Tag Archives: EPA

Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech

Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech

Spartan Mosquito, the company that makes the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator (which I reviewed in 2019), has unveiled a new device called the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech. I thought I’d share what I know about the product in case anyone is curious.

What is the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech?

Aside from differences in label design, the Pro Tech looks just like the Eradicator — a plastic tube fitted with a cap that has several ~11/64″ holes and a hook for hanging. I think the Pro Tech is an attractive toxic sugar bait (ATSB) device, just like the Eradicator. The general idea behind ATSBs is to kill adult mosquitoes by getting them to eat insecticide-laced sugar water (mosquitoes love sugar).

The big difference appears to be that the active ingredient is now boric acid instead of sodium chloride. My guess (and I could be wrong) is that the other ingredients are still sugar and yeast. The consumer adds warm water, just as for the Eradicator.

How does the Pro Tech kill mosquitoes?

To the best of my knowledge, the Pro Tech kills mosquitoes in 11 steps:

  1. mosquitoes are attracted to the tubes
  2. mosquitoes land on the tubes
  3. mosquitoes crawl around until they find the 11/64″ holes in the cap
  4. mosquitoes squeeze though the holes
  5. mosquitoes walk down sides of tube toward liquid
  6. mosquitoes ingest some of the liquid
  7. mosquitoes walk back up sides of tube
  8. mosquitoes find holes
  9. mosquitoes squeeze through holes
  10. mosquitoes fly away
  11. mosquitoes die from boric acid poisoning

Presumably, the device would eventually kill tens of thousands of mosquitoes in this way and thus provide control to a homeowner. I.e., if a homeowner has thousands of mosquitoes in her yard on a given day (probably a reasonable estimate), some large fraction will march through the steps above. Per this scenario there would be a visible cloud of hundreds of mosquitoes around the devices at any given time — this is why the company suggests setting the devices up at least 80 feet away from where people might be. Here’s what it might look like:

Hypothetical figure showing cloud of mosquitoes around Spartan Mosquito Pro Techs. Original figure (without mosquitoes shown) is from the included instructions.

Because the company hasn’t disclosed the full ingredient list, I’m unsure of what exactly would attract mosquitoes to the tubes (step 1). For the Eradicator, the company says that carbon dioxide (produced by the yeast) attracts mosquitoes, so perhaps the Pro Tech is based on the same hypothesis. But it’s my understanding that carbon dioxide production would last only a day or so before falling below appreciable levels (the yeast consumes the sugar after a day or so, as yeast does), so it’s unclear why mosquitoes would continue to be attracted. I’ll update if the company reveals more details.

I’m also unsure how long it takes a mosquito to die after ingesting boric acid (step 11) but I’m guessing between one and two days based on experiments based on the literature. This duration is important because if, say, dragonflies eat hundreds of mosquitoes that have guts filled with boric acid, they might die, too.

Is the Pro Tech better?

According to the information released by the company, there are two reasons why the Pro Tech seems like a bad deal compared to the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. The first is that Pro Tech needs to be replaced every 30 days instead of 90. The second is that Pro Tech only “kills mosquitoes” whereas the Eradicator is supposed to kill 95% of mosquitoes (the latter strikes me as more impressive). Because both devices are the same price, the Eradicator appears to be a much better buy.

On the potential plus side, however, the company says that the Pro Tech is able to kill mosquito species that live in salt marshes (and thus implies that the Eradicator does not). So perhaps this new device is targeting consumers in coastal areas of the United States.

The company also states that the Pro Tech’s effectiveness isn’t degraded by water quality or rain. I’m not exactly sure what this means. The Eradicator label doesn’t say anything about the effectiveness being affected by water quality. Regarding the latter, the Pro Tech instructions say, “monitor for flooding after heavy rains – flooded tubes must be replaced”, which seems to suggest rain is (still) a problem.

Perhaps the largest improvement of the Pro Tech is that the company now offers a money back guarantee, which the Eradicator lacked. I think, however, you have to ask for your money back within 30 days.

Consumers can assess whether Pro Techs attract mosquitoes

Homeowners can easily determine whether the devices attract mosquitoes (and thus assess whether they are worth buying every month). Just take photographs or videos of your Pro-Tech (or Eradicator) and examine for presence of mosquitoes. It should be rather dramatic — company warns on the label to hang the devices away from people due to the gathering of mosquitoes. During the Covid-19 shutdown, I think plenty of people will have time on their hands to do this. All you need is a phone and a mosquito problem. Example below shows an Eradicator ready for filming. Just situate camera close enough so that you can easily distinguish fruit flies (which adore fermenting sugar water) from mosquitoes.

If you observe no mosquitoes at all, you can just return the device — there’s a 100% money-back guarantee. And if you observe a cloud of mosquitoes, send the photograph to Spartan Mosquito — I suspect they’ll be thrilled and perhaps would use your photograph (with credit, I’m sure) on their marketing materials.

Here’s a YouTube video in which a guy tests whether sugar-yeast solutions attract mosquitoes. Not a single mosquito was attracted. (Also, ignore what he says at the end about plants that repel mosquitoes … they do not.)

Consumers can measure how many mosquitoes ingest fluid

If you’re truly bored during the coronavirus lockdown and happen to have a water-soluble, contact insecticide handy, you can add the appropriate amount to the fluid in one of your Pro Techs and then open it up after 30 days. Any insect that ingested the fluid would die before it can escape. At the end of 30 days, dump the contents out onto a large white container and then count how many mosquitoes you have. Contact me if you have success — I’d love to receive the photograph of the killed insects. I’m happy to identify any mosquitoes, too.

Do Pro Techs kill mosquitoes IN YARDS?

The big mystery, to me, concerns the data submitted to the EPA for registration (which was granted). To demonstrate that Pro Techs would kill mosquitoes in consumers’ yards, one would need to do an experiment that involved, say, 200 typical yards equipped with devices as per company’s instructions. The devices in 100 of these yards would be normal (“off the shelf”), with the other 100 having the boric acid removed. In this way a person could analyze the mosquito counts in all 200 yards and see whether devices with boric acid reduced those counts. Ideally, the person analyzing the data wouldn’t even know which yards had the boric-acid tubes and which yards had the controls (placebo).

However, there’s apparently no requirement from the EPA that Spartan Mosquito provide proof that the device kills mosquitoes when deployed outside. Which shocked me, to be honest. Here’s the wording from the EPA about what type of data are required:

I’m wondering, therefore, whether Spartan Mosquito submitted data from only laboratory experiments. One worry I have about laboratory experiments involving the Pro Tech is that boric acid evaporates. This means that mosquitoes trapped inside cages with Pro Techs might die at a faster rate simply because boric acid is in the air (inside the aquarium cage), not because any of the mosquitoes actually squeezed through holes in the caps and ingested the liquid. Another reason to avoid cage studies is that it might involve mosquitoes that are given only one source of sugar — this would inflate the number of mosquitoes entering the holes in the cap. In other words, in the real world (outside), mosquitoes might prefer to utilize nectar and rotting fruit in a yard instead of squeezing through small holes in a tube. Those are just two ways in which a laboratory experiment might produce a strong result that would mislead even the investigator.

Ultimately, I have no idea whether the experiments were conducted indoors or outside, had replication, or whether the design was double-blind as some states require. And there’s no way to confirm that laboratory that conducted the experiments used proper controls (a very common problem in science). If you have details, I’d love to hear from you.

Where to buy

The new device is likely to be a huge seller in states where the Spartan Eradicator can’t be sold (CA, CT, DC, ID, IN, ME, MT, NM, PR, SD, and UT). In fact, that might be the primary reason it is being marketed — to be able to sell in those 11 areas. Because the Pro Tech can be sold everywhere and consumers would need new ones every 30 days (more profit!), I suspect the company will stop making the Eradicator after this season. There’s a good chance it has already stopped. My prediction is that by July 2020 the company will announce, “Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers about the Pro Tech, we will stop selling the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator.” Or something like that. UPDATE: as of May 6 (maybe earlier) company has raised the price of a box of Spartan Mosquito Eradicators on Amazon from $25.94 to $34.95. I’m assuming this is part of strategy to push customers to the Pro Tech.

The company also has plans to sell the Pro Tech in Africa, apparently in areas hard hit by malaria. I believe it’s being marketed in Africa as the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech Eradicator.

More information

Here’s Spartan Mosquito’s webpage on the Pro Tech. It currently doesn’t have any information on how the device works or how effective it is, but you can ask questions on the company’s Facebook page. The company tends to delete questions it deems as negative (within seconds, in fact), so keep them cheery.

I’m not aware of any third-party reviews of the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech. You can always reach out to your local Extension Agent for advice on which mosquito-control technologies are recommended for the area you live in. Or contact Joe Conlon, the technical advisor at the American Mosquito Control Association.

Questions?

Leave a comment below. Ask me anything.

Effects of mosquito sprays on humans, pets, and wildlife

Mosquito Authority, Mosquito Joe, Mosquito Platoon, Mosquito Shield, Mosquito Squad, TruGreen, and many other companies often imply that the insecticides they spray on yards are safe for everything except mosquitoes. This page contains information on what, exactly, they spray and what effects those chemicals have.

After a little digging, I think I’ve uncovered most of the active ingredients used by these companies:

All of the chemicals are either pyrethrins or pyrethroids, which are natural and synthetic (respectively) neurotoxins that cause almost instant paralysis and death to mosquitoes. Below is the chemical structure for one, permethrin:

Please email me if you think I’ve made an error or if you know that a formulation has changed (which happens). I still haven’t figured out whether companies permit their franchise owners to pick and choose which insecticides to use, so when multiple chemicals are listed above that doesn’t necessarily mean the sprays will contain both.

Are these chemicals safe for humans?

Pyrethroids are relatively safe but should not be viewed as harmless. If you spill enough on your skin you might experience itchiness, numbness, nausea, and respiratory problems, among a rather long list of adverse events. At very high doses pyrethroids can kill you, a fact known because some people have injected it (suicide) and in one case because somebody ate food that was cooked in pyrethroid concentrate (it resembles cooking oil). There are also scattered reports that some pyrethroids are carcinogenic and estrogenic but I don’t think such effects are shockingly large, and to date they seem to be restricted to mouse studies. Each pyrethroid listed above has a slightly different toxicity, so to get more information, Google the name or read the linked material by clicking on their name.

Are pyrethroids safe for pets?

Dogs and chickens seem to be fine. Cats, however, lack sufficient levels of a liver enzyme that helps detoxify pyrethroids, and can thus they can develop what is called pyrethroid toxicosis. A good indicator of cat sensitivity to pyrethroids is the standard warning of keeping them away from pyrethroid-treated dogs. I.e., if you dose your dog with a large amount of pyrethroids (to kill fleas, e.g.), friendly cats that cuddle with the dog are at risk. If you’d like to see a video of rag doll cat with pyrethroid poisoning (you probably don’t), here’s a video.

Do pyrethroids kill other animals? 

Yes.

For example, the spray kills monarch caterpillars, even weeks later later due to the presence of insecticide dried onto milkweed leaves (Oberhuaser et al. 2006).

And the spray can kill honey bees, even if honey bees are inside their hives when the pyrethroids are spayed (workers bring small amounts back to the hive the following day if they land on treated plants or if they find small puddles of water to drink). Sublethal amounts of pyrethroids can change honey bee behavior and make workers smaller. I would imagine the pyrethroids would end up in the honey, too.

And pyrethroids kill fireflies, which are most active in a yard in the late evening when mosquito-spraying franchises like to fog.

My favorite group of unnoticed insects that are killed by evening pyrethroid applications are solitary bees, of which there are approximately 4,000 species in the United States. These are bees that collect pollen and nectar during the day but spend their evenings and nights in holes (e.g., mason bees) or clamped to low vegetation. E.g., look at this a two-spotted long-horned bee (Melissodes bimaculatus) from my front yard this summer. Everyone has dozens of species of native bees in their yards but few people realize it. But they are amazing pollinators and almost all adorable. So when pesticide applicators claim their pyrethroid sprays “don’t harm bees” or are “bee friendly”, that is entirely untrue. It’s simply a marketing slogan they were taught when they bought the franchise, and they will insist it’s true even when presented with evidence to the contrary.

Anyone using a spraying service is, therefore, killing all of the above and more. Insects are small and easy to ignore, but if you were to go out after a spraying and look very carefully, you’d find thousands of dead insects on the ground. And only an extremely small percentage would be mosquitoes. If you go out immediately after a spraying you can even see the twitching that precedes death (movie). It’s probably not a pleasant way to go.

Pyrethroids can kill ALL arthropods, in fact, not just insects. So if a yard is sprayed, likely 100% of spiders, mites, centipedes, and millipedes would be at risk. In total that could mean tens of thousands of individuals left twitching in treated yards. In one estimate, an acre of land in Pennsylvania contains 425 million animals … and a good portion of them would be killed by pyrethroids.

Another concern with gassing all the arthropods in a yard is that those bird species that eat arthropods will have a lot less to eat. Population levels of swallows and flycatchers, for example, have dropped in last several decades and one explanation is that there are fewer insects to eat.

And then there are fish, which are acutely sensitive to pyrethroids. Franchise owners will generally avoid spraying near people’s fish ponds and bodies of water. Indeed, by law pyrethroids can’t be used near water, though there are many reports of franchises ignoring that regulation. Even if a property doesn’t have a pond or stream, pyrethroids are rather stable in the soil and tend to get washed into nearby streams after rains. It is increasingly accepted that runoff of pyrethroids into creeks can kill fish downstream.

Finally, pyrethroids are toxic to certain earthworms. This is probably especially true for those species that come out onto lawn surfaces in the evening, when pyrethroids are often applied. To be honest, many people don’t really care about earthworms (some hate them) but for people who love aerated lawns it should be pointed out that fogging with pyrethroids might result in dramatically less aeration and dramatically more odor from rotting earthworm carcasses. And, perhaps, result in robins that wonder where all the worms have gone.

Pyrethoids are engineered to last for weeks

As mentioned above in reference to monarchs, pyrethroids adhere to plant surfaces and stay active for weeks, so the risk to all the organisms mentioned above also lasts for weeks. Here’s a nice (and hilarious) description of pyrethroid persistence that I found on a Mosquito Squad FAQ:

“How can the barrier spray continue to kill mosquitoes for 21 days? Mosquitoes will feed on plant juices. When they attempt to feed on sprayed leaves, the residual from the spray will kill them.

Mosquitoes don’t eat leaves, of course, but the quote is correct about the fate of insects that walk on treated leaves. Pesticide franchises like to claim that once their product is dry it is no longer toxic, but that claim makes no logical sense in light of their claim that the product provides protection for three weeks. Some pyrethroids can even last for 90 days if they are on shaded surfaces. One possible reason (in my view) that pyrethroids retain their ability to kill is that morning dew and guttation (see photographs) might re-suspend the pyrethroids on plant surfaces, and then insects walk through or drink these droplets (see photographs).

Signage and notification requirements

All of the above information is of course useful to those interested in getting their yard fogged, but it’s also important for neighbors of treated properties. The reason for this is because the aerosolized pesticide always drifts onto neighboring properties a bit (sometimes a lot). So if a neighbor has a patch of milkweed or a vegetable garden right along the property line, pyrethroids will kill monarchs and coat the vegetables. Homeowners should always check with neighbors before hiring a spraying service and should always personally inform neighbors when the spraying will actually take place.

There doesn’t seem to be a Federal law requiring either signage or neighbor notification when a yard is sprayed with insecticide, and state laws are variable (here’s a good review; here’s another). Many states have laws that require applicators to leave signs at properties that have been sprayed, and some require notification of neighbors prior to spraying. For example, most counties in New York require that neighbors be notified 48 hours before spraying (details). In some states (e.g., Maine) you can get your name on a notification registry that requires any applicator to contact you in advance of spraying. That’s also an option for beekeepers in some states, too; in that case the pesticide applicators need to search a database of hives in a town, then notify hive owners when spraying will happen.

I live in Pennsylvania, one of several states that allows people to be placed on a Pesticide Hypersensitivity Registry. Once on it, pesticide applicators will know you have a medical issue with pesticides and they are obliged to inform you of future spraying (so you can leave the area). Also on this registry are beekeepers, apparently.

If you want to know what rules might apply in your state, Googling “pesticide notification laws regulations residential pennsylvania” (replace with your state) will get you started. If that doesn’t help just contact your state agency that regulates pesticide use. Towns and cities will sometimes have their own rules but some states prohibit such rules.

How local governments can help

All towns and cities should maintain a web page that provides mosquito information and relevant pesticide laws to residents (I designed a template if your town needs one). In addition to maintaining the page, local governments should push prevention by sending to residents timely, regular reminders — with visuals — about how to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Such tips might be especially important for towns that strive to be pollinator-friendly (e.g., Bee City USA, Pollinator Friendly Alliance, Mayors’ Monarch Pledge). Towns can also enact ordinances on third-party pesticide applications. For example, a town might require that franchises alert neighbors 48 hours before spraying is done. Or, at the very least, towns can remind residents that neighbors can (usually) ask franchises to provide alerts before the next spraying so that cats are inside. Finally, local governments should consider banning automatic pesticide foggers (pipes that deliver pyrethroids on a timer, just like those automatic misters in the grocery aisle).

Logo that says
Image from Mosquito Squad that was removed as soon as they read this blog post.

State governments can can also make sure that pesticide franchises are not making false claims. E.g., if companies claim through words or imagery that their pyrethroid-containing sprays are “environmentally friendly,” “bee friendly,” “kid friendly,” “pet friendly,” or government approved (e.g., “EPA-approved”), sue them. Massachusetts did, and now has several restrictions on advertising including a ban on ads that “rely on images of young children to convey a sense of harmlessness“. Almost all sites I’ve looked at have misleading wording, especially the claim that pyrethroid-containing sprays “target” mosquitoes and ticks (completely false; they do no such thing).  Some sites also use misleading graphics and logos (like the one on the right, from a Mosquito Squad site in Florida) to suggest that the EPA has approved the products on a page. I could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure that the EPA neither approves any of these chemicals nor provides that logo. But a typical homeowner might be fooled into thinking otherwise — that’s why state oversight is needed.

Is spraying effective?

Although spraying pyrethroids might be a good way to kill mosquitoes near the ground and in low shrubs, some mosquito species spend most of their time high up in the canopies of trees and are untouched by sprays. For example, many species in the genus Culex (transmitters of West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, western encephalitis, avian malaria, etc.) are tree dwellers and only occasionally come down to feed on humans and pets. This limitation isn’t just theoretical: one study showed spraying didn’t reduce numbers of Culex at all. So if you have trees and birds, don’t expect that spraying will be effective. Continued spraying will also result in mosquitoes developing resistance to pyrethroids, something that is happening in Africa already.

But I don’t want to imply that spraying is ineffective. Pyrethroid fogs will probably kill a large percentage of Anopheles spp. (vectors of malaria) and Aedes spp. (vectors of dengue, yellow fever, Zika, etc.) because these species are more likely to be lower in the vegetation. There are more genera of mosquitoes, of course, so depending on where you live and what is growing in your yard, pyrethroids might vary in effectiveness. I think most companies suggest that their sprays might miss 10% of the mosquitoes on a property (that leaves quite a few mosquitoes).

Tips for controlling and repelling mosquitoes

Here are my 10 suggestions.