What’s the deadliest creature on Earth?
Many would answer that question with the name of a large predator. The Great White shark, perhaps, or the lion. Some would assume a venomous killer like the scorpion or the cobra must top the list. While these creatures are dangerous killing machines, statistically there is a far, far greater threat.
When it comes to human lives, one creature is responsible for taking more of them than any of those mentioned above: the mosquito.
Deaths from mosquito-borne illnesses outpace those from Great White attacks, for example, by a factor of 60,000.
The diseases transmitted by the over 2,500 species of mosquito are deadly and debilitating. Among them are malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, and (a relative newcomer to the Americas), the chikungunya virus.
We examined the pros and cons of several commercially available and DIY mosquito repellents. This will help you make informed choices about how best to protect yourself and your family from these pesky, and sometimes deadly, insects.
Originally developed by the military after World War 1, DEET is the most widely available insect repellent. It usually comes in the form of a spray or lotion. It has a distinctive smell that repels mosquitoes.
- Pros: Effective repellent of mosquitoes, readily available.
- Cons: Can cause irritation, can melt plastics, and can potentially cause toxicity in wildlife.
Popular in Europe since the 1990’s, Picaridin was introduced to the U.S. market in 2005 as a gentler chemical alternative to DEET.
- Pros: Effective repellent of mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and gnats, less offensive odor, doesn’t harm plastic, less irritating to skin.
- Cons: lasts 40% less than DEET, relatively new to U.S.
3. Lemon Eucalyptus & Citronella
Refined oils from the Corymbia citriodora tree, native to Australia, are commonly used as insect repellents. A similar compound can be derived from lemongrass, which is used to produce citronella oil.
- Pros: 100% natural, generally effective (though not as effective as man-made chemical compounds).
- Cons: Can be an allergen, can cause irritation, less effective than other repellents, completely ineffective against certain species of mosquitoes.
Pyrethrin is a natural derivative of the Chrysanthemum flower, used in commercial insecticides. At high concentrations, pyrethrins cause the nerves of the mosquito to fire in a frenzied fashion, causing death. At lower concentrations it can be used as a repellent.
- Pros: Rapid disintegration in sunlight and air causing zero toxic buildup, effective as insecticide and repellent, relatively safe for most animals
- Cons: Can be toxic at high concentrations (safe handling by a professional is warranted), can be harmful to cats.
5. Backpack Bug Spraying Companies
Offering a recurring service to protect your backyard from mosquitoes and other flying insects, these companies will typically require an ongoing service contract. The backpack warriors will fog and spray around your yard every 1-3 weeks during the times when mosquitoes are at their peak.
- Pros: Effective when properly applied, helps kill mosquitoes in different life stages
- Cons: Protection fades especially with weather, requiring multiple and frequent treatments, requires large volumes of chemical that may harm wildlife, does not degrade easily and toxicity can build up over repeated treatments.
Companies such as Bug Off, Mister! install automatic mosquito misting systems that employ carefully regulated pyrethrin mist through nozzles located at strategic areas of the backyard and home.
The service even includes a smartphone app to mist on-demand for special events, or when weather gives the mosquitoes a boost.
There are other methods of mosquito control. Planting certain plants (like lemongrass) that have repellent properties can ward the insects off, as can using fans to keep air moving. Other methods include building mosquito traps, removing standing water, and treating chronically wet areas with larvaecides.
Finding the right combination of methods is the key to keeping the mosquito population under control. Hopefully, this article from pHin can get you started in deciding how to best protect against nature’s deadliest pest.