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How To Block (Not Blast) Mosquitoes For A Healthier Ecosystem

Katja Schulz
Female mosquitoes require a blood meal in order to produce eggs.

As the green resources manager for the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Earthways Center, Jean Ponzi is a wealth of information on native plants. And that work led her to mosquitoes.

Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Jean Ponzi is the green resources manager for the Earthways Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

“They’re absolutely related, because when you talk plants, you also talk bugs,” Ponzi noted on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “There is an intimate relationship between especially native plants and species of insects that are native to our area. And those are beneficial insects.”

That’s why Ponzi hastened to note that bug spray kills bugs, period: “It doesn’t differentiate.” If you fog your yard in a cloud of pesticide, you’re not just killing the mosquitoes there. You’re also killing the bugs necessary to nourish plant life.

“So if you're gardening for pollinators,” she explained, “you have to manage pests also in an ecological way.”

That means only resorting to remedies like fogging if truly necessary.

Sensible Strategies For Mosquito Season
Mosquitos have returned once again this year, ready to suck some blood. The females, that is. As Jean Ponzi explains in this segment, male mosquitoes don’t actually bite. Another fact that may surprise? Mosquitoes spend about 75% of their lives as aquatic creatures. And 3,500 species of them inhabit the planet.

“They’re good to call for some things,” Ponzi said. “But we have this love affair with chemicals. … We think that that silver bullet of someone applying something is going to do it all for us. And we really have more capacity, more ability to respond or responsibility, than that.” Rather than change the environment, she urged listeners, change yourself: “We want to make ourselves invisible to mosquitoes. We want to jam their signals.”

Plus, strategies such as fogging aren’t as effective as some may think.

“It does nothing to interrupt insect breeding — in this case mosquito breeding, which happens always in standing or stagnant water. … You can fog on a Thursday night for mosquitoes, and Friday morning, you can have a whole new generation of some species of mosquitoes hatching out from a tiny little space in a bucket in your yard,” Ponzi said.

Dumping standing water can make a big difference on that front. Ponzi also answered listener questions and shared additional ideas for mitigating the nuisance of mosquitoes in thoughtful ways:

  • “They can find us through CO2 that we exhale, through lactic acid that we exhale, through heat that comes off our bodies. … They’re attracted by odors. So summer is a really good time to go fragrance free with everything.”
  • Wear light-colored, loose clothing. Dark colors such as red and black are easily identified by mosquitoes.
  • Use a fan when you’re outdoors. “Mosquitoes are not real strong fliers,” Ponzi said. “And when the fans are on, you’re cool and mosquitoes are not landing on you.”
  • Find a good mosquito repellent that works for you. “Everyone’s body chemistry is different, and that’s where you want to experiment.” Ranging from DEET to plant-based substances such as catnip oil, the EPA now lists eight active ingredients as good options. “They don't all work with everyone's body chemistry, and your body chemistry changes with pregnancy as your immune system changes as you age,” Ponzi noted. “So in the same way that you might want to change your diet or you might want to change your wardrobe, you want to find a good mosquito repellent that works for you and use it because then you have that shield wherever you go.” Ponzi recommended local products made by Cheryl’s Herbs in Maplewood and Herbaria, located in the city’s Hill neighborhood.

Ponzi encourages anyone with questions about mosquitoes or related topics to reach out to her by emailing greenresources@mobot.org.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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