How Mosquito Traps Work

It is generally accepted that there are two key elements to a successful mosquito trap.  First the ability to attract mosquitoes to the trap and second the ability to get the mosquitoes into the trap.

The first element usually involves long distance attractants which stimulate mosquitoes to become active and fly towards the trap.  This can be visual stimuli in the form of ultra violet light at spectrum frequencies below 400 nanometres which means that light is invisible (so-called black lights) and visible spectrum frequencies which can vary depending on the species involved.  Darker colours like blue and black or contrasting colours like black and white are also thought to attract different species.  Movement may play an important role.  Chemical stimuli which duplicate animal respiration and activity are known attractants of mosquitoes.  Concentrations of CO2 are increased in the air breathed out by humans and other animals.  Perspiration includes many chemical compounds including traces of lactic acid, chemicals similar to 1-Octen-3-ol and moisture.

Having got the mosquitoes to the trap it is then necessary to get them inside where they die and can be easily disposed of.  Usually this involves use of a net or a wet catch container in some instances.  Some traps claim to get mosquitoes inside the trap by means of a powerful suction fan which creates a vacuum.  Others have features which are designed to excite mosquitoes and cause them to begin probing and then to enter the trap where they are swept into the catch areas.  Some traps are designed to zap or electrocute mosquitoes which of course makes it difficult to determine capture rates of target species.

Mosquito BitingThere are thousands of mosquito species worldwide.  Each species is unique and each is attracted by different combinations of sensory stimuli.  The trick for the mosquito trap manufacturer is to use combinations of stimuli which attract the target species.  Some manufacturers have gone to extraordinary lengths in this regard.  For example the gas release system on the Mega-Catch™ ULTRA is designed to replicate a key element of human respiration. It works by releasing quantities of pure CO2 at varying rates over fixed intervals to produce an exponentially decaying concentration gradient in the air plume emanating from the lower part of the trap with mosquitoes using this concentration gradient to navigate their way to the trap.

Mosquito Magnet® traps use counter flow technology with a patented catalytic converter to produce CO2, heat and moisture to attract mosquitoes.  They also say that most mosquitoes require a secondary attractant to hone in on the trap for which they offer either Octenol or Lurex3™.  On their website they note that Lurex3™ attracts hard-to-catch, aggressive day-biters such as the Asian Tiger mosquito.  Kaz Inc. also offer a combination lure with their “Nosquito® by Stinger 2-in-1 power bait” (a combination of Octenol and Lactic acid). Mega-Catch™ Fragrance Strips contain minute quantities of synthetic Octenol and other specially formulated ingredients which are designed to attract a wider range of mosquitoes and other biting isects.

Asian Tiger MosquitoMosquito traps can be a very effective component in the management of mosquitoes in any situation, domestic or commercial.  There are many benefits of using mosquito traps in areas that there are animals, as well as day care centres, schools, restaurants just to mention a few. 

Traps can also be used as an effective tool by entomologists and mosquito control agencies when researching mosquito species.  All control agencies require data to enable them to identify what species are living in their area that they are researching.  Most traps catch the mosquitoes using a fan which sucks them into a container/catch net where they expire.  This enables the entomologist to have an actual mosquito that they can easily identify in the laboratory.

Standing Water

In addition to using traps, most manufacturers also recommend that you should use other forms of control such as the use of repellents and ensure your yard is free from standing water.  Remember that using mosquito traps will not totally eliminate mosquitoes and the aim of a trap is to interrupt the breeding cycle and decrease the population of mosquitoes. 

It is also important to note that the more mosquito traps you have in an area the better.  So when you are reading this website and make a decision on which model trap is best for you, be sure to spread the word to your neighbours. The more traps in use in your neighbourhood the better!


Mosquito traps use propane or LPG because in the presence of oxygen it burns to produce water and CO2. The propane sold domestically in the United States is usually a mixture of propane, butane and propylene.  Odorants are added so that users can easily smell gas leaks which can be extremely dangerous.  Propane, a fossil fuel, is heavier than air and if it leaks has a tendency to sink into enclosed areas and pose a risk of explosion and fire.  Propane is commonly sold in 20lb steel cylinders which corrode over time and need replacing.  The benefit of using propane is that it is easily available.


Ultraviolet Light

Ultraviolet light is again a known attractant of many types of insect including some species of mosquito. Ultraviolet light is electromagnetic radiation with a wave length shorter than that of visible light and in the range of 400 nanometres to 10 nanometres.  Many mosquito traps include a source of ultraviolet light (usually in the long wave UVA region of 350 to 400 nanometres).  Some of these lamps (BL lamps) also produce visible light.  A common example of this type of lamp can be found in the ordinary bug zapper.  Other lamps BLB lamps (or black lights) produce very little visible light and appear very dim when lit.  It pays to experiment with different types of UV lamp and with the lamp on or off to maximise catches of targeted mosquito species and to eliminate or reduce the capture of non-target insects such as moths.


Carbon dioxide (or CO2) in small concentrations is a well known attractant of mosquitoes and other types of biting insects.  It occurs naturally in the earth’s atmosphere at concentrations of around 380 parts per million (0.38%).  It is produced during respiration by all animals.  CO2 isn’t flammable (it is used in fire extinguishers to extinguish flames) and is safe at low concentration.  It is a colorless odorless gas which can be seen when it moves from its solid (dry ice) to gaseous form.  It is commonly used in the food industry and in many consumer products (e.g. beer and carbonated drinks) because it is inexpensive and non-flammable.  It can be purchased in pure form in aluminium cylinders from gas supply outlets and welding shops.


Lactic acid is also a known attractant for mosquitoes and biting insects.  It is produced by all animals during normal metabolism and exercise and is excreted in tiny amounts in perspiration.


1-Octen-3-ol, or octenol for short is a chemical that attracts mosquitoes and biting insects.  Octenol is produced by several plants and fungi and is FDA approved as a food additive.  It is of low toxicity but can be an eye or skin irritant in its concentrated form.

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Did you know?
Mosquitoes spend the first 10 days of their lives in water.