Whatever Works For You: “New
Magical Remedies for Pest Eradication”
Timothy J. Gibb, Insect Diagnostician,
Department of Entomology, Purdue University
Every year I learn new facts and control techniques
for insect pests. Some come from refereed, scientific journals,
others from forwarded e-mails.
Insect pest management is a complex science in which
thousands of our brightest and most accomplished laboratory and
field scientists spend their entire careers. For example, in one
area of public health pest management - mosquito control - hundreds
of millions of dollars are spent each year to work on new and better
ways to control mosquitoes in an effort to reduce the over one
million fatalities due to malaria transmitting mosquitoes each
year. It is an impressive effort and it has been going on for years
in nearly every country of the world.
What continues to amaze me is that each year people
send me ridiculously simple solutions, often citing these as being
a cure-all, for pandemic and perennial insect pest problems and
ask that I pass them along.
For example, I just received a notification, not a question, but
a notification, that the use of Listerine, sprinkled on the deck
and around the yard, would instantly kill mosquitoes. This particular
piece of ‘science’ is as follows:
"I was at a deck party awhile back, and the
bugs were having a ball biting everyone.
A man at the party sprayed
the lawn and deck floor with Listerine, and the little
disappeared. The next year I filled a 4-ounce spray bottle and
used it around
my seat whenever I saw mosquitoes. And voila!
That worked as well. It worked at a
picnic where we sprayed the
area around the food table, the children's swing area, and the
standing water nearby. During the summer I don’t leave
home without it.
I tried this on my deck and around all of my doors.
It works -
in fact, it killed them instantly. I bought my bottle from Target
and it cost
me $1.89. It really doesn't take much, and it is a
big bottle, too; so it is not as expensive to use as the can of
Bug-spray you buy that doesn't last 30 minutes. So, try this, please.
It will last a couple of days. Don't spray directly on a wood door
(like your front door), but spray around the frame. Spray around
the window frames, and even inside the dog house. Pass it on."
The sarcastic side of me wants to jump for
joy at this news. “This
is so fantastic! It will be such a relief to the hundreds of professional
scientists who have spent their entire careers working on a control
for mosquitoes. And here it was, the whole time, on the shelf of
every retail store in America - - Listerine! ......... And a friend
tried it and it worked!. Talk about validation. Wow! I know that
the millions dying every year due to malaria and other mosquito-borne
diseases will also find this interesting !!! And good for the dog
house too? This is truly incredible!”
The logical side of me, however, says, “Maybe this IS too
good to be true. If it WAS true, the folks at Listerine would have
developed a label to put on their product and would be making a
zillion dollars off of this new discovery. Certainly good news
for Listerine employees, bad breath, and mosquito bite sufferers
world-wide. Bad news for hungry mosquitoes, those currently with
jobs at the world health organization and other mosquito control
The reality is that there will probably always be home-spun remedies
for the control of insects and other pests. While we will never
say that there is no merit in them, they will seldom be as good
as their billing.
This much we do know. Eating garlic, installing
electronic ultrasonic gadgets, performing voodoo, planting special
shrubs, putting sheets of fabric softener in your pockets, and
sprinkling various concoctions from the refrigerator or the medicine
cabinet around the yard are not viable solutions for mosquito problems,
despite what your e-mail says.
Other popular mosquito control methods also have
dubious impact on keeping mosquitoes in check. According to Wayne
J. Crans, Associate Research Professor in Entomology at Rutgers
University, the following often-touted mosquito solutions are not
worth the time or money spent on them.
Bug zappers. Though the satisfying sizzle you hear
from this modern day insect torture device will convince you it's
working, don't expect much relief from backyard mosquitoes. According
to Crans, biting insects (including mosquitoes) generally make
up less than 1% of the bugs zapped in these popular devices. Many
beneficial insects, on the other hand, do get electrocuted.
Citrosa plants. While citronella oil does have proven mosquito-repellent
properties, the genetically-modified plants sold for this purpose
do not. In tests by researchers, the test subjects were bitten
as often while surrounded by the Citrosa plants as without them.
In fact, mosquitoes were observed landing on the leaves of Citrosa
plants during the study.
Bats and/or purple martins. While both bats and the colonial
purple martins will consume mosquitoes, the offending insects make
up a small percentage of their natural diet. Assertions about these
insectivores being effective mosquito controls grew out of misrepresented
and misinterpreted data from unrelated studies. While providing
habitat for bats and purple martins has its value, don't do it
if only to reduce your mosquito populations.
Ultransonic devices. Electronic devices that transmit
sounds to mimic male mosquitoes or dragonflies do not work. Crans
goes so far as to suggest "the claims made by distributors
border on fraud."
Pass it on!