The Bad News: It’s Mosquito Season
As an urban bee sanctuary we’re hyper aware of the many causes of pollinator decline and are working to change as many as we can from habitat loss and lack of healthy forage to the prevalence of harmful chemicals in our environment including pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and plant growth regulators. These chemicals act synergistically and are far more toxic when combined than the labeling implies, not just to their intended insect and plant targets, but to the every creature that exists, invertebrates on up. Studies are now showing that species higher on the trophic ladder are being impacted. In addition to aquatic organisms, fish, fireflies, and our beloved pollinators, our songbirds are dying. North American overwintering birds have declined by 30% and more than 1/3 of North American birds are at risk of extinction. Y’all. That’s pretty terrifying. Did you read “Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang” in your science fiction writing class too? Well, how about “Silent Spring?” Let’s make a pact right now to reread it. And then act.
As a first defense against mosquitoes we urge you to eliminate their breeding grounds. Remove possible areas where pooling, stagnant water can collect: gutters, containers, tarps, and dense ground covers. Change the water regularly in birdbaths and try aeration or Mosquito Dunks in ponds. Use personal repellents like lemon eucalyptus oil on exposed skin.
While we’re proponents of cultural management practices to control breeding habitat and products that will protect your own person rather than harming everyone else’s, if you feel compelled to call that mosquito company, please ask them questions. Tell them you’re worried about pollinators and find out if they have alternative treatments. If they don’t, let them know that Raleigh, along with 67 other cities (and counting) is a certified Bee City USA and they should. Ask them when they spray. Early morning and evening with no wind to cause drift into neighboring yards is better. Ask if they spray flowering plants and lawns. They shouldn’t. Ask what kind of training their technicians undergo. Ask what products they use and if they offer safer options.
Mosquito companies typically use synthetic pyrethroids to kill mosquitoes. This is a Class I pesticide, which is the most toxic, and is far more dangerous than naturally occurring plant pyrethrins which are derived from chrysanthemums. Some companies will try to tell you the synthetic version is a botanical and natural. It’s not. They’ll also tell you their sprays are insect specific. They’re not. The good news about the bad news is that last summer we spoke with almost every mosquito company in the Triangle. Most of them offer alternative treatments that are less toxic to pollinators and the environment, they are Class III, or slightly toxic pesticides. The two most common alternatives are Essentria IC3, which uses essential oils, and garlic-based formulas. They’re still pesticides and if used incorrectly will kill or harm both mosquitoes and non-mosquito species alike. That’s where technician training comes in. We’ll save that for the end. You’ll like it.
Also ask if their signage will reflect that you chose the safer treatment option. We’re dying to slap a bee sticker on that yard sign so your neighbors will know you still have a chance at heaven because your product selection means our smaller creature friends will live and so might we. “it’s the little things that run the world.” E. O. Wilson
You know what prompted last year’s mosquito company telephone marathon besides personal beekeeper terror? We promise this mosquito spray story has a much better ending than the ones most beekeepers exchange. A neighbor called Arrow Exterminators to have their yard sprayed. Their home is across from one of our apiaries, our bee nursery at that. The technician came, saw the hives across the road, and told the neighbor he’d have to come back with a product that was safer for the bees. Impressed, we did a little more research. Arrow has a proprietary program called STEPS or Sustainability Through Environmental Practices and Solutions, which is a company-wide program to offer the most environmentally friendly pest control services. Wouldn’t it be cool if all mosquito techs were trained in environmental sustainability and appropriate application? Several of the companies we spoke with were game for such a certification program. Anybody want to help us get it off the ground? Choices, y’all. Vote with your dollars and your voices and your actions.