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Don't expect to conquer mosquitoes

By DAVE GUSSOW, Times Personal Technology Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 3, 2002

Biting Back

Mosquito vs. machine
A new swarm of entrepreneurs is seeking profits with gadgets that promise to entice and entrap one of our least favorite pests, mosquitoes.

Review: Mosquito Magnet Liberty
Mosquito Magnet Liberty

You can spend a lot or a little to fight mosquitoes. In the end, you might control them, but you won't conquer them.

Every technique, from the machines that cost hundreds of dollars to repellents and bug spray, have their limitations, experts say:

-- Pesticides: Bug spray is "arguably the most expensive, temporary and environmentally damaging thing to do," said James Nolen, president of BioSensory Inc. maker of the Dragonfly and Mosquito Cognito. "They're indiscriminate. They kill everything (even beneficial bugs). They're temporary."

-- Mosquito trapping systems: "There's not a lot of information out there" on effectiveness, said Don Barnard, research leader at the U. . Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service Lab in Gainesville. "It's definitely a case of caveat emptor about these devices."

-- Local mosquito control districts: Their mission is "to reduce mosquitoes to a tolerable level. hat's about all people can expect," said Jeff Stivers, research director at the Collier Mosquito Control District in Naples.

So what's a consumer to do?

"The best thing that a person could do is avoid being in areas where mosquitoes are active," particularly around dawn and dusk, said John Smith, director of Florida A&M University's Public Health Entomology Research and Education Center in Panama City. "Use a repellent. If you do that, it will greatly reduce your chances of being bitten by a mosquito. We know that that is effective, very effective."

Yet, Smith says, many people don't want to or can't use repellents for fear of allergies, so they look at alternatives, from the trapping systems that can cost hundreds of dollars to bug spray. Effectiveness can be in the eye of the beholder. If they check on nights when few mosquitoes are out, or the wind is blowing the bugs away, they might think a device is accomplishing more than it really is.

"You can do the best in the world at your house, but if no one else (nearby) is doing anything, you'll get their mosquitoes," Smith said. So calling a local mosquito control district may be the first option for people, experts say. People also can fog their back yards or use other insecticides for short-term relief. And they can make sure there's no standing water in which mosquitoes can breed by emptying bird baths and cleaning out gutters.

And remember that this is Florida.

"We're in the tropics," Stivers said. "They're going to be here."

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