Buzz Kill

One Memphis company helps take the sting out of summer.

An old adage in the field of journalism says that when a dog bites man, it is not news, the reason being that it happens so often. The same could be said of when mosquito bites man, especially in Memphis. Conversely, the adage goes, if man turns his teeth toward his predator, it's something to write about. Which brings us to Buzz Off, a local company that has developed a system of protecting our yards from mosquitoes. And it doesn't even involve biting the little bloodsuckers.

Let's begin with an overview of the brief, irritating life of a mosquito. The insect matures from egg to adult in four to seven days. The female, or biting mosquito, lives between three and 100 days and, worst-case scenario, she lays up to 3,000 eggs in a lifetime. Males live between 10 and 20 days and survive on fruit and flower nectar. If only the female could learn from the peace-loving, vegan, male, we wouldn't have to worry about mosquitoes at all. But she insists on a mammal blood feast, a whole five-millionths of a liter's worth, to get through the day. Alas, no matter how inoffensive the male is on his own to humankind, he still must die for his indispensable role in the breeding process.

Tom Stephen launched Buzz Off, all licensed and bonded, in 2004 after over a decade designing and selling pump and spray systems for controlling agricultural pests. He developed a keen business sense and a gift for understatement over the course of his insecticidal career. "Mosquitoes in Memphis can be quite bothersome at times," he says, "so it looked like a good market."

Buzz Off installs a system of hoses that branch from a 55-gallon barrel of insecticide (hidden near your air-conditioning unit or pool pump) out to nozzles placed strategically throughout the perimeter of your property. The nozzles are hidden under eaves, along fences, and in bushes, while the hoses can be colored to blend into their surroundings.

At three selected intervals each day, the nozzles emit a fine mist of pyrethrum — a botanical insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum flower — for 30 seconds. Pyrethrum biodegrades harmlessly, unless you're a mosquito, leaving no residue. You may also add a dousing yourself, as situations require, since the system comes equipped with remote control. But don't get too trigger-happy; you have to pay for refills.

Speaking of costs, Stephen says that they vary according to the property. "Every home has different landscaping and sizes," he explains. "[What matters] is the location of fences and trees where we can put the nozzles. Our average system cost here is around $3,500, but we have them go up to $15,000. There's the upfront cost for installation, and the ongoing cost of the service plan that covers the solution cost, and a service plan for winterization and de-winterization, fixing anything that goes wrong during our use season."

At least the estimate is free.

Stephen explains that Buzz Off takes a little time to rid your yard of the biting bugs. "Mosquitoes are fairly territorial, and we disrupt the breeding cycle. We kill adult mosquitoes, and when their eggs hatch, we kill those mosquitoes. Over a three or four week time period — where we have a money-back guarantee — we know that we'll reduce the density of mosquitoes. You'll have some come in with the wind, you can't have 100 percent mosquito control, because there are too many environmental factors, so we guarantee 90-95 percent mosquito control."

Though the Buzz Off system is designed to reduce the mosquito population, pyrethrum kills bugs indiscriminately, taking down fleas, ticks, spiders, wasps, and gnats. One shouldn't, however, stand in the mist prior to a walk around the block. "The label says not to spray around people, pets, or food," Stephen adds.

The tiny biter with the big impact on local history will be a thing of the past if Stephen has his way. He envisions a day of "mosquito free neighborhoods," and gets closer as his clientele spreads. "We have a little over 300 clients and expanding rapidly out where the growth is going out to Germantown, Collierville, Piperton, and Fayette County," Stephen says.

If only Memphis had Buzz Off in 1878. 

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