Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Entomology Today, a project of the Entomological Society of America with the goal of reporting interesting discoveries in the world of insect science and news from various entomological societies. To learn more, visit www.entomologytoday.org.
Invasive insect and arthropod species make for a lot of scary headlines. But success stories in invasive- species response are out there. They just need to be told.
One of those success stories is the eradication of the European grapevine moth (Lobesia botrana) in Northern California after it was found there in 2009. A cooperative, multipronged response effort kept infestations from running wild, and it was declared eradicated in 2016, two years after the last adult moth was caught in the region. The story of this effort is recounted, along with analysis of the invasion’s dynamics, in a study published in January 2019 in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
When stories like this one aren’t shared, “this makes it difficult for researchers to understand the invader’s biology outside of its native range and assess how and what management strategies were effective in mitigating the invader’s spread and impacts. This also means that the general public is not made aware of the fact that it is possible to successfully manage invasive pests of concern,” say study co- authors Tyler E. Schartel and Matthew P. Daugherty of the University of California, Riverside; Brett R. Bayles of the Dominican University of California; Monica L. Cooper and Lucia G. Varela of the University of California Cooperative Extension; Gregory S. Simmons of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; and Shyam M. Thomas of Ryerson University in Toronto, via email.
The European grapevine moth is native to Europe and also has invaded parts of Africa, the Middle East and South America. Its larvae feed on grapes and can damage fruit yields while also increasing rates of fungal damage. Thus, when it was found in Napa County vineyards in 2009, it was most unwelcome. As Schartel and colleagues explain, the response effort was a coordinated leap into action among a range of stakeholders, from “grape growers, the wine industry, University of California researchers, and local, state, and federal officials.” Response efforts included a statewide network of traps for detection, vineyard inspections, quarantine regulations on farming and vineyard equipment in infested areas, mating- disruption and insecticide treatments in vineyards, outreach and education efforts, and ongoing research as the program progressed.
“The most important conclusion from this study is that extensive collaboration between state and federal regulatory agencies, domestic and international researchers, growers and property managers, and the general public can lead to effective pest management strategies and successful management outcomes,” the researchers say. “Such highly collaborative efforts reinforce the utility of transparency in scientific research and ultimately result in all involved shareholders and parties being better prepared to manage future invasions.”
In their study looking back at the course of the invasion and eradication of European grapevine moth, the researchers examined a wealth of data from the various monitoring traps that were maintained from 2009 onward throughout Napa County’s nearly 800 square miles. Then they combined that info with data on geography, landscape, climate and human-driven factors in the same area. The results paint a picture of where and how L. botrana spread through the region and what areas may be prime locations for infestations again should it be re-introduced.
Standing out among the findings: The infested areas were clustered in “hot spots” that were nevertheless larger in scale than the moth’s dispersal range. And the researchers found strong relationships between infestation occurrences and proximity to transportation corridors. Both indicated that human-aided transport likely played a key role in the spread of the moth.
Schartel and colleagues say the early detection and rapid response to the invasion — particularly coupled with extensive data-gathering — were critical. “Our study illustrates the importance of quickly implementing management strategies that gather data on invading arthropod occurrence and abundances,” they say. “This type of information, especially early on in a biological invasion, is crucial for understanding the invasion’s spatiotemporal dynamics and implementing effective management that accounts for these dynamics. As data accumulates, management efforts can be refined or improved to better coincide with and mitigate invader spread and impacts.”
Now, looking back on the eradication, the researchers are hoping to draw lessons to apply to other potential invasions. Though they note that “all biological invasions are, to some extent, unique due to the life history and ecology of the invading organisms,” they are working to model habitat suitability and invasion risk for other lepidopteran pests of grapes, to help regulatory agencies develop response plans ahead of time for other potential invasions.
“Increased understanding of what management efforts were consistent with L. botrana biology, what efforts and strategies could be improved upon or refined, and estimates of important factors such as invasion risk will help manage future biological invasions by the same, or similar, pests,” the researchers say.
The qualifications needed to succeed as a wildlife technician are a bit different from those of a general pest or termite technician. As with any type of pest control, knowing the habitats, habits and preferences of the animal they’re dealing with is important. But PMPs generally look for a broader range of skills in their wildlife technicians — namely, familiarity with animals, a comfort level with ladders, and construction expertise they can apply to exclusion work.
“We ask right on the application whether the candidate has hunting and fishing skills,” says Jerry Swoboda of Swoboda Pest & Termite Control. “You can’t take a chance that a technician will be scared. They have to exude confidence or else the customer will be scared, too.”
Sheri Spencer Bachman says that Spencer Pest Services looks for hunters, too, and requires construction capabilities in the technicians they hire for wildlife work. “We call them ‘specialty technicians’ because they have these particular skills,” she says. “We pay them well for the work they do, but they know they need to do it right. We offer customers a warranty on our exclusion work, and if they have any issues with that work, the same technician has to go back out and fix it.”
Wildlife work demands unique gear and training, too. From gloves and traps to hand tools and ladders, to control poles, bump caps and full-face HEPA filters, PMPs told PCT they outfit their wildlife technicians with a broad range of equipment — equipment they must be comfortable using before they go out on a call.
“Ladder safety training is critical for wildlife technicians,” says Spencer Bachman. “We make sure they develop all of the necessary skills to set up and check their ladders, and to work comfortably from them. We also invest in the best equipment, including balancers and stabilizers, to ensure their safety.”
Dennis Mastrolia of Dennis the Mennis Pest Control believes in investing in high-quality gear, too, saying, “Equipment is one of the most important elements of a wildlife control program. We buy traps from companies that specialize in designing and building traps, not from big-box stores. And we provide our technicians with safe, well-made tools and appropriate PPE. This isn’t an area where you want to scrimp.”
When it comes to management protocols, live trapping and exclusion are by far the most popular among PMPs who offer wildlife control services: 89 percent use live trapping and 87 percent exclusion. Nearly half, 45 percent, say that exclusion is their primary means of control; 39 percent say that live trapping is.
“Trapping is great, but if you can get the animals out of the house without handling them, it’s easier and safer for your technicians,” says Jerry Swoboda of Swoboda Pest & Termite Control. “We mainly use structural modification, building doors that let them leave but won’t let them back in. Then we just close them up once the house is clear of them.”
Sheri Spencer Bachman of Spencer Pest Services in Greenville, S.C., shares, “We get an even mix of squirrel and rodent calls, which make up about 30 percent of our business. We’ve developed a program that covers both with a five-step approach: (1) identify the animal based on droppings, what time of day or night the customer hears noises, etc., (2) trap and remove them, (3) place bait stations, (4) sanitize (usually the attic) and (5) inspect the bait stations (rebaiting as needed) and the home (for new holes) on a regular basis.”
Once the work is done, Spencer Pest puts a renewal on the program for whole-house coverage on any type of wildlife or rodent that gets into the house, Spencer Bachman explains. “The customer pays a portion up front and then makes monthly payments. As long as they continue making the payments, all they have to do is call if a mouse, snake, squirrel or other animal gets in. Customers like the peace of mind of knowing their entire house is covered, and the recurring revenue is great for us. It’s a very profitable model.”
Duane Scheidegger of Lockout Pest Control in Brodhead, Wis., who mostly encounters raccoons, skunks, groundhogs and squirrels, goes with a different model. “I charge a set-up fee based on the specifics of the job and then charge for each animal removed. My customers prefer this cost structure to an annual contract,” he says. “It’s working really well for me; my wildlife control work has grown over the past year, from about 10 percent to 15 percent of my business.”
In fact, this model works for more than three-fourths of PMPs, according to the PCT survey, although some of them may also opt to go the contract route, depending on the specific needs or circumstances of the customer. While 77 percent sometimes or always use no-contract, à la carte pricing, 44 percent use stand-alone or bundled annual contracts.
Dennis Mastrolia says his wildlife control business has grown from about 5 percent of his business to 25 or 30 percent over just the past couple of years. The owner of Dennis the Mennis Pest Control in Boston, Mass., attributes this amazing level of growth to marketing — more specifically, to the redesign of his website, which now prominently features wildlife images. And while marketing can certainly influence the type of business a pest management company attracts, there also has to be activity. No problem there, say PMPs across the country: Nuisance wildlife activity is as strong and demanding as it’s ever been.
About half, 48 percent, of the PMPs who participated in this year’s PCT State of the Wildlife Control Market study say they offer wildlife control services. Of these, 95 percent report that the incidence of wildlife control problems has increased or remained steady over the past year. Half say that wildlife work has become a more significant portion of their business over the past five years. (This represents an 11 percent rise over 2019 responses, when 39 percent reported the same.) And 96 percent expect wildlife control revenues to represent a steady or growing portion of their overall service revenues in 2020.
“We count on wildlife work to be steady year after year,” says Jerry Swoboda of Swoboda Pest & Termite Control in Bryan, Texas. “Some of the activity is related to the weather — we get a lot of snake calls after heavy rains, for example. But we’re also a college town, so anytime students are moving in and out, we get calls for squirrels in attics and opossums under buildings. We service a lot of rental properties, so we see plenty of wildlife activity brought on by tenant negligence.”
While the type of wildlife encountered by PMPs is very much dependent on geography and weather conditions, squirrels and raccoons are the most commonly controlled animals in the country. Of the top dozen nuisance pests, bats, moles, raccoons, squirrels and birds are considered the most difficult to manage.
For bats, the most challenging issue is often their protected-species status, which limits the times of year they can be controlled. When customers call with bat issues during the maternity season, there’s little a pest control company can do.
“If we get a call for bats in the spring, we have to educate the customer about why we can’t touch them until September,” says Mastrolia. “It’s not what they want to hear, but when we explain that we would never want to exclude an adult and leave the minors there to die, they begin to understand.”
Keith Birkemeyer of ProBest Pest Management in Phoenix, Ariz., says that it’s important not only to avoid maternity season but also to do bat work at the right time of day. “When you’re excluding bats from a building, you need to be careful not to seal them in. That means waiting until they’ve left their roosts for the night.”
For some bat issues, one night isn’t enough to get the job done, Birkemeyer adds. “We did one bat job, for a large motel that had aluminum windows protected by an archway of brick. There was a gap allowing bats to come and go. We waited until they headed south, and then we excluded the windows. It took us a month-and-a-half to finish, but we’ve had no callbacks. When bats come back and see that there’s no longer a way in, they move on to find another home.”
Mastrolia says that communicating the rationale behind the timing and the methodology you’re using is essential to building a solid relationship with your customer. “Customers want their issues to be resolved immediately, but it’s not always that easy with wildlife,” he shares.