Spartan Mosquito Eradicator updates

Below are some developments relating to Spartan Mosquito’s attractive toxic sugar bait called the “Eradicator”. It’s a tube filled with water, sucrose, sodium chloride, and yeast.

Cease-and-desist order

I was curious whether the Mississippi Attorney General’s office had ever taken legal action against Spartan Mosquito (a Mississippi company), so I submitted a freedom-of-information request and was sent a letter, below, that directed the company to remove all mention of the Mississippi Department of Health from an advertisement.

Letter from Mississippi's Attorney to General to Jeremy Hirsch, founder of Spartan Mosquito

The Attorney General’s office sent the offending ad, too (below), which purported to summarize an experimental test of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. The ad asserts that the Mississippi Department of Health’s entomologist was involved and that the Department approved the results — both were false statements. Spartan Mosquito further emphasized a (non-existent) government collaboration by naming the case study “CSL4GOV-ZIKA”.

Spartan Mosquito's Zika brochure

Zika health claim

As an aside, the Department of Health’s entomologist was indeed at the site, but she was there to coordinate the massive spraying program that the Department of Health was using to minimize the potential mosquito-borne spread of Zika virus around the house of somebody who had the disease. Therefore, the reason there were no mosquitoes in the area is not because there were Spartan Mosquito Eradicators hanging from trees but because the mosquitoes were all killed by months of insecticide treatments. Spartan Mosquito knew the area was being sprayed with insecticide, too, but ignored that detail when it concluded that the presence of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicators resulted in “the most effective, longest-lasting Zika-control response on record anywhere”. Making a health claim violates both EPA and state rules.

Spartan Mosquito repeated the claim in a Facebook ad:

Spartan Mosquito's Zika advertisement on Facebook

… and in a television segment (jump to the 40-second mark):

Efficacy claims from boric acid formulation

It’s important to note that at the time of the Zika “case study”, the tubes appear to contain boric acid, not table salt. I determined that by freezing the above television clip (@ 1 min 9 secs) and looking at the ingredient list at the bottom of the label.

Spartan Mosquito Eradicator tubes showing boric acid as ingredient

Spartan Mosquito even gave one of its tubes to the Mississippi Department of Health’s entomologist, who took a photograph (below). This photograph confirms that the tubes used at the Lamar County site contained boric acid.

Spartan Mosquito Eradicator tube showing boric acid as ingredient

This means that the efficacy claims (“kills up to 95% of mosquitoes for 90 days”) on current boxes of Spartan Mosquito Eradicators are based on a version of the product with a different formulation. And, by extension, the graph is based on the boric-acid case study, too:

Spartan Mosquito Eradicator efficacy graph

Sale of unregistered, boric-acid version?

There’s another consequence of using boric acid (a Federally-regulated pesticide) in early versions of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator — it means that the company was required to get an EPA registration to legally sell the device in the United States. It didn’t have one. I’m not sure exactly which states the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator was shipped to during this time. Or maybe it was just in-store sales in Mississippi.

States banning the Eradicator

You’d think given all of the above that the device would have been banned long ago, but most states allow the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator to be sold without restriction and with no alterations of its original packaging and claims. And retailers in these states can repeat and amplify those claims (“get your yard mosquito free”) to generate sales.

Sales of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator have been blocked only in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. States don’t announce why, usually, but one cited false and misleading claims, lack of acceptable efficacy data, and presence of numerous health claims on the company’s website (here are archived snapshots) and its Facebook page (company is in the process of hiding the claims).

Audit of 25(b)-exempt pesticides

A recent initiative by the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) is likely generating fresh scrutiny of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. Per the group’s website, state regulators in Arizona, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, South Dakota, Washington DC, and Wisconsin have all volunteered to make a list of “minimum risk” pesticides on the market in their respective areas and then evaluate how the products were vetted. The end goal of this exercise is to help all states standardize how such products are approved. The emphasis will be on efficacy data, and AAPCO has 2-pages of guidance on the topic, all of it very sensible. Here’s a sampling of what the group recommends:

  • Application should include a complete description of the materials and methods, statistical results, and conclusions.
  • “Data must be credible, independently collected, reproducible, and replicated.”
  • “Data should include a minimum of three (3) replicates per test.”
  • “Data should be generated with the product (formulation) submitted for registration.”
  • “Data should include an untreated control.”
  • Study director should have actual experience in designing and conducting experiments.

In addition to standardizing the data requirements, participating states will also collect and study products labels. The part of the label that might be discussed for the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is the name of the product itself. In AAPCO’s guidance, misleading brand names is a concern:

Screen shot of AAPCO rule on misleading brand names

Because “eradicate” means to eliminate entirely, state regulators might reasonably view “Eradicator” as misleading. Indeed, the EPA specifically identified “Eradicator” as a misleading brand name in 2002, years before the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator came to market.

What’s especially interesting about the audit is that Mississippi, Spartan Mosquito’s home state, is participating. And, according to the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry, Spartan Mosquito never submitted efficacy data even though doing so is a requirement (screenshot of its rules is below).

Mississippi's efficacy requirement for 25(b) pesticides

In contrast, some of participating states have seen the efficacy data and have banned sales of the device. I think the audit process (which involves numerous rounds of reports and meetings) could easily trigger stop-sale orders in those states that haven’t yet appreciated the device’s shortcomings. I suspect it might also trigger scrutiny of Spartan Mosquito’s new version, the Pro Tech, which reverts to the original formulation of boric acid.

Cucumber beetle trap

My vegetable garden has always been plagued by cucumber beetles, so this year I finally made an attempt at DIY traps, inspired by instructions posted by Lee & Pinero (2016) and Shee (2019). I’m posting details below in case anyone would like to make their own or might be able to suggest improvements.

Cucumber beetle trap

For the traps I repurposed some Spartan Mosquito Pro Techs and one Spartan Mosquito Eradicator that I had sitting around, first spray-painting the tubes with Krylon Gloss Sun Yellow and the caps with Oleum Spring Green — to emulate yellow flowers subtended by green calyces.

Then I drilled multiple 11/64″ holes in the tube and in the cap (which already had several) to allow entrances for the beetles.

To attract the beetles I purchased a packet of lures made by AgBio, which I cut up into 5 pieces and stuck to strips of yellow sticky cards. These strips were then placed inside the tubes.

Inside of cucumber beetle trap

I’ve caught several beetles in each of the tubes, though not the hundreds I was hoping for. All of them were striped cucumber beetles (Acalymma vittatum). Not quite a complete failure, but close.

One likely explanation for the low number of beetles is that cutting the lure into small pieces reduced the attractiveness below some needed threshold. But those lures are so expensive I can’t really stomach using one per tube. What I’d ideally like is a way to use cheaper aromatic oils and scents to make a more affordable lure. I suspect some combination of corn silk oil, cucumber oil, clove oil, etc., would work if I had infinite time to test.

Another possible explanation is the shape of the tube or the number and orientation of the holes, as per discussion in the articles liked above. Perhaps cucumber beetles just prefer gallon milk jugs over thin tubes. Indeed, Shee found that gallon milk jugs seemed to attract plenty of cucumber beetles without even a lure, at least at the start of the season.

If anyone out there has made traps and can offer some suggestions, I’d be grateful.

Spartan Mosquito Eradicator vs Pro Tech

Spartan Mosquito Eradicator vs Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech

Here’s a table comparing the two attractive toxic sugar baits (ATSBs) sold by Spartan Mosquito.

ERADICATORPRO TECH
Active ingredientsodium chlorideboric acid
Inactive ingredients water, sucrose, yeastwater, sucrose, yeast
Hole size in cap11/64″11/64″
No. of tubes needed per acre24
Cost per tube ~$10~$12
Guarantee?none30-day
Refills sold?nono
EPA-registered?noyes
Efficacy claim“kills up to 95% of mosquitoes”“kills mosquitoes”
Efficacy duration90 days30 days
Have claims been tested?yes (doesn’t work)no
Locations prohibiting salesCA, CT, IN, KS, MD, ME, MT, NM, PA, SD, UT, WA, DC, PRCA, (MD?)

If you see anything that needs updating, please let me know.

Notes

  1. Spartan Mosquito no longer makes the Eradicator but it is still available at some retailers.
  2. The company has said for years that it is working on selling refills but I don’t think it is. You can buy refills on Amazon.
  3. The 30-day guarantee clock for the Pro Tech starts the day you purchased the device (or the day it was delivered). So if you buy in bulk for future use, that’s something to keep in mind.
  4. Scientists have evaluated the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator and found no evidence it controls mosquitoes.
  5. Another team of scientists have determined that salt (the active ingredient in Eradicators) doesn’t kill adult mosquitoes.
  6. The American Mosquito Control Association does not endorse the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator.
  7. The Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is the focus of a $5 million class-action lawsuit.
  8. Here is my review of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator.
  9. Here is my review of the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech.