New, high-tech traps lure biting bugs to their doom.
To intercept mosquitos before they spot human prey, the new CO2 traps should be placed at least 30 feet away from places where people gather.
In times past, homeowners dispatched mosquitoes with a well-aimed swat of the hand, or tried to banish them with a spritz of insect repellent and maybe a citronella candle.
Not anymore. As the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus and even malaria has spread to the United States, bug killing has become serious business. These days, there's a new weapon in the arsenal: high-tech traps that lure mosquitoes to their death by mimicking the breath, scent, and body heat of humans.
The chief chemical attractant is carbon dioxide, which we give off by breathing and which traps generate with a CO2 canister or by burning propane. The burning propane also produces heat and water vapor, similar to human sweat. In addition, the traps emit octenol, an aroma that mosquitoes can't resist. When they draw near to investigate the plume of octenol-laced CO2, they're either sucked into a net, become stuck to an adhesive pad, or are zapped by an electric charge. According to manufacturers, some of these devices are so effective that they can clear an area of up to an acre.
Safer Than Pesticides, Better Than Zappers
Compared with fogging a landscape with insecticides, these new traps are benign and nontoxic, harming only mosquitoes and other flying biters, such as blackflies and biting midges. And they're a quantum leap better than electric bug zappers that use light as an attractant, which are ineffective against mosquitoes. Tests in mosquito-infested areas show that a single CO2 trap can nab as many as 1,500 bloodsuckers in one evening. "Those things do attract and kill a lot of mosquitoes — no question about it," says Jerome Goddard, Ph.D., a medical entomologist at the Mississippi Department of Health.
Whether that will keep you from getting bitten depends on how many mosquitoes are hatching in your vicinity. "What nobody knows is whether these traps cause the population to drop," says Goddard. "It could be like dipping a bucket of water out of the ocean."
Because mosquito populations vary dramatically from day to day and even house to house, scientists say, it's tough to design a reliable test that shows which of these devices works best.
Mosquito Power Trap
How it works: Burns propane, producing CO2, heat, and moisture. Also emits octenol. A fan draws mosquitoes into removable catch tray. A photocell timer can be set to turn the unit on and off automatically to coincide with peak feeding times, dusk and dawn.
Coverage: 1 acre
Height: 35 inches
Weight: 28 lbs. (68 lbs.
with propane tank)
Price: About $550
Costs and Limitations
Newfangled bug traps are not without downsides. Chief among them is cost — $170 to $1,300, depending on CO2-generating capacity. That doesn't include the requisite 20-pound propane tank (the same kind used with gas grills) or CO2 canister. Most units need electricity and so must remain tethered to an outlet.
Experts say not to rely on any trap as your only protection. A slight breeze can disperse the CO2 plume or send it in the wrong direction. And if a mosquito spots you first, it will most likely head for you instead of the trap. (The bugs can see about 30 feet, so traps should be placed at least that far away from places where people gather.) To thwart pests that get past the trap, apply an insect lotion and use an area repellent such as a burning coil or a lantern. Some traps even come with supplementary devices that emit repellents or block mosquitoes' homing ability. Paired with good prevention, such as eliminating standing water around the house where mosquitoes like to breed, that should go a long way toward making your summer nights swat-free.
How it works: Continuously burns propane, producing CO2, heat, and moisture. Also emits octenol. Sucks mosquitoes through the white funnel into a net, where they dehydrate and die.
Coverage: ¾ acre
Weight: 25 lbs. (65 lbs.
with propane tank)
Price: About $500 (models also available for about $300 and $1,300)
Know Your Enemy
Population: 2,700 species worldwide, 150 in North America alone, and an estimated 100 trillion individuals worldwide at any one time
Habitat: Everywhere but Antarctica
Life span: Two weeks
Reproduction rate: A single female can lay eggs every three days, 100-400 at a time.
Flying range: Usually within a mile of where they were hatched
Feeding habits: Most active from dusk to dawn. Only the females bite, by inserting a needlelike mouth into skin. They need the protein in blood to produce eggs.
Senses: They can smell CO2 and octenol at 100 feet; see prey at 30 feet. Chemoreceptors in their antennae help guide them to a good feeding source.
How it works: Lures insects with CO2 from a canister, octenol, and a heat source set to approximate body temperature. Bugs that fly into the unit are zapped with a jolt of electricity. Starting at dusk, prime mosquito feeding time, an electronic eye automatically turns the unit on for five hours. Comes with two portable, battery-powered units that disperse a chemical that jams mosquitoes' sense of smell and keeps them away from where you're sitting.
Coverage: 1 acre
Height: 48 inches
Weight: 31 lbs. (78 lbs. with
Price: About $900
At the height of mosquito season, a trap needs regular attention to ensure that its bug-catching ability doesn't flag.
AS NEEDED: Empty the net, cup, or tray,
or replace adhesive pad (four for $20 at home centers).
EVERY THREE WEEKS (approx. 500 hours): Replace octenol cartridge or
scent strip (three for $20).
MONTHLY (approx. 700 hours): Refill the CO2 supply. Your first propane tank will cost about $45; swap the empty for a full one for around $20. Your first CO2 canister, available from a gas supplier, will run about $120; refills cost about $20 apiece.
Mosquito Deleto, backyard model
How it works: Continuously burns propane, producing CO2, heat, and moisture. Also emits octenol. Traps its victims on a sticky sheet. Smaller, portable model also available. Neither one needs electricity, and both come with a separate tabletop unit that disperses repellent to keep away stray skeeters.
Coverage: ½ acre
Height: 40 inches
Weight: 20 lbs. (60 lbs.
with propane tank)
Price: About $200 ($170 for
Where To Find It
American Mosquito Control Association
Praxair Technology, Inc.
Mosquito Power Trap:
Flowtron Outdoor Products
American Biophysics Corp.
East Greenwhich, RI
The Coleman Company, Inc.
Miami Lakes, FL
MegaCatch Mosquito Trap:
Our Thanks to:
Mississippi State Department of Health