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“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey was an educator, busi-nessman, organizational leadership development expert and author. His book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which has sold more than 25 million copies in 40 languages (www.stephencovey.com), stresses finding meaning or success in any situation through seven core principles. No matter where you are in the country, ants are likely your top revenue generator, and also your biggest “headache” pest (due to callbacks).
Covey’s quote above, though taken out of context, perfectly describes the challenges associated with ant control: diversity, adaptability and tenacity (hundreds of thousands of different individuals working for the greater good). As we move into ant season, there is an opportunity to change both how you’re performing an ant service and its potential outcome. Try applying Covey’s seven tenets of personal growth to your ant control program.1. BE PROACTIVE. Don’t wait in reactive mode. Use the winter months to review ant-related callback trends from the previous ant season and determine what did and didn’t work (look at both sides of the equation; the PMP and the customer). Identifying recurring customers and engaging with them prior to your phone ringing may save extra service stops.
2. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. In this case, your goal is ant control. Develop YOUR plan of attack so you can accomplish your goal. The first step in any ant control plan is a thorough inspection. The inspection can happen long before a customer actually calls you about ants in their kitchen. A thorough inspection should identify structural deficiencies, favorable landscape or other conditions conducive to ants. Document everything you see during the inspection: potential attraction sources (food scraps, storage practices, sanitation, honeydew-producing insects, non-functional drainage systems, etc.), access points (cracks/openings around doors, windows and utility lines, plantings too close to the structure, etc.) and potential nesting site red flags such as areas of landscape stone, rock walls, downed trees or structural timbers and piles of compost or other organic debris (leaves, mulch, etc.).
3. FIRST THINGS FIRST. The next step in your ant control plan is to take stock of the inspection findings and PRIORITIZE responsibilities. Assess identified deficiencies and conditions conducive and assign an “owner” for each corrective action. Remember, in any ant control program there is a partnership that relies on both PMP and customer responsibilities! Break down corrective actions into groups such as “necessary” (e.g., sanitation or food source reduction), “supportive” (e.g., minor landscape changes, caulking or sealing windows/doors) or “perfect world” (e.g., major landscape modifications or foundation repairs).
4. THINK WIN/WIN. Communicating with the customer is essential. Every opportunity to build trust and mutual understanding (or “buy-in” for your [and their] ant control program) is one that can’t be passed up. Walk the customer through the inspection findings and their specific ant control plan, including your prioritized “fix-it” list and the breakdown of responsibilities/cooperation both sides will put forth completing necessary and supportive corrective actions. Remember, something simple that takes a technician 15 minutes, such as raking out landscape beds for a customer (prior to treatment), could save 90 minutes later if it reduces one callback.
5. UNDERSTAND, THEN BE UNDERSTOOD. Know your enemy. With the bedrock (cultural and physical control tactics) of your ant control plan in place, be ready for the call to action. Arm technicians with a good hand lens and ant ID field guide (ask your distributor as many of the manufacturers have excellent guides with easy to follow keys and diagnostic images). Glean all information you can from your customer. Technicians have to interpret what they’re hearing and determine where the ants are coming from and where they are going (foraging trails). Combining this information with a confirmed ID and understanding of species-specific biology and behaviors, they also may determine nesting location(s).
6. SYNERGIZE. Implement the plan. There is no one-trick pony to managing ants and reducing the callbacks associated with them. Both non-pesticide and pesticide-based tools must be utilized. The ant control plan and associated corrective actions define the role of non-pesticide tools. When pesticides are required, PMPs have many pesticide-based control tools in their toolbox, including many formulation types (e.g., bait, dust, SC/WP, granule), application methods (e.g., broadcast, C&C, spot, void) and active ingredients (e.g,. boric acid, fipronil, imidacloprid, indoxacarb). Don’t rely on only one tool. For many nuisance ants, multiple products/formulations may be required on the exterior and interior.
7. SHARPEN THE SAW. Ant control is not static. Apply this principle to the bigger picture of your program. After implementing cultural, physical and chemical control tactics, you must monitor, evaluate and potentially change your control plan. If the implemented plan didn’t work, why? What parts of the plan should change? Stress different strategies at different times of the year by adjusting your priority list or changing product choice. For example, are there times when landscape modification is more important than physical exclusion, or will rotating the bait formulation to reflect seasonal foraging behavior increase acceptance?
FINAL THOUGHTS. Stephen Covey said, “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.” Think about your ant control program in the frame-work of these principles. Feel out all aspects of your plan’s strengths and weaknesses and focus on specific areas for improvement. Do this and the odds of your revenue generation equaling profit generation will likely increase.
The author is a board certified entomologist and manager — technical services at Rollins in Atlanta.
A client calls in August complaining about bees all over the dumpster; a restaurant is haunted by bees intimidating patrons on the patio; or a technician is bragging about a large bee nest they’ve removed from the eaves of a house. Sound familiar? The only problem with these examples is that rarely are they actually bees! Stinging insects like yellow jackets and paper wasps aren’t technically bees, but who cares? Sure, it makes for correct entomology, but there are more layers to this honeycomb than that! For instance, there’s a safety aspect to this taxonomic mix-up — it can mean the difference between a no-hassle nest treatment and sharing a bee suit veil with a stranger (a very small, but very angry, stranger). Hopefully this has gotten the attention of anyone who has mistakenly used the term “bee” when referring to any stinging insect…
SAFETY FIRST. Let me back up a minute. When working with stinging insects, one essential piece of personal protective equip-ment (PPE) is a bee suit. It’s shocking to me how many technicians are working with yellow jackets and honey bees without one. With safety becoming ever more important to our clients and injuries becoming ever more expensive for pest management companies, it’s a no brainer. Buy your technicians bee suits if they are working with large colonies of stinging insects — it’ll be the best $100 spent on safety. Period. Bee suits are effective; they can make one feel almost invincible when treating stinging insects. As all bystanders flee in fear, the bee suit-clad PMP can stand his ground against a ferocious colony’s assault. Remember the dragon from The Hobbit, named Smaug, who could totally annihilate a city without fear of retribution? Yeah, it’s like that. Of course, the target insects that we are called on to decimate are not all the same size…and just like Smaug you may find there is a chink in your armor that a flying arrow can penetrate! Beekeepers are very conscious of the size of honey bees. They use terms like “queen ex-cluder” and refer to “bee space,” which are related to the size of honey bees. Bee keepers are great at finding materials that keep out honey bees. After all, what else would one need to keep out of a bee suit?
There are different styles of bee suits available — some have a hooded veil built onto the suit and others have a separate veil that slides over a brimmed hat. If your bee suit has grommets or ventilation eyelets in the hat, they are often 0.5 cm open-ings, just the perfect size to keep out angry worker bees while still maximizing air flow.
One of the smallest, and also most common, yellow jackets that we deal with in the Midwest is called Vespula maculifrons, the Eastern yellow jacket. They are not the same size as a honey bee and have been known to sneak right through those bee suit grommets and dispense a little payback to the unsuspecting applicator!
Unfortunately, after some swelling, you might not be the same size! So, what is a PMP to do about it? Here are a few tips for getting your bee suit yellow jacket ready:
- Snip out pieces of window screen and use hot glue or liquid nails to affix them inside the bee suit over any large ventilation openings.
- Wear sturdy socks that can be pulled up to your calf when working with stinging insects.
- Duct tape, while not professional looking, can be a great tool to wrap around the ankles or to put over the suit’s zipper closures to ensure you have a tight seal.
- Tyvek arm sleeves work great to fill a gap between the bee suit sleeve and gloves, which sometimes opens when reaching above your head to treat or remove a nest.
If you find yourself cursing all beekeepers and their no-room-for-error suit designs after a yellow jacket has penetrated your armor, be thankful that you aren’t wearing a suit optimized for keeping out bumble bees — and that the animal envenomating you is fairly small!
SMART CHOICES. There is growing concern over bee populations today. Be wise in what you treat. Many solitary bee species are non-aggressive and often don’t warrant control. While honey bees are not an endangered species, and we are absolutely legally able to manage them — many times it doesn’t make sense from a PR or risk analysis standpoint to do so. Reach out to a beekeeper or hobbyist to remove the bees intact, when possible. (In regions with Africanized honey bees, this likely won’t apply.) If there isn’t such a resource readily available in your area, consider filling this need. Honey bee cutouts and swarm captures can be rewarding and profitable, not to mention the honey tastes fantastic when it hasn’t been treated with insecticidal dust!
The author is manager of education and training at Rose Pest Solutions, Troy, Mich.
Copesan is an alliance of pest management companies with locations throughout North America. To learn more, visit www.copesan.com.