What Can I Do About Mosquitoes?

Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and like most Minnesotans—mosquitoes love the water. The female mosquitoes lay their eggs in whatever standing water they can find. While mosquitoes are typically most active in early summer, they can also be troublesome in fall.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, about 170 species of mosquitoes (which translates to “little fly” in Spanish) live in North America, and 50 of those live right here in Minnesota (28 of those species bite humans; the rest prefer other animals).

Mosquitoes detect the heat we give off and the carbon dioxide we exhale and come after us in search of a blood meal. A mosquito can bite anywhere from one to three times during its typical adult lifetime of two weeks to one month (adults of some species live six months or more).

So how do we protect our skin from Minnesota’s “unofficial state bird” while we’re gathered around the bonfire this fall? (Or enjoying a glass of wine out on the deck, or on a hayride at the apple orchard?)

According to the DNR, the first line of defense is repellants. Choose a product with a small percentage of DEET. Apply to clothing and limit contact with skin. Read the labels carefully for precautions, apply according to directions, and wash off your skin when you go indoors.

The American Mosquito Control Association offers these guidelines for using DEET: “For an outdoor family barbecue in the evenings, a 10 percent product is fine. It will help protect from bites for approximately 90 minutes to two hours. Products are available in aerosols, pump sprays, lotions, creams, and even towelettes. These are individually packaged and are also sold in a handy plastic container that allows the towelettes to pop up one at a time. There are water resistant and water repellent products. One brand uses a microencapsulation process that helps the DEET release over time after you have applied it. Another goes on dry from an aerosol can, just as powder antiperspirants do.”

 Recently, products containing another active ingredient, picaridin, have been shown to provide a similar degree of protection, and without the familiar odor and stickiness of DEET products.

A third ingredient, lemon oil of eucalyptus (sold as Repel), is a plant-derived compound that also is capable of providing protection, though not as long-lasting as that provided by products containing DEET or picaridin.

According to the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District—the authority on mosquitoes in the Twin Cities—you can take steps to lessen mosquito annoyance around your home by removing or emptying water-holding containers (make sure rain barrels have a screen, clean out your gutters, fix dripping faucets), trimming vegetation where adult mosquitoes rest, avoiding going outdoors during peak mosquito biting times of dusk and early morning, and wearing loose light-colored clothing.

Recently, traps that burn propane have come to the market. They work by producing carbon dioxide to attract mosquitoes. There are anecdotal reports that these traps work well in reducing mosquito annoyance in some situations. A number of studies are under way in the US to measure their effectiveness. Permethrin is available in some over-the-counter insect control products. Hand-held foggers powered by electricity or propane which use permethrin can be purchased at home and garden stores. The MMCD advises people to always read and follow the labels when using any repellant or insecticide.

For detailed responses regarding the effectiveness of bug lights, bug zappers, citronella candles, ultrasonic devices, bat houses, purple martins, and backyard misting systems, visit the AMCA site.

I’ve also heard that Listerine, dryer sheets, and Vicks Vapo Rub work to ward off ‘skeeters, but I don’t want to risk getting bit up while testing those remedies. If you’ve discovered a great natural remedy for keeping mosquitoes away, please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear it!

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