A light bulb goes on in mosquito war

September 25, 2004|By ROB KASPER

AS SUMMER fades into autumn, mosquitoes are making their final attempts to suck our precious bodily fluids. Accordingly, one of the joys of my life recently has been to go out in the backyard and count dead bugs, especially mosquitoes.

The bugs have been appearing in the watery bottom of a combination outdoor light and bug trap called Bug D'Light, an invention of Bob Carver Sr., a Richmond, Va., electrician. It is the latest weapon I have employed in my battle with mosquitoes for control of my backyard. As readers of this column might recall, this conflict has been longstanding.

A few years ago for Father's Day I got something called MosquitoContro, a $20 unit that supposedly scares off mosquitoes by sending out bad vibrations. It proved to be about as effective at warding off mosquitoes as a garish tie, which is what I am going to ask for next Father's Day. This summer I slunk around my neighborhood sprinkling peppery-looking flakes in pools of standing water. The flakes contained a chemical that is supposed to prevent mosquito eggs, especially those of the aggressive Asian Tiger mosquito, from hatching. The flakes seem to work, but the mosquitoes can breed in a bottle cap and have proven very adept at finding new hatcheries. Occasionally I have sprayed solutions on myself and on my foliage in an attempt to keep the bugs at bay. I have won a few skirmishes, but the mosquitoes seem to be winning the war.

Recently when I got a chance to give this new outdoor light and bug trap a trial run, I jumped at it. It arrived from Richmond in a big, well-padded box. When I unwrapped it I noticed that the light bulb, a smaller than normal 100-watt unit, was especially well protected. It is the bulb, Carver told me later, working in conjunction with prisms on the sides of the light, that lures mosquitoes to their deaths. The bulb is a unique type of incandescent. Replacement bulbs, at $19, are sold through the Web site of Shades of Light (www.shadesoflight .com), the Richmond-based catalog company that sells the $195 Bug D'Light.

While Carver was changing the bulbs on the outdoor lights ringing Collegiate School, a private school in Richmond where he works half days, he noticed that different bugs seemed to be attracted to different types of lights. He constructed various lights, experimenting with various bulbs and configurations of the side panels, until he came up with an outdoor fixture, which, he concluded, would attract mosquitoes and the tiny airborne bugs known as "no see 'ems."

I was excited to have a new armament in my backyard. My wife, however, was skeptical, worrying that it would be "bug ugly." But when I unpacked the 2-foot-tall burnished metal structure, she eyed it, and in a tone of voice that indicated both surprise and approval, announced it was "not bad looking." I hung the light on a hook attached to our back porch and plugged the cord into an outdoor electrical outlet. Next, I slid out the metal tray that serves as the bottom of the light and poured in a quart of water and a couple drops of dishwashing detergent.

Bugs were indeed attracted to the light. And for several nights, so was I. Wide-eyed with wonder, I watched as winged creatures flew toward the bulb, adjusting their trajectory like airliners getting ready for landings. They maneuvered along the sides of the light, moving down the inward-facing funnels of Plexiglas until they entered a small hole where the light was brightest.

Once inside the prisms, the bugs appeared to be confused. Most were unable to locate the tiny exits and after flying around a while, collapsed on the watery floor. Once the soapy water got on their wings, they could not fly. A few did the backstroke, swimming laps at the bottom of the light until they expired.

A few other trapped bugs behaved like "bar flies." They went in, stayed a while, then left. But no sooner had they traveled a short distance from the exit than they turned around and went right back in. These "bar flies" bugs reminded me of some fellas I used to work with. They would leave a tavern, walk about half a block, then, even though they knew it was probably not a good idea, turn around and head back to perdition.

Last week on nights that I didn't have much to do - in other words, about four out of five evenings - I amused myself by standing on the back porch watching bugs fly into the light. The next morning I examined my "catch" of fragrant critters, floating on the bottom of the tray. Some guys measure their manhood by the number of deer antlers on their den wall. I counted bug carcasses.

No doubt about it, the light killed a lot of bugs. As the week wore on, I became more proficient at identifying the flotsam and jetsam that once were mosquitoes.

The other night I was sitting out in the back yard, about 10 yards from the light, feeling pretty smug, when I got another feeling, down near my ankles. A mosquito, one of those feisty Asian Tigers, was snacking on me. She didn't know she was supposed to be soggy toast, drawn to the light like a moth to the flame.

Even though the Bug D'Light did not kill every mosquito, I probably will keep it. I am attracted to it. It kills a bunch of bugs and it amuses me. I am also thinking of folding it into a multiple-front offensive against mosquitoes. I have the chemical flakes to shake on breeding spots. I have the backyard light to kill the curious. And next week I am huddling with a fellow, Alan Magan of Chesapeake Gardens, a landscaping firm in Clarksville, who tells me he has found yet another powerful weapon in the war. Namely spraying your yard with a mixture of water, oil and potent, aromatic garlic.

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