Mosquitoes' fatal attraction: Scent of cow's breath

July 30, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

NAPLES, Fla. -- Leave it to a creature as contemptible as the mosquito to fall in love with a scent as malodorous as cow's breath.

Mosquito control experts in Collier County are rejoicing that the nasty little biters can be lured to their deaths by a mere hint of the fragrance they find so enthralling.

"It's kind of a sweaty-sock smell," says Gene Lamire, a research entomologist for the county's Mosquito Control office and co-inventor of the county's new cow's breath traps, the first of their kind in the country.

With help from the U.S. Agriculture Department, Mr. Lamire created a mosquito trap that uses as bait a synthetic chemical called Octenol -- basically, cow's breath in a can. The traps cost ++ about $500 each to make.

Small motorized fans within the traps send the aroma wafting through the air, attracting thick clouds of mosquitoes. When the bugs get close enough, they are sucked into a Mason jar by the fans. Unable to fly out, they die, surrounded by the smell they love so well.

Mr. Lamire learned about the cow's-breath theory from researchers in Africa who are trying to find a way to fend off tsetse flies. To test the theory, Mr. Lamire and his colleagues placed 42 traps on Key Island near Naples July 1. Every day since then, they've scooped millions of mosquito carcasses from the Mason jars.

In 1986, Mr. Lamire said, a mosquito outbreak in the county was actually felling cattle. Autopsies on some of the animals showed dense clots of dead mosquitoes in their lungs.

"The cows were breathing in more mosquitoes than air," he said.

So he wasn't surprised that the bugs could be entrapped by the smell they find so irresistible. Now he's looking for a way to build a cheaper trap.

"The goal is to find an alternative to reduce the amount of spraying in mosquito control," Mr. Lamire said. "This looks like a good alternative."

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