A mosquito is seen through a microscope. (Felipe Dana/AP)
Columnist

Jupiter hovered in the lens of a telescope on our back deck, and more fireflies than I had ever seen lit up our yard with their flirtatious flashes.

My children, laughing, chased after their flickering forms.

My husband fiddled with the telescope, sharpening the image in it.

And me? What did I do on that magical night when far-off planets and close-enough-to-grab beetles beckoned?

I slapped at the mosquitoes feasting on my legs and arms and neck and (you got to be kidding me!) pinkie finger.

Then I ran inside and, from the safe side of a glass door, cursed those bloodsuckers and the Washington summers they love.

The D.C. region has consistently ranked as one of the worst places for mosquitoes in the nation. But if you’re like me and can get bit even while doused in DEET and cradling a citronella candle, then you probably already knew that. You probably get invitations for backyard barbecues, and before you even consider what side dish to bring, you wonder how much insect repellent you’ll need.

You probably also have already given some thought to an issue I’ve been wrestling with: To spray or not to spray the yard?

It seems like a simple question, and it may be in other places, where “nuke ’em now” attitudes toward pests reign. But if you’ve spent more than one summer in the Washington region, where some of the nation’s top environmentalists live and even middle schoolers create campaigns against plastic, then you know that mosquito eradication can divide us as much as any political or social cause.

We all hate mosquitoes, but we don’t all agree on what we should do about them.

Try typing “mosquitoes” into the search field of any neighborhood-based website. If your neighbors are like mine, you’ll see that when people ask advice about what pest control companies to call, the responses usually fall into two categories: the encouragers and the head-shakers. The encouragers offer the names of businesses that will come out and spray products that promise to kill and repel. The head-shakers suggest alternative, better-for-the-environment options, such as bat boxes (which are exactly what they sound like — boxes where bats can live) and plants that naturally deter mosquitoes.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking through these answers lately because, although my husband and I have lived in the region for more than 12 years, this is only our second summer in a house with a backyard. Last year, we did nothing about the mosquitoes, and I regretted it. This year, I decided to do some research.

I called a few professional companies to better understand my options. I also thought that if anyone would know how people really feel about spraying in this area, it would be the people holding the nozzles.

“It’s always a controversial discussion as far as the pros and cons,” Al Nelson, the manager for Capitol Mosquito Control, told me. Attitudes can differ from one neighborhood to the next, he said. “Some areas are a lot greener than others. There are whole communities that are against it.”

Nelson said his company usually encourages customers to start with a weaker, more eco-friendly solution and work toward more powerful ones if they’re needed. He said employees know what not to spray, such as blooming flowers where bees like to hang out and drains that will wash into water sources.

The worst thing a person can do for the environment, he said, is order powerful products online and try treating their own property. Too many people, he said, wrongly think more is better. (At 10 years old, I used half a can of Aqua Net to kill a cockroach, so I don’t doubt that.)

No secret spraying, of course, leaves only one option if you really want the mosquitoes gone: A van parked in front of your house that might draw some side-eye from your neighbors.

When Ron Gaskill first started working for Mosquito Joe of the National Capital Region, his daughter remarked they would never lose sight of his van in a parking lot. The company’s vehicles are lemon yellow and lime green.

I asked Gaskill whether customers ever ask him to park a block away or to come at night when their neighbors are less likely to see him.

He laughed, then explained that, occasionally, “you have some spots where some neighbors aren’t that receptive.”

“You can get people who say very unpleasant things right away,” he said. “We just politely turn away and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Sometimes, he said, couples don’t even agree on what mosquito-fighting actions to take. There have been times when customers have asked him not to leave a sign in the yard indicating the area was treated. He said in Virginia and Maryland, there is some leeway, but D.C. law requires a sign remain there for 48 hours.

Ultimately, yard spraying is “a choice,” Gaskill said. “It’s a choice that some people have to make, and they just really prefer not to.”

The truth is that my thoughts about spraying waver from one day to the next.

There are times, usually when I’m covered in itchy welts, that I fantasize about standing in a tornado of chemicals that hold the power to destroy every single mosquito, along with the deadly diseases they carry. Buh-bye, Zika. Buh-bye, West Nile.

But most days, when I’m not reaching for Neosporin, I worry about the fact that 1 million plant and animal species face extinction. In a Washington Post story about the decline, this line hit me: “Homeowners contribute to the problem by purchasing ‘bug zappers’ that target mosquitoes but also eliminate key pollinators such as butterflies and moths, as well as common flies that some animals rely on for food.”

In my house, we don’t kill spiders, and I told you in an earlier column about how we once gave two mice that invaded our home a choice between a live trap and a death trap. They smartly chose to live.

So, for the sake of all those fireflies that filled the sky that night and whatever other creatures live in our yard, we have decided for now to do this:

We have a bat house installed. We have sprayed our yard with a natural garlic solution that promises to repel mosquitoes (and maybe even some people). And I will spend the next few months smelling of citronella and wearing long sleeves outside.

I hope that works.

But just in case, I’m also keeping the numbers for Mosquito Joe and Capitol Mosquito Control.