Behold the spindly, landing gear-like legs, insidious eyes, and the blood-straw proboscis of the mosquito. The icon of pests is hard to mistake. However, although it steals our blood and causes untold grief, the mosquito is vital to the ecosystems supporting the creatures we do appreciate.
An organized and well-informed community makes for the most effective kind of mosquito control. But look around you. That's not your community. Fortunately, there are plenty of mosquito control strategies for the individual looking to make his yard, home, and outdoor adventures more enjoyable. These strategies DO NOT include buying a bug zapper, some ugly, expensive mosquito control machine, sound repellents, or any fog or spray services offered by charlatan pest control agents. The best things you can do to control mosquitoes are cheap, practical, and for the most part, entirely natural.
DEET is the best mosquito repellent; use it. DEET is the most widely studied mosquito repellent, and with good reason, it is the most popular mosquito control product. DEET has outperformed other mosquito repellents in tests conducted by the CDC and EPA, both in the lab and in the field. Picaradin—a chemical found in some Sawyer products and Avon's Skin so Soft, is a good second option. While it's not as effective or long lasting as DEET, it doesn't stink and is easier on clothing (DEET will stain synthetic fabrics).
Drain or treat standing water. Standing water is the face palm of mosquito control. Even small amounts of standing water (such as the pool inside of an old tire) can begin producing continuous swarms in as little as a week. If you have clogged storm drains or gutters, wheel barrows, kiddie pools, puddles, low lying spots, pet dishes, open graves, or bear traps, drain them, fill them in, or treat these areas with Bti (see right). Fewer mosquitoes will be attracted to your property, and fewer will hatch from it.
Keep your lawn, trees, and shrubs trimmed and neat. Routine yard maintenance is the best kind of natural mosquito control. Mosquitoes love tall grasses and heavy cover for the shade, moisture, and protection they provide. Ever wait too long to mow your lawn? Did you notice the swarms of insects scattering in your wake? The more sun and air flow you let in, the less you'll need to worry about backyard mosquito control.
Install bug lights around doors, windows, decks, and other portals. Traditional lighting attracts mosquitoes. Waiting for a chance to slip in the door, they swarm to your property at night. In the morning, all the blood-sucking revelers will roost in your yard. Don't let it happen. Install yellow "bug lights," LED lighting, or sodium vapor lamps. These bulbs emit a type of light mosquitoes and other biting insects cannot see. It's another cheap, simple layer of mosquito control.
Enjoy your yard with a screened canopy or well-placed fan. Screened canopies or party tents are cheaper than mosquito yard spray or fog services, and they're far more effective. In small outdoor spaces (a patio or porch) a good strong fan will keep you cool and mosquito bite free since mosquitoes cannot fly in wind exceeding two miles-per-hour.
Plan for mosquitoes, and plan around them. Plan big camping trips and outdoor vacations around mosquito season. Don't pursue activities outdoors during the hours of peak mosquito activity (dusk, dawn, darkness). If you do, dress appropriately (thick sweatshirt, netting) and apply DEET.
Mosquitoes in the home? Seal them out. Indoor mosquito control is about repairing barriers. Repair screens with silicone caulk or screen patches. Install door sweeps and weather stripping to secure doors. Next, make sure your home's outdoor vents are screened and the incoming utilities don't offer a way in (fill gaps with outdoor caulk). If your home is in a poor condition and repairs will take some time, know that mosquito netting can be installed over beds, cribs, kennels, and anywhere sanity is required.
The FDA recommends that people remain indoors during a community-wide mosquito spraying or fogging. Only then is this tactic considered "reasonably safe." But most mosquito control experts agree that mass spraying is a last resort, only to be used to suppress the spread of a dangerous mosquito-borne illness.
Real community-based mosquito control requires an entirely different approach. Organized, knowledgeable communities practice "source control"; they kill the mosquito larvae and pupae at prolific breeding sites rather than in the air. These communities employ experts—people with a background in mosquito biology and least-toxic control strategies—rather than the typical "Moron and Sons" pest control outfit. These communities are involved; they get volunteers to record mosquito counts and work to inform the public about ways they can help (or not make things worse). Contact your local city or state health department to see who is in charge of mosquito control in your area. The best programs are often started by concerned citizens.
Mosquito dunks (Bti). Mosquito dunks, a form of organic mosquito control, contain a bacterium (Bti) that produces protein crystals that mosquito larvae like to eat. It kills them, of course. It won't harm fish, birds, or anything else beyond mosquito and black fly larvae. Simply place the donuts in water sources that can't be drained and fewer, if any, mosquitoes will emerge. Bti products can be purchased in donut (pictured), powder, liquid, or pellet form.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus. If you want a natural mosquito repellent, then look for products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus. It's the only natural mosquito repellent recommended by the CDC. While it works nearly as well as DEET, it doesn't last as long; you will be reapplying more often. Most popular mosquito repellent lines now offer at least one product with oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Mosquito clothes. Even a large, gasp-inducing mosquito isn't going to penetrate a nice sweatshirt. But if you're going into the woods during mosquito season, that won't be enough. Outdoor and sporting goods stores sell clothing for these situations. Things like fabric treated with repellents or hoods with face-shielding netting will keep you sane during that ambitious hike.
Sawyer Insect Repellent for Clothing. OK, this really isn't natural. This product contains permethrin .5 percent. It's a poison that repels and kills mosquitoes and other biting insects. It's sprayed on clothing, tents, and equipment—NOT on skin. It's what the military uses to protect our soldiers, and it's the only poison I'd use to combat mosquitoes.