Mosquitos in the Land Between
Ontario has 67 species of mosquitos! Many of which are only active during specific times and have different preferences of who and where they bite. Without a doubt, anyone who has spent time in the Land Between has had experiences with mosquitos! Although they are definitely an annoyance and sometimes a health concern (when disease transmission is possible), mosquitos play an integral role in food chains and ecosystems. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we learn how to live with our buzzing friends, rather than trying to destroy them. The best way to do this is to understand how we can sustainably manage mosquito presence and their impacts on our lives/cottage country experience while also ensuring our mosquito repelling actions have minimal impacts on the natural systems we love.
Why can't we just kill all of the mosquitos?
Mosquitos play a significant role in the health of many different ecosystems because they have both aquatic (water) and terrestrial (land) based life stages (their larval stages are in water and their adult stage is on land). This means that they play a significant role in the food chains of both aquatic and terrestrial systems. Mosquitos are important food sources for many organisms such as tadpoles, fish, zooplankton, aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, birds and bats. In addition to their role in food chains, mosquitos are also important pollinators! In fact, male mosquitos soley eat nectar! Female mosquitos also eat nectar, but will consume blood when they are going to reproduce. Interestingly, there are some species of flowers that are only pollinated by mosquitos. This means that eliminating mosquitos will also eliminate these species of flowers.
Is it okay to spray my property with natural mosquito killing sprays?
No. Anything applied or sprayed to properties or water to kill mosquitos will have negative impacts on other organisms and the integrity of entire ecosystems. Although some sprays may be advertised as "natural" they are usually non-specific causing significant negative impacts to other organisms which can even result in their death. In many cases, these sprays cause other insects to perish which removes multiple prey species from the food chain and reduces the food available to top predators. These results can even be seen with the "natural" Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) which is thought to be one of the most specific mosquito killing pesticides! In other cases, like with that of natural pyrethrin (compounds found in chrysanthemum plants), toxicity effects impact animals of higher orders (not just insects) like cold-water fish.
How can I manage mosquitos on my property?
Mosquitos are both terrestrial and aquatic organisms. This means that controlling mosquitos on your property requires managing both your waterfront and your land. Humans and mosquitos have been at odds for thousands of years, and in this time we have deduced many environmentally friendly ways to control and repel them. In this page we will address the following four categories of mosquito management:
D) Using Smoke
A) Changing Your Behaviour
No matter how much it inconveniences us, mosquitos are a natural and integral part of healthy ecosystems. If you wish to minimise the impacts that mosquitos have on your life, follow the several methods listed below on how you can modify your behaviour to reduce mosquito biting.
1. Wear loose, light coloured long clothes: Mosquitos have difficulty seeing light colours! Amazingly, changing into light coloured clothes can reduce the amount of mosquitos that land on you by 90%. Wear long, loose, light coloured clothes that cover as much skin as possible to maximise this effect.
2. Avoid being outside during dawn and dusk: Mosquitos are most active at dusk and dawn. Avoid being outside at these times to minimise bites. Thus, waiting until the sunsets to have a campfire reduces your chances of being bitten by a mosquito.
3. Avoid wearing perfumes or scented products: Mosquitos are often attracted to strong scents. This is especially true for certain floral and citrus ones! Why is this? When mosquitos aren't biting you, they are drinking flower nectar. These flowers release aromas (such as nonanal and octanal) that are often found in perfumes and artificially scented products!
4. Shower after a sweaty day: Do you have that one friend who never gets bitten? You are not imagining it! Mosquitos do tend to prefer biting some people over others! This selection can be based on how delicious your individual sweat smells. So, if you are trying to avoid mosquitos be sure to shower after a sweaty day before attending a campfire.
5. Keep outdoor lighting to a minimum: Like many other species of insects, mosquitos have been found to be attracted to traditional outdoor lighting. In particular, LED lighting often emits full spectrum rays (mimicking sunlight which is natural full spectrum light) which greatly attracts many kinds of insects! Use low wattage warm coloured yellow, orange or red lights as an alternative or turn off your lights and the enjoy the natural glow of the campfire while gazing at the stars above! Want to learn more about how you can minimise the impact of your night lighting? Please visit our "Outdoor Lighting" Living in the Country page by clicking here.
6. Remove accumulated items or garbage off your property: Many types of mosquitos like to breed in standing water. Any item that allows water to pool and not drain, provides opportunities for predator-free mosquito egg laying! Remove any standing items or piles of non-organic debris from your property to reduce mosquito populations, this includes cleaning your gutters!
7. Avoid creating a shallow shoreline: Many types of mosquitos like to lay their eggs in warm, shallow water, while mosquito predators tend to like cooler waters. If you have a deep shoreline, keeping it this way will help to manage mosquito populations.
B) Welcoming Biological Controls: encouraging species that love to eat mosquitos to live on your property
Now that you know how you can change your behaviour to manage mosquitos, let's talk about how you can encourage other species to eat them! The following tips are all applicable to waterfront properties, with some also being applicable to land bound properties.
1. Avoid using pesticides: Spraying pesticides outdoors can result in the death of many mosquito eating organisms such as dragonflies and fish. Killing these beneficial creatures, or negatively impacting their populations, reduces their abilities to provide you with free mosquito control services! End your use of pesticides as soon as possible to allow beneficial insects and other animals (like fish and tadpoles) to thrive and devour pesky mosquitos instead of paying for expensive toxic sprays!
2. Encourage fish to nest near your shoreline: Many fish, like sunfish, are insectivorous (eat mainly insects) and are known to feast on mosquito larvae. Consider adding small gravel or rocks to a shallow area of your waterfront to attract spawning fish which will result in increased populations of fish fry near your shores. These fish fry are often master mosquito larvae hunters, so not only will you see cute baby fish swimming around, you will also reduce the abundance of mosquitos present.
Please note: If you do decide to add some gravel be sure to disinfect it first! Adding anything to a lake from a different location can result in the introduction of invasive species. To prevent this from happening disinfect your gravel with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water for at least 30 minutes and then allow it to air dry in the sun for a minimum of 5 days before adding it to your lake. Make sure you do this at least 30m away from your water body (perhaps do it in a wheelbarrow).
3. Encourage frogs to lay eggs and tadpoles to live near your shorelines: Many native frogs lay eggs on submerged vegetation. Thus, by keeping some submerged plants at your waterfront, frogs will be more likely to lay eggs there. These eggs than hatch and grow into tadpoles which are voracious mosquito larvae hunters! Tadpoles themselves also benefit from some submerged vegetation which provides them with a safe place to hide from predators.
4. Build bat boxes on your property: Bats are excellent mosquito hunters! By building bat boxes you can help encourage bats to live on your property and consumer lots of mosquitos. Studies on the Northern Long-Eared Bat, a species native to the Land Between, have found that their feeding can reduce female mosquito populations, and their egg laying, by up to 32% compared to sites without this bat (reductions in larvae populations were also found)!
Through installing bat boxes you may not only reduce mosquito populations, but could also help to provide safe habitat for endangered species such as the mosquito loving Northern Long-Eared Bat and Little Brown Bat! If the Little Brown Bat lives on your property you have lucked out because they tend to eat more mosquitos than other species of bats! The Little Brown Bat has also be found to consume 9 species of mosquitos that carry the West Nile Virus! To learn more about the Little Brown Bat, why they are endangered and how you can help them, please click here.
Interesting in buying a bat box? You can purchase one from The Land Between for $60 by clicking here! Interested in building your own? Check out these instructions by the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
5. Encourage insectivorous birds to live on and/or visit your property: Many kinds of insectivorous birds, such as swallows and nightjars, consume mosquitos. Help attract them to your property by keeping tall trees and adding nesting cups for swallows. Check out this document by the Government of Ontario for more information on how to create nesting habitat for swallows.
C) Having Healthy and Dynamic Shorelands
As previously mentioned, mosquitos have both aquatic and terrestrial life stages. This makes your waterfront a very important control zone for mosquito populations! Maintaining a healthy shoreland that has diverse species and vegetative structures (different plant heights) is important for providing the optimal conditions for biological mosquito control. Below are some easy ways that you can ensure you have healthy shorelands.
1. Grow native plants: Ensure that your shorelands contain only native plants. These plants are well adapted to the region and are more likely to host native mosquito predators or competitors than foreign species. Interested in learning more about how to build healthy shorelands? The Land Between hosts workshops where you are able to consult with our experts to do just that! Sign up for one of our "Build Your Own Shoreland Garden" workshops here. If you are interested in a more in depth consultation and site visit we do that too! Please click here for more details.
2. Keep shade trees: Certain types of West Nile carrying mosquitos such as the Culex tarsalis (which is found in Ontario) prefer to lay their eggs in open non-shaded water. Thus, keeping shade trees on your shores should help to reduce the presence of this type of mosquito. In addition, by keeping trees on your shorelands you also provide habitat for mosquito predators such as bats and insectivorous birds.
2. Allow emergent and submerged vegetation to grow: Having at least some emergent (breeches and passes above the surface of the water) and submerged vegetation allows for perches and habitats for mosquito predators. The presence of these plants also results in increased water filtration which helps to reduce the amount of suspended sediment and nutrients in the water - two characteristics that attract female mosquitos of many species to lay eggs. In addition, the water filtration that these plants provide can also help to prevent the formation of algal blooms near your shores. This is important because many species of mosquitos love to lay their eggs in algae as it creates shallow, warm, protected "puddles" in large bodies of water (as can be seen in the circled area of the picture to the right) and provides an excellent food source for their larvae.
4. Minimize your use of fertilizers: Fertilizers often run off properties and into lakes. This addition of nutrients increases the likelihood of algal blooms and the chances of developing/enhancing mosquito habitat.
5. Maintain your septic system: If a septic system failure occurs this can contaminate your lake with nutrients and raw sewage. This again, similar to fertilizer run-off, increases your chances of experiencing algal blooms. Such contamination can also cause the death many native species of animals resulting in reduced biodiversity and biological mosquito control. To learn more about septic systems please click here.
D) Using Smoke
Humans have been learning how to coexist with mosquitos for time immemorial and no matter where you look, one common method of repelling them is found: smoke. Peoples from all over the world, including the Indigenous peoples of North America, have burned plant materials (in smudge pots for example) to create smoke and effectively repel mosquitos. Using smoke is theorized to be effective because it masks human scents and the CO2 that we exhale which makes it difficult for mosquitos to locate us. Interestingly, smoke also changes the humidity of the air reducing mosquitos ability to hunt and increasing their likelihood of death due to desiccation (drying out).
How can you use smoke to repel mosquitos?
Burn plant materials that create an excess of smoke, such as leaves (fresh or dry), in fire pits, or strategically placed fire safe receptacles (like a bee smoker - these can be purchased for as little as $30) around the area you wish to use. Please note: always ensure that you are following fire safety protocols and never leave a fire unattended.
Written by: Fallon Hayes, Communications and Education Specialist
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