The Way We Kill Houseflies Now

Can a time period be defined by its method of killing the pesky housefly—or the mosquito, the cockroach, the spider, or other unwanted home invaders of the insect variety? Perhaps.

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Can a time period be defined by its method of killing the pesky housefly—or the mosquito, the cockroach, the spider, or other unwanted home invaders of the insect variety? Perhaps. While once there was simply a rolled-up bit of newspaper to bat away any offending creatures, the rare person has newspaper on hand nowadays, and one certainly isn't going to use a laptop to kill a bug. (Or shouldn't.) A shoe, well, shoes are expensive and heavy, and while they might be stylish on your feet, they are less so in your hand, with bug guts on the soles. Fly swatters rarely make contact, and when they do—it's a bit gruesome. If you use fly paper, you've, best-case scenario, got a bunch of gross, sticky bugs on a gross, sticky piece of paper. You could get one of those bug zapper machines, but that seems excessive, particularly for the indoors. What to do to harken bug murder into a more seemly modern era?

A brightly colored plastic gun, of course. In a fly-destruction effort that's ripped from both video games and fly science, Lorenzo Maggiore—a " sinewy 51-year-old who favors cargo shorts and wraparound sunglasses" who is "a surfer and yoga practitioner who speaks in a distinctly Southern California patois," writes Brad Reagan in the Wall Street Journal—has created a shotgun with which to eradicate the bug of your discontent. This gun is called the "Bug-a-Salt." Depending on your point of view, it is either amazingly popular in a good way (priced at $30, he received so many online orders—21,400—that he had to suspend sales after a few weeks) or amazingly popular in a people-will-buy-anything way. Also, it's a gun. Should we be concerned?

A gun's not your only option in contemporary bug-destruction, reports Reagan:

An astrophysicist who helped design the Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as Star Wars, is among the scientists developing a laser system called a "photonic fence" to kill mosquitoes. 

And then there are backyard tinkerers like Andrew Strube, an unemployed airplane mechanic, who last year built a trap for stink bugs after his home in Lancaster County, Pa., became infested with them.

A bug-killing gun, however, is what's selling like flycakes, capturing the imaginations of the media and garnering a Wall Street Journal piece.

Maybe as humans we just want to kill things, or at the very least, assert our physical dominance over the species. And bugs have been a literal bugaboo for so long. Who doesn't want to shoot into an oblivion the roach they found in the shower this morning, for example, or destroy with bare hands the mosquitoes still feasting on them into October. If what we want to kill is bugs, is that so wrong? Is it so wrong if we want to kill them dramatically?

Maggiore's invention, which he'd been working on way back in the early '90s, uses salt, with the gun's big innovation a loading mechanism that uses a pinch of salt for each shot. Sometimes big ideas take a while, though, and "It wasn't until 2008, when his sister died, that he decided life was too short not to pursue his dream," writes Reagan. "So he found a designer in Shenzhen who builds prototypes for toy companies. Through emails and four trips by Mr. Maggiore to China, the duo fine-tuned the design. Mr. Maggiore says each round discharges less than half a gram of salt, so anything short of a barrage results in minimal mess."

Now the dream is real, and according to Michael Dickinson, a California Institute of Technology professor who has a MacArthur genius grant to study fly behavior, the salt probably does catch the bugs unprepared, even if it only stuns them and doesn't kill them. (Maggiore is adamant that it works.)

In any case, a large portion of the fun of shooting bugs with a gun is probably simply shooting bugs with a gun, even if you'd rather your 12-year-old nephew not catch wind of any of this (buyers must be 18 or over). As Maggiore explains on the Bug-A-Salt website, "DEEP IN THE DNA OF MAN EXISTS A KILLER GENE ... Bugs will remain whole for easy clean up."

Progress is scary, sometimes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.