also help make the water smell good to egg laying mosquitos.

Step 3: (optional) Cut a small 1/2″ mesh cage to place over the water bucket to keep any pets from drinking it. Again, Bti is thought to be harmless to animals and is even approved for use on organic farms, but you don’t want to have to replace your water every few days after Spot or Fluffy drinks it. The cage also helps to keep frogs and other vertebrates from falling in and drowning.

Step 4: Put a stick in the bucket that stretches from the bottom to above the surface rim. This ensures that if a frog, lizard or other critter falls in, it can crawl up the stick and out of the bucket (cut or bend a spot in the wire to allow the critters out from under the cage).

Step 5: Place your mosquito-murdering buckets in shady, relatively moist areas of your yard where mosquitos would naturally congregate: under bushes, under the deck, down near the creek, etc.. Then, set a calendar reminder in your phone to replace the dunks in each bucket once per month, topping up the water as-needed.

*Note: If areas of your yard have standing water (such as a drainage ditch), you’ll also want to toss in one or more dunks depending on the volume of water present. 

The final product - this is one of five

The final product – this is one of five “mosquito dunk buckets” we use throughout the summer. This one is down on the edge of the woods on our property.

Now it’s time to let your Bti bacteria work its magic and enjoy the drastic reduction of mosquitos in your yard! You should start noticing results within a couple of weeks or sooner, but once it starts working, the mosquito populations will decline drastically.

If you want to make your mosquito control measures even more effective, get the neighbors around you to follow the simple, inexpensive steps in this article!

Happy mosquito-free summer from Tyrant Farms!


 

Two Additional Notes:

  1. Are “Mosquito Barrier Sprays” For Your Yard Safe? Short answer: no. If you want to read why, here’s a good article from Duke University’s Dr. Bill Chameides, who served as dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment from 2007 to 2014.
  2. Zika Virus – As of the publish date of this article, no cases of Zika virus in the United States have been caused by mosquitos in the US, although Aedes aegypti mosquitos are present in some US states. To date, all known US Zika cases have been the result of mosquito bites in other countries where US citizens had previously travelled and where the Zika virus is known to be present. Scientists do expect domestic Zika virus cases to happen in the future unless a remedy is found. To stay informed and updated about Zika in the US, the CDC has a good resource page.  

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