Mosquito & Biting Fly Traps

- Traps use carbon dioxide and UV light -

Summary: Mosquito and biting fly traps use a combination of carbon dioxide, body odors and UV light to attract and capture these biting pests. Traps can be effective where mosquito populations are high but the traps are relatively expensive and require a fair amount of maintenance.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

The new mosquito traps work by luring adult mosquitoes, black flies and other biting flies, into a trap with a combination of carbon dioxide, animal odors and/or UV light. The artificially generated odors are the same as those that adult female mosquitoes, the stage that bites, use to locate a host animal and meal.

How do mosquito traps work?

From a long distance biting flies and mosquitoes use sight to find their hosts honing in on large dark silhouettes. But, from shorter distances they use odor. Because all of us exhale carbon dioxide these insects "smell" carbon dioxide to locate a host. At very close range mosquitoes and biting flies may use the odor of animal sweat which contains the chemical octenol. Some of the new traps also use UV light to enhance the trap's effectiveness.

mosquito traps capture adult mosquitoes

Mosquito traps target adult mosquitoes (left side and top views)

Mosquito traps produce carbon dioxide gas by burning propane in a device that looks a bit like a one-burner gas grill. Many traps use artificial octenol lures that should be replaced on schedule and a UV light source may be installed as well.

Using mosquito traps

You should place your trap well away from human activity because the traps will actually increase mosquitoes and other biting flies in the immediate area of the traps if they are working properly. Because of this some traps have their own power source while others require a long extension cord.

Over time traps will reduce the number of certain biting pests in your yard especially if populations are high. Don't expect miracles because no device will eliminate all and some species may not be effectively reduced. These new traps are, however, preferable to blacklight ("bug zapper") type traps because they don't attract and kill beneficial species. See Related Articles below.

Mosquito traps may not be for everyone

Traps have several characteristics, however, that may discourage some people from trying them. First, they are relatively expensive to purchase and require regular maintenance, which is an ongoing expense. They won't work in all situations for all species of biting pests so test in your area if possible. On the other hand, if biting mosquitoes and/or black flies are preventing use of your property they may be worth a try. Be sure to try larval control first and use mosquito repellents appropriately (see How to Control Mosquito Larvae in standing water such as ponds and fountains and for personal protection against biting pests see Using Insect Repellents).

Related Articles

What are Black Flies?

Using Black Light "Bug Zapper" Traps

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