I was recently contacted by a 6th grader working on a school project. He asked some really great questions about ants and pest control in general. We read too much in the news about failing school systems, but this young man’s thoughtful questions belie those generalizations. I hope they leave you feeling positive too. His questions and my answers are below.
Q: In your opinion would you rather kill or repel ants and why?
A: It is better to treat (exterminate) troublesome ant colonies because repelling ants can only work for so long. In our experience, we have found that if you only use a repelling barrier, the ants will find a way around the barrier and infest the house. The better method is to inspect and locate the exterior ant nests, and to treat the ants. This will prevent them from finding the inside of your home.
Q: Out of these five household items, which ones do you predict will REPEL ants the best? Ground Cinnamon, Salt, Garlic Powder, Corn Starch, Chili Powder.
A: We have been told that customers use cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon as an ant repellent. We’ve done no testing on the effectiveness of cinnamon as a repellent.
Q: Where do Red Harvester ants come from?
A: The Western united states.
Q: Why do ants in the summer enter your home and always go by the sink?
A: Most people believe that ants enter your home for food. While this may be true in some instances, the main reason that ants enter your home is for water. Therefore, the ants will show up in kitchens near sinks, in bathrooms, etc. The summer heat drives ants in to the home in search of water.
Q: How do ants find their way into peoples homes?
A: Through small cracks in the exterior of the home, hose bib holes, cracks in concrete slabs, off of tree branches that are touching the home, through the front door, through windows. Ants are so small that it is impossible to “seal” your home to keep them out. The best approach is to find their colonies out in the yard, treat the colonies, and maintain a barrier around the home on an ongoing basis.
Q: Why is it mostly in summer and spring that you see ants in your house?
When seasons change (heat up or cool off) the ants will swarm. Swarming is most common in the spring and summer and the ants are in search of water.
Q: Why did you choose your profession?
A: The pest control industry is a very professional industry and there are many different branches one person can enter for a career in pest control. The main reasons I entered the business are that I like being outside, helping people maintain a pest free, healthy home, and that pest control is not a desk job. Each day there is a new situation to deal with. It makes me feel good when I can help a customer with a pest problem that is really bothering them.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you have come across with your job?
A: The biggest challenge we encounter is educating our customers. Most people assume that the materials (chemicals, products, and inspection tools) are a one-application method. For example, if you were to encounter an ant problem at your house, our materials only last for 30 days. The reason our materials last for 30 days is for environmental purposes. Years ago, the chemicals were much stronger and employee safety and public safety was not studied in as much depth. Now, the chemicals are more targeted to a specific pest and a specific pest environment. If we can help educate our customers and set expectations so that we work together, we can provide effective, low-impact treatments that help the customer maintain a pest-free environment.
Q: What is the hardest bug to get rid of?
A: The most difficult pest in our industry to get rid of is the bed bug. The reason for this is that bed bugs were practically extinct 10 years ago. The bed bug has since resurfaced and the pest control industry is trying to catch up with scientific and field studies to see what control methods are the most effective. Reasons for their resurgence are increased world-wide travel (people are more likely to bring bed bugs home after trips), banning of the chemical DDT (which was a very strong insecticide), and the bed bug’s resistance to current pest control treatment methods (chemicals).
Q: What is the most common insect in North America?
A: There are thousands of insects in North America. Many insects are region specific. In California, the insect that generates the most calls from customers is the Argentine ant. Termites are also very common. There are different species of termites depending on which area of the country you are in.
Q: What is the least common insect in North America that you have seen?
A: The Salt Creek Tiger Beetle (Cicindela nevadica lincolniana). Rare and becoming rarer, this insect is found solely in saline wetlands in the northern part of Lancaster County, in southeastern Nebraska. By 1999, some 90 percent of its habitat had been lost to commercial development. The city of Lincoln set aside additional wetland, but the gesture may prove too little, too late.
Q: Have you ever spotted an insect in a person’s house that is out of its environment?
A: I can’t say that I have. When an insect is found, there is always a reason. Some insects such as ants, can survive just fine outside, but may invade a house for food, shelter, or water. Other insects such as bed bugs require humans to survive. Deductive reasoning allows our team of trained professionals to properly identify how and why the insect appeared in the house, and how to prevent it in the future. For example bed bugs hitchhike on luggage, furniture, etc. German cockroaches are generally introduced through cardboard boxes, such as those from big box stores were food is sold.