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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Biting Insects

Posted by John Fulton -

With the cool, damp spring we expected to have a problem. The great outdoors now seems like one of those commercials for mosquito repellent, where a brave person puts his arms into a tent full of hungry mosquitoes. We not only have mosquitoes, but also the biting midges. These also are called biting gnats, punkies, buffalo gnats, no-see-ums, and worse. Some of these names are specific for black flies, and others for sand flies. At any rate, it seems as though outdoor activities may be a little more exciting than we planned.

Let's start with the biting midges. Like anything in the biting fly family, they are hard to control. They don't need standing water to develop in, they aren't dawn and dusk feeders like mosquitos, and they don't "roost" in a particular area. They are also small enough to come through many window screens. And when they bite, they leave a painful welt. Smaller screen wire size will help keep them from entering the home, as will keeping windows shut. Using "bug light" bulbs will also attract fewer, as will using sodium lights outside. Insecticide treatments are hard to apply, but products such as malathion, permethrin, or bifenthrin will at least kill the ones you hit. Repellents with DEET in them, such as the mosquito repellents, will usually show some deterrent.

For mosquitoes, prevention is the first step. Homeowners can best accomplish this by eliminating standing water. Tires and old containers are obvious places to start, drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers, clean clogged gutters, don't allow stagnant water in anything such as birdbaths, change landscape slopes to eliminate standing water, and use larvacides in standing water that can't be eliminated. B.t. Israeli is the strain that is effective against mosquito larvae – not the B.t. variety commonly used on trees and gardens!

Also protect yourself from bites. Mosquitoes can travel up to three miles from their breeding sites! Make sure that screens and doors are tight, use proper outside lighting such as fluorescent lights, stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, wear long-sleeved shirt and long pants when you must go outside, and use properly applied insect repellents. Exposed skin should be sparingly treated with a repellent containing up to 30% DEET (up to 10% for children), and make sure to treat thin clothing as well (since mosquitoes can bite through the thin clothing). The higher DEET percentages can work for four to six hours. The lower concentrations will work for about two hours. Mild products such as the active ingredient in cosmetic company non-DEET formulas may work for 15-30 minutes.

For that special occasion outside, you can reduce populations by spraying large areas with insecticides effective against flying insects, such as malathion, permethrin, or bifenthrin. Don't expect miracles, but you can greatly reduce populations for a few hours. Concentrate sprays in shrubbery, tall grass, and tree areas.

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