There’s a reason that the noun “bug” is frequently used as a verb to describe something that is really annoying. Bugs can really bug us.
So how do we bug-proof our inviting decks and patios so we can take advantage of summer days and evenings unmolested by mosquitoes and yellowjackets?
The non-profit product testing organization Consumer Reports has evaluated the various methods for repelling insects and concluded that the go-to weapon — DEET — may be worse than the enemy threat itself.
“People have a misconception that because a product is on the market, it must be perfectly safe. But the truth is, there are risks associated with DEET,” said Trish Calvo, the deputy content editor for food at Consumer Reports, which accepts no advertising and pays for all the products it rates.
It’s not a notable problem if applications are limited and it is applied correctly. But long-term exposure or exposure by products containing high concentrations of DEET can lead to seizures, slurred speech, coma, and other side effects, she added.
Given that it is a registered pesticide, it may be better to take a lighter approach before bringing out the toxic artillery. Consumer’s recommends using DEET only as a last resort and in as low a concentration as possible, like 15 percent and never more than 30 percent.
High concentrations of up to 98 percent touted in some products provide no more protection and greater risk of harm, Calvo said.
You should also avoid those clip-on devices that attach to your waistband and use a fan to circulate a repellent around you like a cloud.
“The active ingredient is metofluthrin, that causes nervous system risks,” said Calvo.
“And our tests over the years have found they don’t work very well over bugs anyway. Why take the risk when it’s not as effective as you want it to be?”
Other common methods that Consumers has found ineffective include mosquito traps that use fans or adhesive pads. While they may trap a few, they won’t make a dent in the mosquito population around you or cut down on the number of bites you may endure, she said.
And zap the zappers; they may actually attract mosquitoes.
Consumers also goes thumbs-down on misting systems or yard foggers that spray insecticides.
So what will provide some protection for airborne invaders while you enjoy the summertime pleasure of sipping a drink or eating a meal in your backyard?
Frederique Lavoipierre, who was the coordinator of the garden classroom and entomology outreach program at Sonoma State University before assuming a new job as education program manager for The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden, employs the cat-food trick to divert yellowjackets from her outdoor feasts.
Attracted to that fishy smell, they’ll gather there in greater numbers than at your table.
Open a can and place it at a far corner of your yard, she said, well away from your table.
Yellowjackets are not bees; they’re related to wasps. So swatting at them will only make them mad and more apt to sting you. If they are circling your picnic, try mustering your resolve and make a small offering.
“Every once in awhile let them land somewhere and get a little bit of something. They’ll eventually fly away with it,” said Lavoipierre, who for the past few years oversaw SSU’s Insecta-Palooza event.