GAINESVILLE---If mosquitoes and other insects are taking a biteout of your summer fun, don't bother with one ofthose electric bug zappers, says a University of Florida pestcontrol expert.
"They are a total waste of money. Bug zappers will not controlmosquitoes or other biting insects such as horseflies, dogfliesor deerflies," said Jonathan Day, associate professor ofentomology with the UF's Institute of Food and AgriculturalSciences.
"They simply do not work as advertised. In fact, bug zappersactually make things worse by attracting more mosquitoes intoyour yard, and they end up killing thousands of beneficialinsects that don't bother people."
He said the devices have been on the market for more than 30years, and prices range from $30 to more than $200 for those soldin upscale stores and catalogs. They all have an ultravioletlight that attracts bugs to an electric grid that electrocutesthem.
"When people buy one of these bug zappers, they want to see andhear bugs fry. That's one of the great attractions of thesethings. You hang them in your yard, and they really put on ashow. As the bugs hit the electric grid, they arc. There are alot of light flashes and snap, crackle and pop sounds. That'swhat people get for their money."
While the UV light in these bug zappers draws a wide range ofinsects, mosquitoes and other biting insects are more attractedto the carbon dioxide exhaled by people and pets. They're alsoattracted to carbon dioxide that is passed through human skin.
"The main reason bug zappers don't work is that mosquitoes areextremely sensitive to carbon dioxide," Day said. "They see theUV light in your yard, but once they pick up even the slightesttrace of carbon dioxide from people, they change direction andzero in on the source of that odor. They are expert at detectingcarbon dioxide at levels as low as 50 parts per million."
Some zappers claim to interrupt the mosquito breeding cycles, andothers promise to control pests over an acre or more. Both ofthese claims also are false, Day said.
Even some of the new electric bug zappers that have been fittedwith an octenol packet -- which he described as "the latestmarketing gimmick" -- are virtually useless for controllingmosquitoes. Compared to the powerful attraction carbondioxide has for mosquitoes, octenol is a minor chemical insectattractant and will not improve the overall performance or effectiveness of the device.
Day said tests at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical EntomologyLaboratory in Vero Beach show that thousands of beneficialinsects -- not mosquitoes -- are the main victims of the electricdevices. Out of some 10,000 insects destroyed by one bug zapperduring a one-night test period, only eight were mosquitoes.
He estimates 71 billion nontarget insects are zapped by these devices across the nation every year. Most are beneficial beetles, moths, ants and midges along withparasitic wasps that control other insect pests.
"Sure, some people say the only good bug is dead bug, but theydon't understand the relationship of insects to the overallecosystem," Day said. "Whether it's for pollination or foodfor birds and other vertebrates, the vast majority of insects arebeneficial. We would be in bad shape if we killed all of ourinsects."
To ward off mosquitoes and other biting insects in the yard, Dayrecommends using an insect repellent containing an activeingredient called deet. He said it's the most effective repellentdeveloped in the past 40 years. Wearing protective clothing orsimply going indoors also are options for battling pesky insects.
Since mosquitoes breed in standing water, Day recommends emptyingbird baths, kiddy swimming pools and other water sources in your yardor adding a briquette with altocid to kill mosquito larvae. Neighborhoodspraying programs by city or county governments produce temporaryrelief from mosquitoes, usually less than 24 hours, he said.
Day also discounted the value and effectiveness of variousultrasonic devices. "There are ultrasonic devices to control orrepel everything from cockroaches to rats, and none of them work.They're one of the biggest rip-offs on the market," he said.
And, he added, citronella plants have no repellant benefit. "While citronella oil is a repellant, it must be reapplied frequently," he said. "Citronella candles contain the oil in the wax. As the waxburns off, citronella is released in the smoke. However, in order to derive any benefit from citronella candles, you have to stand in thesmoke."
Andrew Myers, vice president of administration for north Palm Beach-based Deejay Corporation, which manufactures and marketselectric bug zappers under the Stinger brand name, said theystand by all the advertising claims on the box of their product. -30-
Materials provided by University Of Florida, Institute Of Food & Agricultural Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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