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Columns - Technically Speaking

Watch out for those emerging springtime pests

March 31, 2011
Ron Ross

After a long, cold winter, we humans always look forward to the onset of spring. That season renews us as we begin to shake off the blahs and blues of wintertime. We share Planet Earth with animal and plant species, and many, as nature would have it, also begin to emerge to welcome springtime after their wintertime inactivity.

These awakening creatures include what we, in the urban pest management industry, affectionately term “springtime pests.” As we prepare to control or eliminate them for our clients, we should understand that although they are primarily found out of doors, these pests do enter residential and commercial structures. And when they do, they can cause severe situations possibly costing hundreds, thousands and even millions of dollars to correct disruption or contamination.

Two of the most noteworthy of these springtime pests are termites (especially subterranean termites) and ants (especially carpenter ants).
Most believe these two pests cause problems only for homeowners. While for the most part this is true, both of them can also cause serious problems in commercial and food-processing facilities.

Termites can penetrate a crack as small as 1/32 to 1/64 of an inch wide. Imagine how many cracks there are in floor and wall junctions, cement slab floors, pipe penetrations, cement block walls of most food-processing or warehousing facilities, pharmaceutical labs, hospices, hospitals, etc.

Even if there is no wood damage, imagine the contamination potential of hundreds or thousands of swarming termites or ants in a busy food-processing operation — a facility with open and exposed products. It’s possible that termites or ants, or their discarded wings, could end up in packaged products. To prevent these potential problems, it’s critical to establish a good storage design and rotation system, along with a good proactive pest management inspection program.

When termites or ants typically invade a structure, the ability to perform a detailed, thorough pest management inspection is critical. Keying in on the exterior floor/wall junctions is important, as is looking for termite mud tubes, trailing ants, sand mounds, etc. This allows a pest management program to effectively react before swarming occurs and can prevent possible contamination.

Because of their active and aggressive food foraging habits, ants and other pests can be a greater problem because of the potential of infesting food products in both the processing and finished product areas. Plant maintenance should focus on in-plant vigilance, as well as preventive pest management inspections and actions to prevent a pest invasion. Actions also should include an ongoing crack and crevice sealing or caulking program to block pest entry points.

Today’s pest management services really need to take a “3-D holistic” approach incorporating the prediction and prevention of pest activity. And exterior springtime inspections are a must to prevent springtime invaders.

A number of other insects and arthropods that normally live outside do have a habit of occasionally invading structures during the spring awakening period.

Sow bugs, crickets, earwigs, millipedes, centipedes, clover mites, book lice, carpet beetles, springtails, miscellaneous flies and ground beetles are just a few of the awakening hordes that are potential invaders.

Maintaining moisture control is a critical factor in preventing many of these springtime pests from harboring around a structure’s perimeter or actually invading. This is because arthropods and insects have a critical moisture requirement: the smaller the creature, the harder it is for the creature to get enough water to adequately retain moisture.

Inspecting gutters for proper draining should be high on a “to do” list. Keeping shrubs, lawns and trees well trimmed and away from a structure should be an automatic springtime procedure. Insects, as well as wildlife, can utilize vegetation abutting a structure as a “highway” to the inside.

Not only do insects stir in the springtime, but squirrels and raccoons (among other wildlife) typically give birth to their young then and look around for new homes.

Maintaining a vegetation-free zone along the perimeter of a home or business facility is a great way to prevent invasions; and well-manicured lawns discourage wildlife, ticks and fleas from harboring around a structure and therefore reduce the likelihood of these pests wandering inside. Good sanitation, such as proper storage of materials away from a building’s perimeter, is also a factor in preventing these creatures from gaining entry.

Remember, as pest populations build up around the exterior perimeter, the greater the possibility of pest entry into the structure.

As for pest birds, maintaining structures, including repairing holes, screens, nettings and broken windows is a must to prevent them from trying to invade. Imagine bird droppings, feathers and bird mites coming in through a broken window or unsealed eave. These are serious and potentially expensive problems that can be avoided with good, proactive springtime inspections, maintenance and repair programs.

As a final note, remember that many insects are attracted to lights. Flying insects can cause major product contamination problems in the production of raw or finished goods. Many such problems in structures, food facilities and warehouses have resulted from incorrect lighting. Mercury arc lights attract these insects while sodium vapor lights do not. Determine if the facility lights at the building perimeter are shining on the building and thereby attracting pests. If so, have your clients place the lights a distance away from the structure. Shining them at the building from that location will draw the pests away from the structure and will reduce or eliminate the flying insects.

These are just a few examples of what we consider to be springtime pest problems. By incorporating some simple, basic pest management techniques and maintenance practices in conjunction with a proactive IPM program, you can significantly reduce the hordes of springtime invaders waiting to descend on the homes or facilities of your clients. But whether they are springtime pests, fall pests, etc., they are pests and DO NOT belong in a structure. Remember that old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

It’s been a long, hard winter — enjoy your spring!

Ron Ross is a 30-year veteran of the pest control industry and is technical manager/staff entomologist with Assured Environments, New York, N.Y. He is a member of the Copesan Technical Committee, NYS Professional Pest Management Association, NY Entomological Society and ESA.

Copesan is an alliance of pest management companies with locations throughout North America. To learn more, visit www.copesan.com.