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Spokane Valley firm unveils better bug trap

Thu., Sept. 26, 2013

After building a multimillion-dollar business based on luring insects through chemical scents, a Spokane Valley company is ready for its next bug thing.

But Sterling International’s new product line has a distinctly retro quality: It’s a six-sided hanging tube whose outer surfaces are made of sticky flypaper.

The product’s innovation is adding multicolored 3-D patterns to the sides of the trap. Based on the company’s research into how bugs respond to color, Sterling has found that many flying insects are attracted to blues, yellows and greens.

For more than 30 years, Sterling has sold its popular line of Rescue-branded traps. Those clear-plastic products have interior chambers containing a chemical that lures the bug inside, where it’s trapped and dies.

In response to companies that asked Sterling to come up with an alternative to tried-and-true flypaper tape, the company produced a multicolored FlyTape last year. But why stop with flies?

So Sterling’s research and development team, headed by Qing-He Zhang, started by using a high-tech device that measures insects’ retina responses to different colors.

By studying the reactions in the Sterling lab in Spokane Valley, researchers produced different color patterns and field-tested them for about two years, in different parts of the country.

The result is a set of three 11-inch-tall traps, each with a distinct set of four colors that are arranged in a pattern that creates a sense of three dimensions. They’re meant to be hung near insect nests or under eaves, indoors or outdoors.

One tube is targeted toward wasps, yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets and carpenter bees.

The second targets flies and fruit flies.

The third works specifically with biting flies.

The wasp and biting fly models will be priced around $7.99; the standard fly model will cost $4.49.

The visual appearance of the traps – the mottled printed pattern – is basically Sterling’s effort to mimic nature, said Zhang.

As for why the bugs gravitate toward the colors and get stuck, the research team is stumped.

“If you’re asking, ‘What do they want?’” said Paul Bryant, an associate entomologist at Sterling International, “we don’t know.”

“Do the insects think there are resources there or something that is helpful? We don’t have that answer,” Bryant said.

Stephanie Cates, the company’s marketing director, said Sterling doesn’t know of any similar products for the residential market. The federal government, however, in an attempt to help farmers, has developed a purple trap that’s targeted toward the destructive emerald ash borer, she said.

Cates and others have taken the product to trade shows and found solid interest among distributors. Orders have come from Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware, Lowes and several other retailers, she said.

“The reasons we developed the TrapStik is it expands our product line” and offers an alternative way to eliminate flying insects, Cates said. It also offers consumers a product priced a little lower than the other Rescue lures Sterling currently sells.

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