“Bugs are not going to inherit the earth; they own it now, so we might as well make peace with the landlord.” --Thomas Eisner (1929-2011), world authority on animal behavior, ecology and evolution and a professor at Cornell University.

fly trap

Fly masks, non-chemical sticky fly traps (seen above), and natural fly predators are good examples of an integrated pest management plan for dealing with insect control.

When you see a bug do you immediately kill it? Next time you might consider this:

  • Insects have been around for about 350 million years, compared to humans at merely 300 thousand years.
  • Over 1 million species of insects have been described, or identified, but it is estimated that 20-50 million are in existence. Compare that to a measly 4,000 species of mammals and you can see we are far outnumbered!
  • There are an estimated 200 million insects for every human on earth.
  • A very small percentage of insect species are "bad" (less than 3%), making the rest either harmless, beneficial or in some cases critical to the survival of other species of plants and animals.
  • Insects do many jobs, including pollination and decomposition of material. They are also food for many other species such as birds, frogs, bats and other insects. If we didn’t have insects our planet would be covered in dead things, garbage and disease and many of us would starve.

In recent decades, it has been common practice to control nuisance insects by indiscriminately spraying chemical insecticides over whole properties and even entire cities. Of course this practice kills more than the target insect and many beneficial insects also die in the process. Pesticides and herbicides can have harmful effects on us as well as on birds, animals and aquatic life. The 1962 book, "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carlson sparked a national debate about the effects of insect-controlling chemicals on the environment. 

Today, instead of using pest control strategies that harm non-target species and cause chemical resistance, we recommend an integrated pest management system, or IPM. This approach works best for people, the environment, livestock and wildlife. IPM means to simply use several common sense approaches when trying to eliminate harmful insects and pests. Here are a few easy and inexpensive IPM ideas to keep the “bad guys” from bugging you and your horse:

Identify the Problem
Make sure you first identify that you indeed have a problem. You may want to start by taking a sample of your bugs or diseased plants to a master gardener, entomologist or other expert before taking action. Your local extension office is always happy to help identify problems, answer questions and offer advice.

Remember that everything is cyclical, so becoming informed about the cycle of insect damage will help you make an informed decision on how, or even if, you need to take action to treat the problem. Often if we are patient natural predators will actually show up and help keep populations in check.

Build a Healthy Environment
There are things you can do to create a healthy environment so beneficial insects and wildlife are attracted to your property. The healthier your soils and plants become, the more beneficial insects and wildlife you will attract--and that means less work for you! Here are a few examples of what you can do:

  • Mow your lawn and pastures regularly to stop weeds before they have a chance to go to seed.
  • Attract bug-eating birds (such as swallows) and bats by providing appropriate nest boxes and water.
  • Build healthy soil by adding organic matter such as compost and make sure your plants get the right amount of water, sun and shade and that they are planted in the right kind of soil. Diseased or dying plants attract pests.

Consider Biological Control Methods

  • For flies, biological control methods such as fly predators can reduce populations by up to 70% if started before the fly cycle gets out of hand.
  • Use natural oils and repellants in selective areas, hang attractant traps, and use species specific traps for situations with insects like moths and cut worms.

Use Physical Barriers and Devices
Physical barriers such as screens, fly sheets and fly masks help prevent painful horse and deer fly bites.  Most horses appreciate the relief that these physical barriers provide. A fan inside your horse’s stall can also be helpful since many insects are weak fliers and avoid air movement. 

Control Habitat
There are things you can do to control habitat for pests so that they have fewer ways to breed and thrive:

  • Flies will lay their eggs in filth, so you can reduce their breeding grounds by picking up manure regularly, covering manure or compost piles and eliminating mud.
  • Mosquitoes need stagnant water to breed, so do everything you can to eliminate sources of standing water. Clean gutters regularly and remove empty flowerpots, tires, or other containers where water accumulates. If you have birdbaths or water bowls for outside pets, change the water at least once a week—mosquito larvae need about a week to before they hatch.
  • For standing water or ponds on your property, use mosquito dunks (Bt or Bacilllus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring fungi) to kill larvae. These dunks are harmless to wildlife.
  • There are many native mosquito and mosquito larvae predators including dragonflies, assassin bugs, bats, praying mantis, swallows and snakes to name a few… all good helpers to attract to your property.

Pesticides as a Last Resort
Many species of insects become resistant if the same pesticide is used all the time. New pesticides and chemicals are introduced at an alarming rate, with little or no long-term studies on safety and efficacy. Many pesticides are ending up in our waterways; most waterways in the Pacific Northwest have residues of common pesticides and herbicides like 2,4-D, Diazinon, and others due to overuse and misuse. 

Be informed about the chemicals you use. Read and follow the directions on the product label. Use a face mask and gloves and don’t spray when there is any wind. For toxicity and regulatory information check the Pesticide Action Network Pesticide Database
This quote summarizes the benefits of an IPM approach: "When we kill off the natural enemies of a pest, we inherit their work." --Carl Huffake (1914-1995), famous entomologist, professor and researcher at the University of California at Berkley.