Monday, March 19, 2012

Ah, Spring! Oh-Oh, Pests!

Yikes! Termites!
By Alan Caruba

Poets never seem to run out of words to describe spring. Alfred Lord Tennyson said a young man’s thoughts turn to love when spring arrives. Gardeners especially welcome it to put their little part of the world in perfect order, and many thrill to the sound of “Play ball!”

Spring, for me, is an annual reminder of the sheer power of nature to regenerate itself. Wherever you live, the trees burst into bloom along with the fecund life cycles of every species. In a world shaking loose the icy grip of winter, spring is full of the promise of warmer days, blue skies, and the real greening that nature provides.

Along with other species, spring signals the emergence of insect and rodent pests. America has been suffering a plague of bed bugs these days because there is only one pesticide registered to kill them and the Environmental Protection Agency has been notoriously slow to permit its use. All manner of other non-chemical techniques are used, but the bed bugs survive and thrive.

I know a lot about pests because in the 1980s I began to provide public relations services for my home state’s pest control association. These days both the national and state associations have renamed themselves “pest management” groups, but the only thing you want to “manage” with insect and rodent pests is to kill them as fast as possible.

So, yes, when spring arrives, I know that a lot of pest control professionals are gearing up to do battle with cockroaches, termites, ants, spiders, ticks, bed bugs, wasps, and the many permutations of their various species. The profession had its beginnings in the Middle Ages when men called “ratcatchers” plied their trade. Even English royalty employed them to keep their castles rat-free.

At the time, few made any connection between rats, fleas, and the Bubonic plague that raged through Europe from 1347 for the next five years, but that didn’t stop the plague from killing off a quarter of the population of Europe, some 25 million! Try to imagine what life would be like without pest control professionals today?

Spring, for example, marks the arrival of Lyme disease in many parts of the nation where there are large deer populations. The northeast is particularly vulnerable to this disease that is spread by the black-legged deer tick.

For homeowners and others with property, spring signals the presence of termites when their winged alates show up on window panes, attracted by the sunlight. What most do not know is that their home has likely been infested for several years until the colony reaches a point of sending the alates out to establish new colonies. Annually termites do more damage to homes throughout the United States than the combined effects of storms, fires, and earthquakes. Termite damage is frequently not covered by homeowner’s insurance. It is estimated they cause $5 billion in damage every year.

Termites aren’t the only insect that can inflict property damage, a colony of Carpenter ants, often several thousands in numbers, can enter a home overnight and begin to dine on its wooden elements.

Pest management professionals always urge consumers to have their homes and workplaces regularly inspected for signs of insect or rodent pests. The tendency, however, is to wait until there are signs of an infestation before people call for help. I’d rather know my home or business was pest-free.

For example, there are a variety of cockroach species indigenous to the United States. They include the American, German, and Oriental cockroach. A cockroach infestation can number in the hundreds of thousands. A single, female German cockroach can, statistically, produce more than 400,000 descendents in a single year. The young of German cockroaches mature in 36 days, while American cockroaches take up to 160 days. If you see one, particularly in a restaurant, it means there are thousands you can’t see.

Rodents, mice and rats, breed prodigiously as well. Rats have a life span of approximately nine months and are ready to breed within three months. Their gestation period is 22 days and they have an average litter of eight. A female rat can produce 20 offspring. Statistically, a single pair of rats has the potential, mathematically, of producing 359 million descendents in three year’s time.

I hope this hasn’t reduced all those warm, fuzzy feelings you have about the return of spring to those of dread, but in truth Mother Nature doesn’t care how you feel about spring or bed bugs or any of the many other creatures who are too busy reproducing to be concerned about your welfare and health.

Remember that the next time the EPA bans another pesticide or some environmentalist tells you that the biggest threat to your life is carbon dioxide, a gas you exhale all the time.

Mark Twain put these words in Tom Sawyer’s mouth: “It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want -- oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

© Alan Caruba, 2012


LarryOldtimer said...

The EPA has done all it could to to do away with everything usefull in the United States.

I was a lad on a farm in IA from 1938 to 1949, so I have had lots of experience getting rid of (killing) pests and pulling weeds by hand. No fun at all. Bannng the use of DDT was the worst mistake EPA ever made.

I do my own "pest control", and it takes vigilance and lots of it to prevent infestations of the "bugs", and know a good many "farmers ways".

TJP said...

Fine, Alan. You may have a remedy to save us from Ixodes scapularis (blacklegged deer tick) or Periplaneta americana (American cockroach). But we need a remedy–and fast!–to combat the following deadly species now running rampant throughout the United States, namely, Pelosidus cluelessicus, Reidiculus corruptis, Holderia gunrunium, and most especially Obamaphala bankruptus. Hurry, please.

Alan Caruba said...

@JDP: You got that right!