Is a bug zapper more eco than bug spray?

Q. Are bug zappers eco-friendly? I don’t know what’s worse: an electricity-powered zapper or chemical bug repellant. Can you help? – Stella, Pensacola, FL

A. The bug zappers might have come out ahead of the chemical sprays in an eco pros and cons test—if the devices actually worked, that is. Unfortunately, when you plug in one of these electronic traps, you’re probably just squandering carbon and annoying the neighbors. “They may zap the occasional mosquito, but they kill way more beneficial insects,” explains Jonathan Day, PhD a medical entomologist at the University of Florida. This may even make your mosquito problem worse—you could be unintentionally killing off good insects that eat mosquitoes (like dragonflies), or insects whose eggs feed on mosquito larvae (parasitic wasps), or even killing off pollinating honeybees and decomposition-loving beetles.

What’s more, the light emitted by the zappers may actually lure more mosquitos to your general vicinity! “When they get closer,” says Day, “the humans sitting on the patio are going to be much more attractive.” In other words, they’ll come for the light, but stay for the blood. Newer types of electric traps, which use carbon dioxide to lure mosquitoes, are theoretically more useful, but they’ll really only make a noticeable difference with certain breeds—and unless you’re willing to collect samples and take them to your cooperative extension service, you really have no way of knowing what breed is there. If you’re going to go to that much trouble, you’d probably be better off just doing a little detective work so you can eliminate the mosquito-breeding spots around your house. This kind of sleuthing is free—compare that to the $300 to $1000 you’ll spend on a CO2 trap.

Now, if you’ve taken a stab at eliminating breeding spots around the house, and the mosquitoes are still bothering you when you’re outside at dawn and dusk (mosquito feeding times), try out some non-toxic alternatives to chemical repellent spray.

-         Sarah Schmidt

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