What is a Bug Zapper?

A bug zapper is an electronic device that stuns and kills bugs with electricity. Rapid sparks and distinct “zapping” sounds are the result of a high current flowing through the bug during electrocution. The typical standalone bug zapper contains a light bulb and is surrounded by an electrical grid. Bugs and insects attracted to the light source have an instinctive stimulus to fly towards the bug zapper, where contact with the grid kills them.

Bug Zapper History

In 1911, an article was published in the “Popular Mechanics” magazine presenting the first electric bug zapper. The so called “Eecteric Chair” for Instects has most features of a modern bug zapper. This includes light bulps and a wired grid. The shape, size and mobility are also much alike and not much bigger than a regular birthday pie. However, a major difference is that it operated on 450 volts.

Two decades later, in 1932, the first bug zapper was patented by Villiam M. Frost and named “Insect Electrocuter” and “Electric Insect Destroyer”. The application was granted and patented in the same year.

Not much later, the year was 1934, a new electronic insect killer was presented by Filliam Brodbeck Herms. The intent was a commercial insect trap for the fruit industry. The zapper looks almost identical to the modern Flowtron Bug Fighter. The basic concept and design hasn’t changed a whole lot over the following decades.

bug zapper explained

Source: Google Books – Popular Mechanics

Bug Zapper Types

Over the past decades, many experiments successfully optimized the bug zapper. As a result, commercial products became booming. The industrial scope changed and expanded towards home appliances to increase quality of life. Especially to reduce itchy mosquito bites, the outdoor bug zapper made its entrance into many households. For indoor use, bug zappers are now able to attract more types of winged insects. Examples include gnats and other species of small flies. Finally, a third class of bug zappers raised in popularity for both indoor and outdoor appliance.

From a functionality perspective, however, the bug zapper hasn’t changed from its core purpose, namely to kill bugs by means of electrocution. In the big picture there are 3 main types of electric devices to truly do mosquito zapping:

  1. Electrical powered grid bug zapper
  2. Mosquito attracting light source with a surrounding electrical grid
  3. Mosquito attracting light source with surrounding electrical grid and an additional mosquito attractant

Type 1

The handheld bug zapper racket is the most used bug zapper type that only uses a power grid. It commonly comes with an internal lithium battery, or a container to hold replaceable batteries. New rackets charge through USB and contain an optional lamp.

Type 2

To increase comfort in life, the second bug zapper type is a lamp with an electrical grid. This standalone unit is usually power-corded and no longer requires us to actively hunt for flying insects and bugs. Just turn on the electricity and it will do the work for you. Sizes and light bulbs may differ between different versions to match everyone’s needs. Often these bug zappers are smaller than industrial bug zappers and ideal for patio’s and inhouse usage. To reduce bug volume on properties, in shops or crop fields, the size usually gets bigger and the UV light bulbs stronger.

Type 3

The third type of bug zappers adds an additional attractant. Usually this happens by means of Carbon Dioxide coatings or Octenal mosquito attracting cartridges. The CO2 and Octenol scent is an extra luring technique in addition to the UV light bulb. This outdoor intended solution attracts mosquitoes and other insects even more and increases the chance to capture more flying insects.

bug zapper types

Bug Zapper Developments

Although the concept of bug zapping remained the same at its basics, many great developments in the space did happen. One of the most simplistic -yet most convenient for purchasing reasons – is the waterproof housing feature. This innovative development lead to bug zappers for camping, backpacking, patio’s and of course also indoor.
Solar and LED bring comfort as well, since they optimize power consumption and add increased value for travelling purposes as well. Backpackers for example can travel to remote locations and remain independent of battery packs and power sources. Hand in hand comes mobility which resulted in small and lightweight bug zappers. These take little space, are often power efficient and are available waterproof.

Further developments are an increase in reach. Bug zappers with dual bulbs and customized LED’s  can attract mosquitoes from even further away, able to cover area’s up to 2 Acres. Bulbs and LED’s are available in different flavors, and are more and more entering the decorative space for garden and patio’s. For patio’s, poles and hooks are available supplementary. Indoor decorative bug zappers are wall mountable and fade in well to many home décors.

How do Bug Zappers Work?

Components inside the bug zapper control the flow of electrical current through a wired grid, which discharges when a bug creates a short between two wires. On contact the grid releases a strong enough current to kill bugs by means of an electrical shock.

Modern bug zappers contain a grid of electric wires. The grid may exist of parallel wires or a reoccurring rectangular pattern, like the wiring of a tennis racket. The distance between the wires must be smaller than the wingspan of the insect it needs to kill. The grid needs an electricity source. Examples of battery powered devices are electric fly swatters.

Internal components of the zapper define the amount of current flowing through the mosquito. Volume and size of a fly matter. The volume of a mosquito is less than the volume of a full-grown hornet for example. Therefore, a hornet would require a higher electrical current for instant rapid execution. Gnats on the other hand are very small flies and a grid with a large diameter may allow them to pass through. To be effective for any kind of bug, most bug zappers have sufficient power supply.

Reach and Longevity of a Bug Zapper

Reachbility and effectiveness of an outdoor bug zapper can strongly differ between different model types. Often they have a coverage up to 1 ½ of an Acre in ideal conditions. The reach depends on weather conditions and other interfering sources. A bright bulb with UV beaming into an open area has higher reach and effectiveness in dark conditions. Surrounding light sources can be an interference -when nearby- and can make mosquitoes decide to fly off elsewhere. Windy weather conditions blow air with attractants into one direction, preventing an equal spread over a property. Ideal conditions would be darkness and windstillness, and minimal distracting sources.

Examples of bugzappers with different reach are:

½ Acre: Flowtron BK-15D Electric bug zapper (15 Watts)

1 Acre: Flowtron bug zapper BK-40D (40 Watts)

1 ½ Acre: Flowtron Insect killer BK – 80D (80 Watts)

what is a bug zapper examples

The Flowtron 15D has half an Acre reach, the Flowtron BK-40D has and Acre reach.

What is the difference between a bug zapper and a bug trap?

The name bug zapper refers to the actual electrocution of any type of bug, whereas a bug trap applies a trapping technique. The terminology sometimes gets mixed up, yet their methods to kill bugs are assuredly different.  A bug zapper significantly varies from a bug trap. Bug traps ensures actual trapping of a bug and death comes by dehydration and not being able to escape. A bug trap therefore comes with a bucket for trapping and collecting.

<Sitenote> Mosquito zapping and mosquito swatting also differ from each other. Zapping always requires electricity. Mosquito swatting on the other hand is a handheld product that requires a slamming movement. This can be done with an electrically powered swatter, yet, it’s optional. Mosquito swatting and different types of mosquito swatters are covered in this article.

Summary and Conclusion:

Bug zappers aim to control insects and to prevent mosquito bites by attracting and killing them once within range. Bug Zappers use electricity to rapidly end the life of a bug. A spark and a zapping sound is the result. Mosquito zappers have been around for many decades and the basic principle has not changed a lot. Improvements have been made and attractants are being added to increase efficiency, which increases our quality of life.

There have been many developments in the past decades to optimize attracting bugs and other species. Mosquitoes are probably the main appliance for bug zappers globally and there are three main types of bug zappers to execute them. A handheld bug zapper racket uses an electrical grid only and requires us to actively hunt and zap mosquitoes. Standalone bug zapper units have an attracting light source with a surrounding electrical grid. The third type comes with additional attractants to optimize luring.

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