I have been called to a home with a customer who claims that they are being bitten by insects living under their skin. I have done a complete inspection of the home and can’t find any pests. What should I do?
This may be an example of a person dealing with delusory parasitosis. This term is used to describe people who often exhibit similar erratic behaviors and are convinced that they have an infestation of insects that are burrowing under their skin. They will often say that the insects are invisible and will constantly scratch their skin, pick at scabs, and may even further damage their body by using pesticides incorrectly on themselves or in their living spaces. While these cases can be extremely frustrating, there are a few things you should do if you come across someone dealing with delusory parasitosis. First, you must ensure than an actual insect or arthropod is not involved. Use sticky traps to attempt to collect samples. Either have someone at the office who has extensive knowledge in insect identification look at the samples or have them sent to a local extension office or entomologist for identification. If there is no arthropod present and verified, then you should not apply any pesticides in the home. Of course, the person being afflicted by their “perceived” infestation may not be happy when you tell them you aren’t going to spray anything in their home. Be sure to show them the samples you collected and firmly tell them that you haven’t found any pest. Lastly, encourage them to seek medical help. Only a medical professional can accurately diagnose psychological or other potential skin conditions.
I run a small business and I have been running routes only during the day. Is a nightshift necessary for controlling some pests?
Many pests are nocturnal and become active as the daylight fades. Visually finding pest harborage areas may be easier as pests like rodents, bats and cockroaches become active and begin to move around. If you are finding evidence of pests but can’t figure out where they are hiding, a site visit at night time may really help you identify where the pests may be hiding. Furthermore, incorporating a night shift could also increase business and ultimately profits. Retail stores and other facilities that don’t want pest control during the day may be attracted by services at night when customers are not present and their business is not open to the public.
Finding the time to attend local continuing education courses can be difficult. Are there other options for earning recertification hours other than attending live classes?
Traditionally, live courses were the primary way to earn recertification credit. In an effort to modernize the process and keep up with the growing demand for recertification, many states are now accepting both live and online courses to satisfy continuing education requirements. Currently, 39 different states accept online courses, and that number appears to be growing. Although the courses approved for online training can differ from one state to another.
Having said this, it is important to remember that the requirements for earning or renewing a pest control operators license can differ considerably by state. These differences can include how hours or credits are earned, how they are categorized, the total number of hours needed per category, and the timeframe for earning those hours. Check your state’s regulatory website for information on your continuing education requirements, and to find out if online courses are available. If they are, you may find a link to virtual courses that can be completed for credit. Additionally, the National Pest Management Association’s Online Learning Center now provides several online courses that are approved for continuing education credit in many states. To find out if any of NPMA’s online courses are approved in your state, go to www.npmatraining.org.
With winter right around the corner, do you have any treatment suggestions for overwintering pests?
When it comes to overwintering pests, prevention through exclusion is often the most successful strategy. If exclusion efforts such as repairing damaged screens and replacing worn weather stripping can be made early, ideally around late summer, then there is little to no chance for a problem to develop inside the home. Pointing out these areas of concern firsthand can also encourage clients to address issues sooner rather than later.
In many cases, however, exclusion efforts aren’t made until a problem has already developed. When this is the case, your treatment options will often depend on the treatment site and the pest. Infestations inside attics or wall voids can often be treated with appropriately labeled residual products, whereas problems that occur inside the home may be best resolved using mechanical means such as a vacuum. Once the active infestation has been dealt with, be sure to identify and correct the point of entry to prevent an infestation the following year.
I have lost several production days this summer due to heavy rainfall. Are there products or treatment options for these wet conditions?
While a wet summer is usually a promising sign of increasing pest pressures and busy months for PMPs, too much rain can bring operations to a grinding halt. This is because liquid perimeter products typically cannot be applied in the rain, and liquid termiticides may not be applied to soil if the ground reaches a high-enough saturation point.
Luckily, there are some formulations such as insecticide granules that can be applied in damp conditions to allow for perimeter pest control applications. Additionally, specific application techniques such as the backfill method can be used when applying liquid termiticides to moist soil. The exact products and treatment methods you can use may vary depending on site, target pest and conditions, so be sure to consult the label first.
Another way to take advantage of rainy days is to concentrate on interior IPM efforts with your customers by reviewing exclusion and sanitation practices. Using this time to point out damaged screens, improperly sealed baseboards and other areas of concern can go a long way in reducing call-backs in the months to come.
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.