“That is a bracing cold, an invigorating cold. Lord, is it cold!” – Sheldon Cooper
It is inevitable that when the temperatures drop below zero we are asked “Will this extended period of extremely low temps kill off ticks?”
First, the bad news. We do not expect the cold to directly affect blacklegged or dog ticks as they are adapted to this climate and will survive just fine under the blankets of leaf litter and snow.
The good news, followed by some bad news, is we are basically looking at a reversal of the large quantities of ticks in 2017 that began in 2015 when oaks in New York underwent a mast seeding event. (In simple terms, there was an enormous amount of acorns on the ground across the state. If you want to delve more deeply into the mast year phenomenon, check out Mechanisms of mast seeding: resources, weather, cues, and selection.) Abundant quantities of food led to a large quantity of small mammals in 2016. Large numbers of small mammals led to a substantial number of ticks in 2017. Researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have decades of field research to back up the relationship, and lag time, between mast years and Lyme disease risk.
Which brings us to the current frigid weather, and probably even more importantly, the ice under the snow, and how it will impact small mammals. Animals that have a harder time finding food are more likely to (in order of lessening consequences) die of starvation, succumb to other stresses such as disease or predation, fail to mate, give birth to fewer young, and give birth less often. In a nutshell, there should be fewer hosts come spring. And fewer hosts eventually lead to fewer ticks. Good so far.
But there is some bad news, too. During the time of high tick numbers and fewer small mammal hosts, each of us, and our companion animals, are at greater risk of coming into contact with questing ticks. So as soon as the temperatures rise into the mid-30s (and we know you will be out enjoying the veritable heat wave), ticks will be questing and we need to Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way.
I am afraid the search for a reason to fully embrace the cold continues.
November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore
Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:
A tick’s lifespan is
twenty-four months (that is, about two years)
The best way to remove a tick is to
swab it with nail polish
hold a hot match to its behind
pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers
Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)
But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.
Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.
And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.
Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.
Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)
Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).
Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.
Our second quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)
Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)
If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.
With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.
Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.
August 24, 2016
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Fighting Waterbugs — with Water
Plumbing issues lead to pest problems — there’s little doubt about that. Leaks offer standing water to rodents, and clogged, scummy drains are breeding sites for flies. How curious that one of the most common plumbing-related pest problems I see is drains and pipes without water.
Unused, uncapped drains are an open door for cockroaches and more.
At a multi-story office building, workers reported the presence of waterbugs, aka American cockroaches, on unconnected floors. Sanitation at the site was great, and no obvious leak created harborage for cockroaches: both excellent IPM practices. But a thorough inspection uncovered an unused bathroom on one floor where the water had been shut off during renovation. Not only could we smell sewer gasses — this bathroom contained several dead American cockroaches, suggesting this was the source for that floor. On another floor a drainpipe in a mop closet was open, and we could see cockroach frass.
A drain trap — and never mind the large gap at the wall. Exclusion is a whole different matter.
Plumbing Traps 101
If you’ve ever looked under a sink, you’re familiar with a plumbing trap: that U-shaped pipe that changes the flow of water from vertical to horizontal. Its job: to create a water seal that prevents odors and harmful sewer gasses from escaping into the living or work space. Each time the drain is used, fresh water replaces standing water in the trap to maintain a permanent seal.
Uncapped, unused — except as a highway for pests.
As side benefit, this design deters pests from using pipes to move within or between buildings. Sure, cockroaches and rodents (especially rats) can overcome plumbing traps by crawling through a small amount of water (see National Geographic video on rats in toilets). But when drains are regularly used, they’re unlikely to harbor pests.
Problems with trap seals occur when drains are infrequently used and water evaporates over time, or if drains are clogged with debris. Floor drains are susceptible to drying out if
no one wet-mops the floors
they’re in production areas with lots of small spilled items or
they’re near a deep fryer
Water can’t penetrate clogged drains. Clean (drain brush or shop vacuum) and flush with water.
Inspection Tips and Solutions
Another core IPM practice: owners or facilities maintenance personnel need to check drains often to verify that water is present in the trap. Check them each time floors are cleaned. For traps that have dried out the solution is easy – pour water down the drain until the trap is full. While you’re at it, make sure that drains are clear of debris. If the pipe is cut and no longer used, cap the end for a permanent seal.
October 1, 2015
by Matt Frye Comments Off on If you’re not monitoring, you’re not performing IPM.
Why? To start, let’s consider the distinction between an inspection and monitoring. An inspection is a view of pest activity at that moment in time. But what if pests are only active at night? Or on weekends when the building is quiet? Thus, monitoring is a record of pest activity in the times that you are not present.
Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a decision making process that uses information about pest populations to decide how to manage them. Monitoring is a critical step in IPM programs that offers valuable insights:
1. Species Identification: insect monitors intercept pests, allowing a trained professional to identify them. In turn, identification provides information about preferred harborage, food and water sources.
2. Early Detection: monitors can intercept pests that are present at low levels, and can help identify a problem before it gets out of hand.
3. Directionality: monitors can provide information about pest directionality: where are they coming from [harborage] and where they are going [food locations]. Monitors might also provide clues about non-obvious pathways, such as overhead areas (Figure 1).
Fig. 1. This firebrat likely fell onto the monitor from above.
4. Age of Population: rodent bait stations can contain informative evidence (Figure 2). Are droppings all one size, or are they mixed sizes, suggesting the presence of different age groups? Are droppings black, meaning that they are visiting the station for the first time, or are some droppings the color of the bait, suggesting multiple feedings?
Fig. 2. Mixed large and small droppings suggest adult and juvenile feeding; mostly black droppings suggest this is the rodents first feeding.
Parasitoids, predators and secondary pests can also tell you about the age of the infestation (Figure 3). Ensign wasps are egg-case parasitoids of American cockroaches. Their presence suggests that the cockroaches are actively reproducing nearby, whereas secondary pests may indicate the presence of old bait or pest carcasses.
Fig. 3. An Ensign wasp (egg-case parasitoid, 1), adult and juvenile (2) American cockroaches, and a spider beetle.
5. Proximity to Harborage: juvenile pests, including rodents and cockroaches, stay close the harborage. Intercepting them on monitors can narrow your search to nearby areas for identifying the harborage (Figure 4).
6. Management Efforts: some monitors might contain evidence about recent control efforts (Figure 4). Finding German cockroaches with crinkled wings is a sign that they have been treated with an insect growth regulator. But what if you didn’t apply this kind of product? Perhaps the cockroaches are coming from a neighboring area.
Fig. 4. Nymph (1) and adult (2) German cockroaches on an insect monitor. The arrow indicates the location of crinkled wings from treatment with an insect growth regulator.
Effective monitoring programs provide good coverage of pest vulnerable areas. The location of monitoring devices are recorded on a facility map, and a pest catch log records the number of pests caught on each monitor. These specifications allow the pest professional to collect enough information to determine if a treatment is needed, where to focus efforts and what treatment should be applied.
October 24, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Critters Can Do — Match the Pest and What It Does
This wasp helps control pests while doing adjunct duty as a pollinator. Photo courtesy Ward Upham, Kansas State University, Bugwood.org.
This chrysanthemum leaf-miner is the larvae of a fly-family pest. Photo courtesy Central Science Laboratory, Harpenden Archive, Bugwood.org.
Where the links will take you:
Some large stinging wasps eat crop pests; others help pollinate them. Some do both.
Yes, different researchers say different things. Just know that cockroaches can survive without food for a couple of weeks and maybe much longer. (At need, “food” could include wallpaper paste, envelope glue, and more.)
“For an aphid, a raindrop is something like what a refrigerator would be like falling on us,” said researcher Jeremy McNeil, an entomologist and chemical ecologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
Fleas can live a long time inside the cocoon they pupated in — until they sense a host nearby.
Follow the link to a fun, one-minute video of a fat mouse scrambling through a tiny hole.
Their name (they dig mines, as it were) gives them away — but you’d be surprised at how many different sorts of insects have larvae that burrow through something as thin as a leaf.
August 21, 2014
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Baiting for Mice, Rats? Try String!
Peanut butter is a staple in managing mice and rats, especially in residential settings. It’s easy to apply to traps, it stays fresh for several days — and a jar of peanut butter has a long shelf life. But peanut butter isn’t always your best bet. Because sometimes that peanut butter is a magnet for other pests — think cockroaches and ants. Besides, a large rodent population might have a wide range of food preferences. And for some, peanut butter might not be at the top of the list.
For those situations, here’s a trick that could help — bait those traps with string! String? Here’s why:
String tied to the paddle of a snap trap is a baiting technique that doesn’t feed other pests.
Females can give birth to six to eight litters of pups throughout the year, though they breed more often when it’s warm. They work hard at building nests for their young, and among their favorite nesting materials is string. So just tie a short piece string or dental floss tightly to the paddle of a snap trap and there’s your bait. Be sure to loop your string closely around the base of the paddle. And this is one bait that’ll never spoil.
Are subway rats really the size of house cats? Are there American cockroaches or “waterbugs” as big as your hand? Fortunately, neither is true. But a 2012 study offers insight as to why those beliefs exist.
First, some background. Whenever I give a presentation about structural pests, I like to bring some specimens along for show and tell. Invariably, as I open up a box of pinned insect specimens someone says, “I’ve seen cockroaches twice that big!” Outwardly I might act surprised, but that’s because I’m thinking, “Hmm. I’ve been in some sketchy places and seen some nasty things, but the American cockroach is usually about 1.5 inches long, and the average Norway rat is about 16 inches from nose to tail and weighs about 12 ounces.”
Real-world American cockroaches — note their reddish-brown color — measure about 1.5 inches.
Sure, there are exceptions — some can be smaller, others larger, but a three-inch-long cockroach? Surely there’s an explanation.
Then one day I stumbled on a post by ABC News: “Spiders Appear Bigger When You Fear Them” — and it all started to make sense. According to an Ohio State study, being scared can cause an individual to exaggerate the size of the object they fear. A rat racing past you on the subway is sure to induce fear, as is a cockroach in your bathroom. But looking at a dead cockroach, pinned in some entomologist’s specimen box? That’s not so scary.
A challenge: next time you see a critter that would normally make you afraid, take a closer look. You might find that your perception of their size more accurately represents their true size — which in all cases is large enough!
Snout to tail, your average Norway rat is 16 inches long and weighs in at about 12 ounces. Cats? A healthy weight for a small breeds is around 5 pounds; the very largest, 18 pounds.
May 28, 2014
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Identifying Your Pest – with Poop?
Whether you are dealing with a pest problem, having car trouble, or trying to figure out who stole the cookie from the cookie jar, your job starts with an investigation — the information-gathering step where you search for clues. In pest management, inspection is the first and most important step toward addressing an issue, helping you discover what pest species are present — and why.
Here’s the scene: you’re inspecting a dark basement and happen upon some droppings. If from a rodent, your next step might be to look for more droppings, sebum trails (oily marks) that show where rodents have traveled, or chew marks. These clues help you determine how rodents are entering the building and where they are finding food, water and shelter. But fi the droppings are from cockroaches, your inspection will shift to looking for wet, decaying organic material and harborage areas.
For pest ID at work or at home, your eyes are your best tools — helped, perhaps, by a magnifying lens.
But how do you tell the difference between the droppings?
Rodents dropping are relatively smooth and often pointed or tapered at one end Mice are smaller critters, so their droppings are typically less than ¼ inch long, whereas rat droppings are larger than 1/3 inch. Rodent droppings might also contain hair — rodents swallow it as they groom themselves.
Like other insects, cockroaches have structures called rectal pads that are used to absorb water and nutrients before their poop leaves their bodies. The orientation and shape of these pads gives insect droppings unique shapes. In the case of cockroaches, droppings appear to have ridges. For more information, see this pictorial key to rodents.
By conducting a thorough inspection and correctly identifying pests, you can develop an action plan to reduce their populations and prevent them from coming back.
May 13, 2014
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Top 5 Pest Hangouts — in Your Kitchen
Spring! Time to fling open the windows, plant some flowers — and begin the annual tradition of spring-cleaning. But are you getting to all those places where pests find food, water, or shelter? Householders tend to overlook these five places. And they could be just the spots where pests come for a free meal or to catch a few zzzz’s.
Clean these often:
The Stove Top — or rather, the space right beneath it
Most cooks wipe down the top of the stove when they’ve fixed a meal. But what about the space under the stove lid? Here, spilled liquids, crumbs and other food materials can accumulate out of sight, providing food for rodents, cockroaches, and other pests.
Crumbs, spilled coffee, whatever — they’re easy to see and clean up on your countertops. But food particles and liquid can accumulate on the undersides of ledges too. So while you’re at it, wipe down those ledge undersides.
Toasters and toaster ovens are great hidey-holes for crumbs. Lots of crumbs. Just be safe when you clean — unplug the toaster. Then pull out the tray and wash it. For even better results, invert the device to shake out the crumbs or go at it with your vacuum cleaner.
Behind the Faucet
Behind the Faucet
The sink is our go-to place for cleaning dishes and utensils. But how often do we remember to clean behind the faucet or around its handles? Here, water and spilled food particles could make for the pest equivalent of the soup kitchen if not cleaned regularly.
The Trash Receptacle
Let’s face it — plastic bags are easy to tear. Too often, something we toss out tears the bag; then the combination of (for instance) food scraps and wet coffee ground means we’ve got stuff leaking out. The solution? Clean the receptacle when you take out the trash.