Solar-Powered Mosquito Birth Control Is Making Waves

Mosquitoes really suck. Joking aside, they spread dangerous and deadly diseases like Malaria, Dengue and West Nile. They like to breed in pools of stagnant water which can be difficult to keep up with. From egg-laying to larval development, still water is vital for breeding mosquitoes. Instructables user [Gallactronics] hypothesized that disrupting the surface tension of potential nurseries was the key to discouraging breeding, and he built a solar-powered device for under $10 that proves his theory.

There are a few standard ways of dealing with standing water. Someone can keep it drained or it can be sprayed with pesticides. By aerating the water, mosquito mothers are far less likely to successfully arrange their eggs on the surface. Even if the eggs take, the turbulent water surface will suffocate the larvae.

This bubbler ticks all the boxes. It starts as soon as it comes in contact with water and sounds a piezo alarm when the pool has dried or when someone removes it. It runs for 10 minutes at 10-minute intervals using a 555 timer and some transistors. The water probes are stainless steel bolts, and it runs on a 6V 450mA solar cell. Be sure to watch the demonstration below.

We love to see this kind of ingenuity and elegance in problem solving. Then again, we also like the idea of killing them with lasers.

81 thoughts on “Solar-Powered Mosquito Birth Control Is Making Waves

  1. Good Start? Maybe, but there’s a whole lot of assumptions going on there, and testing it with ONE POOL ONE TIME is not proof of anything, except that the author is clueless about the scientific method. Assuming it is effective (and that’s yet to be proven) why is putting a device, even a $10 device, easier/cheaper/more cost or time effective then just emptying the standing water pools and preventing new water from accumulating? 10 abandoned tires would require $100 worth of gadgets, or about 10 minutes with a awl to punch a few holes in them to prevent water accumulation.

    1. Not every standing water can be drained. There are several places near my house that due to the large rainfall this year have been standing for months straight. Several acres of standing water and since the next lowest places is on the other side of several property owners and at best 1/2 mile, I might give this a try. So yes, flipping a tire might help but actual labor is not always an option to resolve the problem.

    2. Bit harsh that. The guy is telling you about it and telling you why he thinks it will work. I think it is pretty obvious from his sound track that he doesn’t know for sure but only thinks it will work. Maybe you would rather wait until ideas are products available on the shelf in Best Buy before they appear on Hackaday.

    3. And another thing. Since I just read the article it seems that the author does know how to apply the scientific method.

      And here’s the cool thing about science (apart from being first to publish): You get to disprove it! Yes, run your own experiments and demonstrate that his results are irreproducible. Go ahead! I’ll look forward to seeing your scathing attack (with supporting data) on Hackaday soon.

      1. I’ll get right on that after I finish writing up my current paper. After being told by the vastly intelligent HaD crowd that I had the whole Scientific method wrong, I made an astonishing discovery. All Coin Tosses come up Heads – yes really – I took ONE COIN, and flipped it ONE TIME and it came up HEADS. Therefore using the HaD principle, ALL COIN TOSSES COMES UP HEADS. This will really simplify science from here on out.

        The OP should have ran a control, in fact he should have ran a control and numerous comparatives. Instead he put up one pond, in one location, at one point in the mosquito season – used his device for one breeding cycle, and made numerous conclusions from a SINGLE DATA POINT. So please, don’t give me “he used the scientific method” bullshit – because he didn’t. Just because he wrote his project description in a neat format doesn’t mean it’s science.

        The OP also made several sweeping statements about the scope of his solution without offering any type of proof. As it’s mentioned several times in this thread, not only won’t this solution scale well, there are numerous breeding places that this solution would be impractical.

        Just like you can’t be “sorta pregnant”, you can’t “kindof control mosquito’s” and expect to call your project a success.

        If you’re going to say something like “…and it PROVES his theory”, then you really need to offer, you know, PROOF.

          1. Gotta agree-way to go skippy! Skamper off now…

            This is truly hackworthy, and I admire his diligence. Check out his Instructables page-he even has data!

            It may only be a single test and limited data-but it seems to support his hypothesis as apposed to disproving it-so no, skippy, it’s YOU that doesn’t get the Scientific Method.

          2. Did you even read what was written?

            A single test is scientifically worthless (regardless of the result). While it may be interesting and worthy of ‘more study’, it’s still worthless.

            Having a control (not that hard to do) would have made it more useful.

          3. @Tony: You’re saying that while something is worthy of more study, it’s still worthless. Just let that oxymoron sink in a little bit.

            So it’s not a formal peer-reviewed postdoc double-blind study with full statistical analysis neatly typeset in LaTeX. So OP made some assertions that were a bit excessive.

            Whoop-dee-frickin-do. This is Hackaday, not Nature.

          4. @airmansnuffy – Yes.

            It’s worthless as is.

            If the OP thinks it works, then he can do a decent test. That’s what interesting means. Not interesting enough that we’d go and try it ourselves, but at least we’d take notice of v2.

            Even if this is just Hackaday, spotting something that is bollocks is a useful skill. Sames lots of time & effort.

          5. @Tony – If it’s worthless, then it wouldn’t be worth studying further. You acknowledge that it is worth studying further.

            Someone’s on a high horse.

    4. If there is someone clueless of the scientific method it’s clearly you. Here we have a hypothesis and a properly designed small scale test. Doing a larger test is the next step.

      Also you can’t live in the real world if you can’t recognize that some standing waters can’t be eliminated economically.

    5. Sometimes you need standing water…. maybe it is that body of standing water that supplies your crops….
      Not every body of standing water can or should be drained…
      This is a prototype, a first step before you go and do more testing…

      BUT it uses known data about mosquitos to work, so sounds very reasonable to me…

      1. Mosquito, Black Fly, and Fungus Gnat Larvae. I use it for the latter.

        It’s Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis, btw.

        Come to think of it: I don’t know whether it’s actually selective enough … “mosquito” includes native species that don’t bite humans.

  2. This can also be controlled by introducing small fish to the water. There was an article in a local Texas paper a number of years back talking about how local ponds were stocked with fish to prevent this problem. When the program was stopped the town was overrun with mosquitoes and spent a fortune on controlling them with pesticides. I like the fish solution better than this automated one. Thoughts ?

    1. My home city of Winnipeg did something similar, but instead bred and released dragonflies, which are apparently a natural predator to mosquitos. It seemed to work when they did it, because there were 10x more dragonflies around and almost NO mosquitos, which is pretty damn impressive because in my opinion mosquitos were the worst problem in this city, nowadays they’re almost rare. O.o

      Now if they would just fix the damn roads…

    2. Bats are also the mosquito’s natural predator, around here, people setup up bat houses (bird houses for bats) and they live mostly mosquito free when the bats take up residence… The bats don’t bother humans (mostly) and also get rid of other pests like moths and other insects…

  3. Actually, DDT is very effective. The ecological outcry was due to the fact it was applied in vast quantities indiscriminately. A tiny amount applied to walls, window frames and other living areas is safe and effective.

      1. You do realize that blog’s sole purpose is to “discredit” “those dumb environmentalists”? And as such, cannot be trusted to not cherry pick only the points he wants to make and ignore the ones he doesn’t?

        1. Please feel free to link to a point-by-point refutation. Please tell me which of these “cherry-picked” facts are not actual facts, or have been presented as facts whilst omitting important information.

          Please tell me why DDT is so terrible that it should not be used. Please tell me in what way DDT is not safe and not effective when used in small amounts in human dwellings on surfaces that mosquitoes land on, such as walls, window frames and so on.

          1. No need. Just look at the page and see that it is promoting pseduo-science. “Don’t believe Al Gore”? Typical idiotic crap spouted by people that think he somehow controls the science done all around the world… Even real AGW sceptics (and there are a few) avoid such idiots.

            Also it uses the standard pseduo-scientific “method” (not to be confused with the proper ones) to make long lists of soundbites instead of a coherent argument. This is designed to overwhelm an informed debater and can also be seen in e.g. young earth promotion.

            But one example of the bad “facts” in the linked list of soundbites is the one about DDT resistance in mosquitoes. It argues that huge doses of a poison somehow promotes the creation of resistance while in the real, well documented world, it is completely bogus. Low levels of a poison can promote mutations leading to resistance however high doses will kill the whole population leaving no individuals to mutate.

            BTW DDT bio-accumulates as shown in many studies. That is enough against it.

          2. @Megol
            If you want an example of the pseduo-scientific method you describe, take a look at Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. Containing virtually nothing but mere speculation and worst-case-scenario preditions, it was the book that lead to the ban of DDT; in turn sacrificing millions of human lives to potentially save a few birds.

            The fact that over a million people die each year from malaria far outweighs the potential bioaccumulation that may or may not be happening. DDT hasn’t been shown to affect humans, nor has it been proven to affect animals in any way.

          3. @cheapskate:
            Have you actually read the book? Have you actually read through the citations? Maybe read a few of the cited papers?

            Even if she were cherry picking (and there’s no particular evidence she was, beyond wishful thinking from people with a specific agenda), she still provided one to two orders of magnitude more evidence in her favor than a blog post that came 37 years later.

    1. What a horrible thread chain. DDT is bio-accumulative. It’s been proven in multiple labs in different countries. It’s peer-reviewed. Any amount isn’t safe, ever, and this is the first time in years I have heard anyone spout that bullshit.

    2. Latent DDT resistance is widespread now, that’s the problem with the magic bullet approach to Xticides … every magic bullet only works once.

      DDT can only work now as long a not everyone does it … any widespread selective pressure for DDT resistance is going to activate it orders of magnitude quicker than in the 40s and 50s.

  4. In India, we have the government spray kerosene vapour every few days, irrespective that area has stagnant water or no. The vapour creates a thin layer of oil, that cuts out air supply to the larvae. Its been an effective method since years.

    Spraying that vapour costs about 50 USD per day including labour and kerosene. This amount covers one whole suburb that hosts maybe a million residents.

    1. This method was also used during the digging of the Panama Canal. It cured the malaria and yellow fever outbreak that doomed the earlier French attempts to dig the canal, 22,000 thousand died during the 13 years of Ferdinand de Lesseps attempt.
      AN additional 12,000 died of the mosquito born diseases during the construction of the Panama Railway

      If the investigation and discovery of mosquitoes being the carriers of yellow fever and malaria by Dr. Carlos Finlay and Dr. Walter Reed.was 20 years earlier perhaps 34000 people wouldn’t have died.

      Sometimes you have to weigh your options,34,000 lives saved versus an increase in the possibility of cancer. In India 40 million people get sick every year from mosquito borne illnesses, how would any other country act if 40,000,000 of their citizens were dangerously ill every year?

  5. A little bit of a surfactant reduces the surface tension of the water, making mosquito eggs and larvae sink. One stage of mosquito development, before they metamorphose to their flying form, hangs under the water surface with a breathing tube poking through.

    Spraying oil on standing water is what was used during construction of the Panama Canal to stop malaria.

    I wonder if plant oils would work?

    1. any oils work, It’s just very expensive compared to exhausting all simple solutions like draining the areas and making sure there is no trash laying around to cause small stagnant pools.

  6. Having once worked for a county mosquito control agency, Here are some facts that I remember. The gestation cycle for mosquitoes is 4 days from egg to adult. Lifecycle for the adult is approximately 7 days. The pesticides that are sprayed on the pools are mixed with an oily surfactant (such as kerosene) in order to allow them to spread across the entire pool of water, and also the oil base smothers the juvenile mosquitoes which are hanging upside down from the bottom of the surface layer. The breeding ground water preferred by mosquitoes, contrary to most published facts, is not “stagnant”, but includes a small amount of refreshing stream (this is why they love drainage ditches). However, the refreshing stream has to be small enough that the female can lay her eggs attached to some submerged piece of foliage without them or her getting washed away. Truly stagnant water is incapable of supporting life as there is no oxygen replacement. Dragonflies are a very good option to chemical based mosquito control as they are a natural predator to mosquitoes, breed in the same waters, and have a larval lifecycle that is the same. This idea of [Gallactronics], is sound, and would absolutely work on the small scale. This could absolutely be marketed toward the private property owner no problem. However it would be impractical to use on a municipal scale due to the inherent cost of replacement due to failures and theft. There is no solution to mosquito abatement that is a sure winner. But I give [Gallactronics] major kudos for this sound idea which could keep at least some pesticides and oil based products from leaching into the water table.

  7. I cant see where in the shematic he has implemented the charging circuit. The last days I tried to wrap my head around the function of charging an NiMh Battery from my solar panel, so I can run a small microcontroller without an external PSU. It seems hader then I thought. I got a MAX712, but this thing is to much for me.

    Does anyone know if there is a solution, where I can just say “Here comes 5V from my Solar Panel and here is a battery. You do everything! Take care that nothing burns or damges the battery… just give me on this end 5V as long as the battery is full”?
    I was thinking about getting me some of those garden-solar panels, as they have such a circuit integrated already. But I thought someone here would could point me in the right direction, so I can tinker a bit myself.

    1. I dont know about a all-in-one solution, but depending on your solar panel and battery size, you could just attach the solar panel to the battery with a shottky (solar panel = current source with current proportional to light), and add a voltage limiting zener so the battery wont overcharge/damage. As long as the solar panel current is below a tenth of the battery capacity, this should work. For undervoltage protection (to not damage the battery), you could use brown-out of your MCU.

      These solar garden lights are quite minimalistic, nearly same principle, but with attached current source / LED driver (see “joule thief” circuit) and some logic that will power on the LED as soon as the solar cell output gets below a certain threshold, and power off below a certain voltage. All this in one IC (except the shottky diode). See for a datasheet of one of these ICs.

    2. There’s an 8 pin chip Li+ charger used in a lot of newer solar lamps and small phone backup charger/speaker widgets, IIRC its a 3 stage charger with a status LED.
      I have a few here, they work well if set up correctly for the cell being charged.
      Only one problem, no galvanic isolation so if you connect it backwards “Bad Things” happen.

    3. You won’t need a charging circuit at all as long as the solar cells don’t climb above the voltage. At charge currents substantially below (C Max charging current) eg. C/50, C/100 virtually nothing else matters and you can just use it directly. But with a solar cell, you have to put a blocking diode in without a charging circuit or it will run backwards

  8. It will probably sort out mosquito mothers and breed that can deal with flowing water where applied. Then you need a stronger machine. Then the mosquito mothers and breed will get stronger, too. Then the machine has to be replaced with a stronger one again. Then you get a mosquito-zilla resistant to tsunamis and stuff, eventually becoming the dominant species. Then the mosquitos will have to figure out how to deal with humans and not the other way round.

  9. Kudos for a great idea. This South Carolina native hates mosquitoes and will accept any help in controlling these little flying pests. It seems that anything that disrupts the surface tension on stagnant water is effective in controlling these guys.

    On a side note, I believe my grandmother used to use teaspoon of vegetable oil in her rain barrels and that seemed to keep the skeeters out and leave out the nasty chemicals that she didn’t want to get into the garden.

  10. I wonder, since I don’t happen to have a DC air pump handy, if you could replace the air pump with a servo with a little weight on an arm, which could be programmed to rock the box back and forth creating the same surface disruption as the air pump? Or is the act of pumping air into the water an important factor? The bonus of this design is that the box could then be completely encapsulated (and thus totally waterproof) but the downside is you’d have the added complexity of driving the servo. Comments?

    1. I was thinking this thing would be better with a prop and a servo or really just a simple electro magnetic actuator to control direction and it could float on the surface like a tiny solar powered boat switching direction every so often or even tethered to a location to control range…

    2. I was thinking the same idea-but a servo means mechanical parts that will eventually wear out.

      How about a piezo transducer (or maybe a bimetal strip with a heater?) that just goes CLICK every so often? Think of it like a dragonfly’s wings-a natural structure that can store energy and release it by fluttering back and forth?

      If the motion were coupled to the water by surface tension-might be enough to piss off mom and drown the little bastards-and you have a device that could literally be stamped out by the millions!

  11. Anyone that can come up with hacks to get rid of these things is a hero in my book. I wouldn’t mind them so much if I wasn’t one of those people that gets massive blisters from their bites. We have these open-ish storm drains down the side of almost every road around here. So as soon as the summer starts to come and there isn’t enough water to flash them out they become mosquito factories. Even with nets on all the windows and anti-mosquito products all over those house you can be sure to get bitten once or twice a night.

  12. I think some of the comments here lack perspective-the main issue isn’t first or second-world issues (availability of resources like insecticides and/or surface-tension disruptors like kerosene) but often knowledge is the issue. The knowledge that the disease is spread by mosquito often sails clean over the head of many people, and we privileged few in the first world (USA, Oz, Europe, etc) don’t know the horror diseases like malaria bring.

    This is an interesting solution that could work. It’s inexpensive, easy to implement on a large scale and solves the root cause of the problem-don’t try to kill the disease-KILL THE VECTOR OF THE DISEASE. Most important-unlike insecticides and kerosene it doesn’t pollute, and can be easily reversed (just turn it off).

    A few mentioned DDT as a solution, and they are partially correct-we DID almost wipe out malaria in the 60’s using it. We also introduced a persistent poison that had the side-effect of killing many of the avian species that were nature’s answer to mosquitoes-so they (the bugs) just came back even worse.

    I’m going to follow this idea. I’d like to see some hard data that it actually works-and unfortunately, that means field trials and a well-designed double-blind study. The sad thing about that is that (for the control group) people will need to contract Malaria (or West Nile, Dengue or the one not mentioned-Yellow Fever, which has no treatment and is usually 50% fatal) so in the pursuit of science-people will still die.

  13. [HaD… What even is this comment section anymore? Literally, I don’t even.]

    That device featured here is pretty nifty, regardless of the creators adherence to the scientific method. It’s small, simple, does what it promises (uses bubbles to disturb the water around it), and doesn’t require intervention to charge the battery. Spot on!

    Moving forward with this device could include a number of very interesting routes. For example, one might want to include a zigbee module with a long range antenna, allowing someone to install a bunch of these over an area (you’d need a few of them since he claims the disturbance has a radius of a few meters). They might then be able to communicate problems (like drifting under a tree’s shadow and running on reserve battery power).

    Couple that with a few environmental sensors and you’d have yourself a cool sensor network that helped keep mosquitos at bay. Your backyard swamp just became a testbed.

    If he may also want to consider disguising them. Perhaps as rocks (for some by the shore), or lily pads, or similar.

  14. I’ve had a lot of success in keeping them down with a 5-gallon bucket, a 2’X2′ piece of fiberglass window screen, and a huge zip-tie (the big ones for duct work that are 1/4″ wide X 3′ long).

    I secured the screen over the top of the bucket with the zip-tie, put the bucket in a shady spot in some bushes, filled it with water from the hose, and called it done. One important detail to remember is to make sure the screen dips into the water at least a little bit so mosquitoes can “land” on the water directly without the screen getting in the way.

    After a few days or so the larvae will appear in the water. But when they finally develop into adults, they can’t get out due to the screen (I used the tighter-meshed “no-see-um” proof screen just to be sure) and drown. After a while there will be unbelievable numbers of dead mosquitoes gathered around the rim of the bucket under the screen (even as more larvae are continuing to develop). One of these kept the area around my front door relatively clear of mosquitoes through two Summers with no maintenance on my part at all. I used a black bucket and no one has ever noticed it tucked into the bushes it (so it’s not an eyesore).

    Evaporation was replenished by rain and I only had to top it off a few times during exceptional drought conditions a couple of years ago (my area averages 52″ a year). By late the second Summer it seemed less effective so I dumped it out, cut the tie so I could clean it, and put it back together and it was ok again so like others mentioned it seems that water can get *too* stagnant. I think annual cleaning might be better, but I’m lazy. I had tons of giant zip-ties around so that’s what I used for the first couple I made but some small-diameter poly rope and a proper knot would be better so the screen could be easily removed without wasting a zip-tie every time.

    It’s a dirt-simple approach and it takes me a lot less time to actually make a few than it did to write up this comment about how to. Hope someone finds it useful!

  15. It may not be entirely scientific, but his experiment seems to suggest it’s at least reasonably effective at killing the small larvae. I don’t quite understand why he choose to use the 10 min on 10 min off cycles. It would seem to me that the window for killing the small larvae is at least 24 hours, so running it once a day would seem sufficient, but it might need to be longer than 10min. to be sufficiently effective.

    I don’t think it’s a very good idea to discourage the mosquitos from laying their eggs in this water, as they would simply go to find another place nearby. I think it would be far more effective if you could actually lure them to this body of water, get them to lay the eggs there, and then kill the larvae, taking them out of the potential population.

    Also, I wonder if it would be possible to produce enough aeration and disturbance without any electrical parts, using some kind of purely mechanical or passive device, preferably using solar power. It could be something like a device that would somehow, using solar or maybe wind or something, raises a reasonably large stone above the water and drops it in, or stores a fairly large amount of air underwater and releasing it all at once.

    I’m not saying I know how to do this, but I get the feeling it should be possible with some kind of brilliantly simple device, much like a water hammer is a simple but highly effective alternative for an electric pump under the right circumstances.

    While I don’t think the current device is a very practical solution, I do think it’s a great proof of concept, and it’s definitely worth exploring this type of mosquito control further.

    1. I don’t know about *no* electrical parts, but I made something similar (somewhat by accident!) consisting of only a solar panel tied directly to a small air pump (both sourced from the Electronic Goldmine – I believe the little pumps came from battery-powered blood pressure cuffs and sold for about $3.50USD). No batteries or chips needed – it runs during the day and shuts off in the evening, once direct sunlight fades. So they might see stagnant water when they come to lay eggs in the evening, but get a surprise next morning.

      I say by accident because I was growing a water lotus outside, saw mosquito larvae in the water and threw in some minnows to control the larvae. Maintenance-free system, right? Well, a very hot day came along and the minnows all died, so I put the bubbler to keep the water oxygenated so the fish would stay alive to eat them. Now the bubbler prevents most of the mosquitos and I have to feed the fish myself.

  16. Cute, a 555 although hacky is not a great choice as it has a pretty high idle current draw. There is almost certainly a Linear-Tech chip that can accomplish the same thing for the same $ with no current draw. This does only addresses the species of mosquito that prefers ponds to say, a cup of water left out or the stuff in an old tire. Different bugs like to lay eggs in different ways.

  17. How much temperature differential does a Stirling Engine need? Could we have the cold side in the water, and the hot side basically as a matt-black painted surface on the top side? When the sun shines would there be enough energy to start the engine? Could the engine then turn an agitator to disrupt the water’s surface?

    It’s not clear from the article if the bubbles are important, or just the agitation of the surface.

  18. I would make one suggestion (well, maybe two).
    And and design it so it can be tossed, and always lands right side up.
    That way if you sell them, they can simply drive around tossing them out the window. They don’t have to be carefully placed.

    As an idea, not so much a suggestion, you may get better wave action/disruption, by making something that would “slap” the water and not bubbles. Just a thought.

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