Sunday, June 16, 2013

Carpenter Bees

Today I will be discussing the carpenter bee.  There are many species so we will suffice it to say they are of the genus Xylocopa, subfamily Xylocopinae. 
Carpenter Bees fall under the category of wood destroying organisms (or WDO, WDI in bugman lingo) and can do significant damage to a wooden structure over time.  A female bee will drill an almost perfectly circular hole almost exactly one half inch across into a piece of wood.  After she digs her way in, she turns 90 degrees or so and tunnels about six inches or so carving out five or six cells as she goes.  She then lays an egg in the cell, gathers a ball of pollen and nectar to feed the larvae, closes up the cell and repeats five or six times.  What is neat is that the last egg laid hatches first so that the adult bees emerge in reverse order so as not to damage or kill its siblings on the way out.

"So what,"you might say," they drill  a six inch tunnel in the wood.  How much damage can they do?"  Well, a lot when you consider that daughters will often reuse and extend tunnels of her mother. 

 Control of carpenter bees is done by treating the hole.  There is no preventative, although painting wood versus leaving it raw does help.  A chemical rep likes to use a tennis racket as his preferred method of control.

Call a pro or use them for tennis practise if they are infesting your home.  The thing to remember is that carpenter bees are important pollinators.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Today I would like to cover your favourite blood sucker and mine...the flea.  I hate fleas. 
Although there are several varieties of flea (i.e., cat fleas, dog fleas, stick-tight fleas, northern rat flea, oriental rat flea)  cat fleas,otherwise known as Ctenocephalides felis, is the species of fleas most often dealt with in the United States.

As anybody who has ever been bitten by a flea knows, it causes a rather itchy bump when you are bitten.  What many people do not realize (only because they have never stopped to think about it) is that a severe infestation can kill or make very ill small animals such as kittens, puppies, and I would imagine even a small baby.  Why?  Anemia caused by blood loss.  Fleas eat blood.  They don't bite for the fun of it.  While we are talking about health:  fleas are known vectors (they carry the organism that causes a particular illness within their guts and pass it to whomever or whatever they bite) of some pretty nasty diseases such as the Bubonic plague (Oriental rat fleas), Murine typhus, typhus, worms of various varieties, etc.  You really don't want fleas in your home.

The life cycle of a flea is the key to its control.  Let me explain.  A flea will jump on to our ubiquitous dog, bite said dog, and shortly thereafter lay a batch of eggs, usually about 20.  These eggs usually fall off of the animal when it scratches or moves around.  In anywhere between 2 days to 2 weeks the eggs start to hatch.  The flea larva then immediately start feeding on any organic material such as adult flea droppings, dead bug parts, hair, vegetable matter, etc.  They keep to dark places like under the bed, couch, down at the base of carpet fibres, or cracks and crevices in hardwood floors.  After feeding and going through 3 larval stages they will go into a resting state (called a pupae) inside a cocoon.  After 14 days, assuming there is a food supply around, the adult fleas will emerge from cocoon  and this is where they are vulnerable .  Fleas have been known to stay in the pupal stage for many month until the vibrations or carbon dioxide breathed out by food source, or shadow cast over pupae by the food source passing by triggers them to "hatch" out of cocoon.  Have you ever gone away on vacation and come home to a thousand fleas?  Those fleas were in cocoon waiting for a victim.  Sprays don't work on the pupal stage of fleas.  You have to get the adults.  Some products work, or claim to work, on the eggs as well, but getting the newly emerged adults and existing adults is key to control.

There are great products on the market to treat fleas, but if you do not treat your pet, the treatment could be in vain.  The adult fleas don't leave the dog, cat, raccoon, squirrel, or whatever until that animal is treated or dies.  Of course this not an absolute, but it is pretty much truth. 

"Well, I don't have a pet," you might say.  Well, if that is the case, and you have fleas in your home, you need a professional to come out and locate the source.  You may have raccoons, feral cats/dogs, opossum, rats, mice, or some vermin living in, on, or under your home.  I have seen this many times.  I have gone into a crawl space to inspect for termites and found hundreds of hungry fleas popping out of their cocoons to try and drain me dry.  What were they doing under there?  Their parent lived on an animal that lived and/or died in the crawlspace under the home.  It happens.

The steps for flea control are:
1)get everything off of the floor.
2)launder or dispose of pet bedding in hot soapy water
3)Vacuum carpets (this serves a couple of purposes, helps get fleas to come out of pupal state, removes some adult fleas, eggs, and possible larvae)
4)sweep and mop all non carpeted floors (you could mop the carpets if you are weird)
5)call professional
6)on the day of professionals arrival take dog/cat/rabbit/whatever to be treated for fleas
7)about 3 hours after pro's departure you can go home.
8)vacuum again
9) whenever you start seeing fleas hatch out vacuum some more.
10) after a few weeks you should see no more fleas.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I have received a few calls lately dealing with a particularly difficult ant, the pharaoh ant Monomorium pharaonis (Linnaeus). 
This ant species is distributed world wide, and is thought to have originated in Africa.  It, as you can see from the photo (by Naturfoto), is a small yellow-to-orange ant.  It is about 2 millimeters in length and has stripes around its thorax (back end).  This ant does not nest outdoors except in the southeastern states (here in the U.S.)  In more northern and western states it nests inside of buildings. 

This ant has the distinction of being THE most difficult to control of all the household ant species.  Why is this the case?  Well you see Timmy...(sorry, couldn't resist)  Seriously, the habits of the ant are to blame.  Typically, they nest in some hidden void in a wall of a home.  This means that it is very difficult to know exactly where they are located within the building because, as we have all probably seen, ants will travel a goodly distance for food.  Pharaoh ants will infest almost all areas of a building where they can find food AND where food is not commonly found.  They also have a taste for a wide variety of foods whether sweet, oily, or fatty.  The largest factor that makes these ladies, and sometimes gentlemen so hard to control is the fact that they form colonies by budding or splitting.  Numerous daughter colonies are produced from a mother colony when a queen and a few workers break away to form a new colony.  Importantly from a pest control perspective is the fact that workers can develop a queen from brood members transported from mother colony.

The first thing I learned about controlling these ants is: DO NOT SPRAY THEM!!!  I found out the hard way back when I couldn't tell one ant species from another because I worked for a large multinational pest control company who gave you a spray can and said "go forth and kill bugs."  Anyway, the way to achieve control of this species is two fold.  Baiting and waiting on your part and on the part of your unfortunate customer.  Since this ant eats a variety of foods, is small enough to go anywhere it darn well pleases, it will take time for a baiting program to work.  If you spray them, they will bud, and you have made your problem worse.

So, if you have ants in your home, call a professional.  If you live in the Central Savannah River Area of Georgia and South Carolina, call Advanced Services for Pest Control @ 706-860-0116.

If you live elsewhere, check Angie's list and/or the BBB to find a reputable LOCAL company.  Support the little guy where you can.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

German Roaches

Today's post will discuss the German Roach, Blattella germanicus.  The German cockroach is a nasty little roach that is arguably the number one pest species in terms of economic importance.   The reason for this is simple: they contaminate food and food products with their droppings and secretions as well as carrying germs on their bodies and depositing them where ever they go.  They are also known to cause sometimes severe allergic responses and their droppings and discarded exoskeletons are known to contribute, if not cause, asthma in children in heavily infested homes.  To add to the ick factor, they will bite people and eat food residues on people's (sleeping people's) faces in severe infestations. 

German roaches are prolific breeders.  One ootheca, or egg case, usually contains 30 to 40 eggs.  The entire lifecycle from hatching to death takes around 100 days, and a female can produce several egg cases in her life. 

The roach baby, called a nymph, usually sheds its skin six times as it grows.  The stages between molts are called instars.

German roaches tend to congregate together.  They know a place is safe to hang out in because they signal each other by exuding pheremones in their droppings.  And, again to increase ick factor, first instar nymphs (baby roaches who have yet to molt) often surive by eating the poop of older roaches.  Yuck.

If you have an infestation of German roaches, you will find them tucked away in cracks and crevices.  For example you can find them hiding behind a piece of trim with their antenae sticking out.  Since these are nocturnal creatures, your first clue that you may have a problem is little brown/ black spots around hinges of your cabinet doors or some other place. They can often be seen scurrying away if you turn on the light in the middle of the night.  And, if the infestation is bad enough, you may see them running around in the daytime.  This is a sign of a heavy infestation because it is the roach's natural inclination to hide in cracks and crevices throughout the day (this is called thigmatactic) and come out o feed at night. Another sign might be egg cases on your counters, in our cabinets or drawers.  You can find plenty of images of this by googling 'images of German roaches.' 

If you have these creatures in your home, call a professional because it is unlikely that you the homeowner/ tenant will be able to achieve the 95% mortality rate that is needed to wipe out a German roach population.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Norway Rats

Rattus norvegicus, or Norway rats are blunt nosed, small eared, short tailed (tail is not as long as body and snout), brown to black coloured, stocky (some say chunky), with small eyes.  They are nocturnal, shy, cautious creatures that normally nest in the lower levels of your home.  But, I have seen Norway rats nesting in attics, so it is not a hard and fast rule that they will be on the lower levels.  Likewise, I have seen roof rats nesting in crawlspaces under homes.

Outside, they dig burrows under sidewalks, in stream banks, near garbage, or in a field. 

These rodents have poor eyesight and are not very agile, but their sense of smell and touch (mainly through their sensitive body hair) is very good.  They memorize their environment.  They know how many steps it is to the right turn, for example, they need to take on the air duct to get to the opening they use to enter house from crawlspace.  As they travel, they urinate and deficate along the way marking their trail and contaminating surfaces and foodstuff as they go.  

These rats live up to a year and generally produce 3 to 6 litters of 6 to 8 per liter.  That could potentially be a huge infestation in your home.

They are highly adaptable in where they will live and what they eat.  They prefer meat, fish, and grains but will eat vegetables and fruits if they are available and meat is not. 

Norway rats have been implicated as vectors (carry either the flea that carries disease or microorganisms in their guts, on their hands and feet, or in their saliva i.e. rat bite fever) in a number of diseases from murine typhus, salmonellosis (food poisoning), thriconosis, rat bite fever, to name a few.

Rats are nasty.  They carry diseases one way or the other and can get in to your home through any opening that is 1/2 inch or greater ( that is the size of a quarter folks.)  Not only are they nasty, but a fire marshall once told me that when a house or other structure fire's cause can not be identified, they believe that they are caused by rats.

Why, or how, would a rat cause a fire?  To put it simply, rats have to gnaw.  They have to do so because their incissors (you know, the teeth that make you buck toothed)  never quit growing.  How do they keep their teeth from growing up into their brains and killing them?  They chew.  They chew, or gnaw, on concrete, on pipes carrying natural gas or water through your home, they chew on electrical wires, on rubber lawnmower and bicycle tires, you name it they will chew on it.  Anyway (sorry, got off on a tangent there), often times when the rat chews the insulation off of a wire it can cause a fire, especially if the rat(s) also chewed a nice hole in the gas line as well.

Disease carriers and home destroyers.  My best advice?  Call an expert.  Call a professional pest control operator.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Carpenter Ants

An interesting ant you may come across in your lawn, or home is the carpenter ant.  The carpenter ant is a pretty large ant that is omnivorous (they eat a wide variety of foods mainly honeydew and other bugs). 

In nature these are harmless, serving to aid in the recycling of trees, eating other pest species, etc..., but if they invade your home... trouble.  The first thing to clear up is that carpenter ants do not eat wood.  They do, however damage wood and other materials by excavating homes in it. 
In your home, the carpenter ant is going to find moist and/ or water damaged wood and start digging in.  This can be done by workers expanding and forming a satellite colony, or a new queen.  Either way, it can be very bad news.  In some parts of the country, especially the northwest, these ants do more structural damage than termites.

The first evidence you may see in your home are mysterious wood shavings with bits of stuff (fecal material and left over bug parts if you must know) in it.  Your first thought is usually something like "hmm, what the heck is that?" and you wipe it off the counter, or vacuum it up from the floor, or whatever.  However, after the second or third appearance of said pile of stuff, you call a bug guy.  Why do you call a bug guy?  Well, if you are like many of the homeowners/tenants I have met, you think wood shavings = termites.  Not the case, but we will skip that. 

So, the exterminator comes out and does an inspection, asks you questions, inspects the exterior and lawn (I hope) and finds nothing.  Why?  Because most carpenter ant species are nocturnal.  SO, you are a little frustrated, and understandably so.  But if the exterminator is experienced, he/she has seen this kind of thing before.  What should happen next is that the bug person should set up an appointment with you for twilight/dusk.  With luck the nest inside can be located quickly and treated appropriately for the situation.  That however is not the end of the job.  The inspector should locate the large main nest and any other satellite nests on the property and eliminate them as well.  If this is not practical due to such things as zero lot lines, condominium or appartment setting, home backing up to nature preserve, or some other situation
 there are some nonrepellant pesticides and bait formulations that work.  These are generally restricted use and must be applied by a certified (or registered employee of) opperator.

As an aside, kids have often found the nest of these ants already.  They will gladly show you where it is because, in general, kids like bugs.  If you are the extermitanor you should remember to interview the whole family. 

Carpenter ants do not sting, but they are large and will bite.  I mention this because it hurts.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Big Headed Ants

R.H. Scheffrahn, University of Florida.
 The Big Headed Ant (BHA in bugman lingo), or  Pheidole megacephala (Fabricius) as is its proper name gets its name from the large heads of its major workers, as shown on the left in the picture above.  This is a dimorphic species, which is a fancy way of saying it comes in two sizes.  This species is a tramp ant with wide distribution throughout the world.  There are over a 1000 known variations of this species.  These ants are foragers and scavengers who will eat just about anything.

R.H. Scheffrahn, University of Florida.
In the picture to the left, you can see that this is one of the species that can give a homeowner a heart attack because they build tubes made of dirt, saliva, and excrement just like termites do.  The tubes serve the same general purpose as well...they keep the temperature and humidity stable as well as protect the ant from predators.  These ants like to stay in the soil as much as possible.  I found big headed ants in a Sentricon Termite Colony Elimination (tm) Station coexisting with termites that were feeding on the wood monitoring devices (sticks), see the picture below.. 

Jeremy Miller, Advanced Services
Some baits work on these ladies, but it is best if applied along with a thorough perimeter treatment.  This, unfortunately is not something that most homeowners are equipped to do. Call your local exterminator to help you eliminate the problem should these ants become a nuisance for your home.

These ants are neat to look at and to watch, but they will bite.  You can keep workers alive for a few days in a jar for the kids to watch, but watching them in their natural habitat is more fun.