/ Opinions / It “bugs” me

It “bugs” me

September 04, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill

Life in the Northwoods is beautiful, serene… and buggy! We certainly have our fair share of insects. Many of those insects are beneficial to the environment. Some of them are a nuisance, and others may even carry disease. But they all serve a purpose. Even the mosquito. Yes, the mosquito. I get that they are annoying.  I get they bite.  I get there is a small chance they can make you sick. 

When I was young, I had some type of allergic reaction to mosquito bites. Every bite I would get would swell up into a welt at least an inch tall and two to three inches wide.  I remember I would go into my sandbox and pack mud on my mosquito bites, which seemed to be the only thing that would help the itching at times. When it got really bad, my pediatrician told my mom she would have no choice but to keep me inside until some of the bites cleared. There were times I would actually feel sick, with a fever and the whole nine yards. Looking back, on nice summer days mom had to force me to stay inside, it was probably just about as miserable for her as it was for me. I wanted to be outside enjoying the world around me, even if it was making me feel poorly. Whatever it was that created those issues eventually went away, and I was able to deal with mosquito bites as just an annoyance, as is the case for most people.

So, why do I bring this up? Mosquito spraying is why I bring this up. When I first heard about the topic, I was covering one of my normal county meetings when one of the committee members said she was having a company come and spray for mosquitoes later that day. Another committee member asked what chemicals were being used, and if this person was worried at all about their grandchildren playing where the spray had been applied.

“I don’t know what chemicals they use,” the person had said, “But the company told me they are completely safe.” I felt a bit of trepidation at that comment, as I feel some others did, as well, but shrugged it off, not thinking anything more of it. Sadly, at that time, I took the “not my circus, not my monkeys,” approach to it.  

Now, however, I do what I can to try to educate people, now that we are learning more about these sprays and the damage they can actually do. I feel as though people may not think about it, or may not truly understand the overall effects on their property and the environment as a whole. Of course, the companies spraying these chemicals will tell us they are safe and there will be no underlying issues with their use. It is in their best interest to say that, so of course they will downplay and effects.

Mosquito sprays, though, by their very nature, cannot discriminate. They will not kill only mosquitoes. They also take out beneficial insects. But it reached even farther than that. Killing insects removes part of the food chain. When we spray and kill mosquitoes, we also kill other insects such as pollinators, and we may even rob some other animals such as birds and bats, of much needed nutrition. It is the equivalent of stealing someone’s lunch, really. 

While I get some people just want the nasty bugs out of their life, they are really a part of the Northwoods and something with which we may be better off handling differently. They are a vital part of the food chain, which can be difficult to keep in mind as they attempt to ruin your picnic or evening by the camp fire. But the bigger picture may make them a bit more tolerable.

One of the big concerns in the past few decades is the plight of pollinators. Many species of bees in Wisconsin, for instance, have seen as much as a 50 percent decrease in populations. With pollinators being responsible for approximately 30 percent of our food supply, this could lead to a serious issue. While insecticides are, of course, not the only threat to pollinators, is it one easily controlled by land owners. These sprays, as I said, cannot discriminate between a mosquito and a pollinator, killing most insects with which it comes into contact.

One recommendation from the Oneida County land and water department is for land owners to look around their property and pinpoint what might be problem areas. Gutters clogged with leaves, old tires or buckets can all hold stagnant standing water. These are prime areas for breeding of mosquitoes. Other than removing areas that may breed mosquitoes, land owners can also attract other animals that eat mosquitoes.

Adding a bat house or two to a property can bring in nocturnal feeders that will cut down on the mosquito population in a noticeable way. Dragonflies and even some birds will dine on mosquitos and other pests, given the chance. Adding bird features to a property can help in this vein. While bird baths are a water source, changing the water often can keep mosquitoes from breeding in it. It take seven days for a mosquito to hatch, so changing the water in a bird bath just a few times per week will not only ensure there is fresh, clean water for birds, but also will keep mosquitoes to a minimum. Running water in a bird bath is also a good way to prevent hatches. When creating a bird bath, and looking to attract pollinators such as bees, it is recommended to have a shallow spot in the bath, such as putting rocks or marbles in the bottom, so bees and other smaller insects have a place to stand to take advantage of a cool drink of water. 

Repellents, too, work well to keep mosquitos away from humans and pets, if not completely out of the yard. While there are a ton of homemade remedies out there these days, they are not recommended for use as they have not been proven effective. It is also important, when using a repellent, to read the directions for use and the length of protection they offer. Some repellents are meant to be put on clothing, but not on skin. Some last longer than others. Of course, wearing long sleeved shirts and pants to limit the amount of bare skin showing is another way to limit exposure to mosquitoes, but that’s not what we are all about in the summertime. In the end, it is up to the individual land owner, of course, whether or not they decide chemical control is necessary to remedy a mosquito problem. I am only pointing out options because, as I said, sometimes it just a matter of not knowing or, as I was guilty of in that meeting — simply turning away from a situation and not thinking further about it.

If we do decide on a biological control method (using chemicals), the suggestion is to use a control method that kills the mosquito larvae itself. These types of chemicals, such as Bacillius thuringiensis israelenis (BTi), can be more effective than other insecticides and also are more friendly to the environment. They also tend to last longer than other insecticides, so they require fewer applications.

Anyone looking for more information on mosquito control can find more information from their county land and water department. The Oneida County website, oclw.org also has a link to the Xerces Society guide called, “Help Your Community Create an Effective Mosquito Management Plan.” The season on mosquitos is coming to a close, which brings some relief for the problem, but it is something to think about, not only for the remainder of this year, but for years to come.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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