Below are some photographs I took at the Crooked River National Grassland in Madras, Oregon earlier this year.
This is a male ligated furrow bee (Halictus ligatus). It was probably less than 1 cm long and very hard to photograph. Females collect pollen but I’m assuming this guy was just drinking nectar. Or perhaps just hanging out waiting for females. If you’re looking for ID tips, see page 121 of The Bees in Your Backyard and BugGuide. There’s also a fantastic guide to the species on iNaturalist.
This is some sort of Phymata species, sucking juices out of a bee. They are just masters at camouflage. For an excellent summary of how they choose flowers that match their color and how they change colors, see this post.
I’m not sure of species, but this wasp is in the genus Trypoloxylon. It was amazing to see them land on water. Females collect spiders (and nectar and water) while the males guard the nest, often a hollow twig. I have a similar species in my yard back in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and they are my favorite wasps.
Some sort of Ptilodexia species, likely a parasite of scarab beetle larvae per literature on the genus. There were thousands of these flies in the area so there must be a huge population of scarabs there, too.
a Geron of some sort. I failed to capture a side view, so you can’t really see the humped back (of an old person) that the genus is named for. Likely parasitic on some Lepidopteran larvae.
This is Eleodes obscura sulcipennis, and they were were so numerous you had to watch where you stepped. Reminiscent of the tanker bugs in Starship Troopers, especially when they go into a butt-up defensive posture. Here’s BugGuide information page if you’re curious. By the way, the common name, “circus beetle”, refers to Eleodes hirtipennis.
I’m guessing, but I think this might be a Metepeira. It was maybe 4 mm and the wind was blowing its web back and forth, so it was super hard to get any closer views.
This juniper gall is the creation of an undescribed gall midge in the genus Walshomyia. Russo’s book, Field Guide to Plant Galls of California and Other Western States, refers to it is as “species B.” But per research by my dad and sister, the galls are often filled with a moth:
Purrington, F.F., and T.M. Purrington. 1995. Hienrichiessa sanpetella Neunzig (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) is an inquiline in juniper midge galls (Diptera: Ceciomyiidae). Proceedings of Entomological Society 97:227.
This is the same species but shows the actual juniper cones. I.e., even though the gall looks like a gymnosperm cone, it’s not.
This is a juniper urn gall midge (Walshomyia juniperina). The tip splits open when the adult is ready to eclose. At that stage the urns resemble pods in the Alien franchise. I know, two references to science fiction movies in one post. It’s my blog and I can do what I want.
Sadly, I have no idea what makes this gall. Perhaps Rhopalomyia sp., but that’s just a guess given that so many species in the genus make galls on sagebrush. Here’s my iNaturalist observation in case you can help me out.
There are currently eight devices on the market that claim to lure and kill mosquitoes with fermenting sugar solutions, but only one, the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech, is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. That registration is required because the active ingredient, boric acid, is a regulated pesticide. As a result, claims made by Spartan Mosquito about the device cannot be false or misleading.
This post is about one those claims: “mosquitoes will gather around the tubes”. The claim is made on the device’s label (below), on the instruction sheet (below), on the company’s website, and in the EPA registration document, where it’s mentioned five times.
It is, of course, a claim that is central to how the device is supposed to work: the mosquitoes in a yard are somehow drawn to the contents of the tubes, they squeeze through the holes in the cap, crawl down to the fluid, ingest some fluid, then crawl back out of the tubes. They die later from the effects of boric acid. It’s an elaborate sequence of events.
What causes the mosquitoes to gather?
Unfortunately, nowhere does Spartan Mosquito explain exactly why the Pro Tech would cause mosquitoes to gather. But the company says the device is the “next generation” of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator, and for that device the company claims mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide produced by sugar and yeast inside the tube. Although sugar and yeast are not specifically listed as ingredients for the Pro Tech, the contents appear to be sugar and yeast.
Evaluating the claim
The easiest way to determine whether mosquitoes gather around the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech is to just look. I’ve deployed three devices (one with label removed) in my yard this summer and, to date, I have not seen any mosquitoes near the devices. There are also no mosquitoes inside the devices. For the record, I know what mosquitoes look like and have thousands in my yard.
The above technique has two problems, however. The first is that one has to be close to the devices to observe mosquitoes, and it’s theoretically possible that the instant a human approaches, the mosquitoes abandon the device and seek out the human, instead. I don’t actually think this is a real concern because I can recognize a mosquito from quite far away, plus I can use binoculars so that the distance is even greater. The second problem is that people might not believe me when I say I observed zero mosquitoes gathered around the tubes — people are just far more inclined to believe the label’s claim.
To address both of these concerns, I decided to use a security camera to record the area around a Pro Tech. Then I could examine the footage and make it publicly available to those who might be skeptical. Here’s a photograph of how I arranged everything:
Below is a 15-second time-lapse to show that small insects such as ants were easily visible, even at night. I think they are Prenolepis imparis, which are 3-4 mm long —mosquitoes are larger and thus would be detectable even in flight.
On the day that I set it up (September 2nd, 2020) I counted over a dozen mosquitoes (all Aedes albopictus) on my arms and legs within 30 seconds. According to the instruction sheet, the device begins to work instantly, as soon as water is added, so an hour of remote, video observation should be a sufficient amount of time to evaluate the attraction claim.
To satisfy potential critics, however, I collected footage for over a week, ending observations on September 10th. The mosquitoes were still plentiful on the day I published this post (September 12th), so there were plenty of mosquitoes in my yard for a fair test.
During 183 hours of footage, I couldn’t find a single mosquito on or near the device.
It’s theoretically possible that a mosquito landed on the far side of the tube (which I couldn’t view) and I missed it, but I think I can safely conclude that large numbers of mosquitoes did not “gather”, as per the labelling claim. I’ve also continued to observe the footage beyond the 183 hours, but it seemed like a waste of time to continue. The device was simply not attracting mosquitoes. There’s only so much boredom I can endure.
If the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech does not attract mosquitoes, at all, I’m left confused. Is it possible the EPA didn’t require Spartan Mosquito to provide experimental proof for this label claim? I see three explanations.
First, I’m wondering whether the EPA viewed the claim as “advisory” language:
“Advisory statements are intended to be informational. They provide information to the product user on such topics as product characteristics and how to reduce risk and maximize efficacy while using the product. Such statements are acceptable as long as they do not conflict with mandatory statements, and are not false or misleading, or otherwise violate statutory or regulatory provisions.” [bolding added]
I.e., maybe the EPA reviewer deemed the “mosquitoes will gather” statement as somehow separate from the core efficacy claim (“kills mosquitoes”) and thus didn’t request proof. Regardless, the last part of the above passage still requires that such advisory statements are not false or misleading.
Second, perhaps the “mosquitoes will gather” claim is based on data from a cage experiment conducted inside a laboratory? I.e., if large numbers of mosquitoes are trapped in a container with a Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech, maybe they do gather around the device simply because there’s nothing else for mosquitoes to land on. If that’s the case, however, it would seem highly misleading to imply (on all the labelling) to consumers that mosquitoes will gather around the tubes when they are deployed outside. 100% of the marketing suggests that the device attracts mosquitoes in yards.
Third, if the data supplied to the EPA was, in fact, from an outdoor experiment, maybe it’s just untrustworthy. I.e., from an experiment that didn’t have controls or that lacked meaningful replication. Or cherry-picked from multiple experiments where all but one showed no effect. There are lots of way to conduct a bad experiment and to pitch the results as somehow fantastic. I’ve heard this was (and is) an issue for the Eradicator.
EXTRA: What about the “kills mosquitoes” claim?
To gain approval for its label claim, Spartan Mosquito must have supplied some sort of data to the EPA that confirmed the device could kill mosquitoes. But if the device doesn’t attract mosquitoes present in a yard, how could it possibly kill them?? I’m speculating here, but if Spartan Mosquito did, indeed, test the devices insidecages, they might get a positive finding. That’s because the devices contain an aqueous solution of boric acid (approximate 0.17%, I think), and thus one would expect some boric acid to be present in the fumes that escape through the holes in the cap. Those fumes could conceivably poison the mosquitoes trapped in the cage. The lethality of the fumes might be extremely low, but I’d wager the effect would be measurable when compared to a control cage that lacked those toxic fumes.
It would be interesting know what Spartan Mosquito (or the researcher it hired) used as the experimental control treatment. One way to bias the experiments in favor of finding an effect is to simply use empty or water-only tubes as controls. This is because fermentation itself causes acids to form, and those acids would be expected to enter the vapor phase and permeate the experimental cages. That’s in addition to the ethanol that enters the vapor phase, of course. I.e., mosquitoes trapped with a tube of fermenting sugar might have low survivorship because they were bathed in vapors that are mildly deleterious. Again, such an effect would have nothing to do with mosquitoes squeezing through the holes and ingesting poison. And, of course, the “vapors killing the mosquitoes” effect wouldn’t work at all when tubes are deployed in a yard.
If Spartan Mosquito did, in fact, test the device in cages, it would seem best to constrain its claims to “causes mosquitoes in cages to gather” and “kills mosquitoes in cages”. Then if consumers had a problem a mosquito outbreak in their cages, perhaps the Pro Tech would be an attractive option.
The wording in the red-boxed sections suggests that the EPA allows laboratory experiments in place of experiments under actual conditions (outside). I couldn’t find any directive from the EPA that required a company to clarify the conditions under which the efficacy data were collected.
Again, I don’t have any information on what type of experiment Spartan Mosquito conducted. The above is just to indicate that it may be possible that they didn’t conduct the test outdoors.
What does Spartan Mosquito say?
In general, when consumers ask the company on Facebook how the device works, the company directs them to this webpage or this Facebook video. Neither has information on how the device works or how well it works. The company simply deletes any question it does not want to answer, and often blocks skeptical users who ask probing questions. If you doubt me, try asking a scientific question on the company’s Facebook page. For example, “What causes mosquitoes to gather around the tubes?” Or try, “Do you have any videos of mosquitoes gathering around the tubes when device is deployed in a yard?” I’d also like to see them answer, “Under what conditions was the Pro Tech tested?”
The only details the company provides about efficacy is that device kills 95% of mosquitoes.
Which is hard to believe.
Below is the video, separated into 16 segments due to size limits on YouTube.
If you’re even remotely interested in killing mosquitoes, you’ve probably seen ads for plastic tubes that are filled with water, sugar, and yeast. The marketing pitch is that the thousands of mosquitoes lurking in your yard will be drawn to the devices by carbon dioxide (emitted by yeast when it consumes sugar), then will all enter the device through tiny holes at the top, ingest some of the fluid inside (because mosquitoes forage for sweet liquids like nectar), squeeze back out of the tube through the same holes, and then die due to the effects of a chemical (table salt, boric acid, garlic oil, etc.) dissolved in the fluid. According to marketing claims, these tubes will completely rid your yard of mosquitoes for months.
Below are details on the eight devices currently marketed in the United States.
Spartan Mosquito Eradicator
First sold in 2016 as the Spartan Mosquito Bomb, the company claims these tubes will eradicate mosquito populations for up to 90 days. Active ingredient is table salt. Company is based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and was founded by Jeremy Hirsch (while he was a Which Wich? Superior Sandwiches franchisee) and Chris Bonner (works at his father’s chemical testing company). It can be purchased on Amazon and in many rural feed and hardware stores across the country.
Produced by the same company (AC2T, Inc.) that makes the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. Likely also contains sodium chloride. Here is a commercial about the device. I’m not sure whether this device is still sold.
Donaldson Farms Mosquito Eliminator
Company lists table salt and sodium lauryl sulfate as active ingredients. Like the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator it promises to eradicate mosquitoes for 90 days but owners say that it has “more potent attractants in the lure for the traps than Spartan”. Company is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and owned by Jeff Clowdus (owner of JCL Tech LED lighting) and his brother Tim (graduate of Ambassador Bible College?). Available from Amazon and from company website. Refills are also available. I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that this device is registered in any of the states that require permits for 25(b) devices.
Company lists table salt as the active ingredient. Company is based in Paragould, Arkansas, and owned by Kevin King, an insurance broker. Available only from company website. Refills are also available. I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that this device is registered in any of the states that require permits for 25(b) devices.
Lists table salt as the active ingredient and claims to eradicate mosquitoes for 90 days. Box says purchases help support conservation of marine turtles. Distributed by Copia Products based in Memphis Tennessee, and owned by Wade Whitely; he seems to specialize in baby products. Sold at Walmart and Ace Hardware in Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Manufactured in Columbia. I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that this device is registered in any of the states that require permits for 25(b) devices. But per Amazon listing it can be shipped everywhere.
Skeeter Hawk Backyard Bait Station
Label lists garlic oil as the active ingredient. Described as “highly effective” and providing “chemical free”, “round the clock”, “full-perimeter protection”. Company is part of Alliance Sports Group based in Grand Prairie, Texas. Owned by Larry Easterwood and family. Available from company’s website and on Amazon. Refills are also available. I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that this device is registered in any of the states that require permits for 25(b) devices.
Owner claims the device will eradicate up to 95% of mosquitoes in 15 days for up to 90 days. Says that mosquitoes “literally explode”. It appears to be a black version of its Wasp & Bee Sugar Trap. Made by Vic West Brands based in Austin, Texas, and owned by Nick Olynyk, an expert on junior hockey. It is not owned by Grandpa Gus, who is an actor in Austin coached to be rural and trustworthy. Sold online through website and Amazon. And apparently in stores, too. It doesn’t seem to be registered in any of states that require permits for 25(b) devices.
Do they work?
As far as I know, there’s no independent evidence that any of the devices reduce mosquito populations in yards. There are two publications, in fact, that such devices don’t work:
Aryaprema et al. 2020 concluded that the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator had no effect on mosquito populations under laboratory conditions and outside.
Yee et al. 2020 showed that salt solutions and salt/sucrose solutions do not kill mosquitoes.
Why are they so popular?
My current explanation for the success of these devices is that companies can still thrive if only 5% of buyers are satisfied and become regular customers — the profit margin on a tube of sugar is just so high. But why would anyone, let alone 5%, think they actually work? My hypothesis is that if 5% or so of consumers have low mosquito numbers for some reason, most people will assume it’s because the device did it. E.g., they will not credit the insecticide the town has been spraying all summer, or fail to remember that a drought has eliminated stagnant water. Once a person is convinced that the tubes work, it is likely extremely hard for them to admit they were wrong.
But why don’t the remaining 95% complain? Some do, but this is where customer service comes in. If companies deal with dissatisfied buyers by sending them brand new tubes (“we want to make things right”, “maybe you got a faulty tube”, “maybe your water was bad”, etc.), a good portion of people will be won over by that outreach even if the tubes continue to do absolutely nothing. People who remain underwhelmed by the efficacy might just give up and write off the wasted money as a valuable learning experience.
More generally, it’s clear that most people are not terribly familiar with mosquito biology and what it takes to kill them. From reading several thousand Facebook comments about these devices, it’s fairly clear that people are really susceptible to anything that sounds technical, and that’s probably why advertising for these devices is filled with sciency jargon. The success of these devices seems especially high among people who use Facebook a lot. I’m not sure what that means.
Of course, if they worked as advertised they would save a million lives per year and we could all enjoy our yards without a single mosquito bite. And the CDC, WHO, and the American Mosquito Control Association would recommend them (they do not). The reality, sadly, is that there are no great ways to eliminate mosquitoes.
Are these devices regulated?
Marketers are not supposed to make false or misleading claims about pesticidal devices but I gather such rules are loosely enforced. I.e., state regulators should issue stop-sale orders on all these devices. And the FTC should block them from claiming that devices kill mosquitoes.