The Village Idiot: Of mosquitoes and wasps

By John Hopkins

The battle against pests has changed a great deal in my lifetime. When I was a boy and we had mice trouble in our cottage, we either rented a cat or set deadly traps. The cat had limited success but the traps seemed to always do the trick, a telltale snapping sound during the night attesting to their effectiveness. If you were really into torture there were the glue traps, which resulted in slow and painful death by starvation.

Similarly, the best way to deal with offensive insects seemed to be to buy the most toxic spray legally available and snuff them out that way. The effect on our own bodies, and harmless plants and animals in the vicinity of the barrage of insecticide was incidental, the necessary collateral damage of the on-going war between humans and the insidious small monsters that Mother Nature thrust on us each summer.

I remember our family being fascinated when friends introduced us to their insect “zapper”, an outdoor device that attracted mosquitoes with its light and then fried them on contact. Evening social gatherings would be punctuated by a sizzling sound and a small waft or smoke as another mosquito was lured in by this summer siren and then cooked in milliseconds.

Nowadays we tend toward more compassionate methods of dealing with pests. We use “humane” traps that capture, but do not kill, small rodents. In this way we are able to safely release them into the wild, not to be bothered with them again until they find their way back to our home a week or so later, at which point the process is repeated.

In terms of insects, there is a great trend to products that do not kill but instead simply make an area unattractive for them. Over the past year or so I have heard plaudits on the radio and firsthand accounts from neighbours on the miracle of garlic in clearing an area of mosquitoes. One can buy a spray that if administered to a region either early in the morning or late in the evening will make it unappealing to these pesky insects. I rather think it would make the area unappealing to many guests, but perhaps that is why you are meant to spray early in the morning or late in the evening. …

We experimented with the garlic on our patio last summer, and for a few mornings I faithfully started my day by spraying the area with the garlic concoction. The aroma of garlic wafting through the nose on a warm summer morning is not for everybody, but apart from developing a craving for snails on mushroom caps for breakfast I did not find the experience unpleasant and the stench did not linger for long.

As for the effectiveness of the garlic against mosquitoes I’m afraid the evidence is inconclusive, and we may need to alter our mixture this summer and see if that improves things. I can say quite definitely, however, that we have not been troubled by vampires, so I guess that is something.

As much as I am in favour of and support civilized techniques of dealing with pests, I must admit that I do find a place for the more violent and forceful techniques. We have occasionally had to deal with wasp nests around our house, and I’m afraid my charity toward living things does not extend to wasps. In this case I am inclined to return to the scorched earth strategy of the past, and there is nothing like a good can of powerful repellent to neutralize the population swiftly.

There is nothing subtle or benevolent about taking out a wasp nest. Again, the time to act is early in the morning or late at night, so that you have as many of the little devils home as possible. This is for the simple reason that you cannot afford to have any survivors or witnesses, as they will fly off and alert other swarms of wasps in the vicinity, and then you will have a real problem on your hands.

It is also advisable that you are well protected in this endeavor – I find about four layers of heavy duty clothing to be sufficient. I also tend to fit an old helmet on my head as protection against possible concussion when I run into a tree or the side of the house in the dark while I am being chased by angry wasps. All pets should be indoors, and the house sealed.

The repellent I use is a foam and the container comes with a thin nozzle that can be inserted directly into the nest. With a push of the button the nest fills up with foam and the vast majority of the wasps are dead before they know what hit them (which I guess in a way constitutes a humane form of execution). It is then important to spray the outside of the nest to deal with possible escapees, for the reasons outlined above, and also knock it to the ground and dispose of it with your other atomic waste.

In a matter of minutes you have solved your wasp problem and in about four or five years you may even see grass starting to grow in the area again.

Oh, and by the way, this technique also tends to keep mosquitoes away.