Will Summer Ever End? Yes…Unfortunately!

Columns - Pest Perspectives

October 16, 2018

“And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.” – Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, Irish novelist, poet and playwright, inadvertently sums up at lot of concerned emails/IMs/texts I am receiving these days regarding fall occasional pests (and I am sure many of you reading this column are getting them too). They generally proceed like this:

Customer: I came outside this morning and my deck/patio/car/driveway are covered in bugs!

Me: What kind of bugs are they? Can you send me a picture?

Customer: Sure! Please help me…they are EVERYWHERE!!!

Me: That’s actually frass.

Customer: What’s frass? That sounds terrible!

Me: Frass is bug poop. This comes from an orange-striped oakworm caterpillar.

Customer: GROSS!!! What can you do to treat for it???

The most effective way to combat fall occasional pest problems is through an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. IPM strategies emphasize nonchemical techniques, focusing on accurate pest identification, a thorough inspection and routine monitoring program and control approaches based on structural maintenance, landscape modification and sanitation prior to considering chemical solutions.

Before implementing your company’s fall pest IPM program, it’s important to understand the pest control implications of your geography and any customer-location specific environmental conditions that may impact its efficacy.

Questions to ask yourself when putting together a fall pest IPM program for a specific account include: Which pests are a threat? Is the landscaping and vegetation conducive to pests? And, which maintenance and sanitation routines can help reduce or even eliminate risks?

Here are a few tips to get your fall IPM plan started:

The subject of the conversation at the beginning of this column: orange-striped oakworm caterpiller frass.
Photo courtesy Dr. Steven Frank, North Carolina State University

Id frequent threat pests. What are the pests your technicians are most likely to encounter in the next couple of months?

  • Rodents. The most common fall pests in many regions, rodents love to make their home in the exterior landscape, often burrowing through and living underneath vegetation and mulch. Exterior populations peak in late summer which is about the same time their primary food sources (fallen seeds and/or fruit from plants) dry up. This sends them searching for other areas in search of harborage or food, and oftentimes that means into our customers’ homes! During this search, rodents may damage plantings, doors/window screens and wires/utility lines; and once inside can pose a serious health hazard.
  • Plant-feeding pests. Knowledge of common plant-feeding pests like aphids and insects associated with them such as ants or beetles (e.g., multicolored Asian ladybugs that seasonally invade structures) and bugs (true bugs; e.g. boxelder, kudzu and stink bugs) is essential for PMPs. Understanding the potential pest’s biology and behavior and seasonal timing of its lifecycle can help you pinpoint where, when and how these insects will impact your customers.

    It’s also important to be aware of some of the not-so-obvious plant-feeding/occasional pests. For example, caterpillars that defoliate trees, like the orange-striped oakworm caterpillar described in the customer conversation, often reach peak populations in the late summer/early fall. Other than leaving behind large piles of frass on the objects below, they may also shock customers when the larvae themselves emerge all at once looking for cracks and crevices in which to pupate. Homeowners typically do not react well to large crawling things all over their houses and/or garage doors; millipedes are another great example of this!

  • Stinging pests. Stinging pests like hornets, bees, wasps and yellow jackets also reach peak populations in the late summer/early fall. In yellow jackets (and other social stinging insects), for example, this means that there are too many mouths at the table, which often leads them to expand their foraging range (and increasing the likelihood of coming into contact with humans). Also, in early fall, the queen often leaves the hive in search of a more “cozy” overwintering spot — possibly taking with her thousands of her nest mates with her.

Evaluate landscape & vegetation. While performing your seasonal inspection, don’t just focus on looking for the pest themselves, but also on the landscaping and vegetation that may be attracting or harboring them. Homeowners may not want to hear landscaping suggestions from their PMP, but often there are simple suggestions we can make to help keep pest populations to a minimum, such as:

  • Minimize plant species that attract pests. Work with your local ornamental entomology or horticulture extension agents to identify and recommend decorative plants that do not produce nuts, seeds and fruits (these agents and their resources are rarely used by PMPs). If you are making a recommendation to remove something, it’s always best to have a replacement option for the homeowner.
  • Document overgrown, unhealthy or dying plants on your inspection report. Healthy plants are less likely to attract pests.
  • Use cedar/rubber mulch or rock/gravel instead of organic mulch to help deter pests.
  • Make sure water drains properly away from the structure.

Maintenance, exclusion & sanitation. The bedrock of any preventive fall IPM program is maintenance, exclusion and sanitation. Insect and rodent pests enter a building through even the smallest of holes or cracks (from the size of a nickel to 1/16 of an inch). To keep these pests out, here are a few things that you can do:

  • Seal gaps around doors or any pipes, fixtures and other potential entry points with water-resistant sealant and/or metal mesh.
  • Caulk around utility connections and outlets.
  • Install door sweeps and weather stripping to make sure pests don’t walk in doors and keep doors closed as much as possible.
  • Perform regular roof inspections, or recommend them if this is not a service you provide.
  • Minimize water accumulation from leaky taps, air conditioning units, or damaged drainage systems. Installing, repairing or protecting storm gutters is additional business line for many PMPs.
  • Repair or replace torn or missing vent screens.
  • Line garbage receptacles and keep the lids tightly sealed. Empty trash regularly, as the odors can attract pests looking for food.

As with any IPM program, regardless of season, take every possible opportunity to educate, engage and cooperate with your customer to proactively keep fall invaders outside where they belong!

The author is a board certified entomologist and manager — technical services at Rollins in Atlanta.