Pop quiz: What’s the deadliest animal on the planet?
Likely, your mind jumped to some of the scariest offenders: poisonous snakes, ferocious beasts lurking on the savanna, or maybe you even guessed the sleeper that ranks right up there, the hippopotamus.
But those are all wrong and off by hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Shockingly, the mighty mosquito is the top killer, claiming the lives of more than 1 million people per year, mostly by malaria, according to the World Health Organization. Some reports put the death rate at nearly 3 million per year. It’s truly awful.
Thankfully, most of our fuss with mosquitos in Texas is with how pesky they are, not necessarily how deadly. But even in our own backyards, mosquitos can come with dangers of various diseases. The list is a scary one: encephalitis, malaria, dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever.
Most of us will never face serious issues like these from mosquitos, but precaution and prevention are always worth pursuing. Even if all you do is slow the torturous itch of pesky bites, it’s worth taking a look at what’s available in your high-tech world to help with your low-tech pests.
The folks at mosquitomagnet.com argue that you have to “understand the enemy” to properly defend against their wiles. The technology that the Mosquito Magnet uses is based on the concept of attraction. Mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide. They track us by our breathing, so they can land their best bite. So, Mosquito Magnet (among other devices using the attractional approach) produces carbon dioxide to attract, trap and eliminate mosquitos. And the Mosquito Magnet is high-tech indeed. It has Wi-Fi to track its fuel levels and effectiveness. You’ll have to be a serious bug baiter to add this to your kit. They run from $329 to $847! At that rate, you might just say, “Bite me!”
If the attractional model of mosquito fighting isn’t your thing, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction as well. We’re all familiar with the low-tech citronella applications that have found their way into oils, candles, etc. The basic theory is to repel or at least disguise carbon dioxide targets enough to distract our thirsty dive bombers. According to health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, there are published journal articles that argue for the relatively benign effect of these products, but we’re here to talk tech, not tiki torches. So, is there a tech version? You bet. Sorta. Kinda.
One argument is for ultrasonic shooing. Yes, there’s an app for even that! These mosquito repellant apps and devices try to create sounds that are not perceptible by humans, but that – in theory – chase away the critters. There are mixed reviews about these applications and this theory. Writer Ross Goodman, admittedly trying to sell a non-tech roll-on product, argues that published data suggests there’s little evidence of ultrasonic techniques working well, if at all. And William Kremer of the BBC (if you need an Old World warning) chimes in to say that scientists give these devices a thumbs down. But maybe given their cost, they can still make it to the picnic. Apps are free or just a few bucks, and ultrasonic devices can be found for around $20 or less.
If you’re like me, you grew up with at least one bug-zapping neighbor. The soft blue, glowing light wooed ‘em in and then WHAMO, the bolt of lightning fried whatever flew into its tractor beam. Zappers are certainly an option. They even have LED bulbs with built-in zappers. Amazon will ship you one for $10.99 to test out on your back porch. You’ll be “that” family. It’s a badge of honor. Wear it proudly.
There’s also Thermacell technology, which basically takes the citronella idea noted above and turns it from torch to tech. It warms various types of repellant and disperses them near your gathering. You’ll have to find out what level of comfort you have with what’s spewing into your atmosphere and whether that’s a proper tradeoff to getting feasted on by the buzzing attack mob making your evening a misery. You can get these devices for less than $40.
Finally, for those who really want to know the “latest and greatest” tech, Jerry Adler, writing for Smithsonian Magazine, notes that scientists have created gene-editing technology that could wipe out disease-carrying mosquitos. I’m guessing that’s not in your lab yet, so maybe just go watch the new Jurassic Park movie and stick with the silver-screen version of gene-edited monsters!
Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the president of STARRY in Round Rock.