With most of the country under snow, rain, tornadoes or extreme heat, the West Coast can handle a little rock and roll earthquake every so often. The West Coast has almost every type of temperature and climate imaginable, from the mountains and cold of the Northwest to the deserts of Southern California. The oasis that is Los Angeles is home to some of the larger companies on the West Coast; Western Exterminator (now part of Rentokil), Isotech (also now part of Rentokil) and Dewey Pest Control. The local climates also are favorable to single-person companies, as the larger ones get bought out. While we may be the Golden State, appearing “green” is just the beginning of our challenges.
Staffing has become a huge issue for companies of all sizes, especially on the West Coast with the differing attitudes and entitlements of millennials. New hires from outside the industry are becoming harder to find and college-educated potential employees are taking their skills into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) markets. What has made things worse is the large number of licensed technicians who are not truly desirable, but since they have the license, they float from company to company, damaging our industry’s reputation. The industry, especially locally, needs to get more involved at the high school level and community colleges to bolster recruitment into the industry. Rodent REGULATORY ISSUES. The pest control industry in California dodged a bullet in late August when Assembly Bill 1788, the California Ecosystems Protection Act, was pulled from the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee (placed into the suspense file), effectively killing it for this year (see related story, page 22). Had it been signed into law, AB 1788 would have banned second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) in California.
Proponents of AB 1788 presented a simple argument. They claimed rodents would eat a rodenticide, die and most likely will have excess product in its digestive system. A raptor, coyote or mountain lion that feeds on the carcass will consume a sub-lethal dose, get sick and die. (At least that is the way the proponents view it. The lack of good science to overthrow the emotional response to such hypotheses has not been enough. Even though it has been argued the main culprits misusing rodenticides are homeowners, professionals are most visible and in the cross hairs. As of this writing, SGARs have been preserved for use in California, but this legislative issue will certainly resurface. A silver lining here is that as PMPs we will have to be more educated on biology and behavior, exclusion, sanitation, environmental manipulation and the use of alternative products.
CITY OF ANGELS...OR RATS. The city of Los Angeles is on numerous lists of “worst cities for rats.” Homelessness, poor sanitation and lack of coordination have all led to a surge in rodent populations in and around homeless encampments. We have also seen the re-surfacing of typhus, a flea-borne disease of the Middle Ages. This is a direct result of these conditions. As the homeless problem moves into other surrounding communities, problems only escalate. Rodent control is becoming a major issue and the heavier, burrowing Norway rat is the major player.
Companies such as Cats USA, which currently handles the Los Angeles City contract for rodent abatement, has set up crews of technicians working in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department for security. Following sanitation workers as they clean the streets, burrows are dusted for fleas and sealed against further entry.
ON THE INSECT FRONT. The Argentine ant is getting strong competition from a new invasive species in Southern California, the dark rover ant, Brachymyrmex patagonicus.
The dark rover ant is 1-2 millimeter long, reddish brown to black in color. They are a single-node ant, with the node typically being covered by the gaster. The antennae are the key to identification, being only 9 segments long. Their behavior is most unique in that while Argentine ants trail in a nice, neat line, rover ants literally dance their way along a route in a most haphazard manner. Rover ants are very aggressive. They will comfortably coexist with other ant species, however, including the red imported fire ant and Argentine ant.
First found in Riverside, Calif., in 2010, this ant could be very well dispersed throughout California. Unlike the Argentine ant, this ant will nest indoors or outdoors. Mulch and loose soil are their favorite areas for nesting. Due to their size, most observances of the rover ant occur along concrete edges, but the ant will readily invade homes and forage in all areas of the home.
Control will be difficult, but not impossible. I have found baits with imidacloprid to be effective. In nature, this ant is normally a sugar/nectar feeder, but in my experience most sugar baits will not be readily accepted.
The prevalence in the news of the West Nile virus and Zika virus have led to a newish market opening up in 2017 and 2018: mosquito control. While in Florida and the Southeast, mosquito control programs are common, California is just starting to understand that homeowners, nursing homes, senior communities, hospitals and schools cannot rely on the local vector control agencies to control all species of biting insects. With the introduction of Aedes aegypti to the region, we are now faced with a foe that is one-third the size of the Asian tiger mosquito, but much more voracious and troublesome. Programs to combat these pests must be multifaceted and education is one of the keys to success. Cost effective larvicide and adulticide programs are constantly evolving and the use of more “green” products is generating more interest.
A NEW INVADER. California has been invaded by a new pest, the Turkestan cockroach (Blatta lateralis). So little is known about Turkestan cockroaches’ biology that the effect the invaders might have on native wildlife is pretty much a mystery.Turkestan cockroaches are popular with reptile owners
as a source of food for their insect-eating pets. Two inches long and relatively easy to raise, the cockroaches are reluctant to climb vertical surfaces and can, therefore, be kept more or less confined in a large plywood box, or similar container.
As with other insects, Turkestan cockroaches molt — that is, shedding its exoskeleton revealing a new mature stage — several times throughout the course of their lives. Unlike their oriental cockroach cousins, however, Turkestan cockroaches become reproductively mature adults after five molts. (Oriental cockroaches require between seven and 10 molts before they can start reproducing.)
According to the Integrated Pest Management website maintained by the University of California, Davis, Turkestan roaches seem to prefer outdoor habitats in proximity to humans. Where they exist in California, they are commonly found in pavement cracks, buried utility boxes, compost piles, and among debris. (They seem to enjoy hanging out in the potting soil around the roots of outdoor potted plants, something that avid container gardeners will want to keep in mind when bringing plants indoors during extremes of temperature.) And they’re pretty easy to find on the internet as well. A New York-based breeder, for example, ships the roaches to all 50 states, save Florida, and describes the species as “taking the feeder roach market by storm.”
It’s unlikely that reptile fans are responsible for the roach’s presence in California. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, University of California, Riverside entomologist Dr. Michael Rust — who has a paper on the species in a recent issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology — points out that the Turkestan cockroach’s 1978 debut in California was at Fort Sharpe, appearing soon after at other military bases such Fort Bliss in Texas. As the roach is native to the Middle East and Central Asia, the potential for military personnel to have brought the roach home with them seems clear.
Regardless of how the roach got here, it’s unusual for an invasive species to be sold so readily and freely online. “It will be interesting to follow the spread of the Turkestan cockroach in the United States,” Rust and his co-authors said in a press statement. “This may be the first time that an invasive urban pest species is widely distributed via the internet and through the sale of live insects.” Regarding this pest’s dispersion, soil, soil amendments, and boxed plants originating from Los Angeles are getting transported to suburban area and they sometimes are bringing this roach with them.
The author is the owner of California Pest Management in La Verne, Calif. He has a BS from Purdue University and MS from Virginia Tech University.