Gallery: Insect Trap Patents

Certain insects have been bothering us since the dawn of humanity by eating our food, eating us, and spreading disease. … Continued

Certain insects have been bothering us since the dawn of humanity by eating our food, eating us, and spreading disease. We’ve tried to fight them with everything from hand slaps to campfire smoke to chemicals, our methods increasingly sophisticated as we mastered new technologies.

But one approach that has always delighted me is the insect trap. With unfathomable numbers of insects buzzing and crawling around, it’s pretty optimistic to think we can trap enough to have any great impact. Still, we’ve tried and tried, starting at least in the 1600s and probably much earlier. By 1920 in the US, we were trying so often that the Patent and Trademark Office created a special classification for traps.

Some of these traps were for larger animals, from fish to rats, but the class also had a subgroup for insects. This was further broken into thirteen subcategories including furniture, mechanically-operated, electrocuting, adhesive, illuminated, garbage can, and bed bugs, the only species that warranted its own category.

Of course, some traps can be useful, luring in disease-spreading bloodsuckers or other pests so we know they’re there to begin with. Traps can also be helpful for research or agriculture to get a sample of which insects live where. And poisonous baits have helped pest controllers with roach infestations for decades.

Other traps, however, are strange or just silly. Check out the above gallery for examples, as well as some of the earliest patented bed bug and roach traps, which date to the 1800s (my absolute favorite is #5 in the gallery).

Do any readers also love reading old patents about insect traps? Add your personal favorites in the comments.

httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image201.png
The earliest roach trap I’ve found is US 14,336, patented in 1856 by two gentlemen in Philadelphia. My favorite parts of the drawing are B and B’, which are tiny trap doors–roach booby traps.
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image202.png
I give you the Fly Frightener (to be honest, it frightens me, too).
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image203.png
There is an entire category of insect trap inventions labeled “Tree Trunk.” They kind of look like chastity belts. US 1,994,101, “Means for protecting trees from insect pests,” is among the most intricate I’ve seen.
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image204.png
US 4,908,978, or the “Insect Impeller and Destroyer,” is a fan that draws in insects and then electrocutes them.
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image205.png
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image206.png
Behold US 424,729, the earliest electric insect trap (or at least the earliest I’ve found). Proof that even our forefathers enjoyed sitting around the porch and watching the bug zapper.
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image207.png
US 5,996,531 is a pet dish, which includes a series of moats around the legs of the raised dish to thwart crawling insects. This seems like an awfully complicated way to keep ants out of your dog’s food.
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image208.png
US 391,930 is the earliest bed bug trap patent, from 1888 (chinch is another word for bed bug). In Figure 1, the device is attached to a headboard. The holes are intended to attract the bugs because they like to hang out in tight places.
httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2014201405Image209.png
And finally, we have US 4,324,062, or “Humane Insect Trap for the Live Capture of Spiders and the Like.” Sure, a spider isn’t an insect, but presumably this suction device would work for any tiny critter. But wouldn’t an overturned cup and a piece of paper work just as well?