Friday, October 3, 2003
Mosquito Magnet® or marketing magnet?
Here in Carlisle we don't spray for mosquitoes and as a community, we support the no-spray policy. We do complain about them, however, and we are concerned about their more dangerous characteristics as carriers of disease. Until recently, we have coped and hoped for the best. Sometimes, when the critters are especially voracious, some of us may be driven to drown our annoyance and frustration in that time-honored safeguard against malaria: gin and tonic.
Is there an environmentally friendly way to rid us of the annoyance of that high-pitched whine, those itch-inducing bites, and the worry about encephalitis and West Nile virus? And if we can successfully reduce the mosquito population without using harmful chemicals, how will that reduction impact our environment?
New pest-control technology
Enter the Mosquito Magnet®. According to their publicity, the American Biophysics Corporation has developed a "fatal attraction for mosquitoes" without harmful chemicals. How does it work?
American Biophysics literature explains: "The patented Counterflow Technology used exclusively in our Mosquito Magnet® creates a plume of carbon dioxide (CO2), heat, and moisture that is emitted from the inner attractant tube [mimicking human beings exhaling], while the flared outer tube vacuums along the top of the CO2 plume without vacuuming up any of the CO2. As the bloodseeking insect reaches the attractant tube, it realizes it can't get a blood meal. Because [it] will not turn down (insect behavior) and it won't fly across the plume of carbon dioxide (overstimulation), it is forced to turn upwards, where it's caught in the vacuum of the suction tube. At this point it is vacuumed into a net, where it dehydrates and dies within 24 hours." The company sells an additional attractant called octenol, "a naturally occurring by-product [of] plants and some animals such as oxen and cows, that ingest large amounts of vegetable matter. Studies have shown that octenol, when combined with carbon dioxide, is highly attractive to many species of mosquitoes, no-see-ums and biting midges."
Unlike the chemicals sprayed over most of our neighboring towns, the attractants used in the Mosquito Magnet's® emissions imitate those of a single human being with a bovine companion. Of course, the effect is carried on as if a man and a cow were to stand in your back yard breathing and munching field greens without pause for sleep all summer long.
Does it work?
Is the thing effective? If you are going to shell out anywhere from $400 to over $1000, depending on the model, it had better be. There are two Mosquito Magnet® vendors close by: Chelmsford Fireplace Center in the Summer Street Mall in Chelmsford, and Agway on Maple Street in Chelmsford. Both have had trouble keeping the Magnet in stock. Agway's four locations have sold upwards of 180 of the machines, and their Maple Street store has sold at least fifty. The feedback? "Ninety-nine per cent of our customers have said they work great. The rest seem to be people who live right on the edge of wetlands. They say, 'Yeah, they kill a billion mosquitoes, but of course there are two billion more that come to take revenge.'"
Agway reported that Kimball's in Westford has a number of Magnets (each one purports to cover one-half to "at least one" acre, depending on the model), and that Kimball's are enthusiastic in their praise: they can now have customers using their mini-golf and golf courses in comfort during "mosquito hours" of 6 to 8 p.m. A number of country clubs and golf courses have reported good luck with them. American Biophysics' www.mosquito.com site churns out no less than fourteen pages of glowing testimonials from all over the country.
Lynn Ann Hajducky of Red Fox Drive agrees: "[We] could not live without the thing. We could not go out after sunsetthe mosquitoes are vicious. We actually have two of the big ones, each covering an acre, and they have made a world of difference. There is no way that we could possibly enjoy our back yard without them." Lynn Ann's property is close to the pond which is part of our back yard, and as neighbors, we discussed the Magnets and elected to try them at about the same time.
Research is still underway
I wish I could join in Lynn Ann's enthusiasm, but this year, I will have to be part of a control group. Last year our Magnet seemed to work fine, but last year was not a bad mosquito year in Carlisle. We hooked it up to its propane tank this year in late May: nothing happened. The machines must be serviced by American Biophysics; they told us that our model had had trouble with blocking carburetors, so we returned the engine. Naturally, the warranty had run out, and we had to purchase the new engine required. We ordered it, and waited. We waited until the end of August (apparently the company had trouble coping with all the replacements they had to make). As a result, we never really got to test our Magnet in a year when the mosquitoes were out in force and I cannot attest to the machine's effectiveness. I can, however, report dissatisfaction with the company's service.
Also in the control group is Kate Bauer Burke of Pine Brooke Road, who asked, "What is it? Something you put on your refrigerator?" and then remembered that she had a similar machine in her garage. Her husband's illness had prevented him from putting it out this summer, and she had completely forgotten about it.
One of the negative arguments is that regardless of how we do it, destroying the mosquito population hampers our ecology by cutting the food supplies of birds, bats, dragonflies, reptiles and amphibians, and anything else that eats mosquitoes. I could not discover evidence to indicate that any of these consumers eats enough mosquitoes to be at all affected by any human effort, chemical or otherwise, to control mosquito populations. I called several Carlisleans to check on their knowledge of Mosquito Magnets®, and all but Ms. Hajducky and Ms. Bauer Burke were unavailable for comment as this article goes to press. Therefore, the jury in Carlisle is still out.
We encourage every interested citizen to weigh in on this issue. E-mail the Mosquito (the newspaper!) at firstname.lastname@example.org with your opinions on this latest effort at mosquito control as we would like to revisit the question next year. Our Mosquito ("largest circulation in town") doesn't bite!
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito