General Issues

Why is this summer predicted to be far worse for some pests than previous years?

Over the past few months, scientists across the country have been warning that this summer could be particularly “buggy.” Specifically, they are forecasting that ticks and mosquitoes may become active sooner and in higher numbers than previous years. This is largely due to the unseasonably warm weather conditions that most of the country recently experienced. During what would be considered a typical year, a percentage of pests are killed off by subfreezing winter temperatures. Those that survived would not become active until late spring when air temperatures warmed up and summer-like conditions begin. This year, however, winter was warmer than usual for most of the U.S., allowing more insects to survive. The mild winter was followed by an even warmer spring, which gave ticks, mosquitoes and other biting pests a head-start on the year. This larger window of activity also means more time to reproduce, further increasing their numbers. What we are left with is a very “buggy” summer with more than enough ticks and mosquitoes to go around.

What recommendations can I make to my clients now that may help to reduce pest pressures going into the busy summer months?

Try starting with tips for your clients that correct issues on the outside of the home and work your way indoors. For example, recommend storing firewood at least 20 feet away from the home, and preventing overgrown vegetation from touching the structure. Also, look for any water-holding containers to remove or empty that could serve as mosquito breeding sites. Lastly, identify any moisture concerns that need to be addressed, and point out any possible pest entry points that should be sealed. If your client is available, encourage them to walk around the home with you as you identify potential concerns. This will give you the opportunity to explain why your recommendations will be beneficial in reducing pest pressures in the upcoming months. Clutter control is important when aiming to reduce pest problems indoors. Recommend that your clients adopt the “spring cleaning” mentality and try to organize closets, cupboards, garages and attics. Ask that they keep items in plastic sealable containers rather than cardboard boxes that may attract pests, and store items off the ground when possible. This not only helps to eliminate pest harborage, but it facilitates future inspections and treatments.

I recently heard of the Associate Certified Entomologist certification, but am not entirely clear on what it is. Is this certification available to anyone in the pest management industry?

The Associate Certified Entomologist certification, otherwise known as the ACE certification, is a program geared specifically toward the pest management industry that is offered by the Entomology Society of America. This certification provides experienced, motivated pest management professionals a valuable way to prove professional credentials to customers and employers. There are two versions of the ACE program: one for those who are applicants residing within the United States, and one for those who are not. For U.S. applicants, any holder of a current pest control applicators license can apply for the ACE program as long as you meet the following criteria. First, you must be able to provide proof of your applicators license. You must have a minimum of five years of verifiable pest management experience in the U.S. if you do not have an academic entomology degree. You will also need two letters of professional reference, and the ability to pass an online test of your knowledge of structural pest control. If you do hold an advanced degree in entomology or related life science, the requirement for total years of pest management experience attained after graduation is reduced depending on your degree. A bachelor’s degree reduces the requirement to three years, a master’s degree to two years and a Ph.D. to one year. The requirements for ACE application are mostly the same for non-U.S. applicants. The important difference is that proof of a pesticide applicators license is not required for ACE-International applicants. To learn more about the ACE program visit www.entocert.org/ace-requirements.

Clients often ask if damaging pest insects such as termites, ants, or mosquitoes serve any useful purpose, and I find myself wondering the same thing. Would we be better off if these pests went extinct?

As an entomologist working in the pest management industry, I get asked this type of question a lot. Despite the harm these insects may cause, they fulfill important ecological roles. Termites are herbivores that feed on a range of living, dead and decomposing plant material. When termites are not eating the wood in our homes, their feeding habits help to recycle dead wood and other plant materials. Additionally, the tunneling and nesting behaviors of subterranean termites aerate and enrich soils with nutrients that are vital for healthy plant growth. Ants, much like termites, contribute to soil aeration and turnover, while many species of ant also aid in seed dispersal. Some ants even prey on other pest insects such as termites, and most provide food for other arthropods, birds and mammals. Mosquitoes are one pest that some scientists may argue in support of eradication given their role as global disease vectors. Regardless of the health risk they pose, mosquitoes can serve as pollinators and represent a necessary link in the food chain for many species of fish, birds, reptiles and mammals. Ultimately, a pest is defined by its impact on humans. So even though a termite, ant or mosquito has beneficial qualities in nature, it has to be removed when in a home or a business.

Clients regularly disregard my sanitation protocols, often making problems worse. How do I get them to follow my recommendations?

When tackling a pest problem, your client can be your biggest ally or your greatest obstacle. Their willingness to comply with your guidelines can dramatically influence the speed at which many pest problems are resolved. For example, an account that is kept clean and organized can facilitate inspections and minimize pest harborage, reducing the likelihood of an infestation. On the other hand, a home with overflowing garbage cans and cluttered rooms will provide pests with the food and harborage they need to thrive. In order to get your clients to buy into your protocol, they must understand why they are being asked to follow your recommendations. Otherwise, they are likely to view your guidelines as a burden because of the extra work they are being asked to do. Take the time to explain how your sanitation protocol reduces pest problems. For example, explain how the smallest food spills can compete with insecticide baits, reducing their effectiveness. Or, show them how a cluttered closet can be difficult to inspect and can provide abundant harborage for pests. When your clients understand the benefit of sanitation, they are far more likely to comply with your recommendations.

My client believes their home is infested with biting insects. I have inspected the house multiple times, but have never found any evidence of biting pests. What should I do? 

A number of different pests can be the source of biting complaints from homeowners. More common offenders include fleas, bed bugs, spiders, lice and mites. Even the immature lifestage of some beetles and moths have tiny hairs or spines that can cause skin irritation. So, the first step is to be absolutely certain that none of the pests are present in or around the home. If you are confident that your inspections have ruled out the possibility of any pests, then your client could be suffering from a medical condition such as a skin allergy or even delusory parasitosis. As pest management professionals, we are not qualified to diagnose any medical condition. Therefore, if a customer ever has concerns about skin irritation, it is always best to recommend that they seek medical attention. Be sure to provide detailed documentation of your findings, or lack thereof, during your inspection and encourage that the client share this information with the doctor.