Monday, May 26, 2014

Terminix's New Mosquito Killer? Garlic Oil

(Bloomberg Business Week) Entomologist Stan Cope spent most of his career in the U.S. Navy trying to protect American troops overseas from insect-borne diseases. “You get to do a lot of very interesting things in weird places,” says Cope. After he retired with the rank of captain in 2012, Cope joined Terminix, where he’s helped commercialize a mosquito treatment that the Memphis-based pest-control giant says will keep the flying bloodsuckers out of American backyards.

Terminix’s Attractive Targeted Sugar Bait, unveiled today, is unusual because it doesn’t contain any toxic pesticides. The active ingredient is garlic oil, which is combined with sugar from date juice, orange juice, and other sources, to attract mosquitoes. “They feed on it, and then, literally, the garlic oil makes them sick enough that they don’t want to then go bite a person,” Cope says.

Mosquitoes are a nuisance and a potential public-health threat. Although malaria isn’t a risk in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control has recorded thousands of cases of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus since it appeared in the U.S. in 1999. The agency estimates that 3 million Americans have been infected. The Environmental Protection Agency offers an online tool for selecting insect repellants.

In the lab, Terminix’s garlic oil takes a day or two to kill the bugs. How it works is still unclear. Cope says it could take “probably two or three Ph.D. theses” to untangle that. Terminix will service as much as half an acre of property with the treatment for $59 to $79 per month. Exterminators apply the bait, which looks like gel, in blocks every 10 feet or along a perimeter. To protect pollinating insects, they don’t spray flowers. A garlic smell may linger for a couple hours, Cope says.

In the Navy, Cope ran a research and development project that gave a research grant to the Israeli company that developed the treatment Terminix is now selling. The treatment has been tested in Israel and in a tire dump in Florida, the type of environment with lots of standing water that breeds hordes of mosquitoes. The concept of using sugar as bait to attract mosquitoes has been around for several years, but Cope says it took years of research and fine-tuning to develop a recipe that would resist weathering. 

The idea that garlic will repel mosquitoes has also been around a long time, but Cope says eating garlic, even in copious amounts, won’t repel bugs—only friends and neighbors.