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 device is a plastic tube filled with sugar, salt, yeast, and water and is purported to act as an attractive toxic sugar bait. Box claims that device will eradicate (kill) approximately 95% of mosquitoes in a yard for 90 days. It is primarily marketed at feed stores in rural areas of the United States. Here’s the company’s complaint (27-page PDF).
“In this lawsuit, Spartan seeks to use its superior financial resources to silence a former college professor who has been exercising his constitutional rights to petition his government and advocate on an important environmental and public health issue: the effectiveness of commercially available mosquito control devices. In Mr. Purrington’s opinion, based upon his personal evaluation of Spartan’s product and his scientific knowledge, Spartan has made false and misleading claims about the efficacy of its product, thereby violating federal environmental regulations and potentially endangering public health. Most of the statements that Spartan cites in the Complaint reflect Mr. Purrington’s efforts to reach federal and state officials with information about Spartan’s misleading and false claims concerning the efficacy of its product. The remaining statements reflect Mr. Purrington’s efforts to raise public awareness of the matters about which he is petitioning, describe his own opinions, or contain facts that Spartan does not, and cannot, deny are true. Applicable law does not provide Spartan with a valid claim against Mr. Purrington under those circumstances. Notably, even if Spartan could show that Mr. Purrington should be liable for his statements, Spartan fails to plead facts that would suggest it has incurred even a cent of damage to its business to justify its claims. That omission suggests that Spartan has sued merely to intimidate Mr. Purrington rather than to recover any demonstrable damage to its business. For those reasons, Mr. Purrington respectfully requests that the Court dismiss the Complaint in its entirety, with prejudice.”
I think a big part of why they decided to sue me is that they truly believe I’m being paid by some big pesticide company. The reality, of course, is that I just enjoy writing about sciency things. I have zero funding and have lost money on this blog for over a decade. The other reason they are suing me is probably just plain vindictiveness, anger that the scheme has been revealed to neighbors and the world.
Care to represent me?
I’m urgently looking for an attorney to represent me pro bono (my current lawyer is fantastic but I’ve simply run out of money). If you are a fan of science and dislike bullies, I’d be grateful if you got in touch with me. I can email PDFs of any of these documents if you have an interest. Here’s a listing of the case files:
Here’s a link to Pennsylvania’s anti-SLAPP legislation. It sounds like I would be covered: I was mainly in contact with the Environmental Protection Agency, asking them to act on FIFRA violations. I also encouraged others to contact the EPA because I suspected it would take more than just one person to get the interest of EPA attorneys.
Would also be very excited to discuss a SLAPP-back suit, too. Spartan Mosquito is a $100-million company so has deep pockets. They’ll have plenty of money left even after the $5-million class-action suit is over.
In related news, nobody has started a class-action suit over the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech (the above-linked suit concerns the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator).
Health officials love to remind people to use DEET and other CDC-approved repellents, but they tend to shy away from telling the public what doesn’t work. As a result, millions of people adopt ineffective techniques and gimmicky devices. These people are not only subjecting themselves to annoying mosquito bites, they are increasing the likelihood that family members will contract West Nile virus disease,Zika virus disease, eastern equine encephalitis, and other mosquito-borne diseases. So I thought I’d make a list of the top myths and scams just in case skeptical people are Googling.
1. Mosquito-repelling plants
Despite the claims of thousands of posts on Facebook and Pinterest, there are no plants that, when planted around your yard, repel mosquitoes. And, just to be clear, the plant marketed as “mosquito plant” does not repel mosquitoes. I know this is deeply upsetting news to many plant fans. I’m just the messenger.
2. Ultrasonic devices and apps
None of these have been found to work (details). It’s too bad. It would be really cool if they did. The FTC has taken some companies to court. There is, however, a device called The Mosquito that is effective at repelling teenagers.
3. Bags of water suspended from ceiling
This belief is common in Mexico, Central America, Spain, and certain pockets in the U.S. south. It’s a variation of the equally-ineffective tradition of hanging bags of water to repel house flies. Some people insist that you have to add coins (and just the right number).
Nope — even when mixed with other ingredients like beer and epsom salts, spraying Listerine around your yard won’t repel mosquitoes. Just another internet rumor started by somebody with too much free time.
5. Citronella candles
Citronella candles only seem to work if you surround yourself with a lot of them, ideally in a protected area so that wind doesn’t dissipate the smoke. Similarly, Tiki torches that burn citronella-laced oil are ineffective. They smell great, though. The pleasant smell most likely contributes to the strong placebo effect. People absolutely believe they work even though they do not.
6. Bounce dryer sheets
Per one study fungus gnats (which don’t bite) were mildly repelled by dryer sheets. I’d wager these sheets might actually be attractive to mosquitoes (some species home in on perfumes).
7. Wrist bands with natural oils
At best, wrist bands will reduce the number of mosquito bites on your wrist simply because they can’t bite through the plastic. But they will not emit enough volatile compounds to shield the rest of you. NB: currently there are no wristbands that contain DEET or other CDC-approved repellent. Details.
8. Stickers laced with natural oils
Stickers only prevent mosquitoes from biting the flesh directly underneath the sticker. You’d need an awful lot of stickers for full protection. If you can rock that look, I say go for it. Note, same conclusion for the stickers that claim to infuse your bloodstream with B1.
These devices are adored by people because they make a satisfying crackle when an insect meets its end. Indeed, people who own these seem to delight in the attention these things get when friends come over in the evening. But if you dump all the carcasses on a table and sort them (good family fun), you’ll find that only a very small fraction of the victims will be mosquitoes. In one study, 0.22% were mosquitoes. Mostly you’ve just electrocuted thousands of small, defenseless moths and night-active beetles. That’s a lot of bad karma. More details.
Sadly, it’s a myth that constructing a bat or bird hotel in your backyard will eliminate your mosquito problem. Bats and birds will certainly eat mosquitoes under some circumstances (e.g., when they are caged with nothing else) but under natural conditions they prefer to eat larger insects. You should still construct bird and bat houses, though. Details.
The American Mosquito Control Association is unimpressed.
California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Washington (state), D.C., and Puerto Rico do not allow the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator to be sold. Likely more, too.
Spartan Mosquito has purged its website of any mention of the Eradicator.
Spartan Mosquito has stopped making the Eradicator and is now selling only the Pro Tech.
Spartan Mosquito Eradicators are selling like hotcakes around the country so I bought two and thought I’d share some thoughts. The devices are just black tubes filled with water, sucrose, salt, and yeast that you hang in your yard. Per the company, mosquitoes are lured to the devices by the CO2, volatiles, and heat produced by the yeast, crawl inside (through holes in the cap), drink the liquid, crawl back out, then eventually die when their guts rupture (because of the salt and CO2). The claim, therefore, is that the thousands (or tens of thousands) of mosquitoes in a typical back yard are all drawn to the device, drink the fluid, fly out, then die.
Below are two videos in which people explain how Spartan Mosquito Eradicators kill mosquitoes. The first person is a reviewer (Weekend Handy Woman), the second is Jeremy Hirsch, the inventor and co-owner of Spartan Mosquito.
Did they work?
No. I failed to notice any drop in the numbers of mosquitoes in my yard. I also went near the devices regularly to see whether I would see the promised cloud of mosquitoes that are supposed to be attracted, but I never noticed a single mosquito on or even near them. I checked the devices several hundred times during the summer.
My Spartan Mosquito Eradicators did kill a lot of insects, though (see pics). In fact, after several weeks the liquid inside became a bubbling, stinking, charnel pit. I even found fly larvae writhing around inside (video below) — the devices were producing flies for my yard (spotted-wing Drosophila, if you’re curious). When I poured the goo out and sorted through all the carcasses there wasn’t a single mosquito in the mix. And, yes, I know how to identify mosquitoes.
Why didn’t they work?
In my opinion, there are four reasons why the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is unlikely to kill a single mosquito unless it falls from the tree and lands on one.
First, the device clearly doesn’t attract mosquitoes. One reason is likely that they don’t produce sufficient amounts of CO2 to mimic what a bird or mammal produces. It turns out that you’d need a lot more sugar to achieve that level of CO2 production (Saitoh et al. 2004, Smallegange et al. 2010, Obenauer et al. 2013, and Jerry et al. 2017). And even if the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator had a 1-gallon reservoir (instead of a ~1 1/2 cups), the fermentation process would likely be complete after 48 hours or so, leaving the device useless for the remaining 88 days (its advertised life is 90 days). Here’s a visual representation of the fail:
Another reason it’s probably unattractive is that the tube smells like rotting insects after a week, not a nice piece of fruit or flower crammed with nectar. Mosquitoes are not attracted to rotting insects.
It’s noteworthy that Spartan Mosquito’s website doesn’t show a single photograph of a mosquito arriving at (or resting on) one of its devices when set up in a yard. And, similarly, the company doesn’t have a single video of a deployed Spartan Mosquito Eradicator with a swarm of mosquitoes trying to get in. The lack of photographs and video is an indicator, to me, that the owners know fully well the device is a scam.
Second, the fermentation reactions inside the tube are not going to generate enough heat to make the device a thermal target for mosquitoes. Again, even if there was a slight temperature spike on the first day (when there is plenty of sugar), that increase will not last for three months. And, again, nowhere on the company’s website is there any documentation of a temperature increase. The company makes the claim merely to persuade undiscerning consumers.
Third, there’s nothing inside the device that would kill a mosquito even if it went inside and drank the fluid. Here’s what the company says happens:
“When a mosquito ingests the Sodium Chloride (salt), its crystalline structure ‘cuts’ their stomach, causing it to rupture. The fermentation process also continues after mosquitoes ingest the mixture, and CO2 production in the mosquito also causes the stomach to rupture.”
There is no scientific literature that supports either of these things happening. Salt, for example, is not even in a crystalline form when dissolved, so there are no sharp crystals at all. And salt solutions by themselves are not toxic to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes also have salt-sensitive taste receptors just like we do, so there’s zero chance they would ingest something that’s too salty.
And mosquitoes have been drinking fermenting liquids (nectar and rotting fruit) for tens of millions of years without exploding from the carbon dioxide produced by yeasts. Mosquitoes always have yeast in their guts. The owners just made up the “mosquitoes can’t vent CO2” phrase because it sounded dramatic.
As an interesting side-note, the earliest versions of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator used boric acid as a poison (per patent application, video). Boric acid does kill mosquitoes, but Mr Hirsch was likely informed that he would never get EPA approval unless he had efficacy data. So he switched to using sodium chloride so that his device was eligible for an exemption to FIFRA 25(b) regulations. With this exemption he is allowed to sell the device in almost every state without needing any efficacy data.
Fourth, the holes in the cap are likely too small (5/32″, 4 mm) to allow mosquitoes to enter, at least with regard to mosquitoes in search of rotting fruit. There’s not a huge literature on what size holes mosquitoes can crawl through, but Dickerson et al. (2018) found that only 1 out of 100 female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes went through an 8-mm hole after 1 hour when presented with a host. Although a hungry female mosquito might squeeze itself through a small hole in search of a warm mammal (Bidlingmayer 1959), I doubt that they would do the same merely for some rotting sugar water. And I think it’s even more improbable that clouds of mosquitoes would find this hole acceptable even if there were mice stuffed inside the tube.
I think a fundamental problem of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is that in a typical yard mosquitoes have plenty of nectar and fruit sources already. So even if a mosquito could be coerced to enter a small hole under laboratory conditions of starvation, it is simply not going to do that in the real world. For an experiment that underscores this issue, please see Beier et al. 2012.
The owners view the critique above as slanderous and like to show videos of mosquitoes going through the holes. But the conditions the company uses are artificial: they put the devices inside small aquaria with several hundred, starving mosquitoes. And, apparently, only several mosquitoes ever stumble through the holes. There’s zero evidence those mosquitoes ingested anything while inside.
What should be done?
All of the above thoughts are just reasons why nobody should waste their money on Spartan Mosquito Eradicators. But I can’t simply end my review there — this device puts people at risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases. I.e., because people think they are protected from mosquitoes, they might fail to use CDC-recommended repellents, and some percentage of these people will contract one of the many diseases that are present in the United States. And the company owners are bragging about taking their inventions worldwide, to regions plagued by even more insidious diseases.
So the remainder of this post highlights where I think the company has violated FTC and EPA rules. If the sections seem overly long, that’s because I wanted to convey the very real sense that the company has been getting away with a lot, and for many years. These persistent and egregious violations warrant, I think, fines as well as immediate stop-sell orders.
Lack of trustworthy efficacy data
I’m fairly sure that Spartan Mosquito has misled governmental regulators about the effectiveness of the device for years. For example, here’s the graph on the box (and on website, Facebook) that claims to show mosquito populations are all but eliminated for 90 days.
A typical person is going to see this graph and assume that an actual experiment was done and that the device can virtually eliminate mosquitoes for 90 days. However, no details about this graph are ever given on the website — there’s no way to assess whether it was a good experiment or, indeed, whether it even happened. The only information I gleaned was from the URL of the same graph on the company’s website,
which shows that the image was uploaded to the website in March of 2017. That’s Spring in Mississippi so that must mean the experiment was done in 2016 or before. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this graph and I think it shows the number of mosquitoes landing on the company owner’s arm on two different days during an event in Fall 2016 that the company calls, “Case Study CSL4GOV-ZIKA”, described below in a handout the company distributed to some Mississippi towns (they were trying to drum up government contracts):
The document says that a Lamar County official (Joseph Waits) and an etymologist [sic] from the Mississippi Department of Health conducted a study in late 2016 (as described in this story). The wording implies that the Spartan Mosquito Eradicators deployed in the area eliminated 100% of mosquitoes and that the Mississippi State Department of Health participated and approved of the data. It turns out the real reason the final mosquito count was zero was because the State of Mississippi sprayed the neighborhood with insecticides (on multiple days). By advertising with this graph, Spartan Mosquito has been misleading the public.
Another reason I think the graph refers to this event is because Mr Hirsch talked told a reporter that his “Zika-control event” lasted 90 days (png). Here’s the video in which he says that:
Even if the above data (and graph) were for some reason acceptable, there’s another way the company has been deceptive. In Fall 2016 the company was using boric acid as the active ingredient, not salt. Here’s a photograph of the device taken in March 2017 that shows boric acid as the active ingredient (you can also see the “boric acid” on the label if you do a screen grab on the video above).
It appears, then, that the efficacy data that Spartan Mosquito has been supplying to states and presenting to the public are based on a completely different device, not one that used sodium chloride as the active ingredient.
False or misleading efficacy claims
Spartan Mosquito Eradicators don’t contain a regulated pesticide so they are sold under a FIFRA 25(b) exemption. This means, in most states, that the device can be sold without providing any efficacy data. But the catch is that they may not make any claims about efficacy or disparage the efficacy of other products. Below is a small sampling of such claims. In each instance I’ve added an image file (png) that highlights the quoted text.
According to Mr Hirsch, he chose the name, Spartan Mosquito Eradicator, to convey the “exterminate” sense of the word: “to get rid of completely usually by killing off” (source). Per the EPA, “product names cannot constitute false and misleading claims”.
“Eradicate your mosquito population for up to 90 days”. (png)
“The mosquito population … will be 95% controlled for up to 90 days”. (box; Facebook)
“The Eradicator lasts up to 90 days and is proven to dispel up to 95 percent of your mosquito population in approximately 15 days.” (png)
“With proper placement, the Mosquito population in the area will diminish by 95% in 15 days or less.”(png)
“Spartan Mosquito Eradicators are extremely effective in controlling and decimating mosquito populations.” (png)
“In every case, mosquito “hits” (mosquito bites or landings) are reduced to near zero, or zero, within weeks or even days.” (png)
“… better than sprays, repellents, candles, and repellent services …” (png)
“The Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is the most effective, longest lasting, continuous mosquito control system.” (png) Exaggerated claims because device has not been tested against every other device on planet.
Spartan Mosquito asserts that spray services (pyrethroids), bug zappers, repellents (e.g., DEET), etc., are all “less effective”. (png)
“All of our 3rd party efficacy studies submitted and accepted by regulatory authorities in the United States demonstrate our devices destroy at least up to 95% of given populations.” (png)
False, illegal health claims
Devices with FIFRA 25(b) exemptions may not make any health claims, either. But company does so frequently. Here is a sampling.
“To date, this is the most effective, longest-lasting Zika control response on record anywhere.” (jpg; png)
“Purchase the Spartan Mosquito Bomb and fight the Zika virus!” (png)
Its primary distributor implies that the device can protect families from eastern equine encephalitis. (png)
A reseller claims that the device can protect against mosquito-borne disease (YouTube).
The company says its device is “chemical free“, a claim prohibited by the EPA. (png) It’s also untrue (e.g., NaCl, H2O, C12H22O11).
“Spartan Mosquito is an all-natural alternative …” (png)
The company includes a photograph of a pregnant woman on the box to imply the device is safe. (png)
The website mentions encephalitis, yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria on numerous occasions. Owner also mentions diseases when interviewed. This has the effect of implying the device can protect against such diseases. (Google search)
“Fewer bites equal fewer opportunities for mosquito-borne illnesses.” (png)
Television ad that says device is proven to protect against diseases. (Facebook video)
Spartan Mosquito invokes health concern about diseases on first page of brochure by writing, “the mosquito is the deadliest animal in the world”, “U.S. Center for Disease Control”, and “World Health Organization”. (png)
Spartan Mosquito includes paragraph about the World Health Organization on website to imply it is a peer association and collaborator. The name-dropping also serves to increase search-related keyword matches. (png)
Misleading statements about active ingredient
The company has listed “sodium chloride” on the box as the sole active ingredient yet does not present data that shows sodium chloride kills adult mosquitoes. Here’s the relevant requirement from the EPA:
“Active ingredients are the ingredients that kill, repel, or mitigate the pests identified on the product label. If an ingredient does not perform one of these functions, then it is an inert ingredient and should not be identified as an active ingredient on the label.”
So saying that sodium chloride is the active ingredient violates EPA rules. It appears the owners know the salt doesn’t kill mosquitoes, too, because on multiple webpages, on replies to Amazon reviews, and in videos, owners have suggested that it is the carbon dioxide, instead, that causes mosquitoes to die. This “mosquitoes have no way to expel gas” assertion is featured (png), for example, in the brochure that Spartan Mosquito gives to potential distributors and resellers. This switch in mechanism of action appears to suggest that the company has misled regulators about the active ingredient. And, also, that the company misled the states about the inactive ingredients as well.
False or misleading statements
Here are assertions that Spartan Mosquito makes that appear to be false or misleading.
Company asserts that mosquitoes are drawn to the device by carbon dioxide. Company does not have data to support this claim. It is my understanding that the company has data showing the device does not produce sufficient CO2 to be attractive. It has not released these negative data. (png)
Company asserts that salt and CO2 cause mosquito death: “When a mosquito ingests the mixture in Spartan Mosquito Eradicators, the Sodium Chloride combined with the CO2 produced by the fermentation process causes the mosquito’s stomach to rupture.” As discussed above, there is no evidence that either salt or CO2 kills mosquitoes.
“Spartan Mosquito Eradicators are designed to maintain a specific salinity balance…” (png). There is no evidence that this device can maintain a particular salt level.
“… a unique solution activated by simply adding warm water, shaking, and hanging…” (png). Also from website, Amazon: “…uniquely effective …” (png). EPA rules specifically prohibit the use of the word, “unique”.
Company insists that mosquitoes don’t die inside the device but rather later, after leaving the device. Company makes this assertion, I think, to undermine the obvious criticism that mosquitoes are never found inside the device.
Deceptive marketing practices
Spartan Mosquito fails to disclose relevant information to consumers about testimonials, videos, and newspaper articles that promote its device. Some examples are below.
The testimonial by “Michael B.” (png) on the website may have been authored by Michael Bonner, father of one of the co-owners (Chris Michael Bonner) of Spartan Mosquito. Micheal Bonner is a resident of Hattiesburg, where the company is based and where both owners live. Michael Bonner is also owner of Bonner Analytical Testing Laboratory, where his son Chris is employed. Some of the “tests” of the Eradicator take place on Micheal Bonner’s property. He has a PhD (png). NB: most other reviewers have last names fully spelled out, so the use of “B” is to obscure who this person is (deception).
At least two testimonials appear to apply to the boric-acid version, not the salt-based one that is currently available. E.g., the review by Michael B. (png) was dated 2015, and the review by Joe K. (png; likely Joe Kintzel of Hattiesburg, deceased April 2016) must also refer to results from before his death (i.e., sometime during 2015). Given his age at death, I suspect he was a friend or acquaintance of Michael Bonner (the father of Chris Bonner, co-owner of company). All of the undated testimonials on the website are thus suspect — all could refer to the devices that shipped with boric acid.
Two testimonials (“Jesse L.” and “Mark G.”; png) featured on website appear to be people involved in early testing by the company. Jesse L. is part of this test, and website/Facebook mentions testing done on the Mississippi Delta (png). It’s likely these guys received free devices.
Company makes extensive use of television-like videos on website, Facebook, and YouTube without disclosing that segments are paid promotional ads, not real interviews. E.g., all the videos from First Coast Living, such as this one.
Similarly, many of the items in the “News” section of its website appear to be publications that were paid for by Spartan Mosquito.
Company uses a photograph (png) of a government official (wearing a Spartan Mosquito t-shirt) in a government room to imply that the device has official, governmental approval. The person pictured is Dr Phillip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami and a professor of biology at Florida International University. I strongly suspect he does not endorse this device or even know he is being used in advertising.
Unethical customer support
When customers on Amazon give the device low ratings, the company will never admit that the product doesn’t work. Instead, it blames the users, insisting they failed to (1) deploy the devices early enough, (2) buy enough units for the size of the property, (3) place them in right spots, (4) place them at the right height in trees, or (5) wait long enough for devices to start working their magic. In many cases, the company asserts that customer is guilty of all of the above. I fully understand that some types of devices (e.g., airplanes) don’t work if instructions are not followed exactly, but I’d argue that the Spartan Mosquito Eradicators is not such a device. The insistence that “directions weren’t followed” seems more like a scheme to immunize the company against scam complaints.
If a buyer persists in claiming the devices simply don’t work, the company will ask the customer to call a “Deployment Specialist”, somebody who will call up your street address on a Google satellite map and tell you where you should put the devices. That’s creepy.
What can be done?
I’ve done all of the below but the authorities will not act unless they hear from 1 or 2 additional people. Please choose one if you have a minute. It really would help.
By the way, as of Dec 20, 2019, Spartan Mosquito Eradicators can be purchased in all states except Connecticut, Idaho, New Mexico, South Dakota, and DC. These states require efficacy data. FEB 2020 UPDATE: Sales in Montana, Utah, and Puerto Rico have also been stopped.
If you want to mention names in any of the complaints, the owners are Jeremy Hirsch and Chris Bonner. The company address is 8 Nemo Clark Dr, Laurel, MS 39443. Phone number is (844) 625-2742. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. These two guys also make Sock-It Skeeters, a cheapo version of the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. By the way, Mr Bonner also owns a company (Bonner Analytical Testing Laboratory) that does a lot of contract work for the EPA … one of the agencies that regulates pesticide devices.
Mr Hirsch claims the company is now worth $100 million. I’m dubious. But I’m hoping the FTC will accept that valuation as trustworthy and use it as guide for setting a fine.
In other news, if you’re a NASCAR fan you’ll be seeing a lot of Spartan Mosquito advertising in 2020. The company is sponsoring car No. 15, driven by Brennan Poole. Although this is a good use of advertising dollars for Spartan Mosquito (it’s the right demographic), I think it’s going to backfire when states that have tracks ban the device. For example, if Indiana (home of Indianapolis 500) decides to enforce a stop-sell order, NASCAR fans in the state will be outraged that they can’t buy Eradicators at the local hardware store anymore. Situations like this around the country will eventually generate unwelcome publicity for the company. Mr Poole is already angry, apparently.
Please email me if you have a question or comment. If you are a state regulator, please feel free to download and use any of the images on this page.