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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.

Another effective deterrent is an old-fashioned electric fan. While swatting doesn’t help, wind will. Insects don’t fly well, even in a gentle wind. It will also help cool you down while warding off invaders.

Pest management experts with The University of California, say that lure traps containing the chemical heptyl butyrate won’t knock down large populations of yellowjackets, but they can reduce the number dive-bombing on your patio or picnic table.

“Don’t put them right near your picnic table. Put them off in a corner of the garage or a corner of the yard. You don’t want them near where you’re eating,” Lavoipierre advised.

U.C. experts recommend adding a little fresh meat to the traps to make them even more enticing, but freshen up the offering frequently.

Other tips:

* Use LED or yellow bug lights outdoors on your porch and around your house. They won’t attract as many pests as other types of lights.

*Candles and tiki torches containing citronella are a mild deterrent to both mosquitoes and yellowjackets.

*Try a plant-based repellent before DEET. Consumer Reports suggest Repel Lemon Eucalyptus and Natrapel that contain 20 percent picaradin, a chemical similar to a compound in black pepper. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say not to use them on children under age 3.

*Probably one of the best ways to keep unwanted insects from crashing your outdoor parties is prevention. For mosquitoes, eliminate standing and stagnant water, where they like to breed. Check gutters, birdbaths, tires, wheelbarrows, wading pools and swimming pool covers. Lavoipierre said they’ll breed all season so be ever vigilant.

She doesn’t recommend mosquito fish. They’re not a native species and if they get out into local waterways they can be invasive, she said.

But what of the dreaded and dirty flies who lust for your picnic?

Lavoipierre suggests simply trying to keep your yard clean. Keep your garbage cans sealed and stored far from outdoor living areas. They will breed in dog poop, so scoop up Fido’s droppings early and often.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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