The Real Buzz on Blasting Bugs That Bug You

Mosquitoes are no respecter of class or wealth. Ask anyone who's had her backyard garden-party soiree brought to a neck-slapping close by a squadron of these high-pitched pests.

Humanity's unending battle for mosquito-free environs has produced an endless arsenal of weapons. Because of questions about the health risk of pesticides, many households are turning to "environmentally friendly" gadgets that promise to deter or destroy, biting bugs.

Still, how many of these gizmos actually clear the air?

You can give your backyard that neon post-modern look with an ultraviolet electromagnetic trap that executes its prey. That'll cost you about $20, at the low end. Or, for $10, there's the stylish wristband ultrasonic repeller intended to chase bugs off with high-frequency static.

While these devices may impress the neighbors, "many perform dismally" says George Balis at Clark Mosquito Management, based in Roselle, Ill.

Studies show that electrocutor traps 'zap' far more beneficial insects than blood-feeding bugs. According to last year's study by Timothy Frick and Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware in Newark, less than 0.25 of 1 percent of the insects 'zapped' in such devices were actually biting insects.

Researchers W.A. Foster and K.I. Lutes at the American Mosquito Control Association in Lake Charles, La., found that ultrasonic repellers don't necessarily disorientate female mosquitoes (the biting gender). Certain frequencies even attract them.

George Craig Jr., an entomologist at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., is more blunt: he calls the zappers "a fraud on the public."

This seems like a strong claim, yet Jack Harris, a spokesman for Insect-o-cutor, a manufacturer of industrial-size bug-blasters in Stone Mountain, Ga, says that although domestic mosquito zappers are generally "ineffective," his firm's products zap damaging insects of all kinds, particularly in agriculture.

Domestic zappers are marketed as mosquito "traps." "The problem with mosquitoes," says Mr. Harris, "is that they will still be more attracted to human breath than light if they have the choice - so the light traps don't work too well." Mosquitoes are more attracted to the carbon dioxide people breathe than almost anything else.

Consumers who prefer to employ nature to conquer nature might choose to buy or build a birdhouse that attracts insecteaters, such as purple martins, or even a bat house. Bat houses are particularly in vogue now. Find out how to build one at (

But if you build it, will they come? "Probably", says a spokesman for U-Spray Inc., makers of bathouses based in Lilburn, Ga. "It's not guaranteed of course, a bat house is basically the same concept as a birdhouse - you provide them with a place to live and a food supply, and you wait."

Just make sure you prefer bats over mosquitoes. Bats are capable of catching as many as 10 mosquitoes per minute, but this doesn't mean they'll oblige - they tend to go for beetles or moths if they have the choice.

Other "natural" insect repellents include citrosa the "mosquito fighter' plant. This cross between a geranium and grass of China contains citronella oil, which is used in candles and repellent coils.

The plant smells great, but again it may not be the ideal solution; you would have to buy a whole load to make a difference to your patio mosquito population, according to Lee Mitchell, a Toledo, Ohio-based entomologist.

So are any of the new-style repellents effective - or is the buzz just high-tech hyperbole and eco-friendly wishful thinking? Most products will work in moderation. Citronella candles, for instance, will repel mosquitoes, but they are most effective when there is relatively little wind to disperse the chemical too quickly, they also burn out eventually.

If you find, however, that the wind is blowing in your backyard, your citrosa plants are wilting, and your bats are deciding to eat moths, what do the experts recommend?

Most fall back on the traditional bug sprays, the ones containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). It's not natural, but mosquitoes sure don't like it very much.

Of course, you can always try Avon's Skin-So-Soft bath oil, now marketed for its mosquito repelling qualities. According to Mr. Mitchell, it also has "31 valuable uses," which include removing chewing gum from hair and skin, cleaning spots, and tanning skin.

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