Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman
& we explore the safety of citronella mosquito repellent in a bird’s world
File under something like “life imitating art or nature”?
I don’t know how you can tell them apart (unless you know to look for the female’s proboscis) but it’s interesting to note that only female mosquitoes bite, males do not. They both need some sort of nectar to sustain themselves but the females need blood to lay their eggs.
It doesn’t matter if the female mosquito has been just a little randy or very randy, she will not get knocked up without blood. Just think – every time you are bitten – you are helping to create bigger Brady Bunch-like mosquito families. What attracts mosquito to a person? It’s the amount of carbon dioxide they are giving off. As well as how warm, moist and the intensity of body odor emitted.
The mosquito’s head has 2 compound eyes and chemical sensing antennas. Female mosquitoes have a palpus and proboscis. The proboscis is what makes the bite that you feel. Male mosquitoes do not have a proboscis. (Do male mosquitoes suffer from probosci’s envy?)
The thorax amazingly contains all the flight muscles, a compound heart, and a bunch of nerve cells along with the mosquitoes 2 wings and six legs.
The abdomen is where digestion occurs which makes a mosquito one more of nature’s perfectly engineered creatures having sensory, motor, and a fuel processing package all working quite efficiently together.
Sitting at our campsite this weekend the most vigorous activity was keeping mosquitoes at bay. Sunday morning I had taken Popcorn our cockatiel in her travel cage and put it on my picnic table/desk while attending to some website work. Catherine and I had two ceiling fans and two small fans one each pointed towards us which helped keep mosquitoes away because they interfere with a mosquito’s (and other insects) ability to fly.
With all the rain recently there was no shortage of mosquitoes so we started talking about safe methods of mosquito abatement for birds and the question of citronella came up starting with “is it or is it not safe for our birds”? Here’s what we found out about natural homemade human mosquito repellents :
The oil of citronella comes from two varieties of grass. It’s a yellowish-brown liquid and has a floral smell. Although the exact composition may vary depending on the form you buy it, it comes from basically three components, citronellol, citronellal, and geraniol. Believe it or not, it is recognized as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration.
We can find the first registration for Oil of Citronella way back in 1946. The EPA currently has citronella listed as a “minimum risk” pesticide. It seems to be on the end cap of every retail store we walk into this time of year. It’s found in a variety of forms like candles, torches, lotions, sprays, wristbands, and even flea collars for dogs.
Oil of citronella actually overcomes scents that attract most insects making it harder for the insects to find their food targets – you and me. If you come in contact with it directly it can irritate your skin and your eyes. If it’s accidentally ingested you may experience throat irritation. The good news is if for some reason it is ingested, the body will just break it down like any other liquid substance and then pass it through the urinary tract.
Although you should not use citronella on children less than 6 months old we found that it’s practically non-toxic to birds but for some reason slightly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. If you’re an environmentalist (I for one no longer wear turtlenecks to show my support for the environment) you’ll be pleased to know that because the stuff repels insects but doesn’t kill them, bees and other pollinators like butterflies & hummingbirds probably won’t be harmed by the stuff.
So if your bird is lucky enough like ours, spending weekends in the pseudo-wilderness (we have a toilet, hot and cold running water, Internet, and a TV in our trailer) you can go ahead and put those citronella Tiki torches out or slather your skin with the goo – even if your bird never makes it farther than your backyard in the summertime. For safety sake just make sure your bird isn’t downwind of the smoke from the torches.
It’s clearly not practical to drag tiki torches wherever you go and not everybody is fond of the smell of citronella (like me). Most of us use Off or Deep Woods Off as a staple for out-of-door activities in the summer. Off as well as most commercial insect and bug repellents contain something called DEET (the cute name) affectionately known as N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide aka diethyltoluamide if you’re into science.
Developed by the U.S. Army (so you know it’s safe) during World War II after experiencing jungle warfare it was introduced into the military in 1946 and offered for civilian use in 1957 Like most insect repellents research shows that mosquitoes simply don’t like how DEET smells.
Perhaps because humankind uses so much of the stuff a recent study suggests that mosquitoes can at least temporarily overcome or adapt to the repellent effect of DEET after initial exposure – who knew the little bloodsuckers were so smart?
Is the stuff bad for you? In the DEET Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported 14 to 46 cases of potential DEET-associated seizures, including 4 deaths. The EPA states: “… it does appear that some cases are likely related to DEET toxicity,” but observed that with 30% of the US population using DEET, the likely seizure rate is only about one per 100 million users. Citing human health reasons, Health Canada barred the sale of insect repellents for human use that contained more than 30% DEET in a 2002 re-evaluation.
The Pesticide Information Project of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University states that “Everglades National Park employees having extensive DEET exposure were more likely to have insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function than were lesser exposed co-workers”
So with all that said I thought it would do a little research seeking alternatives to the seizure, insomnia, and death-causing stuff. Here are some recipes that are human (and bird) friendly.
Chamomile Mosquito Repellent Boil 2 oz is another natural homemade human mosquito repellent. (about 60 ml) of green leaves from the chamomile plant in a gallon of water. Strain with cheesecloth or fine strainer & place in refrigerator. Splash or spray on the body once chilled. Lemon Eucalyptus Mosquito Repellent Take lemon eucalyptus oil, sunflower oil or Witch Hazel then mix 1 part lemon eucalyptus oil for every 10 parts of sunflower oil/witch hazel. Rub or spray-on skin. Lavender Vanilla Mosquito Repellent Combine 15 drops of lavender essential oil 3-4 Tbsp (about 50 ml) of vanilla extract 1/4 cup (about 60 ml) lemon juice. You’ll also need distilled water.
Pour the first 3 ingredients into a spray bottle. Finish filling the bottle with the aforementioned distilled water. Shake to combine all the ingredients Homemade Mosquito Repellent 17 oz (1/2 L) alcohol, 3.5 oz whole cloves (100 gm) 3.4 oz baby oil or similar (almond, sesame, chamomile, lavender, fennel, etc) Leave the cloves to marinate in alcohol four days. Stir it every morning and evening and after 4 days add the oil. It’s now ready to use. Mosquito and Tick Repellent 6 oz (.18 L) witch hazel 2 oz (60 ml) castor oil 5 drops cinnamon oil 15 drops eucalyptus oil 15 drops citronella oil.
Combine all the ingredients in the spray bottle and be sure to shake well before each application Organic Insect Repellent 5 ml Neem Oil (Neem oil is a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the neem, an evergreen tree which is endemic to the Indian subcontinent). 2 ml liquid soap (organic) 1L Distilled Water
Pour the water into spray a bottle, add the Neem Oil and liquid soap. Shake thoroughly and apply directly to exposed skin
Alternative bug-repelling plants we have heard of but not fact checked are: basil – lavender – marigolds – rosemary – lemongrass – anise and calendula
caveat: we did do some fact-checking and are convinced that neither Listerine nor Joy dishwashing liquid in a bowl of water are effective mosquito repellents
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing