Mosquitoes can start breeding as early as March or April, lasting well into September and October – females will lay up to 200 eggs at a time if they can find standing water.
So how do you control an infestation of these insects? They are an important part of the food chain for many other species and are important pollinators – since plant nectar is one of their major foods.
That’s all good and great, but you and your guests do not want to be surrounded by a swarm in either an indoor and outdoor setting and being bitten to death – do you?
There are a host of natural and artificial ways to control mosquitoes, this article will focus on a most natural, yet unusual, source of control – a number of friendly visitors and pets that can be attracted to the area around your home and garden, and who feast on mosquitoes and their larvae. I am talking about the birds, bats, insects, spiders, frogs…
There are certain birds – in particular Purple Martins, Swallows, Ducks, Tern, Geese and a variety of Migratory Songbirds, that are predators to mosquitoes. Some of them eat mosquitoes, others (especially waterfowls, ducks etc.) help by feeding on mosquito larvae on water surfaces.
One of the prime ways to attract any birds is to have a source of water, such as a pond, in the garden, in addition with trees and other options for the birds to nest. In the absence of a bond, having bird baths and bird houses installed in your garden will also work to attract birds.
For example, if you are trying to attract Purple Martins (which, by the way, are not purple but a glossy blue color), you might consider creating a habitat for them.
Choices may be to leave dead trees standing in your property (Martins often create nests in woodpecker holes in dead trees) or erecting a Purple Martin House (see below) 15-20 feet off the ground and between 50-100 feet from your house.
As mentioned earlier, a source of fresh water could be vital for them, as would an abundance of material that could be used for nests.
One thing to remember is that while many of these birds eat mosquitoes, they may not be sufficient to control an infestation in and of themselves when it comes to adult mosquito populations.
There are two reasons for this: (a) birds often come out at one time during the day, either diurnal or nocturnal, while there are different species of mosquitoes that appear at any given point (24 hours) during the day – so their schedules don’t always match; and (b) birds that eat mosquitoes also eat other insects, esp. dragonflies and damselflies that play a role in mosquito control themselves.
Destroying mosquito larvae on water may be a more stable way for geese, tern and ducks to control the mosquito population.
If you do have a pond or water body, know that you can stock it with a number of fishes that are ardent destroyers of the mosquito population. A number of fishes will kill mosquitoes.
Some of them, such as bass, bluegill or catfish, that may or may not be your first-choice fishes for a garden pond. But there are a number of species that are:
- (a) good decorative fishes for a pond
- (b) will definitely help reduce the mosquito population
The main fishes that will look good and do the job include goldfish and guppies. But the granddaddy of mosquito-eating fishes is the aptly named Western Mosquito Fish (Gambusia affinis).
Western Mosquito Fish
The Western Mosquitofish, sometimes called a “useless” fish in some cultures (including Cuban) due to its propensity to be aggressive to other species and not generally nutritious (it’s a small fish, around ¼ inches in size), is in fact hugely useful to tackle mosquito infestations.
If you could introduce these fish, which in the US are naturally present throughout the Mississippi River basin, into your turtle or duck pond, they will almost certainly play a major role in controlling your mosquito population.
Mosquito fish have been used in this role in many places in the world, including Russia, Ukraine, South America and India, where they have helped control local spread of malaria.
There is in fact a monument to the fish in Sochi, Russia which bears testament to their effectiveness.
If you do have a fish pond or a turtle pond on your property, look to get a few Red Eared Slider Turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans), also known the Red-Eared Terrapin or the Water Slider Turtle.
While myths abound about turtles controlling the mosquito population, the truth of the matter is that there is only one known species of turtle that consistently devour and help control mosquito populations, which is the Red Eared Slider.
This species, a sub-species of the Pond Slider, is the most popular pet turtle in the US and enormously popular as a pet throughout the world.
They are voracious eaters of mosquito larvae – in a 2007 study conducted by the American Mosquito Control Association, red-eared larvae were found to have reduced the mosquito population in a controlled enclosure (meaning with no other external factors in play) by 99% over a five-week period.
It would be easy to create a habitat for red-sliders in your garden or even elsewhere on your property. To the extent that they are placed close to a water source where mosquitoes can lay eggs, these friendly pets will help to destroy entire generations of mosquitoes that can prove to be a pestilence around your household.
Frogs, Toads and Salamanders
Photographic evidence and YouTube videos abound of frogs and toads snapping up flies and other insects from their perches next to a pond. In general, frogs, toads and tadpoles all eat mosquitoes, but most of them do not eat them in substantial enough volume to make a difference in your eco-system.
There are three main species of frogs and toads that are considered to be voracious mosquito eaters. They are described below.
Giant Tree Frog (Litoria infrafrenata)
This native of Australia and Oceania, which grows between 4 to 6 inches in length, and is distinguished by its white lips, is quite a voracious eater of insects. They do operate during the night, which may make it difficult for them to catch adult mosquitoes.
But these adult frogs, as well as their tadpoles, compete with mosquito larvae for food sources, thereby helping to contain their populations.
Green Tree Frog (Dryophytes cinereus)
The American Green Tree frog is a common species of New World tree frog, smaller than the Giant Tree Frog, which also helps control the mosquito population – both with adults and larvae.
They are frequently found next to backyard swimming pools, are shy but major insectivores – they are known to pursue prey not by size but by level of activity. Mosquitoes flitting about in backyards, close to water sources, are a major source of prey for them.
Spade Foot Toad (Spea hammondii)
The American Spade Foot Toad, also known as the Western Spade Foot Toad, is a 2-3 inches sized burrowing toad whose tadpoles eat algae, larvae and other protein, and the adults eat insects and invertebrates, including mosquitoes, voraciously.
Another species of pond-dwellers that are anecdotally known to be natural controllers of the mosquito population are salamanders.
Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)
Scientific research was done by the Journal of Freshwater Ecology in 2011 to examine the efficacy of Tiger Salamanders in mosquito control. The experiment found that these salamanders’ diets consisted primarily of mosquito larvae and as such, they can help significantly in naturally destroying mosquitoes.
Sticking with the theme of creating a water body in your back yard and stocking it with the right “friends” in order to help solve a mosquito infestation, you can look into two species of aquatic beetles that will do the job for you.
Preadaceous Diving Beetles (Dytiscidae)
Only 4% of the huge number of beetle species (there are 24,000 in North America alone) are aquatic. The most prolific among them are the Predaceous Water Beetles from the Family Dytiscidae (which literally means “able to dive” from Greek), which are all over (over 4,000 species worldwide, 500+ in North America). Their bodies are sleek and dynamic – ideal for swimming and diving.
Both larvae and adults of the Predaceous Water Beetles are predators that feed on a variety of insects, small fish and aquatic denizen. They can also fly, which means they are able to operate freely out of the water.
They eat mosquitoes wherever and whenever they find them – their ferocity has earned them the name of “Water Tiger”.
Water Scavenger Beetles
Beetles of the family Hydrophilidae are chiefly aquatic, with similar aerodynamic shapes. While many species of Water Scavenger Beetles may turn vegetarian upon adulthood, they eat proteins and larvae found in their habitat while in their own larval stage.
Some specific species of these beetles are voracious eaters of mosquito larvae and are known for being natural bug control agents.
Dragonflies, Damselflies and Crane Flies
Dragonflies are often known as Mosquito Hawks and have been known to eat mosquitoes – not in copious quantities, but enough to make a significant difference to your garden and backyard.
While adult, flying dragonflies are not as effective, dragonflies go through an aquatic stage of life when they are voracious eaters of mosquito larvae.
To attract dragonflies, you need a small body of water with water plants where dragonfly nymphs can crawl up as they prepare to fly, and adult dragonflies can perch. Flat rocks are also helpful.
Along with that, having other plants around the edges of the water will also provide them with a natural habitat.
Damselflies are not as effective as dragonflies, but also help control the spread of mosquitoes through eating the larvae.
One thing to be aware of is that fish eat dragonfly nymphs. So, while they will both help keep bugs under control, they may find it hard to co-exist. To a certain extent, you could take the approach of creating the habitat and letting nature take its course.
Another species that will eat mosquitoes is the so-called Mosquito Fly, properly known as the Crane Fly.
Chameleons, Lizards and Geckos
A variety of lizards, geckos and chameleons attack and eat the adult mosquitoes – they are more likely to eat adults than mosquito larvae.
While they do help, there are not many species among these reptiles whose diet is significantly impacted by mosquitoes – they eat a plethora of insects as well as a number of green, leafy vegetables.
Plus, many of them do not eat continuously. For example, if you have a pet chameleon, you have probably noticed that they only eat for 15-20 minutes at a times once every day or two.
As a result, while lizards, geckos and chameleons do provide occasional help, they are not considered to be prime contributors to slowing down and/or killing mosquito infestations.
It may be a little difficult to gather the next two species for your house or garden but be aware of the unique creatures that they are.
While all spiders will trap insects in their webs and eat them – displaying natural predatory behavior – there are two species in particular that are extraordinarily focused on eating mosquitoes.
They are not harmful to humans and can be very useful for mosquito control if you can successfully introduce them around your house.
Vampire Tigers (Evarcha culicivora)
Looks scary? Don’t be scared but do be amazed. The Vampire Spider is native to a narrowly defined habitat around Lake Victoria in Kenya and Uganda but is now known the world over as a unique species – it in fact loves to feed on human blood, scientists believe that the chemical reactions within its body when it drinks blood allow it to develop other chemicals which make it more attractive to its mate.
It’s jaws are not powerful enough to pierce human skin, so what it targets are Anopheles mosquitoes, who have bitten humans and are filled with such blood. They are believed to be the only species in the world that aggressively chase after a particular species (mosquitoes in this case) with the sole intention of feeding on what the prey has eaten.
If you can get some of these specimens, they can be very useful – devouring up to 20 mosquitoes per hour – they live on people’s walls in their natural habitat as a matter of fact.
Fly Tigers, also known as Malaysian Jumping Spiders (Paracyrba wanlessi)
The Malaysian Jumping Spider also thrives on a diet of mosquitoes, but in contrast to the Vampire Spider which is frequently found inside human homes, the Malaysian Jumping Spider prefers to live in bamboo stems in the wild and feed on mosquito larvae in pools of water.
This spider is also a colorful species that can be a delight to observe as a pet.
Praying mantises are, pound for pound, one of the most fierce predators in the animal and insect kingdom. Given their natural propensity and habitat, Praying Mantises can wreak steady havoc on adult mosquito populations by lying in wait close to where mosquitoes go in search of nectar.
They hang absolutely still, then break into action at the slightest movement that they can detect due to their excelled eyesight and ability to turn their heads completely around. Their lightning quick strikes then give the prey little chance to wiggle out of their grasp.
One of the reasons that praying mantises are sought after, and cases of their eggs are bought by gardeners and farmers are their ability to protect a garden by ridding it of pests such as mosquitoes, locusts, crickets and flies. By all means, invest in a few mantids for your garden.
Bats – Myth or Reality?
One of the popular myths that bats can literally eat hundreds of mosquitoes an hour may or may not be true. There was some questionable science used to develop the theory in the 1960’s.
There have been several experiments after that, such as by the City of San Antonio, TX, that have proved unsatisfactory and later abandoned. There have also been stories to the contrary – as residents of Austin, TX have reported. So, what’s the scoop?
Bats certainly echolocate, and science has proved that mosquitoes do not seem to be scared away by bat activity – making them easy prey if the bats were inclined to eat them.
However, bats will only eat mosquitoes if they are easily available and not much else is around. It also turns out that smaller bats, like the common Brown Bat in the US, are more inclined to feed on mosquitoes.
All in all, since bats can’t be trained and there is no good way to select the species that will be visiting your backyard, using bats to control mosquitoes may be a hard sell.
Having said that, erecting bat towers in your yard to attract bats may not be a huge inconvenience, provided you are not spooked by bats.
While it may not be possible for the average homeowner to avail of all of the options mentioned above (for example, some of the more exotic species of spiders may be hard to find).
There may not be any one denizen that single handedly rids your home, garden and backyard of mosquitoes, hopefully the write-up above will provide you with a road map as to how certain species can work together to keep mosquitoes in check.
As described, having a small water body and stocking it with the right fish, beetles and amphibians may provide a vital accessory to pest control.
If you want to learn more about various insects, then checkout our site categories, we have a bunch of articles there that are totally worth reading:
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All the best
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