Do Bug Zappers Work on Mosquitoes?

By: Peter
Last updated:
Are bug zappers effective against mosquitoes

Do bug zappers really work on mosquitoes? Well, generally, bug zappers attract and kill high numbers of flying insects.

What happens is that insects are attracted to the UV light that makes them attempt to pass through the electrified mesh. When they touch the mesh, there are subsequently electrocuted.

To successfully limit the mosquito population, mosquitoes need to be attracted to UV light. In this post, you’ll find out what studies with bug zappers have shown.

What is a Bug Zapper?

A bug zapper is a device used to kill insects. It attracts insects with UV light. Then when the bugs get close enough to the light source, they are electrocuted, emitting a zapping sound. You will find that most bug zappers have a collection tray that accumulates all the dead insects.

The success of a bug zapper in your yard will depend on the number of insects attracted to UV light present in your vicinity.

What Attracts Mosquitoes?

So now you are thinking, since mosquitoes are a kind of insect, there is a big chance that bug zappers would work on them. Well, before you make that conclusion, let’s discuss first what it is that mosquitoes are attracted to, and that is blood.

How Do Female Mosquitoes Find a Source of Blood?

Actually, it is not the entire mosquito family that is drawn to suck human blood. It is the only female mosquitoes doing that. In most cases, they need the protein from blood to develop their eggs, which they get from mammalian blood. Others are into avian blood, reptile, or amphibian blood. Female and male mosquitoes also feed on plant nectar.

Now, how do they locate a source of blood? Whether it is blood coming from humans, equine, canine, or avians, mosquitoes use only one thing as a tracker that all of these living blood sources emit. If you guessed carbon dioxide, then you are right!

Most biting insects can hone in on the scent of carbon dioxide in the air, and they can detect the said gas from as far as 35 meters away from the source. Clearly, carbon dioxide is the most potent attractant to make mosquitoes bite you. But mosquitoes also use other scent clues to find people to bite, such as sweat, perfume, and even body odor.

Some bug zappers now include octenol attractant with their devices. Octenol is a chemical compound that might help attract biting insects. It can be found in human breath and sweat.

Are Mosquitoes Attracted by UV Bug Zappers?

Okay, what does all this information have to do with how effective bug zappers are to mosquitoes? Actually, everything! Come to think of it; bug zappers use ultraviolet light to attract insects. What are mosquitoes, specifically the female ones, attracted to? Blood. And they follow the trail of carbon dioxide to find their blood meals.

Occasionally there might be mosquitoes drawn to the pretty light of bug zappers and will end up electrocuted. But those mosquitoes might not even be the female ones that are dangerous to humans and make them suffer itchy bites.

Hence, you may conclude that bug zappers do not work on mosquitoes, specifically biting mosquitoes. Or maybe they do but not as effectively as you think! The worst thing about bug zappers is the number of inoffensive or beneficial insects killed.

In 2008 the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that bug zappers could be responsible for the deaths of 71 billion to 350 billion beneficial insects in the United States.

What Research Tells Us

The University of Guelph conducted research in 1977 wherein they collected dead insects from bug zappers in numerous household backyards. They found that only about 4.1 percent of the dead insects comprised female biting mosquitoes. The rest, a full 95.9 percent, were other non-biting insects.

They went further in their study and found that the yards with bug zappers had more female mosquitoes flying around than those with no bug zappers. So, the bug zappers even attracted female mosquitoes into the area!

Another research from Notre Dame in 1982 showed similar results. They chose to experiment in South Bend, Indiana, where the mosquito population was moderate to high. Carbon dioxide is considered the most powerful chemical to attract mosquitoes. They found out that a single bug zapper could kill 3,212 insects on an average night.

However, only 3.3 percent were female mosquitoes. Thus, the remaining 97 percent of the dead insects were ‘innocent’ insects. Moreover, mosquitoes were more attracted to people living with bug zappers in their backyards.

The UV light seemed to draw more mosquitoes to those backyards, and from there, they would follow the carbon dioxide trail of their human victims. Also, the research showed that even if the bug zapper was kept on for 11 days, it still failed to reduce the number of biting mosquitoes.

The University of Florida News issued an article in which a professor of entomology stated that bug zappers even made things worse “by attracting more mosquitoes into your yard, and they end up killing thousands of beneficial insects that don’t bother people.”

Yet another study by the University of Delaware in 1995 showed similar results. They asked six homeowners that used bug zappers and were in the vicinity of a body of water to participate in their study. The results – of 13,789 insects killed, of which only 31 (0.22%) were biting flies!

So, all in all, these results show bug zappers are not very effective at killing mosquitoes. In effect, the mosquitoes will at first home in on the UV light but, they will pick up the carbon dioxide odor from people when they get near. Then they will change direction to approach the source of the CO2. Instead of helping to limit mosquito bites, bug zappers may increase the chances of being bitten when you are near one of these devices.


Bug zappers are not a very effective mosquito killer. They can kill many nontarget insects, which in turn may affect other animals such as birds or bats. These may move to another area in search of insects for food. This would be a shame as birds and bats eat mosquitoes, so bug zappers could even worsen a mosquito problem.

However, most people that purchase a zapper seem to be happy. They see the result. Loads of dead insects and may also like the zapping sound that goes with each death. Yes, zappers do kill flying bugs, but very few biting insects.

What Can You Use To Replace a Bug Zapper?

They are a few things you can try. To fight mosquitoes, you can use an insect repellent. DEET or picaridin on your bare skin offers the most effective protection. Along with these repellents, you can cover up with long sleeve shirts and long trousers. For added protection, you can even treat your clothes with a repellent.

There are repellent devices such as thermacell that can create a mosquito-free zone. Another repellent is mosquito coils which you burn to create an almost mosquito-free area. These two area repellents don’t offer total protection, but they help. If there is a breeze, they will not be effective.

Another simple solution is to use a fan or two to keep your deck or patio mosquito-free. It will make it more difficult for the mosquito to fly in the air turbulence created, and also, a fan will disperse the carbon dioxide you exhale, making it harder for the mosquito to find you.

A fan can also be used in the house. An oscillating fan in the bedroom will keep you cool and could save you from a mosquito bite or two.

Another mosquito control method you could consider is a mosquito trap. Again this won’t trap every mosquito but can help to reduce the mosquito population.

But the first place to start is to eliminate any standing water in your yard. Mosquitoes need water to breed, so this is the easiest action to take; encourage your neighbors to do the same. And it needs to be done regularly, at least once a week!

Photo of author


Peter spends most of his time outside in his large garden. He has been fighting mosquitoes for a few years trying different traps and repellents without using agressive chemicals.

Leave a Comment