Mosquitoes' Sweet Tooth Offers New Tool for Control

Using a Behavior-Based Strategy for Control of Adult Mosquito

Mosquito biting a person
Roger Eritja/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images

Have you ever wondered what mosquitoes eat?  If you said, “ME!” you are not alone. It seems all these pesky mosquitoes feed on is us.  But the truth is only females “bite” and they do so for a protein meal to lay their eggs.  So what do male mosquitoes eat to survive? And, what do female mosquitoes consume when they’re not sucking our blood?

Scientists have been posing these very questions as they look to develop new methods of mosquito control for the backyard and beyond.

In this article, exclusive to About Pest Control, Dr. Onie Tsabari, director of R&D at Westham Co., explains what mosquitoes must eat to survive and how exposing this “hunger” may be the answer to a powerful new tool in controlling mosquitoes.


A Balanced Mosquito Meal

Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes don’t feed on blood to supplement their energy needs.  Sugars derived from certain plants are the main energy source for both male and female mosquitoes, and are thus essential for their survival.

Sugar meals are required for energy by the adults to fly, mate and search for blood sources.  Sugar feeding is often one of the first things that mosquitoes do just after pupating and will occur every 24 hours or more. That is why most mosquito species will rest and feed in areas with abundant vegetation. 

Until recently though, little research was done on how sugar-feeding behavior might specifically impact current and future control methods.

New Approaches to Mosquito Management

New controls that focus on both a mosquitoes’ feeding and resting behaviors are of importance because mosquitoes are a constantly evolving species.  In fact, mosquitoes have been reported as far back as 100 million years ago.  These constant changes mean that many control methods can become obsolete because mosquitoes can become resistant to commonly used insecticides.

In the United States, and much of the world, the primary insecticide used for adult mosquito control is pyrethroids.  Pyrethroids are synthetic insecticides that act as contact toxins meaning that they must come into contact with the mosquito for the toxic affect to take place. They are found in many household insect sprays, coils, and diffusors under names such as allethrin, resmethrin, permethrin, or cyfluthrin. Pyrethroids are effective but can also pose certain application and environmental challenges that may be offset or augmented with other kinds of controls.  The use of a diverse range of substances for mosquito control lowers the chances that the mosquito population will become immune to a certain insecticide.

Sweet Mosquito Control Success

A new control that focuses on mosquitoes’ sugar feeding behavior is called Attractive Targeted Sugar Bait, or ATSB®.  ATSB is a patented “attract & kill” methodology that specifically targets the male and female mosquitoes’ need for plant sugar.  It works by combining a sugar attractant (the bait) with a food-grade “toxin” (active ingredient). It is applied to mosquitoes' resting and feeding areas, and once ingested, it acts as a gut toxin killing both males and females and ultimately collapsing mosquito populations in treated areas.

ATSB is an important addition to current methodologies like repellents and area sprays. Here are some of the ways it differs and complements current controls. It:

  • Controls a variety of mosquito species: Aedes, Culex, Anopheles.
  • Provides a new mode of action: It is an ingestible, gut toxin vs. contact kill or repellent.
  • Is effective in urban and residential areas as well as large-scale sites (golf courses, parks).
  • Works to overcome the growing problem of insecticide resistance.
  • Is environmentally sound, using food-grade active ingredients and targeted applications.
  • Can be applied anytime of day for mosquitoes – not just dawn and dusk.
  • Does not attract bees, butterflies or other pollinators.. (According to: "Evaluation of attractive toxic sugar bait (ATSB) ­ Barrier for control of vector and nuisance mosquitoes and its effect on non-target organisms in sub-tropical environments in Florida" by Qualls et al. [Acta Tropica 131, 2014])

ATSB in Global Mosquito Control

Scientists have known for decades that mosquitoes need sugar for survival. In fact, more than 20 published scientific papers support the ATSB process as a formidable force in the global war against mosquitoes, the most recent of which is "Efficacy of attractive toxic sugar baits (ATSB) against Aedes albopictus with garlic oil encapsulated in beta-cyclodextrin as the active ingredient" by Junnila et al., which  appeared in the September 2015 issue of Acta Tropica. (Acta Tropica 152)

It wasn’t until recently, though, that an international biotech company was able to develop and replicate a sugar attractant and combine it with a food-grade “toxin” for consumer use.

The ATSB Trial Summary, “ATSB with garlic oil encapsulated in beta-Cyclodextrin as active ingredient” by Dr. Gunter Muller (Israel 2013) showed that the Westham ATSB formula reduces mosquito populations by more than 90 percent in just two to three weeks, including reducing populations of the Aedes albopictus mosquito and Culex species. According to the Qualls study, the formula is safe for people, pets and the environment and has also been proven not to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

ASTB has promising applications on a global scale for the control of vector, or disease carrying mosquitoes.  To represent the new mosquito control innovation, Westham is in regular communication with the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation, and the U.S. military.  Through grants from the International Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) and The Grand Challenge Israel, the ATSB formula and its impact on malaria vectors is also being tested in Africa.

Mosquitoes: An Integrated Approach 

No one method will control all mosquitoes.  It takes an integrated approach.  Try some of these tried and true tips for reducing mosquito populations and bites around your home this summer:

  • Don’t Forget Your Living Environment – For many of us, bug spray is as natural as sunscreen during the day. Don’t forget to protect your backyard living areas with an outdoor mosquito bait and kill product. A little bit of time can halt not only the biting, but also the breeding, of mosquitoes.
  • Clear Standing Water –It takes very little water for mosquito larvae to live and some of the most aggressive species of mosquitoes need just a droplet to survive. After storms, be diligent about sweeping puddles, dumping toys of water and even looking in innocent places like swings for standing water.
  • – Mosquitoes are attracted to debris and other kinds of trash so be sure to keep your outdoor spaces tidy.  Keep grass mowed and bushes trimmed too.