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Dangerous Ants in New Jersey?

Everyone knows how unsightly an insect problem can be, even something as innocuous as ants.  In a world filled with insidious biting insects like Bed Bugs or Mosquitoes and the filthy German Cockroach, it’s important to demystify pest ants and put them in their proper place as a pest.  Unlike many pests of public health importance, the ant’s direct impact on humans is minimal when compared to other commensal or parasitic pests. 

 A fire ant stinging           First things first, let’s talk about direct harm: bites and stings.    An estimated two million Americans are allergic to bee and wasp stings, with approximately 500,000 hospital visits and about 50 deaths a year attributed.  Although ants are closely related to bees and wasps, ants have different nest defense techniques and types of venom in their stingers, if the ants even sting (not all species can).  The aggressive nature of wasps, especially in defense of their nest, can cause hundreds of stings to an unwilling victim in moments.  Even worse, wasps will continue to attack and invader once they have been “marked” by the first few stings.  Swarms of wasps or bees will follow a person for great distances before abandoning the pursuit.

            As you can see, the unique biological and behavioral nature of wasps and bees allow them to deliver a massive and immediate armed response to anyone attacking their nest and will continue pursuit until the attacker is driven well off.  All of our native Ant species have none of these attributes.  Our local stinging ants

have small stingers with moderate venom loads markedly different from the highly specialized hunting apparatus wasps and hornets have.  Without the ability to fly, ants cannot really overwhelm a healthy human even if they are attacking the colony itself, at normal walking speeds the average human will easily outdistance any ant pursuers.  Ant bites are even less dangerous then stings and often don’t break the skin.  Although there are dangerous ant species they are confined to different continents for the most part.  The meanest ant we have in the US would be the Red Imported Fire Ant, whose closest colonies are some 1000 miles distant from the state of New Jersey. 

 

Liver Fluke life cycle

         Another important impact insects can have on humans is though the spread of disease, either directly or indirectly.  Mosquitoes and Fleas, through the spread of disease, have easily killed more humans than all the wars ever fought combined.  Just think of Malaria and the Black Plague as a few representatives of the many diseases carried by these pests and their impacts on world history.  Most of these insect-borne diseases are highly evolved life forms in their own right. They require elements of the insect metabolism for full development and tend to be unique to a certain species of insect and its close relatives.  The biology is very simple on this matter, there are no human diseases that utilize ants in their reproduction and dissemination.  It is interesting to note, however, that ants are utilized by parasites to affect cattle.  A parasite known as a Liver Fluke has a very complex life cycle to find its way into a cow’s digestive system utilizing both ants and snails.   Humans can be affected by Liver Flukes, but the transmission is through consuming unwashed vegetation, not by utilizing the ant-snail-cow transmission process.

            A more common way for insects of all kinds to spread disease is through the process of “Mechanical Vectoring”.   This means that insects may acquire pathogens, germs or foreign bodies on their exoskeletons and then unwittingly deposit them on human foodstuffs or other items.  This transmission is purely accidental and relies heavily on chance and previous exposure to pathogens.  Species of roaches and flies are notorious for this mechanical vectoring considering their environments, food sources and behavior.  Considering the places a roach or fly might walk moments before they walk across your potato salad, its completely understandable.  Although ants are possible mechanical vectors in their own right, their behavior doesn’t always put them in the same situations as other insects.  Ants food selection tend to limit the amount of pathogens acquired initially and communal grooming behaviors tend to remove any pathogens from the insect’s exoskeleton.  This does not mean that we are entirely safe from harm.  Pest ants like Pharaoh Ants have attained major pest status in hospitals as they have been found in wound dressings, (gross, I know, sorry).  

Pharaoh Ants feeding

            All in all, most ants we interact with have very little ability to impact humans except in their ability to spoil food and ruin picnics.  They cannot bite or sting with enough ferocity or venom to be a real danger.  Ants do not have the ability to pass diseases on to humans from other sources and have almost no ability to pass disease from human to human.  Any medical impact these tiny insects might have for us would be almost accidental, except in a few specific circumstances. 

For the most part, ants are a purely aesthetic pest, invading our kitchens and picnics for a few short months a year.  Of course there are Carpenter Ants that damage homes and everyone understands the feeling of finding ants in the sugar bowl, but by and large that is as bad as it gets.  Don’t let a fear or mistrust of insects convince you that ants are dangerous or scary.  As a matter of fact, I think they’re kind of cute….

If you’d like some more information about ants, click here to download our free eBook.

If you think you might have an any problem in your home, click here for a free estimate…

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. 

If you need help with an ant problem, click here for a free estimate

If you’d like to read a bit more about ants, click here for our free eBook “Winning the Battle Against Ants:7 Things Every New Jersey Homeowner Should Know” 

Different Types of Ants in New Jersey

 Ants are one of the most highly evolved insects on the planet today and occupy all of the non-arctic land areas to hold a truly global distribution.  Native Ants can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Over 12, salve 000 species of ants have been named and described although entomologists believe there are an additional 10,000 species still waiting to be discovered.   If you think that ants bear a more than passing resemblance to wasps then you’re correct.  Both ants and wasps (along with bees and hornets) belong to the insect order Hymenoptera.  Ants display one of the most unique adaptations in the insect world along with other hymenoptera, truly social behavior.

            Ant colonies can range in number from several dozen to several million depending on species and have a complex social interaction.  At the heart of every ant colony is the Queen.  Ant queen’s primary responsibility is in the reproduction and guidance of the colony.  Although some species will have multiple queens or supplemental reproductive to assist with egg laying, the primary direction and control of the colony is left up to a single primary queen.  This queen establishes the hierarchy in the colony and the distribution of work.  The majority of eggs she will lay will ultimately mature into workers, some species of ants have a strongly differentiated “Soldier” class with unique morphological characteristics. 

            Of the tens of thousands of ant species in the world, there are only a few species in the Northeast region of the US, specifically New Jersey, that have achieved notoriety as a pest.  The thing that truly differentiates pest ants from non-pest ants is their entrance into human environments in search of food.  Most species of ant have diverse and shifting feeding patterns, allowing them to utilize several different food resources in a single environment.  By utilizing multiple food sources ants can exist in an ecosystem without over-taxing its resources.  This complex interrelationship with the ecosystem has lead ants to be some of the most successful organisms on the earth since they evolved approximately 120 Million years ago. 

Pavement Ant worker

            There are several ant species that are native to New Jersey that have achieved significant pest status for several different reasons.  The most common pest ant would also be the most widely distributed, the Pavement Ant (Tetramorium caespitum).  Pavement Ants are small black ants with a two node petiole, a pair of spines on the lower thorax and raised grooves on their exoskeleton, most notably on their heads. Pavement Ant colonies tend to be very large and nest under pavement or cement slabs as their name would imply.  These large colonies can easily number over a million and have the traditional colony structure with a large central location occupied by a single queen.  Pavement Ants are diverse feeders and this omnivorous nature is the very thing that will bring them into contact with humans.  Pavement Ants will be the first pest ant you see in the spring, trying to raid the sugar bowl or invade the picnic basket on the first warm weekend.

Carpenter Ant worker

            The next most common type of Ant encountered by New Jersey homeowners is the dreaded Carpenter Ant (Camponotus pensylvanicus). Carpenter Ants are large (an inch long or more) black ants that nest in wood and forage mostly at night.  Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood, although they will nest in wood.  The name “Carpenter Ant” comes from the smooth, almost sanded, look of the gallery walls within their nest.  When constructing a nest, Carpenter Ants will seek out a piece of wood, whether it be a tree limb or piece of structural timber in a home that has already been damaged by water in some way. Sometimes the presence of carpenter ants  can be indicative of a leak somewhere in the structure that may not have been discovered. 

 

pavement ant workers emerging from patio blocks

           Unlike pavement Ants who maintain a large central colony, Carpenter Ants will utilize a main and satellite colony system to house the tens of thousands of workers ants that will exist in the colony.  Apart from the main colony, carpenter ants will establish smaller colonies that still maintain contact with, and derive direction from, the main colony, up to a few hundred feet away. It is interesting to note that occasionally when a satellite colony is separated from its main colony, it can sometime turn into a fully self-sufficient colony on its own.  Carpenter Ants are voracious predators and scavengers of the insect world.  Carpenter Ants have also been known to tend honeydew producing insects called Aphids in much the same way humans raise cattle. 

Carpenter ant satellite colony

            Although Pavement and Carpenter Ants are the two ant species most likely to be encountered in New Jersey by homeowners as pests, they are only two of a dozen or so species that residents can expect to come in contact with.  Different species of ants like Argentine Ants, Odorous House Ants, and Pharaoh Ants can be found in New Jersey. Some of these ants are native to North America and some are even imported from different continents!   Keep an eye on future blogs in which we’ll discuss some of the lesser known ants in our area.

If you’d like a FREE eBook about ants with some great prevention tips for homeowners, click here

if you think you need preofessional help with ants around your home, click here for a free estimate.            

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. 

If you think you might have problems with termites and would like a free estimate, click here.

If you’d like to learn more about termites, download our FREE eBook here.

 

Ant Control in New Jersey- Do it like a Pro!!!

             Ants are a pervasive and ever present insect in temperate climates throughout the world and New Jersey is no exception.  Entomologists estimate there are approximately 20, viagra 000 ant species in the world   with over a third of that number still waiting to be identified and described. 

            As an outdoor, shop and usually beneficial insect, ants rarely achieve the kind of pest status that other insects might.  There are no ants native to New Jersey that are known for their bites or stings and are very rarely a cause for public health concern.  It is also very difficult for ants to spread disease due to their behavior and biology.  All in all, when compared to more “pestiferous” insects like mosquitoes, roaches and bedbugs, ants are small potatoes.  The largest transgression our native ant species might incur would be ruining a picnic or invading our kitchens with very few exceptions.  

            Since a small incursion of ants can be a small annual occurrence not requiring professional help for most homeowners, here are a few tips for someone trying to handle the problem on their own:   

 

a typical ant mound

           Ants come from outside, so start looking outside.  When you find ants in the home, see if you can get an idea of where they’re getting in from.  Oftentimes, if you follow an ant trail back from a food source, it’ll take you right to a foundation wall or window where the ants are making their way indoors.  Now continue your inspection on the outside, try and locate the colony itself, or at least a greater hub of activity.   Once you’ve located the colony’s nest you should be able to apply any pesticide you might be using directly to the ant nest outside the home, reducing pesticide used and exposure for anyone in the house.

            A good cleaning never hurts!  Some people will tout the repellent properties of bleach and other cleaning agents against ants and that’s just not the case.  The real reason is that ants are scavenging for food debris or residues and are highly attracted to those scents.  A good cleaning will remove those attractive odors.  It may sound like a silly or semantic distinction but it’s the truth; removing an attraction is better than adding a repellent!  Besides, they don’t call it Spring Cleaning for nothing, better you do the clean-up before the ants beat you to it!

           If you’re going to use pesticides, use real products, properly and according to directions.  People love to try out a new home-remedy they just found on the internet without any further research.  The real story is simple, the overwhelming majority of these home remedies don’t work, and some might even be more hazardous than store bought chemicals.  I remember seeing instructions on how to make a nicotine “tea” out of pipe tobacco and water to be sprayed for insect activity.  Nicotine is very toxic to pets and humans, having a quart sitting around the house in an old water bottle could lead to disastrous results.  Products purchased from a local hardware store or pest control supplier will be tested and approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and come in labeled packaging.  The labeling will come with instructions for use and safety precautions.  Also, don’t be afraid to try using a few different types of products, maybe use a bait and a spray instead of just one or the other.  Integrating product usage results in faster effects and less product usage in the long term. 

look out for carpenter ants around the house!

            There are a few circumstances when an ant problem would require professional control, however.   A Carpenter Ant infestation in the home would be indicative of a nest within the structure, damaging the wood in the home.  If you start finding large black ants in and around the house, it would be best to contact a professional immediately.

            If you find that after a few attempts at do-it-yourself pest control things aren’t getting better, it might be time to get professional help.  Some species of ant, like Pharaoh or Odorous House Ants have very adaptable behavior and will react to the presence of pesticides by moving to a different part of the home or even splitting up their colony to form several smaller ones.   When you spray the ants in the kitchen and the next day find ants in a few other rooms in the house, this may be the exact situation. 

            Some ant colonies are big, I mean really big.  Our native Pavement Ants easily number well over a million insects in a large colony, a number that might be difficult to control with over the counter products or without special training.  Pest professionals have access to restricted use products that are not available to homeowners or the general public and the equipment to properly apply it.  Add that to a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field and you have a pest professional.  Sometimes you need to break out the big guns to handle a problem, and the biggest “gun” is usually knowledge.

Feel free to download our FREE eBook “Winning the Battle Against Ants: 7 Things You Need to Know” here.  Its loaded with great information for anyone dealing with ants or just curious.  Share it with your friends!

If you feel you might need help with your ant problem, request a free estimate for ant control here. 

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…

Termites in your New Jersey Home… How’d they get in???

In a previous blog, we discussed a bit of basic termite biology, namely what the colony is composed of and the particular species of termite that is found in New Jersey.  Since we’ve addressed the question of “Why New Jersey”, let me answer the next question: Why your home?

            Termites have evolved over millions of years into their present ecological niche and fill it very effectively.  In nature, termites consume and digest wood for nutrition and have adapted to our environment by attacking and breaking down dead trees and plants, allowing their component nutrients to be returned to the environment.   All well and good when it’s a log in the woods, or root structures from a dead plant, it’s a completely different story when the wood the termites are attacking is your house!!  Unfortunately our modern building practices, specifically using wood framing over a concrete or stone foundation, mimics a termite’s natural environment very effectively.  Think of how a tree root will grow over and around a rock, now compare that with structural lumber sitting on a foundation, very similar.

            Termites tend to attack our homes through areas that mimic their ideal feeding conditions in nature. We humans tend to unknowingly set the table for termites and are surprised when they come to dinner. 

wood to soil contact invites termite activity, especially when the area is moist

Simply put: a termite’s 3 favorite things are soil, wood and moisture.  When these three things are in the same place, termites are sure to appear.  As a matter of fact, these conducive conditions can be so inciting to termites that only 2 of the 3 elements might be necessary.  High moisture levels due to a leaky downspout can saturate the ground immediately next to the foundation of your home.  This high moisture environment is an ideal foraging and harborage are for termites.  Even if the wood is not immediately present, over time foraging termites will encounter a viable source of food.  

Wood to soil contact is another huge issue that we as homeowners need to contend with.  It could be something as simple as tomato stakes in a garden or stored lumber in a crawlspace.  Many times, homeowners may not be aware about stored lumber or leftovers from an old project.  When wood begins to decompose it emits vapors that are detected by a termite forager from almost a foot away through the soil.  So make sure your crawlspace is empty of scrap lumber and ventilated.  Any gardening you may be doing should be in a garden plot not immediately adjacent to your home, a minimum distance of 10 feet would be ideal.  Not only do termites eat wood in structures, but they will attack root systems from dead plants and bushes, always good to keep in mind when picking out your gardening site. 

some good mulching guidelines from Purdue University

One of the biggest problems we see with modern landscaping practices is over-mulching of yards and plants.  Mulch should be removed annually and mulch beds should be maintained with no more than 6 inches of depth, most experts recommend 3-4 inches.  Higher, deeper layers of mulch create a build-up of wood decay byproducts as well as heat and moisture.  Taken in combination, termites would be more than happy to infest mulch beds, especially when they are adjacent to our homes.  

If you have any concerns, take a good look around the house when you have an opportunity.  Use a flashlight so you can focus and have good visibility.  Look for any sources of moisture, like leaks or damaged pipes.  Also, investigate any staining or color changes you might see on wood that might be the first sign of a leak.  Make sure scrap lumber is stored properly and any outside building projects that require wood to soil contact utilize pressure treated lumber. 

Don’t be shy to get professional help.  Considering the amount of damage termites can do, you’re right to seek help.  A qualified professional will be able to locate any termite activity as well as any conducive conditions that might attract termites in the future.  An inspector will also be able to deduce if there has ever been a termite treatment done in the past.  There’s a good chance that if there was a treatment done in the past, you may expect to have termite activity in the future. 

Click here to download a copy of our free eBook, “The North Jersey Resident’s Guide to Termite Extermination”

Would you like to schedule a free estimate and have a Certified Wood Destroying Insect Inspector assess your home? click here!

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.