Dear Matt: Several years ago, I heard San Diego’s zoo was using an ingenious, environmentally sensitive spray developed originally to minimize desiccation of cuttings, called PolyTrap. Based on bubble gum’s chief ingredient, it would effectively gum up any chewing or sucking insects’ mandibles. Insects that did not attack plants, such as ladybugs, preying mantises, etc., in short, the “good” insects, were unaffected. What I heard was this, that Standard Oil, which produces so many of our harmful insecticides under the name Ortho, threatened to remove its products from any store or nursery that sold PolyTrap. Thus, this new-age product was doomed to failure. This may be one of those urban myths, or perhaps not. — I’man Aphid, San Diego
PolyTrap isn’t like the 100-mile-per-gallon carburetor or New York sewer alligators or the exploding poodle. The product did exist, and the zoo did use it. So did Disneyworld, Sea World Florida, and a bunch of other big, plant-filled places. It was made here in San Diego in the early ’80s by Green-O-Matic. It was an antitranspirant — a spray that protected plants from drying. A gummy substance ensured that the product adhered to the leaves and wouldn’t wash off. Several folks who have used it grew misty-eyed recalling the wonders of PolyTrap and lamenting its demise.
So when bad things happen to good products, whom can we blame? In this case, not Ortho, as much as they might make a big, fat, juicy target. The only local retail chain that carried PolyTrap never heard a peep from Standard Oil.
Just because you build a better mousetrap and put a sign on your lawn that says “Better mousetraps, this way!” the world will not beat a path to your door. That’s the biggest urban myth. In today’s wonderful world of retail, you have to schlep your mousetrap around to distributors who have access to shelf space in stores where people go to buy better mousetraps. The distributors often ask, “Where’s the demand? Where’s the advertising?” If people don’t ask for it, why should they handle it? But of course, if it’s not on the shelf, people don’t know about it. And if you’re just a small, freelance mousetrap builder and not Intergalactic Better Mousetraps, you need the resources to catch consumers’ attention. This figured into the wilting of PolyTrap.
Another small point we should clear up. That story about the bubble gum? Weeeell, the stuff was sticky, but not that sticky. The original owner of Green-O-Matic liked to tell colorful stories, and that was one of them. PolyTrap had no insecticidal properties, gummy or otherwise.