“If you build a better mousetrap,” says the old saw misquoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, “the world will beat a path to your door.” But what happens if you build a better mosquito trap? Inventor and Gardiner resident Barry Lebost may be on the verge of finding out.
Shocking as it may seem in our so-called modern world, mosquito-borne diseases still take a huge toll annually on both humans and domesticated animals. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, worldwide, there were about 216 million cases of malaria leading to the deaths of 655,000 people in 2010. Even here in the US, about 1,200 cases of malaria are diagnosed each year. Mosquitoes also carry yellow fever, dengue, Eastern equine encephalitis and heartworm. But the most newsworthy mosquito-borne illness of late has been West Nile virus: Ten recent deaths in the Dallas area have prompted a massive aerial spraying campaign, and just this week, a West Nile death was confirmed near Syracuse.
To combat such scourges, WHO has committed itself to an international campaign to distribute insecticide-treated bednets, to which the US Agency for International Development is contributing nearly a billion dollars. Part of the problem with this approach is that a lot of people in hot tropical countries who receive the nets end up not using them, because the dense weave inhibits air circulation. The other problem is that they cost about $10 each to manufacture. “We’re going to come in way lower than that,” says Lebost, a longtime IT consultant and self-taught engineer who has devised what may be turn out to be a much better idea.
The Lebost Mosquito Trap, for which US Patent #8,181,384 was issued in May of this year, is certainly simpler and less expensive than a bednet, and it doesn’t restrict the movements of people. It’s low-tech, pesticide-free, extremely user-friendly and intended for use all over the world. “One of the first things we’re going to do is develop a relationship with the World Health Organization,” Lebost avers. His company, Evarcha LLC — named after a species of spider that preys on gestating mosquitoes — has investors and component manufacturers lined up, and he says that he expects production of his gadget to begin this fall.
The inspiration for the trap came to Lebost after reading historian David McCullough’s book about the construction of the Panama Canal, The Path between the Seas. The excavation work was divided between a French team and an American team. Being familiar with the findings of American doctors working in Cuba, the US engineers knew that in the tropics it was important to disrupt the life cycle of mosquitoes, which they did by dousing every stagnant pool of water in their vicinity with oil. The French, on the other hand, were terrified of the prospect of snakes, insects and other animals climbing into their beds, so they set the legs of the beds into bowls of water, creating perfect nurseries for mosquitoes. The result: The French team lost 15,000 workers to malaria in the course of the project, and the Americans hardly any.
That story got Lebost wondering what he might do to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in stagnant water. He found himself staring up at a lightbulb with a spiderweb in front of it, and it suddenly occurred to him that he could mimic a spiderweb using some sort of plastic mesh. It was a literal case of a person getting a great idea with a lightbulb over his head, just like in a cartoon!
The prototype Lebost Mosquito Trap consists, very simply, of a rectangular plastic basin about the size of a shoebox, partially filled with deoxygenated water and covered with a sheet of Fiberglas mesh that is treated with TangleTrap. This sticky, environmentally friendly substance, well-known to organic gardeners as an essential tool for Integrated Pest Management, is made from tree resin, castor oil and wax. Sheets of the treated mesh, which will need periodic replacement, will be individually packaged in sizes to fit the basins, with a detachable frame clipping the sheet in place around the box’s edges.
When female mosquitoes have had a blood meal and are ready to lay their eggs, Lebost explains, they are attracted to the smell of water that has become deoxygenated by lying stagnant. “By evolution, they’ve learned that if they lay their eggs in moving water, their larvae will drown.” While they develop in water, mosquito nymphs can’t breathe underwater; their heads have snorkellike protuberances that must be able to reach above the surface, so the surface must remain still.