Tag Archives: mosquitoes

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 regards to the latter requirement, to my knowledge Jeremy Hirsch did not have any experience in conducting mosquito trials. At the time of the study he owned a sandwich shop franchise:

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.

Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech in a tree

Does the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech attract mosquitoes?

This post evaluates the claim on the label, “mosquitoes will gather near them”. Per the company, it is the first step in how the device kills mosquitoes. I.e., the device needs to attract mosquitoes if it is going to work.

mosquitoes will gather

Evaluating the claim

I used a security camera to record activity around the cap area. Here’s a photograph of how I arranged everything:

Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech with security camera

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 began filming (September 2nd, 2020) I counted over a dozen mosquitoes (all Aedes albopictus) landing 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.

Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech begins working instantly

I collected continuous footage for over a week, ending observations on September 10th. The mosquitoes were still plentiful on that day.

Results

During 183 hours of footage, I couldn’t find a single mosquito on or near the device. Here are the contents. I also posted a photograph to iNaturalist.

Conclusion

Because the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech did not attract any mosquitoes, it therefore did not kill any mosquitoes. If my results are generalizable to other yards, the device is worthless as mechanism of mosquito control.

It is noteworthy, I think, that Spartan Mosquito has not made public a single video of mosquitoes gathering around a Pro Tech (or an Eradicator) when it is deployed outside. My guess is that the company has tried many times to get such footage but has not succeeded in attracting a mosquito. It will be interesting to know whether they will be compelled to disclose their efforts in a court of law. I.e., because the company has formally claimed to the EPA that “mosquitoes will gather” around the Pro Tech, the company would be in substantial legal jeopardy if that statement turned out to be false. If that’s what is going on then it seems likely that the EPA Enforcement Office might coordinate with the FTC as well.

Footage

In case anyone might be skeptical of my results, I decided to upload all 183 hours of footage onto YouTube. I had to break it into 16 segments due to size limits on YouTube.

Sweet devices that claim to kill mosquitoes

Yeast-based mosquito control devices

In the United States, seven companies are selling tubes filled with water, sugar, and yeast for mosquito control.

The marketing pitch is that mosquitoes will be drawn to the devices by carbon dioxide (produced from yeast consuming the sugar), enter the device through tiny holes at the top, ingest some of the fluid inside, squeeze back out of the tube through the same holes, and then die (e.g., by exploding) due to the effects of a chemical (table salt, boric acid, garlic oil, etc.) dissolved in the fluid. Some of the companies claim their tubes will rid a yard of mosquitoes for months.

1. Spartan Mosquito Eradicator

Contains sugar, yeast, and salt. First sold in 2016 as the Spartan Mosquito Bomb, the company says these tubes will eradicate mosquito populations for up to 90 days. Company is based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and was founded by Jeremy Hirsch (a Which Wich? Superior Sandwiches franchisee) and Chris Bonner (works at father’s chemical testing company). Here’s an ad. Here’s another. The tube is now the focus of a $5 million lawsuit. You can now buy refills on Amazon.

Spartan Mosquito Eradicator

2. Sock-It Skeeter

Contains sugar, yeast, and salt. Produced by the same company (AC2T, Inc.) that makes the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. Here is a commercial about the device. I don’t think this is sold anymore.

Sock-It Skeeter

3. Donaldson Farms Mosquito Eliminator

Contains sugar, yeast, citric acid, calcium carbonate, salt, and sodium lauryl sulfate (the latter two ingredients are supposed to be the active ingredients). Marketed as capable of eradicating mosquitoes for 90 days. 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. This device doesn’t appear to registered in any of the states that require registration of “minimum risk” pesticides.

Donaldson Farms Mosquito Eliminator

4. Mosquito XT

Contains sugar, yeast, baking soda, and salt. Company is based in Paragould, Arkansas, and owned by Kevin King, an insurance broker. This device doesn’t appear to registered in any of the states that require registration of “minimum risk” pesticides.

Mosquito XT

5. Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech

Contains sugar, yeast, and boric acid. Company claims it kills mosquitoes for 30 days. Here are some ads. Despite claims, the device doesn’t appear to attract mosquitoes. Here’s a comparison of the Pro Tech and the Eradicator. Company is now marketing the tube as an effective weapon in fight against malaria in Africa and Asia. Good lord that’s a horrifying prospect. Curious why the EPA registered this device? Here’s my 2 cents (company hired the PR firm behind Brexit). EPA was snookered.

Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech

6. Skeeter Eater

Contains sugar, yeast, and table salt. Company says it eradicates mosquitoes for 90 days. Distributed by Copia Products (a manufacturer of baby products) in Memphis Tennessee and is owned by Wade Whitely. Made in Columbia. Per a recent YouTube review the product has been rebranded as the Aion Mosquito Eliminator. This device doesn’t appear to registered in any of the states that require registration of “minimum risk” pesticides.

Skeeter Eater

7. Skeeter Hawk Backyard Bait Station

Contains sugar, yeast, citric acid, calcium carbonate, and garlic oil. Described in ads 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. My favorite line from a user’s review: “The light is a nice reminder it’s working.” Here’s a YouTube review that concludes device does not kill mosquitoes. This device doesn’t appear to registered in any of the states that require registration of “minimum risk” pesticides.

Skeeter Hawk Backyard Bait Station

8. Grandpa Gus’s Mosquito Dynamiter

Contains sugar, yeast, and table salt. Company claims the device will eradicate up to 95% of mosquitoes for up to 90 days. Says mosquitoes “literally explode”. The containers are wasp traps made in China by Xiamen Consolidates Manufacture And Trading Co., Ltd. Here’s an ad. This device doesn’t appear to be registered in any of the states that require registration of “minimum risk” pesticides. Grandpa Gus is based in Austin, Texas and is owned by Nick Olynyk, an expert on junior hockey. UPDATE: device is no longer for sale, per owner.

Grandpa Gus's Mosquito Dynamiter

9. Tougher Than Tom’s Mosquito TNT

Contains sugar, yeast, and table salt. The containers are the same wasp traps used by Grandpa Gus’s (above). Not surprisingly, they kill honey bees. Per casting calls for the commercials, the target demographic is white folks who shop at Whole Foods (I’m not making this up); the ads target only women, too. Here’s an ad. This device doesn’t appear to registered in any of the states that require registration of “minimum risk” pesticides. Exactly who owns Tougher Than Tom is unclear, but it seems to be managed by an Austin marketing firm called Simply Strive headed by Zachary S. Collins, an expert on autonomous media buyers. Olynyk and Collins apparently first collaborated on Real Deal Dating LLC, and both are officers in Sask Connect Marketing LLC.

Do any of these work?

Unlikely.

For example, when scientists tested the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator, they concluded the device did not work. And a separate team of scientists have concluded that salt (an ingredient in most of these devices) does not kill mosquitoes.

It’s worth noting that none of the companies has released any efficacy data. Similarly, none of the companies has posted video evidence of mosquitoes being attracted to their devices when deployed in a yard. And none of the companies show mosquitoes dying when the device is deployed outside. All the hallmarks of snake-oil salesmen.

Why are these devices only in the United States?

There are mosquitoes all over the world, so it’s curious that there are so many yeast-and-sugar contraptions for sale in the United States and nowhere else. It’s possible that Americans are just more likely to believe marketing hype even when it’s too good to be true. For example, Americans are less skeptical than people in Britain and Australia. And apparently Americans are more susceptible to placebo effects, so once we buy things we tend to really believe they work even when they do nothing (and via confirmation bias then ignore all facts that undermine that belief). Plus our science literacy is terrible (only 28% are literate) so it might not be obvious to a lot of Americans that salt isn’t going to make mosquitoes explode. Another explanation is that regulatory agencies in the United States (Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Trade Commission, for example) are overwhelmed by the cheer volume of charlatans operating their hustles and can only take the most egregious to court.

Probably a combination of all of the above.