By Sam Radwany
As the hottest, stickiest days of summer continue, Minnesota’s “state bird” is coming out in even bigger numbers, with even fewer chances to make it outside without getting eaten alive.
Most of us know that mosquitoes can be a nuisance, but they can also pose significant threats. The CDC notes the bugs can carry a number of different diseases, as many discovered during 2014’s West Nile Virus scare.
Every Minnesotan has their own tips and tricks to keep mosquitoes away, but it’s time to dispel a few ugly myths that just won’t die.
DO: Stick To Cool, Dry Places When Heading Outdoors
Entomologists at the University of Minnesota say mosquitoes mostly breed in shallow pools of warm standing water, which is plentiful in our state. Breeding intensifies in years of especially heavy rainfall, and despite an initial drought, 2015 is shaping up to be a wet one.
But some places in the Upper Midwest aren’t so saturated with the pests. As Mike Binkley showed us in Finding Minnesota earlier this month, Whitewater State Park is earning a reputation as a mosquito-free zone. Rangers say the park’s lack of standing water leaves few places for the bugs to breed. Plus, all of the area’s water is filtered through cool, underground caves, lowering temperatures and making the area even less hospitable to mosquitoes.
DON’T: Use Citronella-Based Repellents
Yes, you read that right: Citronella doesn’t work! Or, at least not nearly as well as other repellents. One study found citronella repellents worked for 253 fewer minutes than DEET-based products.
While wild plants with citronella oil can be handy in a pinch, citronella candles are known to provide little to no protection against mosquitoes. Because the candles are usually outside, the oil is quickly diffused throughout the area and virtually no repellent can remain in one location long enough to provide any protection at all.
And citronella-infused bracelets fall victim to much the same problem — their protection from bites probably won’t extend much farther than the area around your wrist.
DO: Use DEET-Based Repellents
Any Minnesotan worth his salt already knew this one: DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) is the repellent to beat. According to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), “over 25 years of empirical testing of more than 20,000 other compounds has not resulted in another marketed chemical product with the duration of protection and broad-spectrum effectiveness of DEET.”
Although the repellent may be the best we’ve discovered so far, DEET still carries some health risks. The chemical can be highly toxic when ingested and can irritate the skin of sensitive users.
For more on what repellents to use and not use, check out this handy-dandy tool from the Department of Pesticides and Safety.
DON’T: Use Scented Perfumes, Lotions And Soaps
If you don’t feel like using bug spray for the evening, at least skip the perfume and lotion. Researchers say mosquitoes don’t only feed on our blood, they take nectar from flowers, too. That means they’ll come buzzing your way if your shampoo or lotion is floral-scented. In fact, some deranged researchers at the Ohio State University used strong floral scents to create a mosquito “anti-repellent.”
But the main scent mosquitoes love is one you’ll never be able to shake: carbon dioxide. Mosquitoes rely on finding living animals by following our breath to the source. Just don’t try to keep them at bay by holding your breath …
DO: Use Insect-Repellent Clothing
Sure, it sounds like a scam, but it’s really true! Insect-repellent clothing is becoming all the rage in outdoor outfitters, and research has shown that it works. In fact, the fabric is designed to knock out bugs on contact.
The only repellent approved for use in clothing right now is permethrin, and it is heavily studied and regulated by the EPA for safety. There are still a few safety guidelines, which you can read about on the EPA’s website. Or just stop by your local outdoors shop to see what they know.
If you can’t spring for the fancy stuff, just stick to light-colored clothes. They’ll keep you cool, which will reduce sweating and heavy breathing, which will attract fewer mosquitoes. Dark colors can make you easier for mosquitoes to see. And of course, remember to keep your skin covered with long sleeves and pants!
DON’T: Use Electronic Mosquito-Repelling Devices
Yes, that means you, bug zappers! The AMCA says bug zappers will do just that: Zap bugs. One study found only 4.1 percent to 6.4 percent of insects killed in bug zappers were actually mosquitoes.
But it’s not just the zappers that need a reality check. “Ultra-sonic” methods for repelling mosquitoes are completely unsubstantiated. The initial idea came about when scientists discovered mosquitoes locate each other based on wing-beat frequency, but the AMCA says dozens of studies and research prove these types of bug-repellent devices provide “no value whatsoever.”