Pest control is a job that people should not, will not and cannot perform themselves because of the liabilities and dangers inherent to what pest management professionals do. The best PMPs, however, do more than just get the job done; they take a smarter approach to pest control.
And a strategic start to management begins with knowing the pest.
For Larry Motes, director of operations at Gregory Pest Solutions, which serves Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, mosquitoes are what he knows best. Motes gave mosquito advice at this past spring’s PCT Mosquito Control Virtual Conference.
“I’ve been doing mosquito control for about 30 years, and my degree is in entomology from University of Georgia,” said Motes. “I’m a mosquito guy that does pest control. I do work for a company that does all types of [general pest control] work, but mosquitoes have always been my passion.”
KNOWING MOSQUITOES. For Motes, knowing the biology is his first step to effective mosquito control. Although each of the 75 to 100 species found in the southeastern United States is unique, Motes said for most mosquitoes their life cycle begins when an adult female lays eggs on or near a water surface. The Culex mosquitoes form egg rafts that are about the size of a pencil eraser and can contain 100 to 150 eggs that float on top of the water.
“The eggs hatch within probably 48 hours under ideal conditions. However, they can stay dormant for quite some time depending on the species of mosquito eggs that are out there,” Motes said.
They spend just a few days in the pupa and larva stages, diving down into the water to escape predators and coming to the surface to breathe through a siphon tube. “Finally, the adult mosquitoes split that skin, crawl out and dry the wings and then fly away pretty quickly,” he said.
treatment options. Although there are similarities in the life cycles between species, eliminating mosquito sources is different at each job. Motes said knowing a little bit about the target species’ habitats is an important component of customizing a successful control program.
“We don’t offer really a one-size-fits-all because we do so much, so many different types of work here,” Motes said. “You really have to inspect, and you have to customize your program to the client and the client’s needs.”
It’s not a generic service that can be sold over the phone, and if it’s marketed like that, the result will be an unsatisfied customer. Treatment can vary from traditional barrier approaches to treating aquatic weeds and filling tree holes, depending on what a pest management professional sees when he or she reaches the property.
For example, the Anopheles mosquito uses aquatic weeds to get out of the way of predators and the sun and then lay their eggs on the water’s surface. Clearing out high weeds from a body of water’s edge allows water to evaporate and run off into the lake or pond more quickly, thereby minimizing potential breeding sites for mosquitoes.
The Coquillettidia perturbans, or cattail mosquito, also thrives in the presence of aquatic plants. “This particular mosquito has a very unique way of not coming to the surface and breathing air. Their larvae actually attach to the vascular stands of things like cattails,” said Motes. Their syphons embed into the plant itself, and they never come to the surface to breathe. For Motes, those characteristics result in aquatic weed spraying in select areas.
MICROHABITATS. Other mosquitoes need significantly less water to create an ideal habitat. A seemingly innocuous tire rut or animal hoof print can create a microhabitat for floodwater mosquito species. In that small space, they can go from egg to adult in as little as six days.
As for discarded tires, Motes dubs them mosquito condominiums. “Humans could not have created a better mosquito habitat for mosquitoes if they tried,” he said. “They’re black, they absorb heat and they hold water indefinitely. Over time organic material builds up, and they are providing a food source for them. These are very difficult (environments) to control.”
Motes’ largest tire treatment included a pile that measured seven acres and stood more than 30 feet tall. The job called for a custom-designed rack to support a mist blower distributing granular products into those tires.
“It is a specialized product and definitely takes a lot of dedication and hard work to get through a site like this. It can literally breed millions of mosquitoes every day,” he said. “This is a phenomenal problem that we’ve created when you are talking about container breeders.”
Another great microhabitat, especially for Culex mosquitoes, is catch basins in storm drains, and municipalities often need help servicing them.
“I fought so hard to convince even the county programs and some of the smaller municipal programs that you can contract out with private businesses to do these things for you, hence making it a smarter decision for you and your staff,” Motes said. “Rather than taking your one or two personnel that you have full-time and really just overworking them, we can put a staff together of 20, 30 people and have those 12,000 storm drains treated within a matter of days or maybe a week or two.”
STANDING WATER. Anything that can hold water for six days is a potential habitat, whether it’s right outside someone’s front door in the gutters or in their backyard in a Tonka truck or sandbox. And container-breeding mosquitoes will lay their eggs right along the waterline.
“Even if you empty it out, those eggs can lay dormant for years, and as soon as they get submerged under the water, then a new batch of mosquitoes will be born,” Motes said. “So you have to pay particular attention to the small things because that shell, or toy frog, can hold at least a capsule of water, which can breed probably 50 mosquitoes.”
A customer’s prized bird bath is one of the biggest potential habitats in a yard. “It has sort of a double whammy. You talk about West Nile transmission being reservoired in the bird population, so you have a bird potentially carrying West Nile sitting there drinking water, and you have mosquitoes breeding in the water,” Motes said. “Female mosquitoes right there laying eggs might take another blood meal shortly thereafter, and that’s one of those things that you really have to watch out for.”
The solution is as simple as pulling out the garden hose and giving the bath a good scrub to dislodge any eggs or larvae weekly. And just because a potential water container isn’t man-made doesn’t mean that mosquitoes won’t use it as a habitat. For Motes, tree holes are a prime example.
Although pest control professionals can turn to pesticide products, the simplest solution is filling the hole, so it no longer holds water. Motes has seen pest management professionals use everything from expanding foam to concrete. He prefers sand, which seems to cause less damage to the tree, but suggests consulting a forester or tree specialist if there is an extensive number of these trees on a job site.
TREATMENT. When it does come time to apply pesticides, however, it is important to vet each product and tool and to use them correctly.
“This is a real business, and this is not just something you can go down to the hardware store and pick up some equipment and call yourself a mosquito control applicator,” Motes said. “It does require specialized training; it does require specialized equipment.” He said part of meeting those professional standards is following label directions closely, especially when it comes to things like annual droplet tests.
As for the tools to properly apply those chemicals, Motes said they use the London Fog XKE, as well as the smaller Guardian 55, which can be mounted on an ATV. He’s also added a Curtis Dyna-Fog unit to their fleet.
In terms of chemical products, Motes said they use a variety. “Demand CS and Archer is our primary residential barrier spray product,” said Motes. “We are looking at OneGuard this year. It’s new on the market, so we’re excited about seeing that with four different active ingredients.”
For larvacide, they utilize FourStar briquettes, and their primary adulticide is Aqua-Reslin.
Although their starting lineup is set, that doesn’t mean Motes isn’t exploring new and green products. The Ovi-Catch mosquito trap is a glue-based trap. Just add water and hay or grass clippings and it attracts the female mosquito. She gets caught on the glue board inside, and the insects never reach the water in the trap, so there is no risk for a breeding ground.
The In2Care mosquito trap is another new product on Motes’ radar. It utilizes two different passive actives that the mosquitoes carry to different breeding sites.
Although effectiveness of both green and traditional products is improving, many pest control professionals continue to treat in 30-day intervals. This extended effective period is something new to the industry, and with many of the industry business models set up on recurring revenue, regularly spaced treatments are crucial to preventing callbacks where a free service is performed. As new products emerge, however, it is important to assess the treatment period and whether to go by the calendar or by need.
Part of that need is determined by the weather. The normal offering in the South may run from April to October, but if the foliage isn’t at its peak and mosquito activity is low, it’s time to adjust.
“Maybe you can delay that first treatment and offer a double service or offer a longer service,” said Motes. “I’ve sprayed mosquitoes in December and January, so it just depends on the weather.”
It is also important to ensure the customer understands the time period required for an effective treatment, especially when dealing with weddings or events. “The biggest mistake made here is that the bride or the wedding event planner waits too late,” said Motes. “They’ll call on Thursday afternoon, ‘Hey, I want to be sprayed for mosquitoes and the wedding is Saturday,’ and that’s certainly not going to be an effective treatment when you have to do something that’s out in the open next to water.”
The same concept applies when doing work for municipalities, sports stadiums and even gated communities.
SAFETY. Once the strategy is set and the technicians are trained on the right equipment for the job, what can pest management professionals do to keep their trained professionals — as well as their clients — safe? The first step is a repellent containing deet, especially if a technician is going to be working in a known disease transmission environment.
“Wearing that protective clothing — long sleeves, long pants and socks while you’re outdoors” is a challenge, said Motes. “Certainly, here in the South with its 95 degrees and 90 percent humidity, that is a difficult thing but certainly is worth it. If not, and if some people are sensitive to the heat, maybe spray your clothing with repellent.”
Educating staff on proper protocols, especially when it comes to barrier spray, is another safety precaution. Motes’ tips include avoiding treating any plants that could potentially be edible.
“Here in the South, a lot of people grow their own vegetables. They will even have flowers that may be edible. Different plants are edible, and they may use them for garnishments or decorations on their plate,” he said. “So, not having pesticide residues on that is very important and — more importantly — is pollinator protection.”
Keeping pesticides away from pollinators can lessen the decline of honeybees. “I know a lot of our manufacturers have invested heavily in pollinator protection guidelines, and we need to follow that very strictly,” he said.
Other important guidelines include power spraying mandates. It may not even be legal to power spray a whole house with today’s label changes. Motes’ protocols follow three feet up and three feet out at most, and up 10 feet on vegetation. Trying to spray further results in chemical trespass.
“You’ve got to be careful if you start to engage that mist blower or these STIHL blowers that have powerful engines,” Motes said. “If you really jacked that throttle up on full blast to try to blow it up to the top of that tree, you’re going to get what’s called a chemical trespass because you no longer control where that product is going.” That means the chemical can land on the pecan tree to the left, or through the fence and directly onto a pet, child or by a standing adult.
“We create no-spray zones. Again, you have to aim effectively at the vegetation, getting that product on the insides of those shrubs there and getting it to the underside of a leaf,” he said. “That’s why the mist blower is an effective tool here, because it deposits the product where it needs to be.”
Even if you take these precautions, Motes said it’s not ever fair to deem a treatment zone completely safe. “You can’t just say that it’s safe for children and pets. We feel like it is if used according to label directions. We can certainly prevent liability and have a product that is going to do the job without creating unnecessary risk for our consumer, but you do have to be careful about your claim of safe for everything,” said Motes. “So, what we recommend is that people don’t go out after we treat for about three hours just to make sure that everything is completely dry.”
From knowing the pest and treatment area to knowing the right products, tools and safety precautions for the job, pest management professionals not only set themselves apart from the average customer buying mosquito spray at a hardware store, but they also execute their mosquito control in a smarter, more effective manner.
The author is a Cleveland-based writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.