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Zika Virus Update

It’s hard to turn on the TV or visit the internet lately without hearing about the Zika Virus and the related birth defects now affecting large areas of Brazil.  I’m writing a short piece to help clarify the issue and answer some questions you might have.  I hope it helps.  We’ll begin at the beginning:

The Zika Virus

Yellow fever mosquito, courtesy of Wikipedia

Zika is not a new virus, cialis it was actually first described in Central Africa in 1947 in monkeys.  The first case of Zika confirmed in a human was not until 1952.  The virus itself is from the family Flaviviridae and is closely related to the Yellow Fever, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses.  Although related to Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever, Zika is significantly less severe.  Zika Fever presents as a minor cold with mild fever, body aches, rash and occasionally conjunctivitis (pink eye).  In extremely rare cases some Zika patients develop an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome.  Direct fatality from Zika Fever has yet to be reported.  By comparison, Yellow Fever kills 30,000 people each year, globally.

Zika is identifiable in infected persons via a blood serum test.  At the current time, there is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus nor is there an anti-viral treatment for those who have already been infected.  There is research for a vaccine underway and even reports of possible vaccines available from laboratories in India.  The widespread distribution of a viable and tested vaccine is at least a year away, and more realistically 2-3 years.

 

Image courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

Zika and Birth Defects

In 2016, the World Health Organization determined that the Zika virus was present in, and most likely responsible for, over 4000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil, a 2600% increase of that particular birth defect.  Babies born with microcephaly have abnormally small skulls and cranial capacity, usually resulting in severe mental retardation.  Zika has also been discovered in the amniotic fluid and brain tissue of miscarried fetuses, indicating the worst cases of Zika may compromise the pregnancy itself.  The Zika virus is passed from mother to unborn child via the placenta and umbilical cord where, scientists believe, it affects the development of the child, causing the defects described above.

 

Zika Transmission

The primary mechanism for transmission of the Zika virus is via female mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, notably the Yellow Fever Mosquito (Aedes aegyptii) and the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus).  The female mosquito must first bite an infected primate, either human or monkey, then transfer the virus on its next feeding to an uninfected host.  Zika’s developmental and transmission cycle requires a viral reservoir of some kind as it does not remain persistent in the insect’s body for very long periods of time.  Before the recent outbreaks in Brazil (2015-16) and French Polynesia (2013-14), Zika was usually confined to arboreal monkeys and rarely spread to humans.  It is important to note that many viruses have “jumped” to other related species in the past, this method of primate to human transmission via mosquitoes is a rather standard occurrence in epidemiology, not a novel event.

courtesy of www.nature.com

There is now evidence that Zika can be spread sexually.  While the virus remains in the female body for a rather short amount of time (less than 2 weeks), it can persist in males much longer.  The virus has been shown to remain in the semen of infected males for up to 10 weeks after initial exposure.  There have been at least 3 cases of sexual transmission verified by the Centers for Disease Control since 2014.

There have been some studies to determine if the virus can be transmitted by direct blood transfusion but results have been slow in coming.  Considering sexual transmission is a reality, in all likelihood, further studies will reveal Zika can be passed through the blood, provided certain parameters are met (time, collection and processing methods, etc).  Once more, information is available, we will pass it on.

 

The Primary Vectors, Mosquitoes

Like many diseases, the Zika virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, in this case, mosquitoes of the Aedes genus.  As mentioned previously, the two most common Aedes mosquitoes of concern in the US are the Yellow Fever Mosquito and the Asian Tiger Mosquito.   There are many other kinds of Aedes mosquitoes but the YFM and ATM are most likely to encounter humans and spread disease due to their behavior.  Both mosquitoes are arboreal (tree-loving) or semi-arboreal in nature, feed during the daytime, and bite frequently as they obtain a complete blood meal from multiple hosts.

Aedes mosquitoes started out in tropical and subtropical zones but have quickly spread throughout the world as a result of global trade.  Aedes mosquitoes are known for utilizing small pools of temporary water as breeding points, making every untended and uncovered water container a potential breeding site.  Birdbaths, used tires, water buckets and tree holes are some of their favorite breeding grounds.  Entomologists believe the global spread of these mosquitoes is directly connected to used tire trade, transporting rain water-filled tires across and between continents, carrying mosquitoes and their larvae with them.

Controlling Aedes mosquitoes is a difficult task, especially in urban areas.  Often, the techniques used to manage native mosquitoes, such as draining/ditching, larvicide application to ponds and lakes and the use of biological controls like Mosquitofish  are not feasible in these types of areas.  Community-wide education programs tend to work best, provided the residents of the community are active and involved in the program.

Click here for some tips on how to manage mosquito populations.

 

image courtesy of the CDC

Protecting Yourself from the Virus

For most people in the Northeastern US, there is very little chance of catching the Zika Virus at this time.    Widespread transmission of the virus requires both a viral reservoir (a large group of infected primates) and a population of Aedes genus mosquitoes to affect transmission.  At this time, there is no viral reservoir in the United States. Additionally, our current climate is holding down mosquito populations, although as temperatures rise we will lose that advantage.

Male-to-female sexual transmission is the only way the virus can currently spread in the US, female-to-male sexual transmission has yet be verified.  Persons with the highest exposure for Zika are those traveling to and living in affected areas in Brazil, and females that have sex with males who have traveled to/from affected areas within the last 3 months.   Considering the layers of co-incidental factors, the vast majority of the US population is at virtually no risk. At the time of this article (2/26/16), approximately 50 cases have been described in the US.  Of those 50, the overwhelming majority had returned from a recent trip to Brazil.  There has been only one case of possible sexual transmission in the US since 2016 and that particular incidence is unconfirmed and still under review by the CDC.

(Update 4/6/16:  The number of cases in the US has increased to just over 300.  There is still no verifiable local transmission.)

Currently there is extremely little (almost zero) chance of the average US citizen to contract this virus.  Entomologists do expect Zika to spread slowly, as most diseases do, and ultimately end up in the US within the next decade or two (possibly more).  Since there is no resident lesser-primate (monkey/ape) population to utilize as a reservoir, there will be very little foothold for Zika in the US.  Since other Aedes based viruses like Yellow Fever and Dengue are almost non-existent in the US, one can expect Zika to share a similar fate.

 

Conspiracy Theory #1 Zika is being spread by genetically modified mosquitoes

This rumor first started in early January as the story broke in major media outlets without many facts and as such, speculation abounded.  In 2015 a British bio-engineering firm, Oxitec, released a genetically modified strain of Yellow Fever Mosquito into some areas of Brazil in an effort to control the spread of Dengue fever.  The genetically modified mosquitoes introduced then mate with the native population and the resultant eggs/larvae have been proven to not reach adulthood, thereby lowering YFM populations by 75%-90%.   The mosquitoes released are entirely male mosquitoes (remember- only adult females bite) and none of their offspring reach adulthood.  There is no connection between biting mosquitoes, much less Zika-transmitting mosquitoes, and genetically modified male mosquitoes.

Despite this evidence, there are some who insist on a Jurassic Park-like scenario despite the facts of the case and total absence of any link or correlation between Zika transmission and genetically modified male mosquitoes.

Read more about the Oxitec Solution here.

 

Conspiracy Theory #2: Widespread application of pesticides is the cause of the Microcephaly outbreak

In 2015 a group called the “Physicians in Crop-sprayed Towns in Argentina” released a declaration stating a link between the microcephaly outbreak and the application of the pesticide/insect growth regulator pyriproxyfen throughout Brazil.  The group further went on to implicate Monsanto as a culprit in this deliberate application of harmful chemicals to large populations in Brazil.   The report was roundly rejected by mainstream science based on its lack of scientific evidence, absence of cogent thought and several factual errors in the piece.  The group also states that native villages are the specific target of these applications, supposedly in an effort to depopulate those villages.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

First and foremost, pyriproxyfen (seen at right) has been in use for almost 30 years with an excellent safety record.  This particular pesticide works on chemicals found in the insect body that are simply not present in vertebrates, much less mammals.  Pyriproxyfen has been studied by the US EPA and approved for use as a pesticide and growth regulator for mosquito, flea, and tick control in the US.  The registration process for US-based pesticides includes approximately $100 million dollars worth of safety testing, including carcinogenic, tetragenic and mutagenic (cancer, birth-defect and genetic mutation, respectively) studies on non-target species.   To date, the US EPA has received no reports of pyriproxyfen affecting humans adversely when used properly.

While human exposure to pyriproxyfen is possible, if not probable, scientists estimate the average sized person must drink approximately 1000 liters of treated water every day to achieve a harmful level of this chemical in their system.

Additionally, in autopsies of babies and fetuses with microcephaly, there is no trace of pyriproxyfen in their systems, nervous tissues or the mother’s placenta/umbilicus.  None.  On the other hand, presence of the Zika virus has been confirmed in every case.

Also important to note, pyriproxyfen is not produced by Monsanto and their subsidiaries.  It is actually produced by the Japanese chemical company Sumitomo Chemical.  I’d also like to think there isn’t a global conspiracy to depopulate the Brazilian rain forests for unknown ends by persons unknown or known.

It is best to leave these conspiracy theories to their rightful place, in weekend television programming like The X-Files.  These “theories” and their derivatives should be given as much credence as the flat-earth, faked moon landing,  and Reptillian-alien conspiracies.

In Conclusion

The outbreak of microcephaly in Brazil is doubtless a tragedy affecting many thousands of Brazilians, thankfully cases of this rare birth defect have not spread beyond the geographic zones in which it originated. While the images of deformed babies are powerful and moving, they do not speak to the limited spread and very specific nature of the victims of this outbreak.

Although the Zika virus may be “new to us” it is certainly not new.  The virus is nowhere near epidemic proportions, let alone a global pandemic.  To compare, Zika is responsible for approximately 4000-5000 cases of microcephaly, versus the 20,000 deaths Dengue causes annually, of its approximately 50-500 million reported cases.   Zika may spread via multiple pathways as many viruses do but our incidence of exposure here in the US is almost absurdly low.

Certainly, this is an issue to be watched, studied and worked against and the scientific community is doing just that.  In the meantime, the average US citizen is more likely to be struck by lightning or be attacked by a shark than to contract Zika.  There are many more horrible diseases and parasites transmitted by insects and arthropods we must safeguard ourselves against.

This article is property of Ralph Citarella Jr. BCE and may not be reproduced, distributed or utilized without written permission from the author

Sources Cited:

5 Things You Need to Know About Zika. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2/24/16  http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2016/02/5-things-you-really-need-to-know-about-zika/

Aedes.  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 2/6/16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aedes

Aedes aegypti Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  2/14/16  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aedes_aegypti

A shocking one-third of Americans believe this Zika conspiracy theory. The Washington Post 2/23/16 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/02/23/a-shocking-one-third-of-americans-believe-this-zika-conspiracy-theory/

Brazil, world health officials deny link between pesticide and microcephalyCNN.com 2/18/16 http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/17/health/brazil-who-pesticide-microcephaly-zika/

Declaration of the 3rd NATIONAL CONGRESS OF PHYSICIANS IN THE CROP -SPRAYED TOWNS(sic) 11/26/15 http://www.reduas.com.ar/declaration-of-the-3rd-national-congress-of-physicians-in-the-crop-sprayed-towns/#more-1541

Dengue fever. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2/18/16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dengue_fever

Experts debunk claim blaming larvicide, not Zika, for microcephaly- CBS News. 2/16/16   http://www.cbsnews.com/news/health-experts-dismiss-claims-larvicide-linked-to-microcephaly/

Free Resources on Aedes aegypti and Zika Virus Research- Entomology Today.  2/17/16 http://entomologytoday.org/2016/02/17/free-resources-on-aedes-aegypti-and-zika-virus-research/.

Mosquito Control Methods. National Pesticide Information Center website. 11/19/15 http://npic.orst.edu/pest/mosquito/control.html

Our solution, The Oxitec approachOxitec Corporate Website. 2014-2016  http://www.oxitec.com/health/our-solution/

Pyriproxyfen. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2/24/16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyriproxyfen

Transmission of Dengue Viruses. Nature Reviews: Microbiology. July 2007 http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v5/n7/fig_tab/nrmicro1690_F2.html

What you need to know about Zika virus- CBS News.  2/18/16 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/zika-virus-what-you-need-to-know/

Zika virus. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 2/23/16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zika_virus

 

 

August’s Invading Pests: Fleas

The Cat Flea



Summer may be coming to an end, buy viagra but some of New Jersey’s more noxious pests are just starting their boom season.  The mid-summer heat and humidity have been working hard to produce favorable conditions for all insect pests, but some benefit more than others from the conditions.  For years pet owners and pest control professionals have seen flea activity climb throughout the summer and peak in late July and early August.  Let’s take a quick look at these parasitic insects.

The Cat Flea (Ctenocephalides felis.) is the largest single representative member of the  fleas that become pests.  Fleas thrive in areas of poor sanitation and living conditions, they are highly mobile and quickly reproduce and can find its way indoors in very short order even in homes without pets.  It’s important to note that, to an extent, flea activity on outdoor pets is inevitable, keeping them from invading your home is key.  Once the life cycle of the flea begins in earnest indoors, it can be a difficult and time consuming task to eradicate them from the structure.

All fleas are from a highly specialized and specifically adapted insect family called Siphonaptera).  As with many other highly evolved insects, fleas undergo complete metamorphosis (Also known as Holometabolism) to fulfill their development from egg to adult.   After the egg hatches, the flea larvae that emerge are tiny, wormlike and look nothing like adult fleas.   The flea larvae will stay in dark and moist areas as it feeds and get ready to pupate.  Pupation is an inactive phase of development where the insect will stay within a cocoon like structure and begin its final transformation into the adult insect.  Other insects that undergo complete metabolism are quite familiar to us; insects like butterflies, moths, beetles, mosquitoes and dragonflies all share this developmental process.  This amazing growth process allows adults and immature insects of the same species to utilize more resources during their lifetimes without competing with each other.  Another byproduct of complete metabolism is that in most species of insect, and especially the flea, the pupae or cocoon is extremely durable, able to withstand both temperature changes and chemical applications.

Scanning Electron Microscopy of a Cat Flea

Once the adult flea emerges from the pupae, it is fully grown and now has the unmistakable flea body shape, flattened from side to side with large legs perfect for jumping, anywhere from 1 to 3 feet depending on species.  To look closer, with an electron microscope as in the photos below, we see a strange and alien form, a very complex insect with an unfamiliar shape.

Flea biology, as well as its pest status, tend to revolve around furry mammals, both pets and wildlife, but fleas can feed on humans and birds as well.  Ideally, adult fleas look to infest an animal, hiding comfortably in their fur until population levels become too high to be sustained.  Once population levels reach a certain point, or if the animal is removed from the area or dies, fleas will seek out an alternate host, sometimes biting humans in the process.   While fleas have no problem biting humans, they cannot infest a human like they would an animal due to human’s relatively hairless bodies.  Fleas are not known to infest either head or body hair on humans for an extended period of time.

While fleas have been known to transmit different types of diseases, their access to viral reservoirs (animals that are carriers of a certain disease) in the New Jersey Area is somewhat limited.  While fleas have been known to transmit Plague and Typhus, the conditions required to transmit those diseases are absent in our area and occurrences are rare if ever.   The most common vector transmitted by fleas in our area is the Dog Tapeworm.  Tapeworms can and do attack humans but infection is rare and easily dealt with through proper medical treatment.

Click here to download a free copy of our eBook click here (there’s some great info about Tick Prevention too!)

To find out how we can help you with your flea issues, click here!

New Jersey’s Newest Invading Parasite: the Asian Tiger Mosquito

The distribution of the Asian Tiger Mosquito in the US



Residents of New Jersey are no stranger to insect bites, order approximately 60 different species of mosquitoes call the Garden State home, pills along with several different species of biting flies.  It may sound like we’re the main course on the blood-feeders buffet but it’s not as bad as it sounds.  Only a handful of mosquitoes in and around our area are constant pests of humans, many mosquitoes feed almost exclusively on one type of host or another.  Birds and other mammals, both small and large, can be attacked by mosquitoes, not just humans.  Due to their behavior and biology certain species of mosquitoes, like the Black-Tailed Mosquito (Culiseta melanura), feed almost exclusively on birds.

Mosquitoes native to New Jersey have another behavioral trait that offers some relief: most mosquitoes only bite during the dawn and dusk and are not active through the middle of the day.  Small behavioral and biological facets like this have defined New Jersey’s relationship with it’s tiny flying blood-feeders, but unfortunately, all that is about to change.

Meet the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus), our newest import into the increasingly diverse group of non-native or invading insects.  Like other recent imported pests, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, the Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Multi-colored Asian Ladybird Beetle, the Asian Tiger Mosquito hails from South East Asia and has been imported into the US within the last 20 years due to imported vegetation and high speed global transit. .

Read more about how invasive pests make their way to the US.

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus

The most immediately apparent difference between the Asian Tiger and our native mosquitoes is the striking black and white alternating pattern, easily visible even at this small size.  Adults range in size from 2-10mm in length, depending on the quality of nutrition available to them as larvae.  Males and females also look fairly similar, with the largest difference being the male’s bushier and almost fuzzy antennae.

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes have a developmental biology not wholly unlike its native cousin the House Mosquito (Culex pipens).  They have comparable tolerances for heat and cold and both require stagnant fresh water in which to lay their eggs and begin development.  Since stagnant fresh water is very easy to find in close proximity to humans, (think birdbaths, flowerpots, bottoms of garbage cans, etc.) these insects feed quite frequently on humans and will complete their entire lifecycle in very close proximity to humans.

There are, however, two marked differences between the Asian Tiger Mosquito and its local cousins: one is host or target preference, the other being daily activity cycles.

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes are voracious feeders and are not specific to a single host or host type.  Tiger Mosquitoes have no problem feeding on birds, humans or other mammals, both small and large over the course of their lives.    Another odd feeding behavior the Asian Tiger Mosquito exhibits is incomplete feeding.  Not all Asian Tiger Mosquitoes get a full blood meal at every feeding, requiring a second trip for the required nutrition.  Since these mosquitoes don’t always “go right back for seconds” they’ll feed on a different host if not a different type of host altogether.

These two behaviors cause the Asian Tiger Mosquito to be a rather significant vector of viruses and other pathogens.  Oftentimes groups of animals will harbor a virus or pathogen without showing symptoms, like the West Nile Virus or encephalitis in birds. The feeding behavior for the Asian Tiger mosquito results in multiple feedings from multiple hosts and host types during their lifetimes, significantly increasing their chances of passing on an infection like the Yellow fever virus, dengue fever and Chikungunya fever.

Now that we’ve established the Asian Tiger Mosquito is a diverse feeder the second part of its feeding behavior can be discussed.  Unlike most other mosquitoes, the Asian Tiger Mosquito is active from dawn till dusk and throughout the intervening day.  Since these mosquitoes have the unique feeding behavior we discussed above, along with being active for almost 18 hours a day, we can see how this tiny parasite can develop into an important pest for New Jersey residents.

For your FREE copy of our new eBook “Practical Solutions for Reducing Mosquitoes in Your North Jersey Yard” click here!!

If you’d like to see what Bayonne Exterminating can do to reduce mosquito populations around your home, click here for a free estimate.

New Jersey Ants have Nothing on These Guys!

In previous blogs we discussed a bit about our native ant species and the types of ants most frequently encountered in New Jersey.  Today, doctor we’re going to look at a few species of ant we don’t have here in New Jersey, and we should be happy we don’t!! We’ll discuss some of the scariest, most deadly and most feared ants on the planet, then count our lucky stars how they’re not here in the Garden State.

Fire Ant Stinging a Human

We’ll start off close to home with a deadly and dangerous ant that has established itself in the United States within the last century.  The Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) is native to South America but due to global trade and transport has established itself in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Australia and Asia.  Their highly aggressive nature and painful sting when defending their nests is most likely the origin of their name, as anyone who stepped on a mound can surely attest. 

When disturbed, fire ants will swarm up the legs of any animal close to the nest.  The ants don’t begin stinging immediately but instead wait a few moments allowing dozens of ants to gain a foothold on the intruder.  Once the first ant begins to bite and sting, the rest of the ants will follow en masse making the victim feel as if the ants began their attack “all at once”.  Fire Ant attacks are particularly vicious as workers will latch on with their strong jaws and sting repeatedly until removed.  Approximately 1% of the population is hypersensitive to Fire Ant venom and may have a pronounced reaction to even a few stings.  Although Fire Ants regularly overwhelm and kill small animals like rodents and lizards, the relative size and speed of humans keep a healthy person safe from succumbing to attack. 

African Driver Ant, or “Siafu”

For more information about the Red Imported Fire Ant, click here.

African Driver Ants (Dorylus spp.) are comprised of dozens of species throughout the continent and are covered under the Swahili word “Siafu”.  These driver ant colonies can number up to 20 million members and have been known to relocate as a group in a thick column of workers and soldiers that can cover up to 20 meters in an hour.  There is a significant difference in workers and soldiers in the Siafu colonies, with the soldiers being several times larger than workers with a strong and pronounced jaw structure.  Although these marching columns can easily be avoided, any sleeping animals they encounter are at grave risk.  Likewise for residents of a home that the colony may move through.  Columns of Siafu have been known to skeletonize small to mid-size livestock in a very short amount of time.

Siafu on the march!!

Native Africans have developed a healthy respect for these high powered army ants.  Many locals often look forward to Siafu columns as they will consume any pest they might encounter, offering pesticide free crop protection for local farmers.  They will also scavenge any small particles of debris they encounter, often times leaving homes and offices cleaner than when they entered.  The Massai have actually learned to utilize Siafu soldiers as emergency first aid!  Wounded Massai huntsman learned years ago that they could suture wounds by getting the Siafu soldiers to bite on either of the wound, effectively closing it.  Then the bodies of the ants are pinched off and the heads remain with jaws locked for several days allowing natural healing of the affected area.

For more information on the African Driver ant, click here.

Australian Jack Jumper Ant

The last, and possibly most dangerous ant we’ll discuss, is native to Australia, the Jack Jumper Ant (Myrmecia pilosula).  A type of Bull Ant, Jack Jumpers are voracious predators with a nasty sting comparable to wasps and hornets.  Up to 3% of the population of Australia is allergic to these ants and will suffer anaphylactic shock from even one sting.  Unlike other ants discussed in this article, Jack Jumper Ants tend to forage singly even though they are part of a colony like other ants.  This solitary behavior is a blessing in disguise to humans as multiple stings from this insect would almost certainly be fatal.   Just a quick look at the jaws of a worker Jack Jumper Ant is enough to make you happy that we’re very far from Australia. 

if you’d like more information about the jack Jumper Ant, click here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our quick tour through this terrible trio of ant species.  The next time you see a few ants in the kitchen, I’m sure you’ll be happy that it’s only a few of our native Pavement Ants stealing from the sugar bowl and not an invading column of Siafu storming your backyard barbeque! 

If you think you might have any ant problems (hopefully the less dangerous, local kind) click here to request a free service estimate.

To download our free eBook about local ant species, click here!

April Showers Bring May’s Insects to New Jersey?????

You can be sure they do!!! There’s a whole host of moisture related insects native to New Jersey that might start making an appearance in your home in the mid- to late- spring.   As a matter of fact, almost all insects are intricately tied to moisture, many smaller insects tend to feed on molds and fungi which develop in high moisture conditions.  Other insects can’t access their primary food sources until they become moist; Termites, Carpenter Ants and Wood Destroying Beetles all need a higher-than-normal level of moisture in wood before they can begin their attack.

            Besides these perennial pests and year-round trouble makers, I’d like to give a brief overview of the quick to pop up, here today, gone tomorrow insects that you’ll find during times of heavy rain and high moisture.  Keep in mind the season or the date isn’t the common element, so much as the moisture itself.  Sometimes a construction style of a building or the current maintenance can cause a high moisture level year round.  

            The Fungus Gnat- The blanket term fungus gnat is used to describe small dark winged flies from six different insect families.  They are members of the Order Diptera and are related to house flies and mosquitoes.  As the name implies they feed primarily on fungus and do most of their feeding during their larval, or immature, phase.   Adults have a very short lifespan (usually only about 7-10 days) while the immature stage can last for up to a month.  Adult Fungus Gnats will lay their eggs in rich, moist soils so the larvae can feed on decaying plant roots and the fungi associated with their decomposition. 

 

a fungus gnat adult

           Fungus gnats can quickly become a nuisance indoors due to their high reproductive potential as each female can lay up to 300 eggs!  During the developmental phase, the larvae are very rarely seen due to their size and environment but afterwards the adults can become quite a nuisance.  Adult Fungus Gnats will feed on pollen or nectar from plants and can be attracted to floral scents or lotions, both real and synthetic.  Frequently, adult fungus gnats may “buzz” or annoy humans who use these kinds of soaps and lotions and seem to be an ever present pest.  Fortunately Fungus Gnats don’t bite, as a matter of fact, they don’t even have the proper mouth parts to puncture human skin. 

            Control measures can be very simple and the majority deal with moisture and water control in and around your home.  If high numbers are breeding outdoors, reducing available moisture through landscaping changes might be in order.  Indoors, fungus gnats can be found breeding in potted plants and a half inch layer of sand on top of the flower pots will interrupt the egg laying behavior of the female fungus gnat. 

Click here to learn more about Fungus Gnats

            Silverfish- The Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) is from an ancient order of insect (Thysanura) whose earliest members colonized dry land some 400 million years ago.  They can most certainly be considered a living fossil like a Coelacanth or Horseshoe Crab.  Unlike  most insects who have a set number of developmental stages or “molts”, silver fish have an indeterminate number and can molt up to 60 times over the course of their life. 

A silverfish

            Although not directly related to moisture, silverfish do require a moist climate (75%-95% humidity) and as moisture levels increase, their developmental time decreases and their food sources increase.  Silverfish feed primarily upon starches and dextrin, but are omnivorous scavengers, consuming dead insects, linens, silks and even their own shed exoskeletons!! 

            The most effective methods for control and prevention of Silverfish (and their close cousins, the Firebrat) are based around sanitation and moisture control.  A general cleaning and de-cluttering of your basement, attic and closets would deprive these insects of not only their food sources but their harborage areas as well.  As clutter decreases, there will be fewer micro-environments with high humidity for insects to access.  The next step would be building- or area-wide moisture management.  Installing a dehumidifier and ensuring proper ventilation of basements or crawlspaces would be ideal.   In worse cases, applying a waterproofing agent to foundations might be required. 

Click here for more info on silverfish.

            Plaster Beetles- These tiny insects (1-3mm) are scavenging beetles from the family Lathridiidae and feed solely upon mildew, mold and fungus.  They got their common name from their occurrence in new homes; as plaster dried after construction, moisture in the environment would slow the plaster allowing time for mold and mildew to grow.  Once the mold and mildew was available, it was only a matter of time until these tiny beetles moved into the home and started reproducing in large numbers.  Don’t be fooled by the name, plaster is not required for a Plaster Beetle infestation.  They will often be found in modern sheet-rocked homes whenever a leak may bring moisture into the wall. 

 

Plaster beetle adult

           Plaster Beetles become a nuisance in homes as populations increase and adults head for windows and light fixtures in search of light sources.  The combination of their size, hidden breeding locations and reproductive rate can lead homeowners to think “hundreds of tiny beetles, arriving at once” have moved into the home. 

            As with most moisture related pests, the best control method is a removal of moisture from the situation.  Since Plaster Beetles require not only significant amounts of mold and mildew but a quiet, secluded breeding area, they tend to occur in areas of a home with a significant moisture leak.  These beetles can be found in bathrooms when tile has shifted or grout has failed.  The can also be found in any area of the home that is subject to a water leak from either the roof or exterior walls.  Finding the moisture source and repairing it are the only realistic avenues for control. .

For more information on Plaster beetles, click here.

If you think you might have an insect problem and need a free estimate or some professional advice, please click here.

           

Lesser Known Ants in New Jersey

In a previous blog, pharmacy we looked at the two most common pest ants found in New Jersey, viagra Pavement Ants and Carpenter Ants.  While these two species are most frequently encountered there are a host of other ant species that homeowners may come in contact with, some native to New Jersey and others imported to the area or moving into human environments only recently.  As I’ve mentioned before, the overwhelming majority of ants are not pests and are hugely beneficial. Here’s a short list of the creepy crawly, not-so-usual suspects. 

New Jersey residents can expect to encounter the Odorous House Ant (Tapinoma sessile) at some point. Odorous House Ants got their name from the odor emitted by individuals when crushed, a sweet “rotten-coconut” like smell.  This particular species of ant is a rising star among structurally infesting and species in the Northeast and have been seen more and more often in structures.  This ant, although closely related to Argentine Ants is native to the US and can most commonly be found nesting outdoors, beneath a large stone or within a rotting log. 

Odorous House Ant Worker

Odorous House Ants have a colony structure similar to Carpenter Ants in that they have several nest locations.  Larger colonies of OHAs will actually have several queens.  One of the biggest problems Pest Control Professionals or Do-It-Yourselfers have in dealing with this multiple nest/ multiple queen species of Ant is how the ants respond to treatment attempts or changes in the environment.  Colonies have been known to separate and relocate when treated with repellents or liquid sprays.  OHAs have a high affinity for moisture and will very easily set themselves up behind a moist wall in a bathroom.  Odorous House Ants have a small, efficient and mobile colony structure that allows them to stay one step ahead of treatment efforts. 

A find more rare in New Jersey than a Odorous House Ant would be the Pharaoh Ant (Monomorium pharaonis).  As the name might indicate, Pharaoh ants were first described in Egypt and were found within ancient burial structures.  Ever since the original identification of the species, pharaoh ants have been introduced globally, with specimens recorded on every continent.  There was a Pharaoh ant infestation reported on McMurdo Sound, Antarctica several years ago, making the Pharaoh Ant the first pest insect to successfully invade Antarctica. 

Pharaoh Ant Worker

Pharaoh Ants have a very unique colony structure.  While it has some elements in common with Odorous House Ants, like multiple Queens, but to a drastic extreme.  While other ant species might have a single queen, or maybe a handful, a healthy Pharaoh Ant colony may have hundreds of queens!  Most ant colonies will have thousands of workers per queen, Pharaoh Ants have less than 15 workers per queen.  Not only is the reproductive potential of a Pharaoh ant colony enormous, its mobility and versatility means it is very hard to control.  Pharaoh Ant colonies reproduce themselves through a phenomena known as budding.  If a colony is under duress or faces harsh conditions they will simply split up and move to another area.  This behavior allows an existing ant colony to relocate into a new area without having to wait for a colony to grow from scratch, almost like a turnkey Ant Franchise!

While there are no major ant invasions in our immediate future, residents of southern New Jersey may be dealing with Imported Fire Ants in a few decades. Red Imported Fire Ants (Solenopsis invicta) are known for their burning sting and strong jaws which they use in conjunction to inflict thousands of bites/stings to anyone unlucky enough to disturb a nest.  Although Fire Ants are confined to the southern half of the US, they have been spreading north and east for decades, current rate of spread would have the Red Imported Fire Ant entering southern New Jersey within the next 25 to 30 years.  The high sand content of the soil and the similarity of the environment to areas where Fire Ants already inhabit like Virginia and the Carolinas would make infesting New Jersey almost a certainty over time. 

Red Imported Fire Ant biting and stinging

While residents of New Jersey can rest easy in the knowledge that Red Imported Fire Ants have not arrived yet, they are not completely free from the threat of stinging ants.  All ants will work in conjunction should the nest be threatened and some of our native breeds are capable of easily stinging or biting.  Fortunately, a few pavement ant stings might be a painful reminder of the close relationship of ants to wasps, New Jersey residents can rest easy.  The more notable, and more scary ants like the Bullet Ant from Australia, the South American Army Ant or the dreaded African Siafu Ant are residents of different countries and can only be seen on television here in the US. 

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Northern New Jersey Termite Control, Liquids or Baits?

         There are multiple techniques for termite control available in New Jersey, prostate Liquid Perimeter Treatments and Baiting Systems being the main choices for a homeowner or Pest Control Professional.  Based on experience or preference, companies may rely on either of these techniques or offer both types of control at the customer’s discretion.  Each system has its advantages and disadvantages, so let’s look at them a little more in depth.

            Liquid Perimeter Treatments rely on thorough and intensive applications of liquid termiticide around the entire structure and can be indoors as well, depending on the severity of the infestation.  Depending on the product used, applications must be uniformly spaced and usually 12-24 inches around the entire structure.  In both field tests and real world application, Liquid Perimeter

Drilling in preparation for a Liquid Treatment

Treatments are very effective when executed properly with some companies reporting approximately a 99.3% success rates a year after treatment.  The biggest downside of these liquid applications is the invasiveness of the initial application.  Sometimes alleyways or driveways need to be drilled to be treated properly and the scaring from the drilling can be noticeable.  In urban areas like Hudson County or parts of Essex County, all four exterior walls might need to be drilled for proper treatment.

           

A typical Termite Bait Station

Baiting Systems were introduced in the 1990’s and have been a valuable tool in our industry for both prevention and control ever since.  The idea behind Baiting Systems is to place bait stations, or sometimes non-toxic monitors only, around the exterior of a building in the hopes of intercepting termite colonies before they reach the home.  In control situations, baits will be placed in areas adjacent to termite activity in the hope that the termite colony infesting the building will begin to attack and consume the baits as well.  While installation and maintenance of a Baiting System is easier than a full liquid treatment, there have been some questions as to their effectiveness.  For instance, most baiting systems cannot be used inside a home and some situations would require a liquid treatment regardless.  There have also been concerns over colonies finding these bait stations and utilizing them for food; sometimes termites can be finicky eaters and might be unwilling to change food sources to a bait station. 

            There are two important factors when determining whether to use Baits or Liquids, one being Environment, the other Activity Level.  

            Different products work differently in different environments.  One of the greatest advantages of Liquid Perimeter applications is how adaptable they are to different environments.  Liquid applications can be customized to any almost any structure and applied both inside and out.  There are also liquid foam products that can be injected under pressure to apply termiticide to void spaces.   This versatility is a powerful tool when dealing with significant termite activity or in urban areas.   Baits can be limited by their areas of placement or access to the stations themselves, depending on landscaping.

            The next question a pest control professional must address is whether it is an active infestation or a preventative application.  Due to the intensiveness of a liquid application, Baiting Systems can be an excellent step in the prevention of termites, allowing the possibility of controlling the termite colony before it attacks the structure.  When thinking termite prevention, baits are an excellent choice. 

Possible Termite Colony Locations in and around the Home

            There are a few secondary issues that should be discussed before we close the conversation.  Recently, information released by the University of Tennessee has shown that termite colonies may not operate in the ways we once thought.  In a survey of dozens of home sites researchers found some alarming facts.  Most importantly, homes that had termite activity had between two and three (2.7 to be exact) areas of termite activity, some of which may be hidden behind walls.  Secondarily (and perhaps more alarming) was the number of different colonies found on a single piece of property. Through DNA studies, researchers found no fewer than 10 different colonies on each affected home site with one home site hosting 38 different colonies!! The number and complexity of termite colonies and their interaction makes colony specific control methods like Baiting Systems a questionable choice.  For instance, if a home has three areas of termite activity inside the home and ten colonies on the property, how can we make sure the colony feeding on the Bait Station outside is one of the three doing damage in the house?  It’s a very tough choice, and certainly nothing you as a homeowner want to chance.

            A quality termite control company will custom tailor their response to your activity level, environment and expectations.  It always helps if the technician is a Certified Wood Destroying Insect Inspector as opposed to a general pest control operator.  Certified WDI Inspectors have more training and experience than your run-of-the-mill tech and will be able to weigh options and offer control programs more effectively. 

            If you do require a termite treatment, make sure that you are getting a multi-year warranty!! Termites can be a perennial or ongoing problem, DO NOT settle for a short term (one year or less) warranty, there just isn’t enough time to gauge the success of the initial treatment.  The warranty should be for two years or more and be included with the initial price.  Annual renewals for termite warranties are available from most companies but they shouldn’t start right away.  Make sure your company stands behind their initial application for more than one year without any additional charges. 

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Termites in New Jersey? How did they get here?!?!?

If you’re finding termite activity in your home, medicine the first question that comes to most people’s minds is “How?” How did these termites end up in your home? Or even in New Jersey, for that matter? In a world filled with Argentine Ants, German Cockroaches and Norway Rats, how did termites get to the Northeast, particularly New Jersey? Easy answer to that, they were always here! 

termite pressure throughout the US

Most commensal pests that we deal with, like their names might imply, are imported from Europe in much the same way our goods, livestock and produce have been transported from Europe.  Not so with Termites. Let’s take a quick look at this pervasive and usually beneficial insect in New Jersey. 

 The particular species of termite we have here in New jersey is the Eastern Subterranean Termite  (Reticulitermes flavipes). The “EST” is native to the eastern seaboard of North America and ranges from Florida to Maine and as far west as Texas.  Fortunately, our local ecosystem is home to only one species of termite so New Jersey residents don’t have different types of termites to deal with.  The Eastern Subterranean Termite lives in large colonies of thousands of individuals, sometimes colonies can number over a million!  Individual worker termites are small, white, almost grub like insects.  Termites have often been described as “worms” or “small grubs” in wood, as a matter of fact “termite” is a derivative of a Latin word meaning “wood worms”. 

Termite colonies have different roles for individuals to fulfill, workers are certainly the most numerous but the colony cannot live without its Queen.  The King and Queen Termite, also known as the “primary reproductives”, are the control center of the termite colony. Not only does the queen lay the eggs to spawn generations of workers and soldiers, she also gives out the command chemicals that termites use to communicate with each other.  Without this chemical control from the Queen, the colony would break down unless the colony was able to replace the queen. 

Different termite types in an Eastern Subterranean Termite colony

  Besides the workers and the primary reproductives, there are two other types of termites found in a colony, soldiers and secondary reproductives.  These two groups compose less than 10% of the total number of insects in the colony.  As you may have guessed, soldiers are required for the defense of the colony and have darkened heads and large strong jaws.  Secondary reproductives are sexually mature termites and most often have wings used in an annual reproductive flight, or swarm, that takes place in the early spring.  If king or queen termite dies, oftentimes a secondary reproductive will be “promoted” and become the new king or queen.  Also in larger colonies, sometimes there will be multiple females laying eggs to assist the queen.  

If you’d like to know a little bit more about the eastern Subterranean Termite or its relatives, click here.

What Does a Hard New Jersey Winter Mean to Our Insects?

 As a much beloved and often quoted character from the hit series “Game of Thrones” once said: “Brace Yourselves, recipe Winter is coming”.  Considering the winter we’ve had in New Jersey this year, troche he was certainly right.  As a matter of fact, it seems that winter might never leave us, as some residents of New Jersey awoke to a covering of snow and/or ice this morning, April 16.

Due to the harshness of the winter, we’ve been peppered with questions about the climate’s effect on pest populations.  The most common being “Since winter was so cold, does that mean there won’t be many insects this summer?” 

In a word? Nope.  Sorry gang, things aren’t that simple.  The weather and insect populations have a complex interrelationship that can vary widely depending on the type of insect in question. There’s also the question of the Predator/Prey relationship, if a predatory insect has a hard winter the insects they prey upon will have a higher population.  In a way, a cold winter may actually give rise to higher insect populations.   Let’s discuss in a bit more detail, shall we?  

First things first, let’s deal with our native insects like ants, termites, wasps and mosquitoes etc.  These types of insects, which compose our most bothersome outdoor (and sometimes indoor) pests.  Since these insects predate humans on this continent they have adapted to this environment and its climate.  As a matter of fact, these insects have survived much colder periods, namely The Year Without a Summer (1816) and the period of time known as The Little Ice Age (approx. 1500-1800).  Insects native to the North East region of the US have dealt with similar and colder temperatures for millions of years, a little glitch of cold won’t have much of an impact at all.  Conversely, these native hymenoptera (ants and wasps) tend to be the predatory insects I mentioned above.  Although a brutal winter may cull their population somewhat, as a species they will survive.

 Next, and maybe a bit more importantly, would be our resident, commensal insects.  The word “commensal” is a Latin derivative meaning “to share our table”.  So these pests that quite literally share our table would be things like German Roaches, Bed Bugs, House Mice and the Norway Rat.  As the names imply, these pests are not from North America but have been imported from Europe along with the first settlers.  Some rodent biologists hold fast to the idea that the first Norway Rats arrived on the Mayflower.   The nature of these pests is inextricably tied to the presence of humans and access to our resources. In other words, as long as humans can withstand the climate, then these pests will as well. The majority of commensal pests live indoors in close association with humans and as indoor pests they will have limited or no exposure to the severe weather we’ve endured. To paraphrase the great comedian George Carlin: “No matter what temperature it is in the room, it’s always “Room Temperature””.

The last grouping of insects would be unique in that they are imported pests, but not necessarily commensal pests.  Recent arrivals like the Asian Lady Beetle, Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug have been arriving in North America since the (rather modern) advent of high speed travel and have arrived here within the last few decades.  Winter weather’s impact on these creatures is truly hard to discern.  For the most part they originate from a comparable climate or ecology but with enough differences to have a significant advantage over our native breeds or varieties.  There have already been anecdotal report of the winter killing off Stinkbug populations; one researcher reports losing 80% of his stored research specimens over the winter.   On the one hand, these new invaders may have been exposed to conditions they are not adapted to survive, on the other, they may have faced these, or harsher conditions, in their native ecosystem.  We would have to look at these insects on a case by case basis. 

Understanding the weather or climate’s effects on a group of organisms is a truly difficult task, almost impossible to be gauged at the time of occurrence.  Conversely, most population changes due to climate can be identified exclusively through the fossil record.  But that would be for insects in nature.  Unfortunately for us, the creepy crawlies that reside underfoot will stay right where they are, no matter the weather…

Termite Colony Biology in Northern New Jersey

Termites are amazing insects that have evolved over time to occupy a rather unique niche in almost all environments on earth.  Termites have made two unique adaptations that plainly set them apart from the majority of other insects, one being the ability to digest wood (cellulose) for nutrition and their complex colony structure.  Let’s take a look at these amazing and adaptable insects.

Worker Termite

            The foremost adaptation that sets termites apart from most insects and in fact, most organisms on earth, is the ability to digest wood and wood particles called cellulose, for nutrition.  There are several thousand species of Termite around the world, from the tree nesting termites of Central America to the mound building termites of Australia and Africa and they all consume some form of cellulose for nutrition.  In effort to keep the discussion specific and not over-broad, we will discuss the Termites native to New Jersey, the Eastern Subterranean Termite.

            The Eastern Subterranean Termite is native to the northeast region of the US and are densely populated through New Jersey.  Their main adaptation has been to attack and consume underground wood and root systems from dead plants.  The wood alone is not enough to sustain them however.  In order to fully digest cellulose, termites utilize a type of microbe in their gut, called a protozoa.  These simple, single celled protozoa are passed from one termite to another after they hatch by exchanging food with one another (called trophallaxis) or by mutual grooming.  It’s important to note that termites are not “born” with these protozoa, but have to acquire them from their nest mates. 

Termite workers in natural wood

            Once Termite workers have begun to feed on a source of wood, they will consume as much as they can hold and return to the nest.  Upon reaching the nest, the returning workers will share the cellulose with other termites there, including the King, Queen and other reproductives, as well as any soldiers or nymphs that might be present. It is interesting to note that although the overwhelming majority of a termite’s diet is made up of wood, they are not exclusively wood feeders.  Termites have been known to feed on types of fungus growing within their nests as well as scavenging decaying animal carcasses, although infrequently.  Termites are notorious for consuming the dead bodies of their fallen nest mates, a process known as necrophagy. While humans might consider this a type of cannibalism, it is quite common in nature and especially in other colonies of insects like ants.  It would seem the highly efficient nature of colony insects require that nothing go to waste.   

            Colony insects are among the hardiest of insects on the planet and cover most of the available surface of the earth in one way or another.  Honeybees, wasps, all species of ants and termites are all examples of social insects but termites are unique in that they are not related to any other kind of social insects.  Bees, ants and wasps are all closely related being from the Insect order known as the Hymenoptera, a large and highly evolved group of insects.  Conversely, Termites are in the sub-order Isoptera, a sub grouping of the Order Blattodea and are closer relatives of roaches, a group of insects not known for social insect behavior. The Termite’s development into a complex social structure truly sets them apart from their roach-like cousins.

Termite Lifecycle

            The Termite Colony has several distinct groups within and are highly adaptable based on environmental conditions around the colony. Most important are the King and Queen, the primary reproductive termites that begin colony development. Once the King and Queen mate, they will burrow underground and begin construction of the larval chamber. Once the queen has laid her first brood of eggs, the first insects to hatch will develop into worker termites.

Termite colonies are mainly composed of worker termites, the backbone of the colony.  As the name implies, the worker termites are responsible for the construction and maintenance of the nest, foraging for food, grooming and feeding other types of termites.  In smaller colonies that may number only a few dozen or hundred termites, only workers will be found.  As colonies grow in size, other types of termites will be produced.  Once the colony numbers several hundred, soldier termites will begin to develop.

  Soldiers are much like workers with one notable exception, the heads and jaws of the soldiers are significantly enlarged and hardened for defense of the colony.  Soldier termites will respond to any invasion of the colony by other insects, like ants, or to any damage to the nest.  Soldier termites are known to “sound an alarm” to attract other soldiers to a point of attack or damage in the nest structure.   Unlike most other communication that occurs in the colony that occurs through chemicals called pheromones, the soldier termites attract other soldiers by banging their heads on the ground, using vibrations to carry the alarm message. 

Secondary Reproductives, note the longer abdomen and slightly darker head

As colony size increases into the thousands and beyond, supplementary reproductives will eventually develop.  These supplementary reproductives assist in reproduction within the colony as well as attempt to start a new colony.  Female supplementary reproductives have been known to assist the Queen in egg laying and quite often will lay more eggs than the queen.  If the queen were ever to die from illness or old age, a female supplementary reproductive would become the new Queen and will begin sending out control chemicals to the colony.   

When reproductive are generated by the colony en masse, they will develop wings and are known as “alates” or “swarmers”.  These winged termites will have an annual reproductive flight in the early spring, releasing hundreds of swarmers at a time.   Since termite colonies base their swarm on environmental factors, all the colonies within a geographical region will swarm around the same time, if not the same day.  Once a male and female swarmer meet during this flight, they will mate and begin the whole cycle anew. 

For more information on termites found in our area of New Jersey, click here.

For a more in depth look about termite colonies, click here for some good science.

If you think you may have termites and would like a free estimate and consultation, please click here.