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Do Mosquito Control Treatments Also Impact Birds, Bees and Waterways?


WXPR’s series Curious North invites listeners to submit questions about life in the Northwoods.

One listener posed this question: “Given the plethora of mosquito and tick businesses, what are the effects on our waterways with run-off, on birds, bees and pets?”

Summer in the Northwoods is full of boat rides, campfires and…mosquitoes.

They thrive near the lakes of Northern Wisconsin, and some people have taken up the fight against them by hiring commercial companies to spray.

The mosquito control industry has grown significantly in the last few years.

According to the latest State of the Mosquito Control Market Report, mosquito control services increased their revenue by an average of about 20 percent since just last year.

But turning to mosquito treatments doesn’t come without a cost.

“There can be some downsides to the treatments as well,” says PJ Liesch,  an entomologist and the director of the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab.

Liesch says commercial mosquito treatments generally work by spraying chemicals onto surfaces that mosquitoes land on, like shrubs and other plants.

Then when mosquitoes land, they die.

But mosquitoes aren’t the only animals that lose a life.

“Think about other insects that go to treated potentially treated surfaces like vegetation. These could be things like butterflies, bees, beetles, and the vast majority of these are going to be beneficial creatures in one way or another,” Liesch says. “So there is the potential to impact and harm those particular insects.”

In addition, while the chemicals are relatively safe to mammals, like dogs and cats, they can have indirect impacts on animals that feed on mosquitoes, like birds and frogs.

On top of that, if the spray blows into waterways –

“They can be highly toxic to aquatic organisms, such as insects and crayfish, that can live in bodies of water," Liesch says.

So what can people do instead?

Liesch suggests staying inside if the mosquitoes are really bad, wearing long sleeves, blowing a fan since mosquitoes can’t fly well in the airstream, or wearing bug spray.

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Erin Gottsacker joined WXPR in December 2020. As a Morning Edition host and reporter, Erin reports on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.