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Yeast-based mosquito-control scams

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. Here’s my 2019 review of the tube. The tube is now the focus of $5 million lawsuit. Company is suing me for exposing the scam. Classy people.

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. This device doesn’t appear to registered in any of the states that require registration of “minimum risk” pesticides. It’s currently featured on Amazon.

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). 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 Zach Collins, an expert on autonomous media buyers. I don’t fully understand how companies in #8 and #9 are connected but 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. Our science literacy is also really bad (only 28% are literate) so it might not be obvious to a lot of Americans that salt isn’t going to make mosquitoes explode (or even kill them). 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.

Want to help?

  1. If any of the above devices are being sold in your state illegally, report them. You can check whether a device is allowed to be sold by searching the NPIRS database. If it’s not registered, send an email to the person in charge. Note that some states don’t enforce regulations (Texas, e.g.), but if they respond saying that they really don’t care … report the product to your regional EPA office; mention that device is a making a false claim (see below).
  2. Salt doesn’t kill mosquitoes so anyone claiming to kill mosquitoes with salt is making a demonstrably false claim. You can report it to state pesticide officials.
  3. Send me pics of what’s inside your traps. I even like to see pics of animals on the outside of the tubes. E.g., if you see bees trying to get in, send me a pic. Here’s my contact form.
  4. Set up your tubes so that you can see them on a security camera, then record for days to see whether mosquitoes are swarming the device. Here’s an example of how to do it.
  5. Share this post on Facebook or Nextdoor.

Alternative lawn signs for Mosquito Shield

Mosquito Shield is just one of dozens of companies that spray pyrethroids to kill mosquitoes. Homeowners typically pay $800 per summer for treatments spaced every 21 days and, as part of the deal, agree to feature a sign in their yard for the season.

Two types of people have these yard signs. The main category is homeowners who fully understand that pesticides have bad environmental effects but who simply don’t care. These are likely the same people who knowingly drive with their high beams on at night (“It’s safer for ME!”). And then there are people who were duped by the pesticide companies into believing pyrethroids kill only mosquitoes.

To better reach this second type of person as well as those who are interested in mosquito sprays but are still on the fence, I’ve fabricated six signs that highlight the fact that pyrethroids kill other animals:

All the signs are fairly self-explanatory except for perhaps the Bird Shield one. Pyrethroids don’t kill birds directly but many species depend on insects and spiders to feed themselves and their young. So when you hire Mosquito Shield to nuke your yard every three weeks you are reducing the numbers of birds that can survive in an area.

I realize that none of the above signs is going to be used by an actual pesticide company. Their business model is to obfuscate about the effects of pyrethroids. Indeed, most companies try to hide the fact that their mosquito sprays even contain pesticides. That’s why the government (federal and/or state) should require companies to clearly indicate the active ingredient of the spray. Here’s how it could (should) look, thus allowing curious neighbors to Google the chemical and be horrified.

Pyrethroid sign for Mosquito Shield

If you are an influential part of a local government, please consider enacting an ordinance that requires disclosure of the pesticide name on signs.

If you need an individual sign for your a presentation, here are some image files: fireflies, butterflies, bees, spiders, fish, birds.

Please share this page on your neighborhood social media to get the word out. These companies are spreading in popularity and it’s horrifying.

More details here.