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Credit: Jenni Spinner

Fred Maier—director of the Spring Brook Nature Center in Itasca, Ill.—is adding a new weapon to the village's mosquito-fighting arsenal: garlic.

Mosquitoes are tenacious creatures, but not nearly as tenacious as the people who hunt them down. One Chicago suburb is fortifying its relentless mosquito-abatement efforts with a weapon you'd be more likely to find in an Italian kitchen than inside an insecticide sprayer.

Fred Maier is director of the Spring Brook Nature Center in Itasca, Ill. Under his charge are miles of trails, acres of native plants, and a number of birds of prey being rehabilitated after injury. Mosquitoes—and the West Nile virus they carry—pose a threat not only to the citizens of Itasca, but also the birds in the sanctuary.

“We're always very concerned when we're trying to heal the birds, and prevent exposure to unnecessary risk,” said Maier. “Birds of prey are one of the first groups severely affected by West Nile—since that disease moved into the area, we've seen an increase of it in 50% of the birds we received.”

Also of concern to Maier and other village officials were the environmental threats associated with pesticides, and the cost of application. Clearly, a creative solution was called for. The answer? Garlic.

This year, the village is testing use of Garlic Barrier, a solution of 99% garlic oil, on about 4 acres of woodland in the nature center's property. The product—available from Glendale, Calif.-based Garlic Research Labs—has been tested against mosquitoes with some success by public works agencies in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states, and Itasca officials are hoping the aromatic herb proves lucky for them.

According to Maier, using creative solutions to fight ornery problems is nothing new to the village. “It's common for us to try new things,” he said. “Our mayor (Claudia Gruber) has a hundred new ideas a year, always interesting and worth pursuing.”

The village had used the product before to keep deer away from young plants at the nature center. “When we were doing a restoration project on the grounds, deer viewed the new plantings as a salad bar,” he said. Garlic proved a favorable alternative to chicken-wire cages, which were expensive, not very attractive, prone to damage, and hard to maintain.

Several months ago, agencies across DuPage County said they needed to move toward a better, more coordinated mosquito abatement effort—the idea being to craft a more effective response, and to save money by pooling resources. The mayor found that other municipalities had been using the garlic barrier as a mosquito repellent, so she brought the idea of using it to fight the biters to the attention of city leaders.

Itasca is the first agency in the Chicago area to test the pump sprayer-applied concoction against mosquitoes. The village's test will start this upcoming mosquito season; Maier expects they will test it for one to two years before broadening the scope of use to larger areas, or using it for Itasca's Fourth of July celebration or summer movies in the park.

The garlic oil isn't without potential drawbacks—its effectiveness might not meet expectations, the substance might bother chemically sensitive residents, and, if use is expanded in the future, the village or its abatement contractor might have to spring for new equipment. And while Maier said the odor reportedly fades a few hours after application, he is concerned that the initial appetizing smell of garlic might have a negative affect on his staff.

“I foresee some serious weight gain around here,” he said.