How Does A Mosquito Trap Work?

Mosquito traps are wonders of modern technology in the war on mosquitoes, relying on science and insect behavior to accomplish their task.

mosquito trapIt's important to understand that these machines don't REPEL mosquitoes, they ATTRACT the mosquitoes first and lure them into the trap where they die. They do not only attract mosquitoes from the immediate area, some models can draw them in from a radius of as much as 1.5 acres . Since they initially bring mosquitoes to the area, this is not something you buy the morning of your big cookout and place in the middle of your patio unless you want to turn your party into an itchy, buggy disaster!

Because of the way they work, it takes time for traps to exterminate a large population. If you run the machine consistently over a period of days or even weeks your patience will be rewarded by a noticeable reduction in mosquito activity without resorting to toxic potions and sprays.

The various makes and models of mosquito traps differ from one another in the way in which they draw mosquitoes to the trap (attractants) and the way in which they actually catch them (capture methods.)



Mosquito traps are effective ... IF you can convince the bugs to fly into the trap!

If you have a mosquito problem, I bet you don't spend much time thinking about how to attract the biting beasts! But if you prefer trapping to toxic insecticides it's something you need to consider. In order for your trap to succeed, you need the right "bait" to lure the unsuspecting critters.

Blinded by the light

Light, a key feature of insect "zappers", is irresistible to many flying insects, like moths. But will it catch mosquitoes? Depends on what type of mosquitoes you're dealing with! For example:

  • Coquellettidia pertubans ( The Irritating Mosquito) - a large, aggressive species found in the southern and eastern states from the Gulf Coast to Canada, and on the Pacific coast, is easily captured in light traps.
  • Culex pipiens (The Northern/Southern House Mosquito) - light traps may catch a few of these but they won't make a dent in the entire population.
  • Anopheles quadrimaculatus (the Common Malaria Mosquito) - one of the most common house pests in the Eastern US, this species is not drawn to light.

Since light has some limited effectiveness, nearly all mosquito traps offer a "light show" of some type. A few use blinking lights in a fixed or random pattern to simultaneously imitate movement, and color contrasts, others just produce a steady glow.

Owners of machines where light is the main or sole attractant frequently complain of finding everything BUT mosquitoes in the catch tray. Bug zappers are equally ineffective for dealing with your mosquito population.

Since light alone doesn't quite do the trick - trap manufacturers had to get a little more creative.

Dress it up like dinner

Whether a cow, a dog, a horse or a human, the mosquitoes' prey share several common traits which help the insects zero in on a tasty meal:

  • They are warm blooded and give off heat
  • They move.
  • The breathe, producing moisture and Carbon Dioxide (CO2.)

Nearly all traps generate some heat - either as a by-product of the lights, or through combustion of propane. Like light and motion (as imitated by light patterns) it is not an especially strong attractant by itself, but in combination with other methods it can simulate a human target.

The better traps produce carbon dioxide (CO2) - much more convincing to a wider variety of mosquitoes!

  • Mosquito Magnet®, Blue Rhino® Skeeter Vac® machines, and the Koolatron® Bite Shield™ traps use propane (the large tanks, like you'd find on a barbeque grill.)
  • The Dynatrap series use a patented coating which emits carbon dioxide when heated.
  • The high-end Mega-Catch™ traps (the Pro 900 XC and the Ultra) can be used with a CO2 cylinder which directly releases a safe stream of carbon dioxide into the air..

On many of the propane-powered traps, the catalytic converter which converts propane to carbon dioxide also produces a fine plume of moisture.

The science of scent

Light, heat, motion, Co2 - some mosquitoes will still play hard-to-get. Enter the lure of scent!

Scientists in the lab have isolated and replicated scents which hungry mosquitoes find enticing:

  • Octenol - Probably the best known mosquito lure, Octenol is most effective against Northern and coastal US mosquito species, as well as black flies, biting midges and several other pests.
  • Lurex3™ - An EPA registered, patent-pending substance that targets Asian Tiger Mosquitoes - a day-biting species. Most prevalent in the southern states, these pests have been found as far north as NYC.
  • Mega-Catch™ Combo Lure - A lure which targets a wide variety of mosquito species using a combination of Octenol and other substances.

Scent strips, cartridges or blocks are designed to fit specific mosquito traps - always buy products compatible with your trap. Scent lures need to be replaced every month or so.

So which one works best?

The answer is, "it depends." One of the biggest challenges to trapping mosquitoes is that there are many different species and each responds to a different and unique combination of stimuli. Traps which utilize multiple attractant methods, a feature of the better models, are the most likely to yield positive results - regardless of where you live.

Capture Methods

Once the attractant draws them to the trap, there are essentially three different ways in which the mosquitoes are captured and killed: Dry catch, wet catch and sticky paper.

Some high-end traps give you a choice of using wet or dry capture methods.

Dry catch method

How it works: Mosquitoes get vacuumed or swept into a net, tray or bin where they dehydrate and die. This is the most commonly-used capture method, especially on machines in the lower price range.

Used by: Mega-Catch Alpha , Dynatrap, Mosquito Magnet, Lentek / Koolatron, Flowtron, Viatek,


  • Some catch bins, nets or trays are permanent and/or washable, saving on the cost of supplies.
  • Relatively neat and easy empty / dispose of.


  • Effectiveness varies, depending on how long the bugs stay alive in the trapping container. Some of the less-expensive devices are prone to "escapees." Better traps have some kind of damper mechanism to keep this from happening (i.e. Mosquito Magnet's Counterflow Technology.)
  • For devices with non-permanent nets or bins, factor replacement nets into your cost of supplies.

Wet catch method

How it works: Mosquitoes fall into a tray of liquid, where they drown.

Used by: Meta-Catch Premier, Pro900 XC and Ultra, Dynatrap DT1200.


  • Highly effective capture method.
  • No costly nets to replace - lower cost of operation.
  • Depending upon what you use, the liquid itself can act as an additional bait. For example, sugar fermenting yeast is an organic source of CO2, a substance highly attractive to many mosquito species.

Cons: Can be messy - both to set up and to empty.

Sticky paper method

How it works: Mosquitoes get vacuumed into the trap and stuck to the sticky paper.

Used by: Skeeter-Vac


  • Highly effective
  • Not as messy to change as liquid capture trays.

Cons: Higher cost of supplies, can accidently injure birds and other harmless wildlife.