It's a new day in battle vs. mosquitoes


FAMILY MEMBERS blow hot and cold, friends come and go, but mosquitoes have always loved me.

All I have to do is expose a little skin and they are on me like groupies on a rock star. The feeling is not mutual. I want to wipe them out, in an ecologically sound style.

This Fourth of July weekend, when I should be thinking deep thoughts about liberty, freedom and the birth of our nation, I instead will be plotting my battles with bugs, trying to reclaim the inalienable right to sit in solace in my own back yard.

My adversaries are legion, but my primal antagonist is a little black number with silvery white stripes on its legs, Aedes albopictus - the Asian Tiger Mosquito. This mosquito has changed the rules of backyard warfare.

For generations there was a detente between man and mosquito. Men, women and children were free to roam in the yard during daylight without fear of harassment. But the dark hours - dawn, dusk and night - belonged to the blood-suckers.

Indeed, there was a certain seasonal rhythm to the handover of back yard control. When the mosquitoes began biting, parents knew it was time to call their kids to come inside the house. Adults sitting on porches quickly ended windy conversations that had rambled on for hours when the mosquitoes arrived.

There were a few exceptions to the day-night detente. If, for example, someone stomped through the shrubbery disturbing mosquitoes napping in the daytime, he would have bright red welts to show for his transgression. But for the most part, the deal was that the humans got the yard during the day and the mosquitoes at night.

All that began to change when the Asian Tiger mosquito arrived in Texas in 1985 in a shipment of used truck tires. Over the years it has spread northward to 26 states. It has been biting me in my Baltimore back yard for the past five years.

It is not sneaky. It comes right at you. Unlike most mosquitoes that are content to spend the afternoon snoozing in the shade, the Asian Tiger is an aggressive daytime biter. It quickly leaves its lounging spot when a "bloodmeal" (that would be me) is detected nearby. I note that these mosquitoes love to feed on your ankles, the backs of your knees, and the back of your neck, especially when you are sitting outside, downing a cold one and pondering the meaning of the universe.

I have countered their attacks to take over the back yard with various tactics. One has been to spray myself with insect repellent containing DEET until I smell like a chemical factory. Using a spray with a concentration of up to 35 percent, DEET is considered safe for adults, while the level for children is 10 percent.

Besides the stink, using this spray has other drawbacks. One is that if you miss a spot on your body with the spray, say, the top of your head, the mosquitoes won't. They will line up and take turns feasting on it. My other worry about dousing myself with insect repellent has something to do with how long-term exposure to chemicals might affect my brain. But I can't seem to be able to remember exactly what it is I am worried about.

Lately I have escalated the battle for the back yard, employing both the search-and-destroy and spray-'em-into-submission tactics.

While the Asian Tiger is a big biter, it is not much of a flier. It stays close to home. Reconnaissance reports I have read, prepared by mosquito control experts, advise that a good way to get rid of the pest is to seek out and destroy its breeding spots.

The good news is these spots are usually very close to the spot where you are being attacked. The bad news is that this mosquito can breed almost anywhere there is standing water, especially in containers such as tires, buckets, trash cans, gutters and the saucers under flower pots or potted plants.

In addition to removing any standing water from these containers, I also placed some Mosquito Dunks in a few locations. These are doughnut-shaped cakes that release a bacteria in the water that prevents mosquito larvae from hatching.

If you have a spot in your gutter where rainwater collects, you can tie a string around one of these objects, anchor it to the gutter and plop it in the water. They are expensive; I paid about $10 for six at a garden supply store. But it was a price I was willing to pay. (I also looked into devices such as the Mosquito Magnet, which lures mosquitoes into a propane trap, but its price tag - about $300 for the smallest - was too much, I thought, to pay for control of my tiny rowhouse back yard.)

A cheaper weapon was the $7 jug of Cutter Bug-Free Backyard, which I attached to the garden hose. Dressing like I was a member of a hazmat squad, and waiting until after sundown when the bees were back in their hives, I sprayed the bottle of pyrethrum, a "natural" insecticide, on the backyard foliage.

The next morning I offered myself up as mosquito bait, sitting out in the back yard in shorts and a T-shirt while eating breakfast.

Halfway through the cup of coffee, I looked down and there, resting between my thumb and forefinger was an Asian Tiger, feeding on me. I swatted her.

I had made some headway in the battle for the back yard, but clearly more work needed to be done. And so this weekend, as our nation celebrates its independence from British rule, I will be fighting the long and difficult battle to liberate the back yard from the sway of the hungry Asian Tiger.

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