2007-04-20 / Columnists

The Local Rockaway Air Force…Mosquitoes!

Commentary From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

The local Rockaway Air Force of mosquitoes has been hovering over the Rockaways since the time of the Native Americans. The natives' best defense was to rub their bodies with foul smelling ingredients that even a skunk would turn up his nose at! Of course this native "Citronella" would be impractical to use in modern times, since you would probably be run out of town!

The war against the dreaded mosquito was fought locally by cutting drainage ditches in the bay marshes, covering standing pools of water with light petroleum products, draining or eliminating stagnant pools of water in weed-covered lots, and the many insecticides available in stores. Some insecticide-scented candles were also employed. But somehow that one mosquito, or a few, said "Gotcha!!"

Back in 1902 a Wave article and editorial on the pesky mosquito stated that a light coat of crude oil (one ounce to fifteen square feet) on ponds or standing water, outside of draining same, would suffice. It was also urged to remove all items that would hold water to breed the bugs.

But we as a community cannot rid ourselves of the local wetlands which breed mosquitoes. Some say that Jamaica Bay marshes and wetlands do not act as breeding grounds. To them I simply ask that they go out to the old marshes…and shake a bush or two! You will never be so happy to jump into the water to save your skin!!!

After World War II it seemed that man would win the war against the Rockaways' natural Air Force…by attacking with the new insecticide DDT! Bay areas and empty lots were sprayed, and DDT worked well, until the effect on nature was exposed in a book titled "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson. DDT was then banned, with other products such as oil of citronella becoming popular once again. That is if you could stand the smell. Today a few sprays like "Off" work well. In the early to mid 1900s a product called "Flit" was a popular hand pump sprayer. (Quick Henry! The Flit! Was vogue!)

As the Rockaway Air Force propagated once again, the city began using mosquito magnets which used CO2 to attract female mosquitoes and kill them by dehydration in a trap of sorts, pesticide briquettes deposited in empty lots and a new spray chemical called Malathion.

Despite all of these items and attempts, like the pigeon, the mosquito goes on and on, bugging residents of the eastern end of the peninsula mostly, as the breeding grounds in this area are plentiful.

With the present building boom, many empty lots and weeded areas are disappearing. This will reduce breeding area, but not eliminate the problem altogether. Are there any home remedies out there in Waveland that work? Drop us a line and let us know before the warm weather comes in.

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