Control pests AND protect pollinators? Apply a splash of Bug Ecology - healthy for people too!

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Gardening to support butterflies and bees has adults and kids all over St. Louis in a nature-happy buzz. What fun to grow native plants and attract cool pollinators! But nature brings mosquitoes too. 

How can we control the insect pests without harming beneficial bugs? 

Take three key steps, in this order: 

  1. Understand the environment that mosquitoes need to thrive. Mosquitoes breed in standing water!
  2. Take responsibility around our homes and neighborhoods to control those environments. Find and eliminate standing water!
  3. Use chemical products with intelligent care – after dumping standing water!

  standing water 

In this era of serious community concern about mosquito-transmitted diseases like Zika and West Nile Virus, human health risks add fuel to our urge to rely on “authorities” (companies, local government) to deal with bugs for us by spraying chemicals. Chemicals are only part of the process. The healthiest option all around is empowering ourselves, our families and our neighborly relationships to deploy some biology basics – and join forces for community pest control. The fact is that street or yard “fogging” will kill any kind of bug the chemical contacts: monarchs, dragonflies, bumblebees, etc. As a way to control the blood-suckers, fogging misses a big mark. It only kills flying adults that happen to be in the sprayed range and does not stop the cycle of mosquito breeding!  Mosquitoes reproduce in standing water. So while beneficial bugs on the wing are dropping like flies, whole new generations of vigorous mosquitoes will continue wiggling through their larval days in bucket lids, toys left out in the yard, untended bird baths, trash (from discarded cans to old tires), clogged gutters, pool covers or anything else that will hold the same water for the five days (less time when it’s really hot) needed for mosquito eggs to reach biting maturity.

  Common Mosquito Sources 

Next time it rains, do a thorough search around your place. Kids are natural detectives. Get them involved! Find every item that can hold standing water. Pick it up, put it away, recycle it or throw it in the landfill trash. Getting mosquito-breeding containers off your property in one sweep will make ongoing mosquito-breeding control efficient, and effective. 


Brightside, the City of St. Louis “cleaning and greening” group, has a new brochure  detailing mosquito issues and pollinator-friendly controls.  If your property has low spots, or if you know that water is pooling in spots you can’t reach (like corrugated drain pipes), you can toss in some bits of Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bti. This is a soil-dwelling bacterium that works as a biological larvicide. Added to standing water, it prevents mosquito larvae from developing, without harming birds, aquatic life or pets. Bti is sold in hardware and home improvement stores as compressed cakes, called Mosquito Dunks; some garden centers offer Bti in particles, called Mosquito Bits. Many city and town planners also understand and support the importance of beneficial insects, especially pollinators. Local governments may let property owners opt out of treatment along their fogging routes. If you do opt out, you still hear the sound of the truck going by, but the driver will turn off the chemical flow.


Local governments also invest in mosquito surveillance, tracking mosquito species to control the populations that are health concerns, and in controlling them through larvicide applications. If you are aware of a mosquito breeding situation that you cannot address, contact your local or state public health agency for help.

Contacts for public health agencies:

Mosquitoes are not “bad.” They are just bugs – and they are an important part of the food chain for dragonflies, bats, birds, fish, frogs – and even some mosquitoes that eat the larvae of other mosquitoes! Out of over 3500 species of mosquitoes living worldwide today, less than 10 species in three genera (Aedes, Anopheles, Culex) carry diseases of concern to humans.

Couldn’t we do without mosquitoes? Human knowledge of ecology is evolving. We can’t predict all the possible effects of eliminating a species. It’s not smart to take a cog out of Nature’s wheel. Instead of taking nature apart, let’s take responsibility to protect the health of pollinators, people, and the natural world overall.

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