Ecological insect elimination

Westham Innovations creates efficient new ways of trapping insects that are safe for humans and animals.

April 7, 2009 11:43
Ecological insect elimination

westham insect trap 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

In a recent speech aired on the TED Web site, Bill Gates discussed his plans to change the world. He began with the devastating and often fatal problem of malaria. "There's no reason only poor people should have the experience," he said as he unleashed a jar of mosquitoes into the air. The nearest spectators silently vowed never to sit up front again, but Gates's stunt concerning the problem that affects largely poor countries has a serious mission: to reduce the number of annual deaths worldwide from mosquito-related illnesses and diseases, including malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever, west Nile virus and dengue fever. In the Western world, we often think of these pesky biters as nothing more than itch-inducing nuisances. But when you look at the annual mortality rates they cause, a whole new persona emerges. Roughly one in 17 people alive today will die of a mosquito-related disease. Annually, this number stands between two million and three million people. To put that enormous figure in perspective, it's estimated to be even higher than the number of people dying of AIDS every year (1.8 million to 2.3 million in 2007). Labeled the "greatest menace" of all insects by the World Health Organization, mosquitoes are responsible for infecting at least 700 million people annually and between one billion and two billion people today suffer from mosquito-related illnesses and disease. For many years, wealthier countries indiscriminately sprayed DDT to eliminate the problem. Although it is still widely used in North Korea, India and possibly elsewhere, the serious consequences of its widespread agricultural use for humans, animals, the environment and water supplies has banned it entirely in many countries. Less persistent alternative insecticides have been developed to combat the problem, but it is still on the rise in infected areas. With global warming, the mosquito population also rises, as warmer climates provide ideal breeding grounds. For one Israeli company with green solutions to insect problems, the answer lies in combining entomology research with innovative technology and design. To create its new product line of eco-friendly insect traps that catch mosquitoes, flies and fleas, Westham Innovations teamed up with Aran Research and Development. The sleek results are an effective series of at least eight different traps for the home. "When we first met with Dr. Gunter Muller, an expert on insects from the Hebrew University, he explained the intricate details about mosquito behavior to us," says Boaz Drori, the design studio manager at Aran. "It was fascinating. I never knew that only the female mosquito bites. The entire team had to learn a lot about insect behavior to come up with effective designs for their technology because we didn't want our traps to look like traps. We wanted them to be attractive and friendly with less frightening shapes than what you traditionally see in these products." IN FACT, one of the things that puts Westham Innovations in a class of its own when it comes to ecologically-friendly insect traps is research. Based on the work of scientists at Hebrew University and Kansas State University, the traps catch insects by focusing on the Achilles' heel of their behavior patterns. "We had to understand how insects behave and then consider the end users' needs in order to come up with the right design," Drori explains. According to Westham Innovations CEO Amir Galili, the company is innovative in two ways. First, based on years of research done by leading entomologists, chemists and biologists around the world, it has created new ways of trapping insects with patented technologies. Second, it has combined existing knowledge to create traps that are both highly efficient and safe for the environment, humans and animals. One clear example is the honey trap that catches mosquitoes. The trap, which looks almost like an upside-down bird feeder, is based on Prof. Yosef Shlein's study, whose results were published in Science and the International Journal for Parasitology in 2006. Shlein and co-researcher Muller examined the thirst for sugar that drives mosquitoes to feed. While it was well-known that female mosquitoes need blood before they lay eggs, less was understood about their appetite for sugary snacks of flower nectar and plant leaves between meals. By spraying acacia trees with a sugar solution spiked with the oral insecticide Spinosad, Shlein and Muller were able to bring about the mosquitoes' demise. Eventually, the entire mosquito population in the test oasis was eliminated. Using this knowledge, Arad designed the chic-looking Sugar-Bait station. Filled with a sugar-based attractant that mimics the scent of flowers and fruits, the tasty treat of slow-release substances with low-risk toxins kills mosquitoes. The CO2 generator is based on the knowledge that mosquitoes locate their blood-hosts using scent, sight and heat. Mosquitoes can smell you - especially the carbon dioxide you exhale - from 30 meters away. As CO2 also exists in the atmosphere, they are sensitive to concentrations that are higher than normal that mixes with the scent of their target. Using Neowater, a Do-coop patented water-based nano-technology that introduces insoluble crystals into water, the CO2 generator attracts and captures a large amount of CO2 and then alternates between releasing and recapturing it from the surrounding environment. The scent attracts mosquitoes and biting flies, who become trapped inside and eliminated. THE EUROPTRAP combines Westham's EPA exempt attractant, heating film technology, adhesive paper and a dim UV light source, all of which attract and trap mosquitoes. "Our attractant is exempt from EPA standards because it's something that most people are eating but is toxic to mosquitoes," says Galili. Using Kansas State University research which discovered that fleas jump to the shade after an object passes through the light, the small round flea trap turns a small light on and off to attract them. Once they hit the shaded wall, they fall onto an adhesive paper and remain stuck. "These are extremely efficient traps that work so well we've had complaints that the adhesive paper is filling up too fast," Galili says. In a test of efficiency, the Westham flea trap caught 90 percent of the fleas in a room over a period of two nights, while the other traps caught the remaining 10%. As its name suggests, the Solar Trap uses solar energy to create CO2, which of course attracts biting flies and mosquitoes. The combo trap fuses several different methodologies to eliminate mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects. "The shape, colors and contrast were carefully considered in the design," says Drori, pointing to the black-and-white trap embedded with a UV tube and a special concave heating surface. "We had to make sure the angle of the elements was releasing air flow in a way that optimizes the effectiveness of the attractant, light and heat. Basically this one combines a lot of different weapons." Six of these new eco-insect traps are already being sold on-line and in the United States, with more coming to market soon. Great emphasis was also placed on reusability and price. Although Galili says the traps are environmentally friendly, inexpensive and efficient, they are designed to work in conjunction with traditional methods, especially when it comes to mosquito populations that are difficult to kill and even harder to eliminate. "It's very difficult for traps alone to combat mosquitoes," he says. "In most cases traps alone will not solve the problem. However, we are hoping that the breakthrough of the honey trap will really enable the fight against mosquitoes to be effective on a larger scale." They may not provide the solution Bill Gates needs to change the world, but these innovative traps are certainly a step in the right direction for individuals and the environment.

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