Category Archives: Biology

Spartan Mosquito v. Colin Purrington

I am being sued by Spartan Mosquito

AC2T, Inc, a Mississippi company valued at over $100 million, is suing me in Federal court over my review of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. The owners, Jeremy Hirsch and Chris Bonner of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, seem particularly upset that I have been in contact with state pesticide officials as well as federal regulatory agencies (EPA, FTC). The suit was brought to bankrupt and silence me, so it’s a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

Here’s the 14-page brief (PDF) submitted along with a motion to dismiss.

What is the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator?

Jeremy Hirsch, the inventor, explains:

Jeremy Hirsch, inventor of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator
Jeremy Hirsch, inventor of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator

And here are some pages from a marketing brochure they send to retailers. Click to enlarge.

Negative reviews

I’m not the only person doubting the efficacy of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. Here’s one a full year before my review:

There are also hundreds of people leaving 1-star reviews on Amazon. I don’t think the company is suing any of them. My favorite is this one, presumably written when the company was still selling the boric acid version (which was never registered with the EPA):

And below is my favorite 5-star review. My God, Tammy just nails it.

Health claims

One issue that comes up in my review is health claims the company and its distributors make about the device. For example, the company claims its device was critical in controling a Zika outbreak. The claim is also featured in this clip from WDAM. And also in this ad that says, “Purchase The Spartan Mosquito Bomb and Fight the Zika Virus!

Do consumers actually believe they can protect themselves from Zika by deploying Spartan Mosquito Eradicators? Yes. If you doubt me, please watch Jennifer Lynn’s Facebook video (March 14, 2020). At approximately 4 mins into the video she explains she first bought them to protect herself from Zika.

And here’s a 2-min interview in which Jeremy Hirsch discusses the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator and fighting malaria in Africa:

Just to clarify, surrounding your property with Spartan Mosquito Eradicators doesn’t cause disease. But relying on them instead of using DEET (e.g.) can up your chances of getting a disease. It’s just simple probability. If you are outside and get bit by a disease-carrying mosquito, you’re going to get the disease; whereas neighbors who are using DEET won’t. This concern is why the Mosquito Illness Alliance (also based in Mississippi) has been warning consumers for years not to rely on Spartan Mosquito Eradicators.

Before suing me, Spartan Mosquito completely redid its website and purged videos and posts from its Facebook page, so a lot of overt health claims are now gone. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that retailers around the country still regularly tell customers that the device can protect against mosquito diseases. One example is Hub City West Farm & Garden in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the hometown of the Spartan Mosquito. The store produced a video in which they claim Spartan Mosquito Eradicators have been “proven to be the best defense” against mosquito-borne diseases. They are even using Covid-19 to boost sales right now.

Side note: the above video has been shared by Josephine Hood-Hirsch, wife of Jeremy Hirsch (the inventor and owner). And by Karen Bonner (wife of Chris Bonner, co-owner). Karen Bonner is also the Secretary of Spartan Mosquito. I.e., people with a financial interest in Spartan Mosquito Eradicator sales are promoting a post that makes clear health claims. My prediction is that they will remove or hide their shares eventually.

The belief that Spartan Mosquito Eradicators can protect against disease is entrenched in the minds of retailers because the marketing materials̵ specifically mention it. The document also name-drops the CDC and WHO, subtly implying to hardware-store owners that these organizations have somehow endorsed the contraption.

Where can the device be legally sold?

Per the company’s Amazon page, the device cannot be shipped to Connecticut, Montana, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, D.C., and Puerto Rico. I think other states may have declined to renew the registration but the company tends to be sluggish about updating the shipping restrictions on Amazon.

Current mysteries

  1. What happens to the hundreds of thousands of Spartan Mosquito Eradicators in states that can longer legally sell them? E.g., in Indiana, Utah, Montana, Puerto Rico, Maine, Kansas — all places that banned them after stores received their 2020 shipments. Do store owners have to eat that cost or will Spartan Mosquito HQ buy them back? I hope the latter happens.
  2. I don’t know the status of Spartan Mosquito’s efforts to market the device in malarial Africa. Here’s the company’s PR release on that. I would love to know more.
  3. Is there any scenario under which the scientists (e.g.) who conducted experiments for Spartan Mosquito could be released from their non-disclosure agreements? I’d love to see the data that are not being disclosed.
  4. Did Spartan Mosquito ever sell the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator when it contained boric acid? E.g., the 1-star review (above) suggests the company sold it on Amazon. Was it fined by EPA for distributing an unregistered pesticide? If it wasn’t fined, why not??
  5. Is Spartan Mosquito suing Tall Brothers LLC over the Donaldson Farm Mosquito Eliminator? E.g., for patent infringement and plagiarism (they even invoke Zika).
  6. Did the city of Hattiesburg (home to Spartan Mosquito and owners) ever buy the devices for use on town property? It was heavily pitched. If not, why?
  7. Did owners ever use the fancy CO2 monitor at Bonner Analytical Testing to measure the CO2 production of device over the course of 90 days? I’d love to see that graph, if they did.
  8. How many Spartan Mosquito Eradicators are deployed at the owners’ estates?
  9. Why hasn’t the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry requested efficacy data from Spartan Mosquito? Per BPI’s own rules it is required: “Efficacy data are required to support label claims for FIFRA Section 25(b) products.” The label (box) claims that the device eradicates a mosquito population for 90 days.
  10. I’d love to know whether the graph on the box displays actual data. The graph was likely crafted sometime in 2016 or early 2017. If data were used to generate the graph they would have to be from 2016 mosquito season.
  11. Did anyone enter Spartan Mosquito’s $500,000 competition? Video challenge here, details here. Everyone guessed it was a PR stunt and that company would never pay out, but maybe they did.
  12. I also don’t know the status of the class action suit against AC2T. Am rather curious.
  13. Why did Jeremy Hirsch (Spartan Mosquito co-owner), Chris Bonner (Spartan Mosquito co-owner), Karen Bonner (Spartan Mosquito Secretary), Christopher Spence (Spartan Mosquito CEO), and Anthony Brett Conerly (Spartan Mosquito President) — all residents of Hattiesburg, Mississippi — donate $2,500 each to support Eddie Rispone’s campaign for governor of Louisiana? Did the top five executives at Spartan Mosquito all know him? Why go through the bother of 5 separate donations when Spartan Mosquito could just send a single check $12,500?

Want to help me?

  • If you know of a national organization devoted to mosquito control, please nudge them to post their findings on the device. E.g., on a FAQ devoted to such things.
  • If you have influential friends at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Reports, or Truth in Advertising, I’d be grateful if you’d ask them to go public now rather than later.
  • If you know the Attorney General of either Mississippi or Pennsylvania, I’d be grateful for an online introduction. I’ve met Mr Shapiro at a fundraiser, but I’m not sure he remembers me.
  • In case you’d like to support me on Twitter, here’s my post.
  • If you’re a reporter interested in writing something, please do! And please also get in touch with the good folks at Mosquito Illness Alliance, also based in Mississippi. Also definitely get in touch with the American Mosquito Control Association. Spartan Mosquito rented a vendor booth at its national meeting one year, so the association is familiar with the device and the claims. The AMCA’s Science Committee did a thorough investigation of the contraption.

Help monarch butterflies by giving away milkweed plants

Like most monarch fans, I dutifully pack my yard with milkweed and hope the offering will somehow offset the effects of habitat loss and pesticide applications on population levels. But I’m not a complete idiot so I know that my contribution is probably rather inconsequential. Planting milkweeds for a few dozen monarchs is not really going to help population declines.

So this year I finally got around to something I’ve been meaning to do for years: give away lots of milkweed plants. My goal was to distribute free seedlings to several hundred people in my town (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania), ideally creating a concentration of milkweed that might make a difference. And because milkweeds are perennials and produce seeds that disperse with the wind, all of those initial milkweeds would do their reproductive duties for years, seeding vacant lots and such. Perhaps after a few years we will start seeing flocks of monarchs again (I’m an optimist).

This post summarizes how I grew the plants and gave them away, just in case anyone else might be nudged to do something similar. If one person in every town did this we might reverse the yearly declines in monarch populations.

Step one was to collect seeds. If you’ve never done it before it’s easy — just pick browning pods and let fully dry. Here’s a photograph from 2018 showing some swamp milkweed pods:

You don’t need to, but I decided to clean my seeds. Here’s the end product:

Milkweed seeds germinate best if they are exposed to a period of cold, ideally when moist. So all I did was scatter the seeds on a few large containers (actually, unused litterboxes). Come spring I had hundreds of seedlings emerge.

As seedlings emerged I’d transfer them to small Dixie cups. I soon covered almost every square inch of sunny space in my yard. (That’s my bee hotel, by the way.)

Then I started giving them away to people in town who had expressed an interest in growing milkweed. I put the seedlings into cheap paper cups and then delivered sets of threes to doorsteps. This used up about two dozen seedlings.

To get people to plant milkweed I thought it might be fun to leave pots around town along with, “please adopt us” notes. I gave away probably 100 this way. Usually the pots would be taken within an hour or so. It was fun leaving them in obscure spots around town, and I was hoping to build some curiosity about who was doing this and why.

Here’s the note I left with each set. I went with “rose milkweed” because I worried that “swamp milkweed” might be a turn-off for some. But same plant: Asclepias incarnata, my favorite milkweed. And it’s native.

The next phase was more public. I made a Facebook page called, Swarthmore Monarch Boosters and used it to promote Events where I’d give away milkweed seedlings. Here’s a screenshot of the page:

Here are seedlings bound for one of the giveaway events. There were even more pots in the front.

Here’s my display table. I held the events on days when large crowds would be expected, so probably 95% of takers were people who didn’t realize they even wanted milkweed plants.

In total, I probably gave away 500 milkweed plants this year. I’m not positive it was a success but I think I noticed more monarchs around town this year. As anecdotal evidence, I wasn’t even trying to photograph a monarch when taking this picture:

If you have milkweed plants and seed pods, give it a try in 2020. It would be especially good if garden clubs across the country made this a priority.

Contact me if you’re on the fence.

Spotted lanternfly photographs

I’ve posted a few pics of the invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) on Instagram but thought I’d feature my full collection in a post. The insect is extremely photogenic but it’s also good to let people know what different stages look like so that everyone can kill them. I still need some early-instar pics as well as some showing spotted lanternflies being consumed by parasites and fungi.

Adult showing colorful underwings. Presumably to advertise toxicity to predators. Binky Lee Preserve, Chester Springs, PA.
Gravid female. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Tinicum, PA.
Egg mass on a tree. The surface is a waxy substance that covers several rows of eggs. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Tinicum, PA.
Third-instar nymph. Goshen Trail, Newtown Square, PA.
Three adults on a tree. Trees can have thousands. Binky Lee Preserve, Chester Springs, PA.
Sap oozing from feeding site wound. Ailanthus tree. Rose Tree Park, Media, PA.
Slick at base of Ailanthus tree caused by dripping honeydew (sugary excrement). Rose Tree Park, Media, PA.
Adult caught in spider web. Hildacy Preserve, Media, PA.

Below is a map showing the distribution of spotted lanternflies in North America as of October 3rd, 2019. Here’s a current map. To add a sighting, please sign up for iNaturalist (free) and post a photograph.

Here’s what the distribution is likely to be in the future (per Wakie et al. 2019):