SEES 2022: Mosquitos and Gummy Bears

Guest blog: Alexander M.

Greetings! My experiment sought to determine which baits were most effective for mosquitos, with what resources I had on hand. To do this I placed 2 sets of samples in two adjacent parts of my AOI, with 4 mosquito traps each. I intend to check these traps every Sunday, counting the mosquito larvae and pupae that I find per trap.

These traps followed the safety bottle trap design (there is actually a YouTube tutorial from a couple years ago from Rusty Low herself), using spare plastic bottles, sandpaper, duct tape, and netting from grocery oranges.

In each set there exist four different baits in the four different water bottles,

  • Only tap water for control
  • Grass clippings
  • 15 mL of sugar
  • 8 Haribo gummy bears, my personal champion (Worry not, I will account for personal bias)

Why the bait choices, specifically gummy bears? Good question. I wanted to use all the bait I had at home, and so I used sugar and grass clippings. I also happened to be idly eating gummy bears, one of my favorite snacks, while making the traps, so I gave them a shot. Where would science be without some spontaneous ideas? I hope the glucose, acid, and collagen in the candy will prove effective as bait!

(Behold, the face of an intern who just saw three huge wasps mid-photo)

I will report back every week with updates! Which bait will prove most effective for mosquito trapping? Stay tuned for next week's episode.

Week 1 Update and Observations

Disaster has struck. After returning a week later to examine my traps, I found all were not only knocked over but crumpled up and damaged! One safety bottle trap (gummies) has somehow disappeared from the experimentation area. Perhaps this was due to wind, despite my attempts at rock-based stabilization in shielded areas. Animals are also a possible cause due to the wilderness setting, lost bottle, and damage to the traps.

(Broken bottles but unbroken dreams)

Sorry folks, no larvae or data of any kind this week. However, there are some positives to take away from the hardship. The loss of the current traps gives me the opportunity to redesign and tweak the trap model to account for both wind and animal interference (I have a few simple tricks up my sleeve). Additionally, I am moving my experimentation area closer to civilization for more stable environments and better monitoring on my part! Next time, I will strike mosquito gold. I shall post updates to the trap design and my results next week! Stay tuned, the experiment itself will continue as long as my vast supply of gummies does.

Week 3 Update

Hello friends! As you may have noticed, I have skipped week 2 on this blog. This is no mistake; many things have occurred in the past two weeks and now I have the time and have reached my desired progress to write about it this week. Worry not, I have not been idle as the conditions and method to my experiment have forced me to adapt. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention!

First off, I had to rework my whole AOI. Much of my original choice, as I found out, was government fly and range zones. So, I had to take a couple of days to relocate and observe a new and more urban sample. I believe I did a successful job despite the metropolitan limitations given, but I also learned how awful I am at reading maps (I am much better at it now). Regrettably, with this new AOI, I have lost the unrestricted and wild natural environment I originally desired, but at least the environment will be more controlled for my experiment. Additionally, many people live in the city, so the mosquito data would still be of use when analyzing population density and urban environment. Always look on the bright side!

Speaking of the bright side, I did not get to see much of it outside. The past week has been inundated with crucial rain and drizzle to stave off these extreme waves of summer heat. As a result, my traps would have to be put on hold else they be destroyed or overfilled the day they are placed. Was this it? Just languish around in my home until the sun returns. Of course not! If I could not place my traps outside, I will make them work outside through modifications of my own.

I present to you, the Reusable and Improvised Mobile Mosquito Safety Optimized Trap (RIMMSOT) Version 3.

Now, my past self foolishly thought that designing a trap would be as easy as pie, but as I have learned, there are many aspects and challenges in designing mosquito traps. First, I wanted to use the safety bottle traps shown by Rusty. I admire the environmental aspect and ease of the traps, utilizing tools and objects in the immediate home to create an effective and waste-reducing trap that prevents mosquito infestation. I did not want to give up this aspect in my design, creating a trap with easily accessible objects in my home as simply as possible.

Now, onto my goals. I wanted to design a safety bottle trap that used common household items and reduced home waste that could: withstand strong winds, handle animal interference, be small and portable, convenient to build and clean to use, reusable and environmentally safe, and water-resistant.


  1. To address wind resistance, I simply combined the separate bottles into four-bottle units by packing them tightly together into a shoebox. The divider in the middle serves to organize the bottles and reduce the area available so the bottles fit tightly without damage. By increasing the overall mass and shifting the center of gravity, I have made the bottles and box much more stable. I first got the idea after the label adhesive on the bottles kept them stuck together when I removed the labels. That alone could not withstand wind, so I originally began with a pyramid receptacle but that required more cardboard and calculation than I had. Simply put, the goal is for ease and convenience. Measuring one's own bottles, cutting multiple boards exactly, and adhering them strongly is too much.
  2. With regard to small, portable, and environmentally safe and clean use, I chose the shoebox and ensured the bottles fit as tightly as possible to reduce the amount of space needed. The box (and handles I proudly glued on) meant I could easily move the trap to any desired area in my hands with what little strength I have. The tight packing ensures the trap is more environmentally safe and clean to retrieve, as the bottles cannot be dislodged without conscious effort and so spills, as well as lost bottles that could remain in the environment for years, are prevented (as you know, I sadly lost a gummy bear bottle in the woods last time).
  3. For reusability, convenience, and further cleanliness, I utilized the concept of replaceable parts and puzzles to my advantage. See, the bottle traps need to be taped to remain secure and are easily damaged in transit, setup, and are broken when the tape is removed to examine specimens inside. I did not want to keep remaking 8 bottles a week, so the 8 bottle trap bottoms are separate pieces, most fragile, and protected by the shoebox shell along with being kept in place by each other's pressure. The tops would no longer be taped to the top, instead, they would be taped to each other and act as four-way caps that keep in place through their combined weights and matching with their respective bottom like puzzle pieces. This way, I can simply lift the tops and removed the bottoms to remake single pieces of the traps if needed or reuse all the undamaged pieces. I can clean them all piece by piece with less fuss. Furthermore, the tight design keeps bottles from escaping into nature and are much easier to spot if removed!
  4. Finally, animal and water interference. Unfortunately, I could not find a surefire way of preventing either of these obstacles with the items I had at home. Animal interference is reduced due to the stronger stable design of the conglomerated bottles, but the trap was made for reuse in mind, so with enough conscious lifting, the bottles can be removed or torn out. However, nudging or some jostling of the trap will not impact the bottles unlike the singular ones of the past held only by rocks. Water, however, remains undeterred. The very foe that kept me inside, is the very goal I could not yet solve. I could not determine how to shield the bottles from being filled up easily in rain nor what waterproof receptacle could serve as well as the cardboard could in other regards.

So here it is. I can see clearly now. The rain is gone. My current trap iteration is up and running. I will report back on my results next week. So, what was the point of all this? Could I not have used a bucket, tire, or other recommended traps or even used the safety bottles alone? True, but in my defense, I was stuck inside and had some free time. Additionally, I learned a lot about what to consider when designing, hang ups and challenges I never anticipated. It was also fun to problem solve with the materials I had at home. This trap is also much more efficient for me. I can reuse it, clean it, move it, and it is protected. Buckets and tires are much harder to transport, reuse, and clean. More would be needed if you want many different samples. This trap makes the most of what would have been waste, so I am proud of my progress! I encourage any readers to give trap design a try! Something entirely new, improvements or based on past designs, you can even try outdoing my own! While you are at it, any tips on waterproofing traps? See you next week!

Week 4 Update and Observations

The trap has been out for a whole week and is still standing! Huzzah! Not only that, but it also had many insect residents inside. Enjoy the many pictures I took in my state of overzealous excitement.

The trap held up quite well despite some moderate rain. The structure remained stable even though it was damp, keeping the bottles safely in place.

First, we have the two bottles filled with grass clippings.

There was not much insect activity within them. As far as I could tell, they were empty of any mosquitoes. In fact, the environment nearby seemed void of them. There were some odd dark specs or ovals, which could have been eggs but there were so few and all separated or sunken rather than floating rafts. To be safe, I avoided designating them as eggs. (If you are reading this and have some tips on whether these are eggs or not, leave a comment if you can lend a hand). Now onto the sugar water!

Besides ant corpses and some of those aforementioned dark particles, no mosquito larvae or pupae in site! Next up, ordinary tap water!

The same story as the last two bottle types, but with a much larger number of ants and sunken dark pods. Last but not least, the gummy bear bottle traps!

Now this is where things get interesting. The gummy bear traps had the largest amount of both ants and dark specs. However, as you can see from the above two photos, a couple of other organisms. No mosquitoes, larvae or pupae, but I find their presence interesting to examine.

In the first gummy bear bottle, I found an odd film or layer encompassing the top. It was quite gross, and I have no idea how it came about but I think it may be a product of dirt and gummy buildup in the water. This mixture could have floated in the water and formed the goop above.

The ants in the second bottle were much larger, as shown in the picture above for a scale comparison (ant on left from gummy bottle and ants on right from sugar water). There were also two of these larger organisms, as shown in the pictures above, towering larger than the big ants. If you have any idea what these are, let me know, as they are definitely not mosquitoes. Perhaps they are a larger ant worker subset? (I am told by a colleague that these are earwigs). Anyhow, these titans caught my eye and resulted in a lot of photos under the microscope! Enjoy!

Oh, I almost forgot. I have to give special mention to these other insects! The pill bugs and other ants!

So, what are my conclusions for this week? Well, mosquitoes do not seem to make an appearance in any of the bottles or my area. I will have to continue checking to see if I can capture some pupae and larvae, although it would be good news if no mosquitoes were around my area, as unlikely as it is. On the bright side, I got a lot of other insect photos. My personal champion, gummy bears, seem to be most attractive to my ants and pill bug compatriots. Additionally, water followed by sugar then grass clippings have the most ants. This may just be due to incidental drowning rather than attraction though as the clippings provide more space to crawl and avoid the water. But gummy bears have an overwhelming lead in terms of insect attraction. Hopefully, I can catch some mosquito pictures for the photo album in the future! I'll be sure to let you know when I do!

About the author:  Alexander Mai is a senior at DeBakey High School, Houston, TX. This blog describes a mosquito trapping experiment conducted as part of the NASA STEM Enhancements in Earth Sciences (SEES) summer high school research internship. His virtual internship is part of a collaboration between the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and the NASA  Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) to extend the TSGC Summer Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship for US high school ( ​​​​​​​

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