How Do I Get Rid of Fire Ants?

This is the second installment in the series. If you want to check out information on chiggers and fleas head over to our last blog post. We are so often asked “how do I get rid of *fill in the blank*?” that we thought it would be useful to write a post on the most common pests we are asked about. This month we look at fire ants, bed bugs and fruit flies/house flies.

How do I get rid of fire ants?

Fire ants are migratory, so getting rid of fire ants is not a one-shot deal. It requires upkeep to maintain a fire ant-free zone in your yard. Each year, new queens are born. They mate and then fly up to 3 miles, before landing to nest. She feeds off her wings and then burrows below to lay her eggs. In this way new colonies of ants are established constantly when the temperatures are between 70 and 95 degrees.

Many folks are familiar with the fire ant poison you can purchase at large home supply stores. Once spread in your yard it requires watering in. Essentially the water releases the poison into the soil and kills any ants it comes into contact with. The problem with this is that fire ant nests are a little bit like icebergs. What you see above the ground is just a small hint of what lies beneath, and the poison only kills what it contacts.

At Mosquito Joe we prefer a 2-part method to make, and keep, your yard fire ant free. The first requires a bait. Since fire ants share all the food they bring to the nest, and since the queen (and the responsibly party for all the ants in your yard) also feats on the same, a bait will get rid of the source of the problem. The fire ant queen waits 2 days before eating any food brought back. She will only eat once those 2 days have past and the taster ants are still living. To get by this safety measure, we use a bait with a 3-day delay. In this way we can circumvent the safety mechanism she has in place. We combine this treatment with a mound service, designed to kill the population of each nest. Since there is much more going on beneath the ground than above, this must be combined with the bait program to be effective.

Unfortunately, there are no preventative actions you can take to reduce the numbers in your yard. Fire ants are not fussy, and don’t particularly care if your yard is neat or messy, leaf filled or raked. It’s all the same to them.

How do I get rid of bed bugs?

We are going to go on record here, right out of the gate, and state that we do not treat for, nor are we experts in bed bugs. That being said, we get the question a lot, so we thought this topic was worthy of a conversation.

Firstly, we need to dispel the myth that bed bugs are only found in dirty homes. Bed bugs are everywhere – public buildings, schools, gyms, airplanes, in all 50 states and globally. They hitch hike from one place to the next, whether it be in furniture, your gym bag, wild animals, clothing or any number of ways. Just like mosquitoes, bed bugs find their food source through carbon dioxide and are bloodsuckers, feeding of exposed skin, then dropping off and hiding until the next feed (typically in the mattress). The preferred location is the bed as sleeping exposed skin is the easiest meal. While some humans have no reaction to them, the other 80% reacts with small red bumps.

Heat is the enemy of the bed bug, and treatment will include laundering sheets at a high temperature, possibly removing the mattress and disposing (marking it “bed bugs” so the cycle is broken) treating the room and the furniture, box spring, mattress (if you choose to keep it), the air and crevices with heat and insecticides. It is possible to do this yourself, but most people would rather have an expert come in and manage the infestation.

The only prevention is to be alert to their presence, and to take precautions after visiting an infested site. It is advisable to check the bed in a new lodging before taking your suitcase in, and never leave your clothing on the floor. Look for white small eggs and fecal matter in and around furniture, crevices and mattresses. Adults measure 4-5mm long and can be seen with the human eye. It is said that they smell like “rotting raspberries” and trained dogs are able to detect them.

How do I get rid of fruit flies and house flies?

There is a lot of information online on this topic, but often the misinformation comes from the identification of the fly itself. We’ve had customers complain about fruit fly’s only to discover they have issues with house flies and vice versa. A fruit fly measures about 1/8” and is brown, while a house fly is 1/8 – ¼” long and dark grey. You can also find gnats, drain flies and several other species causing issues for you inside and out. Fruit flies often feed from decomposing fruit, typically that rotting lemon forgotten at the bottom of your fruit bowl. These small flies, sometimes known as vinegar flies, can be trapped and killed by placing a solution of apple cider vinegar and liquid soap around the house. The flies are attracted to the vinegar and then drown in the solution as the soap coats their wings and prevents them from flying. There are various other methods, involving red wine, mashed bananas and so on.

For gnats the easiest remedy, and you should do this twice a year whether you have a problem or not, is to clean your drains. For this you pour about a gallon of bleach into each drain (especially those in a guest bath or shower that gets little use) followed by 10 minutes of hot water. This will flush and clean the drains, preventing new little homes for gnats in your house.

We also often get asked about flies in the yard, which often turn out to be blow flies and house flies. The easiest way to manage these is to manage the stuff they are attracted to. Open trash, pet excrement, and for the blow fly, decaying meat. Mosquito Joe can treat for flies for you, but our treatment is only good when the smell we spray is stronger than the others around it. We place an attractant, coated in pesticide, on the trunk of trees and other areas close enough to your living area to attract them, while far enough away not to be noticed by you. Because scents are short lasting, we recommend the service for a party or outside celebration and always let our customers know that it is not long lasting, and the flies will return in time.

To help yourself in the yard, keep your grass short and your yard tidy. That means keeping up with leaf litter and your pet(s), making sure any compost is far away from your home, and understanding that new mulch and manure will bring them in. The popular suggestion of hanging a bag of water up does not work, in our experience. Homemade fly traps can be helpful, but they can also attract more flies than you otherwise would have.

We hope this series has been useful for you. If you would like us to write on another topic just send us an email with the subject line “blog topic”. For us, pest control is more than killing bugs. It is educating and helping our customers gain a better understanding of how they can help themselves.

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How Do I Get Rid of Chiggers?

Every day we are asked “how do I get rid of *fill in the blank*?”  We thought it would be useful to write a post on the most common pests we are asked about.  This month we look at chiggers and fleas.

How do I get rid of chiggers?

Chiggers come from the mite family and are also known as berry bugs and harvest mites, to name a few.  They are microscopic in size (1/60th of an inch) and are actually a relative of the tick.  In their larval stage they attach to animals (us included) and feed.  They don’t bite, but instead inject digestive enzymes that break down skin cells.  After feeding they drop to the ground, leaving behind an irritated and itchy lesion.  The itch only occurs after they drop off.

Chiggers can be found anywhere, but they gravitate to dense vegetation and are at their peak in early summer.  In Texas, they are a problem for far longer than the northern states. You can’t do much for the itch except calamine, hydro-cortisone and other topical options.

Prevention is in two parts.  Firstly, minimize your contact with chiggers by wearing tall socks (a stylish look in the summer) and tightly fitting clothing.  An insect spray containing DEET will help ward them off.

Secondly, in your own yard you can reduce their numbers by cleaning up.  Overgrown weeds and shrubs, tall grass, twig piles and leaf litter. The less home they have the better.  Mosquito Joe can treat your grass on a cycle to dramatically reduce the numbers, so feel free to give us a call for more information.

How do I get rid of fleas?

The flea is no joke and getting rid of them is no joke either.  Fleas consume blood to live and they are not picky on whose blood they drink.  The easiest way to determine if you have a flea issue in your home or yard is to either walk around in some white socks and take a close look, or you can lay some white paper in your yard and check it in a few minutes.

Fleas are about 3mm long and are easiest to spot by their jumping – they can leap 7 inches and are considered the second-best jumper in the world.  They have a rapid life cycle and no one has determined how to kill them in their larval stage. There is also no way to kill them in egg form, and considering the average female lays several thousand in her lifetime (2-3 months) it is easy to see why they are so hard to manage.  Whatever pest control option you opt for, it is ESSENTIAL that you repeat it several times in order to gain control.

In Texas, particularly in the country, controlling fleas in your yard is very difficult.  While you may have a fence, a mouse, rat, deer or other wildlife can bring them in. A good rule of thumb for fleas is if you see one you have many and they will be everywhere.

There are a number of home remedies banded about on the internet.  It’s safe to say they all sound good and all work badly. If you have pets it is imperative that you treat them.  Otherwise they will shuttle your fleas back and forth for you. You must treat both the inside and the outside of your home.  You can bomb inside and then vacuum (cleaning out the bags as soon as you have finished to get rid of the eggs). Repeat this several times over a week to kill the larvae and eggs you could not kill.  For the outside you really do need a pest control company and we don’t say this to sell ourselves. Our customers who have flea treatments receive them on a regular cycle so we can gain control and maintain control over the population.  Fleas will gravitate to shady areas that are cool and sandy, so again year clean-up is important.

Next month we will tackle fruit flies, bed bugs and fire ants.

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When do mosquitoes come out in Texas?

We get this question a lot and the answer is never the one folks want to hear.  The fact is, in our area, mosquitoes rarely “go in”. Mosquitoes hibernate when temperatures remain under 55 degrees for a full week or we have three deep freezes in a row.  Over the last 5 years, this has happened once, and it lasted for a week.  We then jumped right back up into the 60’s and the mosquitoes were back at it.
In short, mosquito season is really nonexistent in this area of the south. Because of this many of our customers opt to go year-round with their service. Managing mosquitoes in the cooler months can make a dramatic difference when the temperatures start to climb as well. The less mosquitoes in your yard, the less eggs are laid. We often see customers putting off service until April, and then panic in February and call to try and get on our route sooner. Of course, with our no contract model, we always let our customers decide. But we are here to offer advice and suggestions to make sure your yard is a fun place to be.

When are mosquitoes most active?

While our “season” is not so much a season as it is a way of life, there are certainly times when mosquitoes are more active than others. The biggest driver of mosquito activity for us is rain. The more water on the ground, the more eggs hatch. Mosquitoes breed as soon as they hatch, and the females then seek a blood meal so they can produce and lay their eggs. You can go from 10 to over a million in no time flat. When our temperatures are really hot, and the weather is dry, we can actually see a population reduction as the water they need to hatch dries up. Quite the opposite of what many people expect, as they tend to associate high heat with high mosquito population.

In terms of the time of day, mosquitoes as a general rule are more active at dawn and dusk. They are sun-phobic and will seek out the shelter of leaves during the day. However, as with all things mosquito, there are exceptions to every rule. We have several types of mosquitoes, including the Asian Tiger, who are not so bothered by the sun and will happily eat away at you in the heat of the day. If you see a large black and white mosquito in the middle of the day looking for a meal you can be quite confident that you have Asian Tigers.

How can I get rid of mosquitoes?

The easiest way is to call us. But managing your water will bring the greatest reduction for you. Only 1 teaspoon of water will result in 300 mosquito eggs, so don’t overlook the small amounts. Dump all the water you can, turning containers upside-down and paying attention to plant pot saucers and kid’s toys. Since the aim is to also keep your yard as dry as possible (mosquitoes will lay eggs on damp ground if they can’t find water) keep your leaves raked up and ground cover to a minimum (pine needles or anything that will keep the grounded shaded and wet). Don’t forget your gutters as they need to be cleaned regularly and can really be a source for mosquitoes. The tidier your yard the drier!

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Preparing for the 2020 mosquito season

Get your mosquito problem under control this year!

Happy New Year!  2020 is one of those years that always seemed so far off, and yet here we are, in the distant future.  2020 is the year of the rat and a leap year. The summer Olympics will be held from July 24th to August 9th in Tokyo.  The world population is expected to be 7,758,156,000.  Amazingly enough, of that population 6.1 billion will own a smart phone. This means that more people will own smartphones than have electricity.

As everyone gears up to start the new year off right, with resolutions and plans firmly fixed, we thought it would be a good idea to help you start the year off with mosquito management in mind.  It may seem like an odd month to be thinking about mosquito control, but changes you make now can have a big impact come spring. In Texas mosquitoes rarely hibernate. Temperatures need to be under 55 degrees for a week, or we need to have three deep freezes in a row for that to happen.  February brings a steady increase to the population, with a major population jump in March. What you do this month can have an impact on that population and make your spring and summer a little less itchy. So, while you are packing away the decorations, and perhaps doing some house sorting, come along with us as we guide you in some sorting outside as well.

Controlling Water in Your Yard

As we always say (and we can’t say it enough) water is your greatest enemy when it comes to controlling mosquitoes in your yard. As the leaves gather and pine needles fill the yard, it is easy to lose sight of areas in the yard holding water. It’s not just water in containers either but moist, dark soil, that will breed mosquitoes. Keeping up on the raking and leaf litter will have a big impact for you. Mosquitoes are not hibernating, so they are busy laying eggs in all those spots. If exercise is on your list of resolutions this year getting out and raking and clearing is a great way to get a workout, and the results truly will make your yard more pleasant come spring.

Once you have all the leaves and pine needles cleared, you can walk your property and spot any potential containers holding water. Plant pots, wheelbarrows, kids’ toys, tarps; anything that holds a teaspoon of water or more will be an issue. Tip over the pots, turn the wheelbarrow upside down and be sure to drain all the toys of water before you put them away. We have had customers with issues in their garage and discovered they put the kids’ toys away full of water, producing thousands of mosquitoes.

Gutters, Drains, and Down Spouts

Another important area to clean are your gutters. It’s easy to forget to look up and all those leaves and pine needles can cause huge issues. Pockets of water along with degrading leaves are a favorite for mosquitoes. If you have tire swings, be sure to drill a couple of holes in the bottom so water can drain out and do the same for your garbage cans as they can hold a lot of water if not closed tight before a rain.

Keeping up with your yard now will make a big difference in the spring. While we don’t clean gutters, Mosquito Joe will take care of all the standing water in your yard. So, if you want to start 2020 off with an itch-free aim, just give us a call. Happy New Year!

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