If you live or vacation in Florida you’ve likely come across our enormous bugs. There’s nothing quite like the first time you see a palmetto bug take flight. Most people duck and scream. We also have termites that can level houses. And mosquitoes the size of small birds. Yes, insects are no joke in the Sunshine State. That’s why lots of homeowners turn to pesticides. They simply don’t want these pests in their yard, on their property, or in their homes.
And who can blame them?
No one wants to have breakfast with a hundred of their closest insect friends. But it’s a very delicate balance behind eliminating certain insects from your home and not poisoning the environment and other animals. Before you use pesticides in your home and yard it’s important to know how it’s affecting the ecosystem.
Are Pesticides Necessary?
Insects are a vital part of the ecosystem as they are consumed by many animals including birds, rodents, bats, and small reptiles like geckos. When you eliminate insects in your lawn you may be throwing off the balance of the local ecosystem. Not every insect is bad for your lawn and plants. According to the University of Florida, “Only a few (insects) cause significant damage and need immediate control. Pesticides should be applied only when damage is apparent.”
The other trouble with pesticides is that lawns can become a toxic cycle. Pesticides can often create grass that while it appears lush and green, it’s actually very tough. This “tough turf” attracts pests like chinch bugs, which then causes the homeowners to spray with more pesticides. Sometimes they spray with so many pesticides that it burns out the grass. When this happens, new sod is purchased and laid, more pesticide is applied, tougher grass is created, the pests move in because they like that tough grass, and this becomes an unbreakable cycle of use and reuse that perpetuates itself.
Pesticides and the Environment: dangers for animals
The sad thing about pesticides is that while they eradicate the bugs they’re intended for, they’re also poisoning other things. There’s no way to tell the pesticide to kill the ants but not the bees, for instance. Here is some information about the damage the pesticides are doing to our environment and the creatures in it:
- It’s estimated that US lawns are sprayed with between 70 and 80 million pounds of pesticides each year. Most of these pesticides are fat-soluble, which means they are quickly absorbed. Our pets that walk on our lawns are in danger because the poison gets into their bodies through their paws as well as ingestion when they eat the grass that has been treated. Pesticides are linked to cancer and nervous system disruptions.
- Some of the most commonly treated plants are fruit trees. After all, no one wants spiders in their oranges. These pesticides are very toxic for bats who eat the spiders. Plus, bats are not quick to reproduce. Most bats only have one baby a year. So even temporary spraying of pesticides can have a devastating effect on bat numbers.
- Birds are also affected by pesticides that are sprayed on crops. Studies have found avian ingestion of pesticides has caused malformations, soft eggs that crack before the bird is born, and sometimes death. In some cases, the ingestion of pesticides has affected migration and confusion in birds.
- Many pesticides are not water-soluble. That means they don’t dissolve when it rains. Instead, they run off the plants and the toxins get into our water supply. This affects fish, frogs, and anything that eats animals that live in the water or drinks the water. In fact, the most common pesticide in the US, Atrazine, has been found to affect frog sex organs. In some cases, it’s resulted in creating two sets of sex organs in the frog or even producing both male and female sex organs in the same animal.
- When bees come in contact with pesticides, they become disoriented and can’t find their way back to the hive. Even if they do miraculously find their way back to the hive, their ability to communicate with other bees is often impacted. The plight of honey bees is reaching crisis proportions because of the role they play in the ecosystem fertilizing plants and fruits. Their population directly affects our ability to grow food.
So what can be done? No one wants to live with bugs and nobody in Florida wants to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. But poisoning ourselves and critical parts of the ecosystem isn’t a good idea either. Here are a few things you can do to help:
- Look into non-toxic solutions for yard maintenance.
- Buy or raise organic produce.
- If must use pesticides, only do so when absolutely necessary. Follow the directions even if those seem excessive. If you use a lawn company to treat your yard, make sure you clearly mark your property and keep your pets off the yard for the designated amount of time the company suggests.
- Do not spray pesticides on a windy day. Drift over can cause major problems.
- Don’t be a good host. Insects have preferred environments. Don’t make your yard comfortable for them. For instance, eliminate all standing water on your property to cut down on the number of mosquitoes since they lay their eggs in standing water.
- Use natural plants as a means to reduce pests. For example, mosquitoes do not like the smell of marigolds. Planting those flowers around your deck may keep some mosquitoes away.
If you’d like to know more about how you can help the animals and avoid toxic pesticides, the University of Florida IFAS extension Is a valuable resource.