What is a Bug Zapper?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A bug zapper is a device that uses light to attract an insect, and then electrocutes the insect, causing death. People often use the bug zapper to cut down on insect populations in their backyards or on their patios. However, some of the main insects that one would want to kill, such as mosquitoes, seem relatively immune to the charms of a buzzing light and will avoid the bug zapper. Other valuable insects, like moths and butterflies, which pose no harm to humans get attracted to the light and suffer untimely and unnecessary deaths.

Citronella candles can help deter mosquitos.
Citronella candles can help deter mosquitos.

Advertisements often claim the bug zapper to be a “new” development. However, the bug zapper is actually over 70 years old. William Folmer and Harrison Chapin made the first one in 1934. The bug zapper has undergone some slight modifications over time, but it is essentially still the same machine with the same guiding principals.

Mosquitoes might be a target of a bug zapper, but they usually avoid it.
Mosquitoes might be a target of a bug zapper, but they usually avoid it.

The bug zapper somewhat resembles a mesh house. It has a top or roof, which keeps bugs in and protects the next layer which contains a tiny power transformer capable of delivering up to a 2000 volt zap to the wire grids at the bottom. Between the wire grids and the bottom is a light, which can vary in wattage. The light bulb tends to be fluorescent, which unfortunately does not attract mosquitoes.

When an unsuspecting insect flies into the light, one hears an electrical zap, similar to a short hum of a bee, thus signifying the insect is now dead. Dead insects accumulate at the bottom of the bug zapper. The bug zapper needs to be emptied frequently since it can easily fill up overnight.

One concern with the bug zapper is that it may actually attract more insects to one’s yard, rather than repelling them. Also since it primarily zaps harmless insects, it may do more harm than good to the environment. Researchers have recently developed a type of bug zapper that emits a non-toxic chemical called Octenol as well as carbon dioxide. These two chemicals attract mosquitoes and may ultimately prove more effective in eliminating them.

For extra protection, however, one should not rely on the bug zapper alone. Citronella candles have a mosquito repellent factor, and as well, especially with the dangers of West Nile Virus contracted from mosquitoes, the best prevention may be the use of skin insect repellants that contain DEET. Insect repellants do need to be used with care, but they are effective in preventing bites. Avoiding going outside during the hours just before sunrise and after sunset, when mosquitoes are most prevalent, may also eliminate your risk of being bitten.

Mosquitos are most prevalent after sunset.
Mosquitos are most prevalent after sunset.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I have several electronic bug zappers in my yard and I am happy with them. All I have to do is look at all the bugs I empty out of the appliances to know that they are doing a good job. They may not be perfect, but I recommend them.

@Animandel - Wait a moment before you buy the bug zapper to kill that unknowing mosquito that accidentally wanders into the zapper every now and then.

There are some studies that say that zappers are dangerous and unhealthy because when they electrocute the bugs, the bugs give off a fine mist and body parts are spread into the air. In addition to body parts, the mist may contain bacteria and viruses that can be harmful to humans.

So before you hang a zapper be certain that it is a good distance from where you are sitting or where food will be eaten. The more I read about bug zappers the less appealing I find them.


My family and I love sitting outside in the evenings during the warm months. I have put a lot of work into my flower gardens and sitting in the yard appreciating them is my reward. However, nothing spoils my enjoyment as quickly as does a swarm of mosquitoes.

A friend told me to buy a bug zapper and my mosquito worries would be taken care of, as would the mosquitoes. So as you can imagine, I am disappointed to read in this article that bug zappers do not work particularly well when it comes to getting rid of mosquitoes. I was hoping to find another good mosquito deterrent to go with what I already have.

However, I guess if the zapper kills a few mosquitoes, even by accident, it is worth the purchase.

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