On The Wild Side

To control ticks, experts say you’ve got to manage the animals, both indoors and out.

Nasty little bloodsuckers, ticks vector a number of human and animal diseases.

Controlling them requires more than merely spraying insecticides where they most often reside, such as in the tall grass, bushes, shaded areas and yard perimeters bordering the woods.

Pest management professionals in the know say you’ve also got to manage the animals that carry ticks into the yard or house. “You want to try to keep those populations to a minimum as well,” said Mark Constantino, owner of Arkadia — Eco Pest Control, Randolph, N.J.


“Outside in yards, ticks are usually associated with wild animals, such as raccoons, opossums and deer mice,” said industry consultant Stoy Hedges.

More wild critters reside in urban and suburban neighborhoods than many homeowners realize. (Author’s note: In my own suburban Chicago neighborhood, I have seen deer, coyotes, foxes, skunks, shrews, chipmunks, tree squirrels, ground squirrels and more rabbits than are possible to count, in addition to the animals mentioned by Hedges.)

As such, 52 percent of PMPs encourage customers to eliminate brush, leaf litter and yard waste that provides harborage for ticks (and wildlife), found the PCT 2020 State of the Tick Control Market survey. The survey was sponsored by Central Life Sciences/Zoëcon and compiled by Readex Research, a privately held research firm in Stillwater, Minn.

Leaf litter, especially the piles that get trapped under stairs and decks over winter, is an ideal nesting place for rodents. It even matters where clients rake their leaf litter in the fall. A study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that depositing fall leaves along the wood line can result in a three-fold increase in black-legged tick numbers in those areas the following spring.

Treating pets with vet-approved flea and tick medicine can help address an outdoor tick problem.
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John Vollmer, who owns Tick Ranger franchises in Newtown and Rocky Hill, Conn., tells customers: “Just keep your yard neat. That’s your best defense. If you keep your yard neat, you’ll definitely have less ticks.”

In addition, 27 percent of PMPs said they perform rodent control as part of their tick management program, and 15 percent take steps to exclude wildlife. Exclusion might include preventing critters from nesting under a deck or shed. Some PMPs also encourage homeowners to install deer fencing if local deer populations are high.

PMPs even treat rodents for ticks, with 11 percent using tick boxes, found the PCT survey. The devices give mice and chipmunks a dose of fipronil when they enter the box to eat bait. Similar to “putting Frontline on your cat or dog,” the solution kills the ticks on rodents, as well as the ticks that bite the treated rodent over the next 90 days, explained David Whitman, president of Norwalk, Conn.-based Connecticut Tick Control, which owns and manufactures the tick box device.

A similar device is the tick tube that contains permethrin-treated nesting material. Rodents bring the material into their nests, where it kills ticks.

Although some clients prefer these devices because they don’t require pesticides to be broadcast on the property, they do take longer to achieve control of ticks on their own. As such, PMPs typically use them in combination with conventional or botanical insecticide applications or offer them as an add-on to their tick management program.

Sometimes, depending on yard size and conditions, simply getting the homeowner to treat the dog or cat with a vet-approved flea and tick medicine will take care of the outdoor tick problem, said Rodney O’Quinn, president of Keller’s Pest Control in Bradenton, Fla.

The most common tick species encountered by pest professionals are the brown dog tick, American dog tick, lone star tick and, most important, blacklegged ticks, which transmit Lyme disease, said Hedges. They’re generally found where mice and other wild mammals live, such as in ground-covering vegetation and low-lying plants.


Ticks also can become established indoors; a creepy thought, but true nonetheless. “That’s when people tend to freak out the most,” said O’Quinn.

Interior infestations most often involve the brown dog tick. Carried inside by pet dogs, engorged females fall off the pet and deposit eggs. Hatching tick larvae may find their way back onto the dog and grow larger, while others are seen on walls and hide in cracks, said Hedges.

Often, they’re mistaken for bed bugs, especially if the dog sleeps on the bed, said O’Quinn. “Once they take over inside of a home, then they start crawling up the walls in different stages of their lifecycle. That’s when people start calling us,” he said.

Indoors, the presence of ticks is most closely tied to fur-bearing pets, but wildlife also can cause these problems.

J&J Exterminating in Lafayette, La., once dealt with a tick infestation in the bathroom of a house on piers. A family of tick-infested possum were the cause. “They crawled up the pipes and were living in the void under the tub,” said Branch Manager Robert Thibodeaux. The ticks were coming indoors through unsealed cracks around the tub. Thibodeaux’s team had to pull out the tub to solve the problem.

O’Quinn looks for a rodent infestation, such as in the attic, if a customer has an unexplained indoor tick problem.

In addition, PMPs may come across soft ticks, which are not as common as the hard ticks found on people, dogs, cats and wild mammals. “Soft ticks will usually be traced to bird nests or bat roosts in the attic, chimney or voids in the upper parts of buildings,” said Hedges.

Treating indoor ticks generally involves laundering pet bedding (and people bedding, depending on where the infestation occurs) at the hottest settings possible; applying a liquid residual and possibly a synergist and insect growth regulator according to label; and bathing and treating pets with a vet-approved flea and tick medicine.

July 2021
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