Mosquito Control Devices

By Chris Williams on May 1, 2016.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Tim Chase of Colonial Pest Control. Tim is an entomologist and a pest control technician and today our topic is mosquito control devices. Welcome, Tim.

Tim Chase: Good morning, John.

Types of Mosquito Control Devices

John: So, Tim, what are a few of the different types of mosquito control devices that are out on the market that you can buy?

Tim: Well, there’s several out there, John. One of the oldest and most interesting ones I would call is the “bug zapper.” We all remember that purple light in the backyard, and you could hear it exploding all night. It’s pretty much a neat device. In its day, it was pretty unique. The way the bug zapper works is it uses several ultraviolet lights set at a specific frequency to attract insects. If placed properly, that light spreads almost 360 degrees around the trap and will attract a wide variety of insects to the trap. As the insects fly towards the light, they interact with a series of charge bars. Those bars form a current through the insect, thus exploding the water and other parts of its body into a billion tiny pieces. It’s certainly an effective tool if you want to kill everything in the forest. One of the drawbacks of the bug zapper is that it’s a pretty much indiscriminate killer, so beetles, moths, and beneficial organisms.

John: Dragonflies, and things like that.

Tim: Everybody that’s attracted to light is going to fly into that and explode.

John: Right.

Tim: As it turns out, a very small proportion of those insects that are exploding are actually mosquitoes. If you were to ask me if the bug zapper is a great management tool for mosquitoes, I would probably say no. It does have a place in the commensal fly industry, so if you’re at a loading dock and you want to kill a bunch of flies before they fly into your facility, it might be a great tool to use. But for mosquitoes, I wouldn’t put my money on the bug zapper.

John: Okay. What’s next?

Tim: You’ll see these ads on TV for ultrasonic devices. You’ll plug these in and it says right on the box that this device controls mice, roaches, mosquitoes, fleas, flies, spiders, ticks, and just about everything in the world.

John: And how is it supposed to work?

Tim: The box itself says that this device creates a series of ultrasonic pulses that interfere with various sensory organs on the insect or animal to be controlled. We’ve found those to be completely ineffective. Mosquitoes really don’t do a lot with ultrasonic, they’re more queued into CO2 heat and movement. So they’re not listening for you per se, so ultrasonic is definitely not the way to go for any pest. Although people do claim it works, I think it might be more of a placebo than anything. [People think,] “Here’s something we can do that’s inexpensive and it just plugs in, so it’s a simple solution.” But I don’t believe it does anything.

John: Right. So that would be an outdoor mosquito control device that you are putting out on your patio or something and you think, “Oh yeah, it must be working, because it’s supposed to work.”

Tim: “Because we haven’t had a mosquito.”

John: Right, but you can’t tell.

The Mosquito Magnet

Tim: It just might be the conditions. There’s another one [called] the Mosquito Magnet, or there’s different brand names for this.

John: Is it also called the Mosquito Trap?

Tim: Yes. Basically, you’ve got a cylinder of natural gas and it actually produces CO2 and heat, so those are the two things that draw mosquitoes in. And then as the mosquitoes approach this stream of warm CO2, they’re actually enticed up a cone and they fly into a sort of a malaise trap, where they fly up into a little screened area and they just can’t escape and they dry out.

It’s very effective at potentially monitoring mosquito populations, and killing some mosquitoes. For this to be extremely effective and manage mosquitoes in a large area, you would probably need several of these units set up in the right locations. In some ways, they do actually attract mosquitoes, so you wouldn’t want to have this right next to your patio so the mosquitoes that were flying to it were coming past you, because it would certainly find you a little bit more attractive.

Where to Put Mosquito Control Devices

John: I was going to ask about that, like with the bug zapper and this type of mosquito trap that are supposed to attract mosquitoes. Are you just bringing mosquitoes into your backyard or your patio?

Tim: The way you would want to set one of these things up would probably be away from the structure. So if anything, you’re attracting them away from the structure to the trap.

John: Okay. So over on the other side of the yard, or in the front yard and you’re in the back or something like that.

Tim: So you want to put this between the wooded, shrubby area where the mosquitoes are resting and maybe the nice lighted area, where they might be coming for you at dawn and dusk. So, you’re trying to put the trap in an area between the mosquito population and you.

There are several other mosquito – I wouldn’t call them traps, but devices. Citronella plants. You see people saying, “Oh, I got the citronella plants.”

John: The citronella candles we light all the time to try to keep them away.

Tim: There’s some benefit to that.

John: Yeah, how much it does maybe is debatable.

Tim: [They have] mosquito punks and you light that. Maybe it gives you a placebo and the smoke keeps them away a little bit. It’s one thing you can do if you’re getting attacked. I’ve seen a couple little battery powered devices that claim they [get rid of mosquitoes]. People put it on the table and there’s no mosquitoes and he leaves the party and he takes it. I haven’t had any experience using products like that myself. Clients have said it worked great. I just don’t know the science behind that and if it’s actually doing anything more than making you feel a little bit better.

John: Is that similar to the one that you can clip onto your belt buckle or something like that and carry it around with you?

Tim: And that might be producing some type of scent that they claim is a little bit noxious to the mosquito and he might prefer to be away from that more than in it.

John: So there’s a chance that maybe it would make a mosquito prefer the guy next to you instead of you.

Tim: Potentially. It’s tough to say without looking at the science behind it. All the manufacturers of these things will give you some signs.

John: Of course.

Alternatives for Mosquito Control

Tim: Whether or not it’s going to really be a part of your mosquito management program is another question. Again, I would fall back on things that we discussed in earlier blogs, such as pest management and removing harborage sites as much as possible. Making the yard as dry and sunny as possible. Avoiding times where mosquitoes are feeding the most. Wearing protective clothing, going back to insect repellent where necessary. All those things can add into your protection from getting an insect borne disease. Comparing insect traps to a potential exterior spray, I think an application of either a synthetic pyrethroid or one of these “green” essential oil products would be much more effective as far as knocking down a population and giving you some sort of control, [rather] than putting all your money into a trap. If for the cost of one of these [devices], you might cover your pest control treatment for the whole season. So if you had a professional come out and spray the yard for mosquitoes, it might even be less than a Mosquito Magnet or a bug zapper if you looked at the total cost and effectiveness. There’s some alternatives for you.

John: Right. So definitely, trying to do some maintenance around your house, such as removing that standing water and trimming back your shrubs and bushes, trying to get more light and open air in or around your house. Those things are going to generally reduce the population of mosquitoes around your house more than just trying to put up a bug zapper and get rid of them that way.

Tim: Absolutely. So those traps and things could be part of an integrated management program, but I would put that on the bottom of the scale. Reducing habitat, breeding pools, and places where they’re going to spend time waiting for you in the yard, avoiding places where you know the mosquitoes are going to be the most active and the time of day where they’re going to be the most active. You know, if you’re going to go out and play tennis, let’s go out in the sunny afternoon rather than at 5:30 in the afternoon when you’re going to be more likely to see mosquitoes. When my kids were playing soccer, it was always after school at 4:30. [It was like] “Oh my gosh, where’s the OFF?” You know, everyone’s swatting mosquitoes.

John: Just when the sun is starting to set, they’re starting to play.

Tim: You could see a cloud of mosquitoes flying over everybody’s head. So it’s just a matter of timing in a lot of cases. If we were there an hour earlier, there would probably be no mosquitoes.

John: Right. So a little common sense, a little maintenance around your house to make sure standing pools of water aren’t around. Those are the first steps.

Tim: Sure.

John: And then, if you want to add a Mosquito Magnet or something like that to it as a little extra precaution, it might do something, but it’s not going to be your first level of preventive maintenance.

Tim: Exactly. It’s not going to bring the population down to a level where you’re not going to get bit. And there’s almost nothing that will. So that’s the hell of mosquito control. Mosquitoes are great fliers, some of the larger species will fly over a mile in search of a blood meal. So you’re doing what you can at your house, but still, when it gets to your yard, you want to make it the worst place for a mosquito to be. So he gets in there, there’s no place to sit, it’s getting hot, he can’t find anybody, he’s out of there.

John: Make it so your neighbor’s house is much more appealing than your house.

Tim: Exactly. That’s probably the best plan ever.

John: Alright, thanks for speaking with me today Tim, I appreciate it.

Tim: It’s been a pleasure, John, thank you.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Colonial Pest Control website at, or call 1-800-525-8084.



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