Adventures in Entomology

Action Threshold: When is enough, enough?

After doing a quick Google search, I found that there exists a surprising amount of people who have accidentally eaten maggots in their food (mostly dry cereals). Most of them were accompanied by questions like “Am I going to die?” “What should I do now?” or “Are maggots bad for you?” As you can probably imagine, they were looking for the next step; they weren’t going to take these maggots lying down (sitting at a breakfast nook with milk and a spoon, maybe, but not lying down). Maggots infesting your cereal boxes seem like a fairly cut and dry case where you want someone to come in with pest control guns blazing, but it isn’t always as easy to determine when you need a home pest control service.

The EPA defines Action Threshold as, “a point at which pest populations or environmental conditions indicate that pest control action must be taken.” This means you need to decide where, between 1 little black ant in the past year and 2,000 ants every day, you draw the line and call in the cavalry. Everyone is going to land in a different place in the action threshold spectrum, however, regardless of which side of you fall on, there are a few things you can do to help push that action threshold back a little further. There are three key areas which will slow the advance of the seemingly unavoidable encroachment of your general household pests (and it won’t hurt the resale value of your home, either). These three areas are sanitation, exclusion and harborage.

Sanitation

Pests, like people, come inside for three reasons: food, water and shelter. I’ll talk about shelter in the next two sections, but food and water are going to be vital. Let’s start with the obvious. If you spill something (food, drink water etc) it needs to be cleaned up immediately. Worker ants are ever vigiliant (some literally don’t sleep; they pass out for 4-6 seconds every few minutes and then get back to work–if only more American’s had that work ethic!) and they’ll find the goods. Even if it’s a little mess, it’s best to clean it up. Some roaches can live for long periods of time on the oils from a fingerprint! Don’t forget about place like under the sink and behind the fridge/stove; these places can quickly accumulate a large amount of spills if neglected.

Exclusion

After you’ve cleaned up your act (pun intended) you may think you’re job is done–it’s not. There are some pests who like to come inside your home because of the shelter it offers. No amount of cleanliness can sway a flooded millipede from storming your house at the next downpour. The best way to keep all pests from Goldilocksing your home is to make sure there are no entry points for them. This is going to be more difficult than it my seem at first. Little critters can sneak through holes as small as 1/64″. The most common place for pests to come in your house: the front and back doors–oops. Check your weather stripping. If you can see any light coming in through the door, you better believe a pest can get through it. A couple of other spots to check: areas the plumbing comes into the house and window seals. If you have a crawlspace, it’s helpful to do a routine check of the screens as well.

Harborage

The last preventive measure to keep pests out is harborage control. What this means is you keep anything that pests might find as a shelter from touching your house (ideally a 12″-18″ gap). Things like tree branches or bushes touching the side of the home are like super highways for pests. Pests live in areas like mulch beds, holly bushes and large, old trees. When they go searching for food and water, the first place they check is the adjacent areas to their homes. That means trailing along branches that lead to your siding and roof. Trimming greenery and removing debris from the structure of the home will let the pests know that you do not want them joy riding from their home to yours next Sunday afternoon.

This list may look like a lot of work. My suggestion, pick whichever one is easiest and conquer it. You’ll notice an immediate reduction in pests. Get all three done and you’ll wonder where all the pests went. Sometimes, however, your pest problems may precede your preventive measures. In that case, you’ve just crossed the action threshold line.

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How to choose a pest control company

In Search of: Best Pest Control Company

Sometimes our adventures lead us to interact with people outside our normal social circles. For instance, say you wake up one day, put on your slippers and slink into the kitchen to grab a bowl of the breakfast of champions. However, when you reach for the box of Mike’s special stuff, you notice a hole was chewed through it. As you look around, you notice some strange stains on the ground and you don’t remember those pieces of chocolate being there last night. “Rats!” you mumble under your morning breath. Who are you going to call–I’m pretty sure the Ghostbusters don’t do rodent infestations. Time to let your fingers do the walking, on the internet. A quick search will likely provide a plethora of pest prevention/protection people. You might be tempted to click through and see the bottom line cost for each of them. However, your pest control company should be chosen for more than price. Not all companies are created equal. There are some major (and minor) differences in the products, services and approaches in getting rid of any unwanted guests in your house.

Services

Pests Covered

The first concern you should have when hiring a pest control company is whether or not they treat the pest(s) you’ve seen in and around your home. Most companies treat a wide variety of pests, but it’s best to make sure that you aren’t paying for them to treat one pest while ignoring any others. A good pest control company should include around 30-40 different pests in their service. There’s also a difference between general indoor pests (spiders, ants, roaches millipedes, rodents) and wood destroying insects (termites, carpenter ants/bees etc). Make sure your company treats whatever you have.

Retreat Policy

While you’re talking to them about the pests they include, go ahead and ask what their policy is concerning any pests that infest the home between treatments. You don’t want to be caught with a month and a half til your next treatment and have ants streaming through your home like le Tour de France. What you should look for: a policy where the company will come out for free between treatments if they cannot prevent the pests from coming inside the home (don’t be that customer who expects no pests to live outside).

Hours of Operation

This brings us to timing. It is helpful to check on their hours of operation and how often they will be coming out. The company should have plenty of options as far as regularity: monthly, bimonthly, quarterly etc. If your household is full of regularly scheduled workers, it may be difficult to find a time that is convenient for treatment. You should think about hiring a company who can be flexible on when they come out to treat your home.

Products/Methodology

Methodology

Before you begin to ask about the products they use, it’s helpful to figure out their methodology for pest control. There are a lot of companies out there who employ a spray and pray (and pay) approach. They use the most toxic chemicals that the EPA allows them to use and lathers it on the foundation of the home. Sure that’ll prevent any pests from coming inside your home, but at what cost?  The company you choose, regardless of the trendiness of their methodology, should employ some form of integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is a mixture of chemical and non-chemical means of controlling pests in the human environment (your house). This includes (but not limited to) doing inspection for pest infestation, locating conducive factors in your home and using the necessary chemicals in areas where they are most effective. The best IPM companies will put such an emphasis on the non-chemical means that they rarely need to use chemicals inside the home.

Products

As far as chemicals go there are a few things you need to know.  “Green,” “natural” and “pet/child friendly” are the new, trendy catchphrases in pest control and they all mean something different. While you don’t necessarily need to know the differences between each of these (that may be a discussion for a later date), what is important to know is that botanicals are insecticides that come from plants and generally less toxic to humans. It may help you make your decision if you ask about the active ingredients and do a quick search of the internet for their toxicity level on humans and non-target pests.

Conclusion

Pest Control services remind me of a scene from the movie The Prestige. In this certain scene a magician is in search of the best magic trick ever and employs the help of a scientist (Nikola Tesla). The following conversation occurs:

 Nikola Tesla: Mr. Angier, have you considered the cost of such a machine?
Robert Angier: Price is not an object.
Nikola Tesla: Perhaps not, but have you considered the *cost*?

So before you go out seeking the cheapest pest control company, consider the cost: your peace of mind, your children, your pets and the environment. God has called us to fill the earth and subdue it. While that may mean eliminating certain pests which are known vectors for disease, it doesn’t mean doing so at the expense of the world and creatures He has created for His own glory. I know I’m a little biased because of my invested blood, sweat and tears, but I do think Alchemy Pest Control is one of, if not the best choices for a pet and child friendly pest control company in the Raleigh, NC area.

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