Zapping our wallets but not the bugs

Photo: Allen
Who hasn't sworn revenge while overcome by bug rage and emptied an entire can of spray trying to shoot down one pesky mosquito? But chemicals are not the answer. Can the final solution to annoying bugs come in a box? Probably not. The sound of payback The electric bug zapper hasn't changed much since it was first patented in 1934. An ultra violet light mounted in the centre attracts the bugs and a high pitched popping sound confirms their death by electrocution as they hit the charged wires. Aural satisfaction seems to be the key selling point with many consumers. Brennan Sheppard, a cottage owner near Baddeck, Nova Scotia said "It was great entertainment, sitting in our screened porch each night listening to all those little buggers getting zapped. I felt I was really getting my money worth." Attacking the wrong visitors Unfortunately, it's the wrong bug getting zapped. Researchers at the University of Delaware found that only 31 insects out of almost 14,000 caught by their zapper were "biters". Most were either harmless or the kind of good bugs that help control the pests or act as a food source. Jonathon Day, assistant professor at University of Florida was quoted in a 1997 Science Daily article, "They (bug zappers) are a total waste of money. They simply do not work as advertised." Inviting the pests Ironically zappers may actually increase your bug problem. Scientists and Consumer Reports will confirm that mosquitoes are more attracted to the carbon dioxide that humans exhale than to UV or black lights. Mosquitoes may be lured by the light but will quickly change course when they find something more delicious (us!). Other bugs, also drawn to the light, won't fly into the trap but will hang around on plants, walls and people. Promises, promises Some companies try to get around the carbon dioxide problem by using octenol, a non-toxic, pesticide-free pheromone that is supposed to lure mosquitoes away from tasty humans. One company even claims octenol smells like cow's breath to a hungry mosquito! Who could resist that? Other products promises that a steady stream of carbon dioxide, octenol and moisture is enough to block a mosquito's sinuses so it can't "smell" to find its prey. Tried but not true In May 2003, Consumer Reports tested traps claiming to lure insect with CO2 from propane burners or octenol packets. While testers liked the traps better than the basic model they also found them quite expensive and noted that the machine barely killed more mosquitoes than those lodged on a nearby piece of sticky paper. Health Canada curtly warns consumers that "bug zappers placed out of doors have not been proven effective in reducing or eliminating mosquito populations." Virus with that burger? Even more disturbing is research from Kansas State University warning about airborne bacteria and virus-laden particles produced by the explosion of electrocuted insects. Since the heat generated is not enough to destroy the bacteria or virus, researchers strongly recommended not using them around food. "The bug zapper is probably not the method of choice for killing insects because it might actually aggravate the situation in terms of microbial spread," said Dr James Urban, associate professor of biology at Kansas State University. Some sensible suggestions Leave your bug zapper unplugged and try these tips for fighting mosquitoes:
  • Keep your garden clear of stagnant water
  • Find an effective organic bug spray
  • Light some citronella candles
  • Plant marigolds and rosemary in your garden – mosquitoes don't like their smell
  • Cover up with long sleeved shirts and pants
  • Eat more garlic and up your B1 vitamin intake to make your blood unpalatable
  • Put up a screened in gazebo.
  • Joan McDougall is a freelance writer based in Bedford, Nova Scotia.