Extension News

Is Using Technology the Best Way to Eliminate Bugs?

Note to media editors: This is the Garden Column for use during the week beginning Aug. 14.

8/10/2009

By Mark Shour
Extension Entomologist
Iowa State University

Americans enjoy convenience. Take a moment to consider the "easy" American life. An alarm awakens you to your favorite CD. Motion sensors kick on lights as you move to the next room, and newly installed sensors start the shower as you enter the stall.

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee greets you as you step from the shower. Television informs you of the weather forecast, the key news stories and the outcome of sports events the previous evening. A light breeze stirs as you advance through your clothes thanks to the wardrobe system in your closet.

Once dressed, one remote starts the car, a second opens the garage door and a third activates the home security system as you pull out of the driveway. Satellite-driven technology in your vehicle allows voice-activated telecommunications, provides guidance on your destination and delivers clear channels on your radio. How these devices have made life easier!

And what was that you heard this morning? An automatic spraying system for backyard bugs…hmm… sounds pretty good! Why not use technology to control bugs in the yard, especially those pesky, blood-sucking, West Nile-laden mosquitoes?

The salesman said that automated misting machines send a burst of insecticides at timed intervals. You would have complete control over when the sprays would come on – a few hours for weekday evenings or throughout the day during the weekend. And the system could be installed just on the deck or placed along the perimeter of a property.

Just think…a bug-free landscape – no swatting at kamikaze flies; no probing questions about the itchy, red, insect-induced welts on legs and arms; no strange looks from neighbors as you run away from "unseen" bees or wasps; and, with a little luck, the stuff will take out spiders and all other creepy crawlies that seem to be everywhere outside.

But before you locate the nearest provider, let’s stop and think through this offer!

  • First, technology can have its downsides as well. Have you ever been working in the lawn when the automatic sprinkler came on? Or did you ever take a shower and forget to turn off the device that sprays the solution to keep the soap scum off the walls? Or ever been in a restaurant’s restroom when the automated bug sprayer discharges, filling the room with insecticide spray?  The same surprising/annoying scenario could unfold with this misting system.
  • Second, what would the landscape be like without any bugs buzzing around? Just a small proportion of insects are truly pests; most insects are beneficial. They serve as food for birds, bats and frogs. They break down dead animal and plant tissues. And they give us food – honey and pollination service for several fruits and vegetables. You may not know that the beneficial bugs that kill other bugs are usually more sensitive to insecticide sprays than are the pest insects. And who can imagine a “silent” summer without the chirp of crickets or the buzzing of cicadas?
  • Third, how dangerous (toxic) to humans and pets are the chemicals used in these systems? The two most common insecticides used are pyrethrins and permethrin. Although both are considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, direct and prolonged exposure to any insecticide should be avoided . Most product labels prohibit human and pet re-entry into sprayed areas until the insecticide has dried. Additionally, some individuals are allergic to these pesticides, and pyrethrins can elicit and exacerbate asthma conditions.
  • Lastly, just how efficient are these insecticide-misting machines at controlling pesky mosquitoes? A detailed study using these devices was published by Florida A&M University in 2008 in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. Researchers found that mosquito reduction did occur during the 35-week study, but control varied from 14 to 98 percent. They also discovered that only mosquitoes hit by the spray died and that the disease-carrying species were not as sensitive to the sprays as the non-vector species.

If mosquitoes are a regular invader to your landscape, integrated pest management is the most effective long-term strategy to gain relief. For the homeowner, this approach involves eliminating standing water (old tires, clogged gutters, watering cans and other items) around your home, use of bacteria against mosquito larvae in ponds and other small permanent water areas, and only spraying when several mosquitoes are seen and outside activity is planned.

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Contacts :

Mark Shour, Extension Entomology, (515) 294-5963, mshour@iastate.edu

Del Marks, Extension Communication Services, (515) 294-9807, delmarks@iastate.edu