Behold, the power of invisibility

There are two ways to guarantee that mosquitoes won’t bite you. 

  1. Get a shield 
  2. Go incognito 

Let’s start with number 2 first. What if I told you that there is a magical coating that cloaks you from marauding hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes, no matter where you go? An invisibility cape that takes about 20 seconds to put on. Would you wear it?  Like standing upwind of a deer hides your location, wearing repellent has a similar effect when mosquitoes try to track down their next target, as explained here in How mosquitoes find you.  

The biggest problem with the efficacy of repellent is that people don’t wear it. If you are complaining about mosquitoes and not wearing repellent, you may as well criticize the government but not exercise your right to vote.

Here are the top 3 reasons people give for not wearing mosquito repellent:

It stinks

Certainly some repellents are more heavily scented than others (we’re looking at you DEET), but two have almost no smell at all. Look at the front of the bottle and go for one that contains picaridin or IR3535 (also sometimes listed by its chemical name, ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninate). If odor is your issue, these are the two you want.

It doesn’t work

There are people at universities that make a living studying the effectiveness of mosquito repellents. One thing they can agree on is that there are 4 effective active ingredients. 

Have you tried each of these? Not everyone will find the same one the most effective. Keep trying until one works for you; it might not be the same one that works for your friends.  Also, note the percentage of active ingredient. It tells you how much of every spray is actual cloaking juice. The more active ingredient, the longer it will repel before you need to reapply. If you’re out where ticks are also abundant, choose one that is effective for both and more highly concentrated. 

Active IngredientPicaridinIR3535Oil of Lemon EucalyptusDEET
% Ingredient15 to 20%15 to 20 %30 to 40%10 to 30%
Fights AgainstMosquitoesMosquitoes and TicksMosquitoesMosquitoes and Ticks
Age Restrictions> 2 months> 2 months> 3 years> 2 months
Derived FromSynthetic version of piperine, found in group of plants that produce black peppercornsStructurally similar to the natural substance β-alanine – a component of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)Derived from lemon eucalyptus tree branches and leaves or a synthetic version of the same (PMD)Synthetic repellent invented by the US Army for use by military personnel in insect-infested areas
Also Listed AsIcaridin, KBR 3023ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninatePara-methane-diol or PMDN, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide
Additional InformationNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact Sheet

I don’t want to bathe in chemicals

Does anyone want to expose themselves to harmful substances? Of course not. Rest assured that repellents are approved through the EPA and safe for use – read the label. If you use fabric softener, you are exposing yourself to more unknown chemicals formulations than you would be with repellent. Some people are sensitive to DEET and can develop a rash. If the concern is to find a more “natural” mosquito repellent, then check out oil of lemon eucalyptus. It’s derived from an actual lemon eucalyptus tree, but standardized so that the same amount of active ingredient is in each batch. See this previous post for guidelines on using repellents safely.  

Back to Number 1

When weighing all the options to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites, and thus the risk of mosquito-borne disease, nothing beats an impenetrable shield. Anything that physically separates those piercing, sucking mouthparts from your skin provides the ultimate protection. This usually begins in the form of clothing with a tight weave that hangs loosely, away from the body. 

Bug nets around strollers are the best protection for babies before they’re old enough (see chart above) to wear repellent. Bug jackets are available for adults too – and depending on your situation you might consider it! When treating post-Harvey floodwaters for mosquito larvae, Township staff used these to protect against the swarms of floodwater mosquitoes.  

Fighting off mosquitoes starts by protecting yourself but remember that you can also fight back by treating and removing common breeding places around the home. By protecting yourself with these two simple steps above, you can once again comfortably enjoy your time outside. Just remember that you are only invisible to the mosquitoes, the rest of the world can still see you! 

Questions, comments or to report a mosquito concern, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

Recycling Dilemma #1010 – Textiles

Landfills received 11.3 million tons of textiles in 2018 and that number is only growing. Turn your rags into resources by recycling clothing unsuited for donation to a textile recycler. 

Fashion trends come and go and when they do, your pile of last season’s cast-offs mount. Conscientious citizens donate these to their favorite charity for a shot at a new life with a new owner. But what to do if your used stuff isn’t up to snuff?

Always give pre-loved, gently worn clothing, furniture and home goods a new home before considering recycling or disposal. Check out the Township’s Donation Guide for a list of local donation centers with easy pickup and drop off options. If you frequent one of these organizations, ask them if they recycle their leftover textiles. Some locations accept scrap fabric and overly worn items separate from your good items and are able to make a profit selling their scrap to a recycler.

Bypass the landfill and turn your old rags into re-usable textile fibers that just might turn into next season’s must-haves.

It’s simple to schedule a pickup of worn textiles and home goods from the comfort of your home. Fill a kitchen bag with worn clothes, towels, and bedding – no matter the condition – and schedule pickup at your front door. Voila – instant recycling!

When you recycle textiles, you help the environment by…

…minimizing landfill footprint

Landfills serve their purpose but they’re lousy for the environment and a burden to taxpayers. Making room for our trash is expensive—never mind the loss of land set aside for this purpose.

Did you know? Every 2000 lbs. of clothing that’s kept out of the landfill has the same environmental impact as removing 2 cars from the road.

reducing greenhouse gasses

A landfill is a hotbed of carbon dioxide and methane. Decomposing textiles ramp up those methane levels —the most significant contributor to climate change.

…conserving water and reducing chemical waste

Nearly every step of textile production depends on water—water that’s loaded with dyes and chemicals. The industrial waste byproduct is a major watershed pollutant in countries that lack environmental regulation.

Did you know? It takes 2500 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans and 600 gallons to make that t-shirt you’re wearing.

It’s easy to be green and recycle textiles at your door!

If your items aren’t in good enough condition to donate, schedule a recycling pickup with a local textile recycling company such as Green City Recycler. Just follow the steps below.


Friend or Foe? Managing Garden Insects

Nature provides a free workforce that keeps pests under control. Beneficial insects include predators and parasitoids that prey on insect pests such as aphids, scale, mealybugs and caterpillars. Many chemical insecticides used to control pests will kill these garden friends as well. Learning to recognize beneficial insects in all their life stages helps you know when sprays should be avoided, and pest control left to these voracious predators.

Beneficial Insects – Here’s your workforce! 

Turn over a new leaf and identify some of the natural enemies worth conserving in your yard with this video from the University of Georgia. Learn the signs and symptoms of insect damage and get up close with the praying mantids, tiger beetles, syrphid flies, and parasitoid wasps hunting them. We can all pick out lady beetles, but do you know what their larvae look like? These black and orange alligator-like juveniles are aphid-eating machines, each one consuming upwards of 300 as it develops. 

In a nutshell 

  • Insects are the most diverse creatures in the world – you may have over 1,000 different ones in your yard this very moment! 
  • Even if it were possible, it certainly wouldn’t be desirable to eliminate all insects – they’re a critical link in the food chain, essential for most birds, amphibians, and garden “friends.” 
  • Predatory insects tend to be larger and quicker than plant-eating pests, with strong piercing or biting mouthparts.  
  • Predators are generally found singly or in small numbers (<10) on a plant, whereas pests group in much larger numbers. 
  • Many insects are useful partners, some are minor players, and fewer than 3% pose a potential problem; knowing which are which and how they live is the key to effectively managing them. 
  • Conserving insect predators by reducing or eliminating pesticides lets nature’s pest control do the work for you. 

Discover more beneficial insects, spiders, and other mini-creatures in your garden with this picture-heavy resource. We cover some plants that will draw them into the yard – check out how to mix up your blooms in Pest Prevention by Design.

There’s an app for that! 

Join us Friday, June 4, 2021, as Texas Nature Tracker Biologist Craig Hensley walks us through how easy it is to click a pic and get a suggestion with the iNaturalist app. Register here to receive the link.  

 

Kids Corner 

Share these 10 Interesting Insects with your budding entomologists. Watch a monarch emerge from a chrysalis, follow worker bees in their quest for pollen, and learn how a cricket chirps and grasshoppers sing. 

These Good Bug/Bad Bug Activity pages from AgriLife Extension help children learn about the benefits of insects and gain an appreciation for what insects do for the world in which we live. View the picture gallery here


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


Want the latest articles delivered right to your inbox?

Subscribe to our blog!

Backyard Composting Week

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food waste accounts for nearly 24% of all landfill material, consuming space and producing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s up to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Much of this waste could be easily composted instead. From leftovers to kitchen scraps, composting is a great way to manage food waste, quickly turning it from problem to resource, right in your own backyard.   

This week The Woodlands Township’s Environmental Services Department brings you resources for starting or enhancing your backyard composting. Wherever you are on your home composting journey, these handy resources will help. 

Beginner Composter 

Composting 101

Learn to compost in only 15 minutes. This video walks you through the process, from beginning to end.  Easy-to-follow instructions and great visuals will have you composting in no time.   

Backyard Composting Guide

Keep this comprehensive, step-by-step brochure handy as you design, build and manage your compost pile. You’ll find yourself enjoying nutrient rich compost in as little as three months.

Benefits of Using Compost and Mulch

On the fence about starting your own composting bin? This compelling resource, which covers the multitude of ecological, economic and sustainability benefits of composting, will leave you convinced and inspired.

Experienced Composter 

Soil Food Web Compost and Compost Tea 

Have you been composting for a while? Looking to take it to the next level? Dr. Elaine Ingham’s video explores microbes, compost tea, humic acid, and new temperature and humidity reading techniques.  

Composting with Worms:  Seven Easy Steps

Vermicomposting is a great option for composting at home, especially if you’re lacking yard space. Use worms to breakdown your food waste and yard trimmings – explained in seven easy steps. 

Compost Bins for Sale

The Woodlands Township offers high quality compost bins that set up in seconds for only $65; retail price is $150-$200. Call The Woodlands Township at 281-210-2058 to purchase and arrange for pickup. 

Looking for more composting resources?  Check out the November resources we pulled together on Backyard Composting here.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Don’t Fear the Fungus

Some are scary or downright disgusting when you first encounter them. Is that dog vomit? No, it might be an aptly named slime mold, Fuligo septica. Technically not a fungus, this protist appears suddenly, much like a lawn mushroom, and disappears almost as fast. If you knew the gargantuan effort it takes to assemble this many single-celled organism you might just leave them be to finish out their lifecycle.   

While fungi come in a wondrous assortment of colors and forms, the vast majority are not only beneficial but necessary. They’re also beautiful! Consider the delicate banded Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), the lacey petticoat of bridal veil stinkhorn, or the artists’ favorite, Amanita muscaria

Situation Normal 

Mushrooms in your lawn is not a sign of something wrong! They’re simply the visible part of a much larger network of underground mycelium, breaking down dead and decaying organic matter. Look around – is there a stump nearby? 99% of fungus won’t harm a living tree; they’re there to help with decomposing dead or dying wood, along with leaves, wood chips, branches, and fallen fruit. Mushrooms are a good sign! They’re proof the soil is alive, diverse, and rich in nutrients – the foundation of a healthy lawn and landscape. 

What to Do 

Resist the urge to treat it and grab your phone instead. Easy-to-use apps such as iNaturalist or Google Lens will help you identify which mushroom is flourishing in your flower bed. iNaturalist will even help you filter by location to see what others are seeing nearby. 

Fungicides are not recommended. The mushrooms typically aren’t causing damage and the chemicals are largely ineffective since the bulk of the mushroom exists belowground – think multiple square feet. It’s that extensive network of hyphae throughout the soil that comprises the true fungus from which the fruiting bodies – mushroom caps – arise. They’re a natural part of spring and fall when moisture abounds and temperatures cool. As weather conditions become unfavorable mushrooms retreat on their own, often as quickly as they appeared. You can discourage mushrooms by watering less frequently and pruning to reduce shade. 

Treatment 

If you really want them gone – perhaps you have a toddler or dog that puts everything in their mouth, here’s how: 

  • Cut or pull or mow the fruiting bodies to limit the number of spores and therefore future mushrooms. The rest of the fungal mycelia will persist underground until conditions return for another round of fruiting – likely not for a while.  
  • When trees are removed, the roots persist and begin to decompose with the help of insects, bacteria and fungi. The only way to permanently stop the continual upcropping of mushrooms is to dig out the soil containing the decaying matter, 12 to 18 inches deep and 2 feet outside the mushroom cluster. If that seems like a lot of work, leave the mushroom power houses there. When they’ve done their job of devouring all that underground material, it – and the mushrooms above – will disappear for good. 
  • Take care to wash hands thoroughly after handling mushrooms, as even some edible types can cause irritation. 

Mushrooms are a good sign. Delight in their ephemeral presence next time they make an appearance in your yard. Most are no “truffle” at all. 

Discover More! 

iNaturalist Mushrooms of Texas 

North American Mycological Association has an extensive list of recommended books. While you are there check out their stunning photography contests. 

All about dog vomit slime mold 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov