- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Annapolis officials have prescribed a more organic way to combat mosquitoes, though others said yesterday that method might not work so well.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer initiated a program last fall to tell residents about insecticide alternatives such as building birdhouses, growing herbs and installing the bug trap called Mosquito Magnet. She and other Annapolis officials hope that if residents attracted natural predators such as the purple martin they could reduce the population of disease-bearing insects and avoid potential health hazards caused by insecticides.

However, the purple martin might not be the mosquito gobbler that city officials expected.

The belief that the bird could eat as many as 2,000 mosquitos a day is a “pretty big myth,” said Tara Dadge of the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

“They prefer dragonflies,” Miss Dadge said, though she thinks attracting purple martins poses no harm to the city.

“They are nice birds,” she said.

The city sponsored workshops last fall to teach families how to build the birdhouses, which are like high-rise condos because they require at least eight rooms, and 2- or 2-inch-wide entrances.

The city even mounted two houses in Truxtun Park, one near the swimming pool and the other near the ball fields, and a third at the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.

Molly Hoeckel, Annapolis special events coordinator who helped with the project, said the municipal birdhouses remain vacant except for some starlings and that it could take one or two seasons to entice the purple martins. Miss Hoeckel also said there is no scientific evidence that purple martins eat mosquitos, but said she encourages residents to attract them because they eat bees, flies, flying wasps, Japanese beetles and wasps. She said building the houses in back yards is part of the city’s “overall pest-control effort.”

Others are less convinced and want to use pesticides.

“It seems that the mayor has arbitrarily made this decision without evidence that it works,” said Eastport resident Rodney Tomlingson, whose neighbor died last year of the West Nile virus, the mosquito-borne virus that federal officials say in 2002 killed 284 U.S. residents and infected more than 4,000.

In Annapolis, eight persons became ill and two others died last year because of the virus, according to Patricia Ferrar of the state’s Department of Agriculture.

“The woman dying seems like a worse health hazard than insecticides,” said Mr. Tomlingson, adding that on some days the mosquitoes are as thick as leaves.

City crews put larvicide into drainage ditches and other breeding grounds but have not sprayed for adult insects for several years because of health concerns.

Miss Moyer said the organic approach was taken, in part, because some residents, particularly older ones or those with respiratory problems, have severe reactions to spraying.

However, Cy Lesser, head of Maryland’s anti-mosquito program told the Capital newspaper there is no evidence that spraying is harmful when done properly.

Communities that want spraying can petition the city, but Mr. Tomlingson thinks the method fails when one community sprays and another does not.

City officials will also install two Mosquito Magnets in Truxtun Park, as part of the insect-control project, and are encouraging residents to use them in their yards.

The contraptions attract blood-sucking insects with a plume of carbon dioxide, moisture and heat, then vacuum them in to die. They cost $295 to $1,295 and manufacturer Mosquito Magnet Corp. recommends keeping them 30 to 40 feet from where people gather.

The city’s Department of Public Works also suggests residents grow insect-repelling herbs. Among the suggested herbs are marigolds, pennyroyal, rosemary and catnip, which contains the mosquito-attracting nepetalactone oil.

Reducing the mosquito population is a “huge problem, and there is no silver bullet here,” said Margaret Martin, the director of the city’s Public Works Department.

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