Insects of all kinds are part of the natural world and certainly integral to the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem. While for some people the first instinct may be to swat any insect in or around their home, bugs have their place in the food web and may even be beneficial in ways you haven’t considered. For example, most bugs are great food for birds that seek them by the dozens to feed their hungry nestlings. As they burrow, ants help create better soil in your yard by taking plant material underground where it will decompose. Spiders also help you by catching and eating other bugs.
Using toxic sprays around your house and in your yard to control insects may have unanticipated deadly effects when bug-eating birds snatch poisoned bugs to feed themselves or their delicate fledglings. Toxic rat bait has led to many predatory birds like hawks and owls dying when they catch and eat poisoned rodents. Likewise, you must be cautious with toxic sprays to ensure your children or pets aren’t exposed to the chemicals.
That said, sometimes bugs just don’t belong where they are. Nobody welcomes mosquitoes to a backyard barbecue and ants in your kitchen cause big headaches. Here are some tips we’ve curated to help keep the bugs away from where you don’t want them without causing unintended harm.
An ant invasion in your living space, whether it’s a house, tent, or RV, is never fun. Prevention comes first by not leaving out substances that attract them. Use caulk to seal holes where ants may come into your home. A 50-50 vinegar and water mixture (add peppermint essential oil to further deter the ants) will not only keep floors and counters clean but also keep ants away. (Note: Don’t use vinegar on natural stone surfaces.) Put away foods that will draw ants like bees to honey.
But what do you do if they invade despite your best efforts? There are a lot of non-toxic options to keep ants at bay. Once you discover where they are entering your home, pour cream of tartar in a line that ants will not cross. Go all New Mexico on them by sprinkling chile powder near their hole or pathways, or use cinnamon sticks, dried peppermint leaves, cloves, paprika, garlic cloves, or coffee grounds to encourage them to go elsewhere. Squeeze lemon juice and leave the peel. Planting mint around the home can also keep them out of your house.
Probably no other common household bug causes as much consternation as cockroaches. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, and none are welcome. They tend to scurry out from dark places and may surprise you when you wander into the kitchen for a midnight snack. What to do? Just like for preventing ants, keep counters and floors clean, avoid leaving dirty dishes in the sink, and put food away. Cockroaches are thirsty, too, so don’t leave water around for them. Watch for leaking pipes that can create the moist areas they seek.
Bay leaves may deter cockroaches, so put those around places where you’ve spotted them and in your kitchen cabinets. Other natural deterrents some people swear by include cucumbers, garlic, and catnip. If you’re outnumbered, you can try Gentrol, an insect growth regulator that causes their offspring to be sterile.
Fleas aren’t as common in the Southwest as they are in other areas, but they are here and can make you and your pets miserable. There are plenty of toxic options for controlling fleas, but here are some non-toxic steps to get rid of the little beasties.
Use a flea comb on your pets daily to immediately rid them of bugs (dip the comb into a cup of water between strokes to drown fleas). You can rub some lemon juice on your pet’s fur as fleas abhor citrus. For dogs, a few drops of rose geranium oil on the collar may do the trick. A bath with mild soap can also drown the fleas.
Vacuum your house regularly. If your vacuum has a bag, you can put it in a plastic storage bag in the freezer to kill adult fleas and eggs. For heavily infested homes, get some natural diatomaceous earth at a garden supply store (don’t use the kind for pools), sprinkle it on carpet and hardwood floors when the kids and pets are not around, leave it on to cause the fleas to die of dehydration, then vacuum it all up.
These little bloodsuckers not only cause itchy and annoying bites, but they spread heartworm among dogs. Your best offense is a good defense: Don’t let even small amounts of water stand in your yard because that’s where mosquitos lay their eggs. After we get some rain, check buckets and anything else that may hold water in your yard. It doesn’t take much to breed a batch of mosquitoes! If you have a pond or stock tank, add mosquitofish to gobble up larvae.
What can you do if you have a whining mosquito in your house or patio and want to avoid bites? Try an electric or battery-powered fan to create a wind through which they can’t fly. Plants such as lemongrass (which is the base for the citronella oil often used in mosquito-deterrent candles), marigolds, basil, ageratum, bee balm, rosemary, and catnip may help keep mosquitoes away. Mosquitoes don’t like the scent of these plants, so if you include any of them in pots near your seating areas outdoors, you may have fewer mosquitoes. You can even rub catnip on your skin and get less attention from bugs and more attention from your feline friends!
Boost your vitamin B intake or take some brewer’s yeast daily to help keep from being attractive to mosquitoes. Some essential oils are said to help prevent mosquitos, such as lemongrass and citronella. Be sure to check best practices for use on your skin.
As mentioned, spiders are part of your bug-prevention team. While not appealing to everyone, you can let spiders stake out a corner of your home to trap flies and mosquitoes for you. If you aren’t happy with spiders inside, most can easily be relocated outdoors with a plastic cup and a piece of paper (trap the spider or a bug you want to relocate under the cup, slide the paper under it, then flip it over and release it outdoors away from your house).
The spiders you want to be careful about are black widows and brown recluses, as they do have toxic bites. Both types of spiders make their nests in areas you may not check regularly, like dark corners. Female black widow spiders are easily identified by their glossy black bodies and the red hourglass on the underside of their abdomen. Brown recluse spiders are uniformly brown without patterns, have six eyes instead of eight (in case you’re close enough to count!), and their legs have no spines.
So, in summary: Prevention is best! Make your home as inaccessible and uninviting to unwanted visitors as you can. But if they make it in, try our non-toxic suggestions.
Written by Cheryl Fallstead
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2022
Posted by LasCruces.com