Springtime pests are making themselves known. Two of the peskiest are ants and ticks. Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufman, coordinator of the Community IPM (integrated pest management) Program at New York State IPM, recently did a presentation on “Dealing with Springtime Ants” followed by a second presentation, “Protecting Yourself from Ticks,” by Jolleen Lampman, New York State IPM Program representative.
“The weather is warming and spring is springing, but the landscape is still pretty bare right now,” Gangloff-Kaufman said.
That is what drives ants into your home. This could include carpenter ants, pavement ants, odorous house ants, crazy ants, pharoah ants and thief ants. All of these ants “forage in the kitchen for proteins and fats,” Gangloff-Kaufman said. Pharoah ants and thief ants are the smallest.
Other than pharoah and thief ants, the rest mostly seek sugar.
“But no ant is as persistent as the odorous house ant, often called ‘sugar ants.’”
Gangloff-Kaufman said they may be identified by their odor when crushed, which resembles blue cheese.
By identifying the type of ant, you can know the best way to address them.
She said that odorous house ants can find all sorts of places to build colonies — in outdoor landscaping and along structures.
“Sugar-loving ants become attracted to sap feeding pests that create ‘honeydew’ (a sugary liquid) in the landscape,” Gangloff-Kaufman said. “Honeydew can disappear seasonally or with rainfall, drought or pesticide use.”
By using pesticides, a homeowner can unwittingly kill these sap-feeding insects. With their honeydew gone, ants forage indoors.
“It’s really important to pay attention to the greater ecology around your landscape to manage ants indoors,” Gangloff-Kaufman said.
Instead of spraying the building foundation and the landscape with pesticide, the IPM strategy is to prevent ant nesting around the foundation and to use baits to target the colony. It helps to reduce places where ants would want to nest on your property such as nesting materials that are up against the foundation, like mulch, wood, flat stones, bricks and landscape cloth.
“A potential solution is aromatic cedar mulch,” Gangloff-Kaufman said. “It is shown to repel nesting ants in the direct vicinity of the house.”
She also said that landscape plants that are stressed from disease or environmental conditions are susceptible to ant infestation. Once that plant source of sustenance disappears, the ants will move indoors. While treating trees and shrubs can offer a temporary solution, replacing them can permanently resolve the issue.
Foliage that touches the house, cracks around window air conditioners, and openings around windows all provide easier access for ants to get inside.
Tidying up indoors may also make your home less attractive to ants. Containers of recyclable containers that have not been adequately cleaned, food spills on the stove and floor, abandoned half-empty soda cans and food crumbs can all attract ants inside.
Baiting ants is the preferred method over spray, as the latter only kills the ants on site.
“Bait hits the heart of the colony — the larvae,” Gangloff-Kaufman said.
There’s no need to find the colony to treat it, because the ants will take the bait back to their home. For that reason, it is important to allow the ants to mill around the kitchen floor once bait is in place so they can ferry bait back to the colony.
Compared with spraying, “you use less pesticide and leave less toxin in the environment (with baits),” Gangloff-Kaufman said. “You reduce exposure to humans, pets and pollinators.”
She recommends liquid or gel “sugar baits” used in approved bait stations, available online. Use them indoors and outdoors.
Then Lampman spoke about ticks.
“Ticks are blood-feeding ectoparasites, which means that they stay on the outside of the body, and they pierce us with their really long mouth parts,” Lampman said. “And, they’re going to feed for two to three days, depending on what type of tick we’re talking about and what life stage it is.”
Ticks are only the size of a poppy seed at the nymph stage.
“They have incredibly tiny feet and they walk on their toes,” Lampman said. “So we’re probably not going to feel them crawling on us, unless we get really lucky and they twang a nerve on a hair on our legs.”
Ticks “quest,” or crawl to the top of vegetation at typically below-knee height, waiting for a warm creature exhaling carbon dioxide to pass by. That’s when they crawl aboard “to the warm, dark, moist places of the body and spend up to a week feeding,” she said.
To prevent tick hitchhikers, Lampman advised wearing light-colored clothing, long sleeves, tucking pants into tall socks and sealing pant legs.
“Put a daily tick check into your daily routine,” Lampman said.
Look at areas such as along the hairline, behind the ears, armpits, groin, legs, between fingers and toes, behind knees, belly button, and under the breasts.
More information is at www.dontgettickedny.org.
Fleas on Fido
Fleas are also on the move now that the weather is warming up. You may experience small, red, itchy bites or observe your cat or dog scratching. If you part your pal’s fur, you could see “flea dirt” (flea waste) or actual fleas, especially on the belly. Even if your cat never goes outdoors, you could bring fleas inside on your clothing after you have been in tall grass, a favorite flea habitat. Changing in the mudroom and immediately washing your clothing could help.
Cornell University’s “What’s Bugging You” site (https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you) advises vacuuming indoors regularly with a beater attachment, including places where pets sleep and under the bed, and washing pet bedding and pets weekly.
“After you vacuum, put the bag or canister contents in a plastic bag, tie it off, and throw it away right away — there’re fleas in there,” the site states. “If this doesn’t do the trick, call a professional.”