Folks are arming themselves for the annual war between man and mosquito.And this year's combat promises to be long and intense. Whereas last summer's drought and record-breaking heat kept mosquitoes at bay, this year's mild winter and above-average rainfall has brought the pesky bugs back with a vengeance.North Texans are turning to a variety of products and age-old remedies to keep the mosquitoes from ruining picnics, baseball games and fishing trips.Experts say, however, that the most effective weapon in the fight is insect repellent containing DEET."DEET is still the best product. There's a group of people that are anti-DEET but the medical data on the problems is very indecisive. DEET does have a very good long-term safety record with people," said Mike Merchant, an urban entomologist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. "My recommendation is to stick with things listed as repellents because you know they are actually safe. I'm wary of things that I haven't seen the test results for."Besides being a nuisance, some mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus. No cases have been reported this year but there were two cases in 2011, said Vanassa Joseph, Tarrant County Public Health spokeswoman.The Texas Department of Health also recommends using IR3535, a repellent popular in Europe; picaridin; and oil of lemon eucalyptus.But many folks have strongly held opinions and homemade repellents. Head into home and garden shops, and there are rows of remedies. And advice is rampant on the Internet, where homeowners, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts tout theories on what will ward off skeeters. Spray the yard with dish detergent, some say. Wipe yourself with a dryer sheet. Dab on drops of mouthwash.Many theories just don't work or at least have not been held up to scientific scrutiny, experts said."There are lots of crazy ideas out there, a lot of personal recipes. People will say 'I make my own solution and it works great' but it's not been tested so it's hard to say whether it really works or not," said Joyce Connelley, co-owner of Marshall Grain in Grapevine and Fort Worth. "Most people would rather buy something off the shelf that they know will be effective than going home with a recipe and mix it up themselves."Many cities used to do large-scale neighborhood spraying programs, but most have ended those programs in favor of more effective methods.Arlington, for instance, says on its website that "eliminating mosquitoes at their source by removing stagnant water, practicing personal protection, and larviciding areas unable to be drained are the most effective ways of reducing the mosquito population."Here are examples of remedies that work and some that don't.Something fishyThe Tarrant County Health Department has a minnow breeding operation and stocks creeks, lakes and ponds at city parks with mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis."We've helped stock them with a perfectly natural minnow. It eats the mosquito larvae," said David Jefferson, environmental health manager for Tarrant County Public Health. "That's sort of nature's way of helping control the larvae. If you've got a captive body of water, a pond on your property, they'll do a great job of keeping the larvae down."Mosquitofish are available at home gardening stores such as Marshall Grain Co., where they are kept in tanks to prevent mosquitoes.The health department also treats standing water in area cities with larvicide, or "mosquito control dunks," small rings that look like powdered doughnuts, Jefferson said. "It messes with the developing mosquito larvae. It's relatively benign to everyone else," Jefferson said.Larvicide is available at hardware and gardening stores.But you smell goodAvon Skin So Soft Original Bath Oil has many fans as a mosquito repellent, but in a 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that it lasted just 9.6 minutes to protect against bites.That compares with five hours for Off Deep Woods, which contains DEET."People sort of thought it repelled bugs, but it is not meant to; it is not formulated to," Avon Products spokeswoman Claudia Shaum said. "I think everybody just thought that, there were no claims on it. It was just one of those urban legend kind of things."Avon sells Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus specifically as a repellent, with no DEET.In 2010, Consumer Reports showed that Avon's Bug Guard Plus product was effective for five hours, compared with Off Deep Woods Sportsmen II, which worked for more than eight.At least it looks coolFor the true anti-mosquito geek, the Off Clip-On Mosquito Repellent seems to be the perfect tool.But its effectiveness is questionable.In 2010, testers for Consumer Reports attached the clip-on device to their waists, complete with a fan that spreads the repellent. They then waded into screened rooms swarming with 1,000 mosquitoes.At first, the device cut down on the number of mosquitoes near the four testers, but two hours after the test started, officials stopped the proceedings because the subjects were getting so many bites."It doesn't work," Tildy La Farge, a Consumer Reports publicist, told the Star-Telegram. "You'll get bitten. You're better off with the sprays."Burn, baby, burnThose candles and torches that dot many back yards in North Texas contain citronella, a sweet-smelling oil that works to repel mosquitoes -- but you've got to have a bunch of them."Citronella candles have been documented to be effective but the secret is you kind of need to have a ring of them around you so that you have a pall of smoke," Merchant said.The Environmental Protection Agency says the oil, which is derived from dried grasses, has a "distinctive odor which may make it difficult for some pests to locate a host."Merchant said he was recently in a home improvement store and saw people buying citronella plants, "which in my mind is a waste of money."Have a cold oneWhen your husband pops open a cold one, he's really just trying to help protect the home and pets from mosquitoes.Or not.The Internet has many recipes for repellents that use beer.One calls for dissolving a cube of dry yeast into a cup each of flat beer, mouthwash and Epsom salts. Shake that up and spray it on the lawn every couple of weeks.Erin Rahr, co-owner of the Fort Worth-based craft brewery Rahr & Sons, was skeptical."I've never heard of that," Rahr said. "Obviously, we don't have bunch of flat beer lying around."She said that because Rahr's is an open-air brewery, she deals daily with mosquitoes."They're bad this year," Rarh said, adding that workers use bug spray.Among Rahr's beers is Summertime Wheat, a brew that may not ward off mosquitoes, but certainly is tasty in a frosty mug on a hot summer day.Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326Twitter: @jessamybrown
TIPS TO PROTECT FROM BITES
Experts refer to the best tips to combat mosquitoes as "the four D's."
DUSK to DAWN: Stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active.
DRAIN: Reduce standing water in your yard and neighborhood.
DRESS: Wear light colors and long sleeves and pants outdoors.
DEET: Use insect repellent that contains this ingredient on skin and clothing.
Source: Tarrant County Public Health
BUZZ ... WHACK
That sound you hear is the motion
of a mosquito's wings, which beat
300 to 600 times per second.
A HUMAN BUFFET
Bigger people are often more attractive to mosquitoes because they are larger targets and produce more mosquito attractants, namely carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
Active or fidgety people also produce more carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
Women are usually more attractive to mosquitoes than men because of the difference in hormones.
Blondes tend to be more attractive to mosquitoes than brunettes.
Smelly feet are attractive to mosquitoes - as is Limburger cheese.
Dark clothing attracts mosquitoes.
A full moon increased mosquito activity 500 percent in one study.
Source: American Mosquito Control Association, amca.com
Species in the United States
Texas has the most among the states.
Species of mosquitoes