This Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

Once in a great while, effective advertising doesn’t require any human engagement at all. This billboard, designed and built by a pair of Brazilian ad agencies and set free under the Creative Commons license offers a reproducible solution for trapping Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, the primary carrier of the Zika virus.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The design seems pretty simple, although the plans leave a bit of explanation to be desired. Inside the billboard are canisters of Lurex 3, a lactic acid-based mosquito attractant that is available pretty cheaply on Amazon. The lactic acid mimics the scent of human sweat and is released outward to distances up to 4km (2.5 miles) in a fine mist along with CO₂. Together, the Lurex and CO₂ act like a sweaty, mouth-breathing human beacon to lure mosquitoes into the billboard, where they become trapped and are doomed to die of dehydration.

The creators have released a blueprint of the billboard and encourage others to build them. So far, the agencies have installed two of them in Rio de Janeiro. If the video after the break is any indication, at least one of them was erected within a populous area. This is good for spreading the word, but is probably pretty bad for anyone who stops to read the thing. Hopefully, the billboards are actually outside the city and were only planted in town long enough for the video shoot.

Mosquitoes have no real redeeming qualities and are capable of carrying multiple viruses and diseases. A couple of years ago, we covered a very different solution that aims to stop those bloodsuckers where they start—by constantly disturbing the bodies of standing water they need to breed.

Thanks for the tip, [Mark].

50 thoughts on “This Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

  1. The radio show Radiolab managed to find the 1 and possibly only redeeming quality of the evil mosquito. The mosquito has kept humans from expanding to every last square inch of the planet, to do as humans tend to do, disrupt or completely wipe out existing native plant and animal species. I’m not sure that’s enough redemption to save the little bastards. Pass the bug spray.

  2. Um that looks like a city scene… I’m not sure that skeeters really live in the cities. I could be wrong. But that particular billboard does not look like it wouldn’t have hundreds coming to it.

    1. Trust me. Mosquitoes do live in cities. There are a plethora a breeding places for them.
      I actually have a commercially available product that uses this exact technology in my backyard and it traps hundreds of mosquitoes every month.
      This is actually a much more pleasant solution that the huge ugly thing I have in my yard. And I can stand next to it for hours and never get bit. The Lurex/CO2 combo is strong enough to override your own body lures.
      They should put these in all locations that have similar signage.

      1. There are some pretty big infestation in and around the Los Angeles area. The spillways, and the contributing storm drains, end up retaining quite a lot of stagnant water. Most of those run through impoverished areas where in the summer, families can’t afford proper air conditioning and either use swamp coolers or box fans in wide-open windows.

        So what you end up with is the perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes right next to tens-of-thousands of people that can barely afford to live as it is, much less afford bug deterrents and renovations to their houses to bug-proof them. Throw in general mistrust of the government and the fact that many of these people would have had recent contact with people from Central America, you have a recipe for a major medical catastrophe coming to Southern California in a few months.

        1. Speaking of population control lol, were on the list too.

          Got my paranoia up when two years before zika broke out bill gates and the gates foundation (his dad set that up and its based on eugenics), started playing with the idea of delivering vaccines via mosquito with Africa being the testbed. A year after that they got government permission to use the method..the year after that zika appeared and put pregnant women (mostly in low income areas) at risk.

          Plenty of mosquito based illnesses about, not many that target pregnant women and unborn children.

    2. There are even subspecies that are adapted to living in cities nowadays, I just read a research on them last year — they behave somewhat differently from the normal mosquitoes in how they seek grounds for breeding and all that, and can well survive city-life. It’s kind of like we have city- and country-pigeons these days.

    3. Cities actually are great for the stupid bugs. Lots of garbage can lids, flower pots, potholes, clogged drains, etc. for them to breed in and an abundance of humans to dine on. Mosquito control in big cities can be absurdly difficult as a result since standing water is everywhere.

  3. So this billboard attracts mosquitoes from up to 2.5 km away to a busy street.

    Would it not make more sense to attract them to someplace where there are fewer people.

    AFAIK the only redeeming quality of mosquitoes is that they are believed to be necessary for cacao plants. No mosquitoes or no chocolate. I would have difficulty with that one. We addicts are like that.

    1. You want them near the people, otherwise you just split the group in half & the disease still gets spread.
      The tactic is similar to flare usage in diverting heat seeking missiles. If the mosquitoes actually go after the strongest target fewer people in the radius of the trap should get bit.

      1. Wrong. At shorter distances there are multiple factors that make live humans far more attractive to mosquitoes than a single factor attractant such a odor. The long range of a strong single-factor attractant (odor in this case) put into a densely human populated area will attract more mosquitoes than normal, who then choose to feed on real live humans. In-summary, this “invention” is a very bad idea for the human population, but a good idea for the advertising company who will inevitably try to get tax payer funds from the government to subsidize more advertisement boards.

    2. Not like you are getting real cacao anyway since current demand is way beyond farmer’s capability to produce and many farmers are torching their cacao plants to produce much more profitable corn (Thank you for that bio-fuels!)

  4. There is also a company (Oxitec) that has created a genetically modified mosquito. Basically they release a bunch of these modified males (males don’t bite), they are able to breed with the females, but their genetics are self limiting, causing the offspring to die before adulthood. This controls the population by ‘wasting’ the female’s attempt to breed.

    1. I’ve thought about this before, especially with CRISPR as a method for iterating genetic traits. The question I always get to: if we wipe out mosquitoes what ramifications would that have on the food chain? I have to think bats eat mosquitos and they’re already doing poorly with colony collapse. If mosquitoes disappeared might it lead to their extinction too?

      1. The mosquitoes being discussed are human-specialists. There are plenty of other species that don’t bother humans, except incidentally. A side-effect I’d expect would be the evolution of novel human-seeking mosquitoes, because the niche would have opened up and there are so many of us around.

      2. And regarding the U.S, note that the Anopheles mosquito is not native to the continent, it was brought over by European colonists. It’s also more aggressive than indigenous species.

        If we got rid of this specific species, the ecology would get closer to what it was before the Europeans arrived, and we would be less bothered by the remaining species.

        There used to be a parasite in the U.S. called the “screw worm”. It lays eggs in the skin of humans and livestock and the larvae feeds on living tissue, causing lesions.

        You don’t hear about this nasty critter any more because it was completely eliminated from America and Mexico using the “sterile breeding” technique.

        And the rest of the ecology applauded.

        1. Next step, get rid of european homo sapiens since they were also not native and imported massively by boats during the fifteen century. They are such a parasite that they exhausted almost all resources of the Earth they breed upon, it would be better for the rest of the ecology too, don’t you think? As a side note, it would also solve the mosquito issue, since no human, no mosquito.

          1. That would be true of all Homo sapiens on the North American (as well as South American, European, Asian, and Australian) continents, not to mention most of Africa since we evolved originally in a small part of coastal West Africa. Maybe you should get started, since you’re so emotionally engaged with the idea, by leaving this planet behind.

      3. It’s so much more complicated than that though. I am not for the eradication of any species but because it is so much easier for pathogens to be class specific bats are a HUGE issue in many human diseases. The last thing you want is flying mammals if you want to eradicate some really nasty diseases. That and the fact that they have pretty much evolved to be the perfect disease reservoir and are not affected by most viral infections.

      1. I have also heard of an attempt to use genedrive (and crisper) to create male mosquitos which only produce male offspring. This is a hideously effective approach as a-males don’t bite; b- the males only trait is passed on, which means that; c- each succeeding generation has a higher percentage of the effected males and thus the trait has a geometrically increasing chance to be passed on with each generation as a constantly decreasing number of females is surrounded by a constantly increasing number of effected males.

    2. Yes, Grand Cayman in the Caribbean has agreed to the widespread deployment of the Oxitec solution. Apparently the Oxitec GMO technique is proven safe. Unfortunately, in the U.S. the now politically-run FDA is siding with the far-left anti-GMO hippies and refusing to fast-track the Oxitec approach.

  5. So American Biophysics corp made the original mosquito magnets (defender, liberty, pro, pro plus, liberty plus) using the same exact method (Coleman also copied and lost the law suit). same principle, just used propane and a catalytic chamber to output the C02. They also designed Lurex. All made in good ole RI. Until the owner got a sex change and became greedy. Company imploded and was sold to an investment group.

  6. @Kristina this project is pseudoscientific BS (or as I like to call it Pseudo Engineering)…. there’s no way in hell that this has the claimed lure radius (which only depends on the CO2 and the proprietary (but commercially available) Lurex emissions) in an urban environment …

    It’s just a publicity stunt that claims to:
    1-Have actually created something original ( see commercially available traps using this concept megacatch or propanemosquitotrap (google them as links in comments aren’t working too well) )
    2-Have an open source project (their “project document” is just a press release …)…no schematics, no BOM, no mechanical drawings…not even real world technical specifications…I mean…look at their “technical document”…
    3-Unrealistic specs (2.5km lure radius in a city…), >1KW power consumption (note that this type of trap is low power by default…it has to be the worst power efficiency CO2 trap ever)

    They’re basically taking advantage of the “open source” buzzword along side of the current health crisis in Brazil… heck their video budget was probably much larger than their whole hardware “development” budget …

    Now I’m all for the “it’s not a Kickstarter…it’s their money, let them do whatever they want with it” argument…

    BUT that doesn’t mean that they can make fictitious claims and get away with it (they kinda did since you guys actually reposted it…)..

    Some more scientific skepticism is required…

    ps. Trying to comment again without any links…

    1. It has a 1 liter CO2 cylinder. Even as a pressurized liquid that’s a tiny amount. To equal the amount of CO2 generated by only two people looking at the billboard, it would require daily refills! Other CO2 traps I’ve seen use 20lb cylinders, which I think are in the neighborhood of 10x larger by volume. I’m not sure about Lurex 3 range/effectiveness, but the CO2 part of this surely warrants skepticism.

      And >1KW power consumption, if that’s average (not peak/startup only), is nuts too. I’m thinking all those fans must consume most of the power. Only a small amount of airflow is needed to emit the Lurex/CO2, you won’t push that any significant distance with fans, only wind can do that. So what’s the rest for? Seems to be just to keep live mosquitoes trapped and on display. In other words, for self-promotion. Would be much more energy efficient to kill the mosquitoes immediately with a bug zapper.

      So yeah. I’m filing this under “art” or “ad”. Whether it’s “open source” or not is debatable, but pointless if it’s not worth replicating.

      1. Exactly!

        Btw Local (Brazilian) Biologists called BS on it before stating that these methods don’t work for disease control (since the actual range is 150ft tops(see commercially available units)… and operating/maintenance costs (even for the real units) are extremely unrealistic even for first world countries) …The problem is that this kind of charlatanism occupied quite a bit of local airtime.. serving only to mislead the public into believing that the health crisis has a silver bullet solution…meanwhile vaccine research for the viruses are underfunded and underreported on…

        Now if this was an honest project (read: the creator’s meant well(like in the solar pound thingy)) I’d simply overlook the unrealistic claims and blame the local news lack of science education (fact checking) for misleading the general public (btw…scientifically iliterate media? worldwide problem)

        …however… if the creator(ad agency) is aware of that his(its) claims (it being quackery) this raises some serious ethical issues…specially if the tech team who built the thing knew it would be advertised like that (there’s an Oath for professional engineers here…sorta like an Hippocratic Oath…apparently very few of us actually paid attention to it… )…and this sorta thing isn’t a harmless act to pull…

        To me it is pretty clear that these people knew what they were doing (and how to advertise it to achieve their “social media virilizing”) even including an interview with a real university researcher (heavily edited…I doubt that the poor guy even knew the context it would be used in) …
        so yeah…21th century quackery…

  7. Range might be a thing, but honestly, if it serves to reduce the number of those things by even fifty a day (or heck, fifty), and I don’t have to pay for it directly out of my savings, what do I care? As long as it doesn’t wipe out a species that I eat (either directly or indirectly), think is pretty, or is a vital part of the circle of life, DO IT. I have been known to hike in a place that for some amazing reason, might be the birthplace of every blasted mosquito in Canada, and I confess that I am ill disposed to those ladies.

    Technically, it might not/probably doesn’t work particularly well (or it might; how do I know?), but I applaud the attempt to reduce the Zika virus.

    Some days, so many of you sound like you want to warn people off your lawns. Not that I’m referring to the breakdown and refutation, which I can’t get enough of – it’s the grumpy way that some of you do it. Not complaining, mind you – at least I know that if there’s a problem with something, you aren’t likely to sugar-coat it.

    Have a nice day, and thanks for the interesting article Kristina.

    1. GET OFF MY LAWN! I need to mow it.
      I know what you mean. But they/we over-analyze everything. No topic is safe. No accidental miss-spellings allowed.
      I hate mosquitoes.

    2. You’re right, hundreds of dead mosquitoes a day is better than nothing. Or even fifty. But that’s not enough. And the problem is that when the perceived effectiveness of a solution is greater than the real effectiveness, people tend to get lax about pursuing other solutions.

      “Hey, I live within 4km of this nifty billboard. And it’s obviously working great, look at all the mosquitoes flying around inside it.” Meanwhile, they have containers of standing water on their property, where mosquitoes are breeding. But checking for those can be put off for another day, then another, and maybe ultimately forgotten. And why not? Sure looks like the billboard has things covered.

      There are so many examples of things that give a false sense of security or responsibility (especially to the environment), that I dare not even try to list one or two, lest a whole flood burst forth. And it bothers me that people rarely question them, or see them for what they are. Enough that I get grumpy about it, no denying that!

      Particularly right now, as I’m actively fighting a battle against insects and ignorance. I’m covered with so many flea bites I can’t sleep uninterrupted for the itching, even slathered with Benadryl cream. Thanks to the neighbors, who think proper cat ownership consists of nothing more than leaving a cat outside with a perpetually full bowl of food/water, resulting in my lawn being infested with fleas, their “pets”, plus feral cats and the occasional possum. (Ha, I guess GET OFF MY LAWN applies.) And thanks to my lady, who believes that “natural is better”, and has therefore prevented me from using any effective method of control.

      At least until now. I may not be able to fix their ignorance, but I’m about to fix this problem by any means necessary, and without their approval. I’m off to kill some fleas and cause some arguments now. Nobody post anything stupid tomorrow, you ain’t seen me truly grumpy yet. ;)

  8. Hacker envy. I didn’t build it so it sucks balls and it must be picked apart and the original designer publicly shamed. But hey, check out my arduino powered blinky thing.

    1. A physically impossible (4Km lure range with 1L CO2 canister…) pseudoEngineered (>1KW) misleading publicity stunt that tries to pass for an open project… claiming innovation and having copied commercially(much cheaper btw…) available products…

      Now if this was an honest project (a well intentioned individual/amateur/hacker(like in the solar pound thingy)) I’d simply overlook the unrealistic claims and blame the local news lack of science education (fact checking) for misleading the general public and giving so much air time for it…however the creator for this stunt (an ad agency) is a company… is clearly aware that his(its) claims are quackery and invested quite a bit of money promoting the hoax…to me this raises some serious ethical issues (specially when you’re dealing with a health crisis)…

      Hacker envy…yeah right… exactly what it was said when we debunked the iFind KS back in 2014…

      Scientific Skepticism ftw

  9. Zika infection illness is brought on by an infection transmitted basically by Aedes mosquitoes. Individuals with that disease can have indications that can incorporate mellow fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint agony, disquietude or cerebral pain. Fixing mosquito net will be the right choice for those blood sucking insects.

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