Working Mechanism of Bug Zappers

Posted by

Home Improvement

Parts of a Bug Zapper

While enjoying your time outdoors, insects can be a major hindrance- feeding on your food or you. To eliminate these insects from your yard, you can opt for a variety of devices such as Citronella candles, traps, pesticides (like Dursban), or electronic bug zappers. A bug zapper, which is formally known as an electronic insect-control system or electrical-discharge insect-control system, attracts bugs and kills them with the help of electricity. This article will discuss the parts of a bug zapper, the working mechanism of the device, and the controversies surrounding its use. It will also highlight other bug-control devices that may enhance your outdoor experience.

Internal Structure of a Bug Zapper

The first bug zapper was patented in 1934 by William F. Folmer and Harrison L. Chapin (U.S. patent 1,962,439). Although many improvements have been made in the areas of lures and safety, the basic design of the bug zapper has remained the same.

The bug zapper is composed of simple parts. The basic components of a bug zapper are:

  • Housing – The exterior casing that holds the parts. The housing is generally made of plastic or electrically grounded metal and can be shaped like a lantern, cylinder or a big rectangular cube. The housing may also have grid patterns to prevent children and animals from touching the electrified grids inside the device.
  • Light bulb(s) – A fluorescent light that attracts insects, usually neon, mercury, or ultraviolet (black light).
  • Wire grids or screens – Two wire meshes that surround the light bulb and are electrified to kill insects.
  • Transformer – A device that electrifies the wire mesh, converting the 120-volt (V) electrical-line voltage to 2,000 V or more.

The transformer applies an increased voltage of at least 2,000 V across the two wire-mesh grids. These grids are separated by a tiny gap, approximately the size of a typical insect (a couple of millimeters). The light within the wire-mesh network attracts insects to the device (many insects are more attracted to ultraviolet light than visible light, as the flower patterns that attract insects are revealed in ultraviolet light).

As the bug flies towards the light, it enters the space between the wire-mesh grids and completes the electric circuit. High-voltage electric current flows through the insect and vaporizes it. A loud “ZZZZ” sound is often heard when this occurs. Bug zappers can attract and kill more than 10,000 insects in a single evening. Bug zappers do not discriminate between types of insects, but due to their luring strategy, they tend to kill those insects that are most attracted to ultraviolet light. Mosquitoes, unfortunately, are not attracted to ultraviolet light.

The next section will discuss bug zapper controversies and other bug zapping methods.


Controversies Surrounding Bug Zappers

Aedes aegypti mosquito

Although bug zappers have been in use for decades, studies have questioned their effectiveness.

Back in 1996, Timothy Frick and Douglas Tallamy from the University of Delaware conducted a study on bug zappers. The researchers collected and identified the kills from six bug zappers in various suburban Newark sites during the summer of 1994. Out of the nearly 14,000 insects that were electrocuted and counted, only 31, which is 0.22 percent, were mosquitoes and biting gnats. The majority of the insects, which were killed, 6,670 (48 percent), were midges and harmless aquatic insects from nearby bodies of water. The researchers suggested that killing this number of harmless insects would harm nearby ecosystems. Tallamy claimed that most mosquito species are not attracted to ultraviolet light, and certain species only bite during the day. Therefore, he argued that bug zappers are not useful for reducing biting flies, cause a significant negative impact on non-target insects, and are counterproductive to the consumers and the ecosystem.

There are many other alternative ways to control insects, especially mosquitoes. Electronic bug zappers may not be effective against mosquitoes, which are not attracted to ultraviolet light. Some electronic bug zappers compensate for this by emitting Octenol, a non-toxic pheromone mosquito attractant. Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide emitted by humans in our breath and sweat, so some mosquito zappers emit a mixture of carbon dioxide, Octenol attractant, and moisture. Mosquitoes are attracted to this mixture, get sucked into a net, dehydrate, and die. Other devices use a chemical that blocks the mosquito’s olfactory receptors, reducing the number of mosquito landings and bites.

Eliminating the female mosquitoes and their eggs is essential in mosquito control. Since mosquitoes lay eggs in water, all sources of standing water, such as watering cans or old tires, should be eliminated. Rain barrels should be covered, and if there is a pond, it should be stocked with fish that will eat the mosquito larvae.

Spray-on repellents containing DEET can be found at most stores. Commercial pesticides are also available that kill mosquito larvae and adults. Municipalities often spray pesticides, particularly malathion, on a large scale in the spring and summer to eliminate mosquito populations. For personal protection, a broad-spectrum insect repellant containing DEET can be used. Citronella oil, found in candles and torch oil, is also effective in high concentrations as a mosquito repellant. Citronella wristbands offer an easy way to protect oneself on a personal basis.

Some people erect Purple Martin birdhouses or bat houses, hoping that these animals will eat lots of mosquitoes. Although Purple Martins and bats eat huge quantities of insects, mosquitoes are not a significant portion of their diet. Therefore, the search for the perfect mosquito-control device continues.

To find out more, visit the links provided on the following page.

Lots of Additional Information

Related Articles from HowStuffWorks

  • How Mosquitoes Work
  • How Mosquito Magnets® Work
  • How Chiggers Work
  • How Ticks Work
  • How Fleas Work
  • How Black Lights Work
  • How Fluorescent Lamps Work
  • How Venus Flytraps Work
  • How Bats Work
  • How does the pesticide Dursban work?
  • How do flies breathe?
  • What is dioxin?

Additional Great Links

  • “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel
  • Bug Zappers Can Spread Microbes
  • Iowa State University: Bug Zappers are Harmful, Not Helpful
  • Kansas State University: Electrocution of House Flies in Bug Zappers Releases Bacteria and Viruses
  • K-State Researchers Say Bug Zappers May Cause More Harm Than Good


1. What is a bug zapper?

A bug zapper is an electronic device that attracts and kills insects using ultraviolet light. These devices are commonly used to control flying insects such as mosquitoes, flies, and moths. The bug zapper works by using a fluorescent light bulb that emits ultraviolet light. This light attracts insects, which then fly towards the light and are killed by an electrified grid or a sticky trap. Bug zappers are often used outdoors in areas where insect populations are high, such as near bodies of water or in gardens.

2. How effective are bug zappers?

The effectiveness of bug zappers varies depending on the type of insect being targeted and the environment in which they are used. Bug zappers are most effective against flying insects such as mosquitoes and flies, but may not be as effective against crawling insects such as ants or roaches. In addition, the effectiveness of bug zappers may be reduced in areas with high winds or heavy rain. It is important to note that bug zappers should not be relied upon as the sole method of insect control, and should be used in conjunction with other methods such as insecticides and mosquito netting.

3. Are bug zappers harmful to humans?

Bug zappers are generally safe for humans to use, but there are some potential risks to be aware of. The electrified grid used to kill insects can cause minor burns or shocks if touched, so it is important to keep bug zappers out of reach of children and pets. In addition, bug zappers can attract beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, which can be killed by the electrified grid. This can have a negative impact on the environment and the local ecosystem.

4. How do you maintain a bug zapper?

Maintaining a bug zapper is relatively simple. The fluorescent light bulb used in the device should be replaced every six to twelve months, depending on usage. The electrified grid should be cleaned periodically to remove dead insects and debris, which can reduce the effectiveness of the device. It is also important to ensure that the bug zapper is placed in a location where it can attract insects, such as near a body of water or in a shaded area.

5. Can bug zappers be used indoors?

Bug zappers can be used indoors, but it is important to choose a device that is specifically designed for indoor use. Indoor bug zappers typically use a lower wattage bulb and are designed to be quieter than outdoor models. In addition, indoor bug zappers should be placed away from areas where people are present, such as bedrooms or living rooms, to avoid any potential health risks associated with the ultraviolet light.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *