Friday, August 29, 2008

House Mouse

Disney and others have given the common house mouse an image as the fast and clever neighbor who is harmless and only wants to share a bit of cheese before running back into his hole to feed his little family. Would that the real mice who harbor in San Diego homes and fields were so innocuous. Happily, they are also not that clever. Rats are much more intelligent than their smaller cousins, and although they do share many traits, managing mice is a bit different.
The house mouse is gray, and weighs one half to one ounce - tiny! Their bodies are usually 3-4 inches long, with a tail the same length. Large ears, small eyes, and a pointed muzzle typify the  mouse. A female house mouse can have around eight litters of six or more young. It takes only 35 days for the young females to reach sexual maturity. So populations can grow rapidly!
Signs of mouse infestation are less noticeable than rat infestations. Mouse droppings are smaller, rub marks less visible, and they holes they fit through much smaller. As noted in yesterday's blog, they can squeeze through openings around 1/4 of an inch in diameter. Like rats, mice are more likely to invade as the nights get colder, but unlike rats they are more comfortable living in close association with humans. Unlike another, closer relative, the deer mouse, house mice have not been found to carry  Hantavirus. However, they do contaminate our food and can cause damage to home wiring and other parts of the structure. So Mickey has to go.
Control can be difficult, both because of the size of the breeches mice can enter through and because of their rapid reproduction. Still, sanitation, exclusion and trapping can be effective in ridding houses of house mice. While sanitation alone will not solve an existing mouse problem, the lack of proper cleaning is sure to attract them. Keep garbage in tight fitting containers, try not to leave out pet food, and store dry goods in sealed containers. In exclusion, fill any hole where mice might enter. Steel wool is a good temporary barrier, but construction foam is also useful. Check places where pipes and wires enter the house, along the foundation of the house, and check weather stripping at the bottom of all doors. When using traps, if you are dealing with mice rather than rats, glue boards have been found to be most successful. A very tiny bit of peanut butter in the center of the board will help make the trap attractive. For a discussion of other baits, see Monday's blog. When placing traps, put them behind objects, close to the wall, and in a dark corner if possible. By way of note, there are several electronic devices advertised in magazines, which claim to keep mice at bay through Ultrasonic sounds or other means. Be aware that although mice may be initially frightened by these devices, they soon become familiar and will not be a permanent method of exclusion. Obtaining a cat with mouse hunting experience would serve you better.
One last word on rodents and compassion. Although cartoon rats and mice are adorable, and these rodents can make good pets if properly bred and contained, the mice and rats that invade homes in the autumn can bring diseases and should be excluded for safety reasons. If you find your home is infested with these vermin, contact Vector Control and/or a pest professional for help.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rat Proofing 101

It is not uncommon in San Diego for homeowners, as they are enjoying a balmy twilight on their patio, to see the shadows of furry creatures skittering along fence lines. Trouble in paradise! Rodents are out there, living perhaps in your neighbor's bougainvillea or in the canyon behind your house. With colder nights coming soon, now is the time to secure your house against these critters. 
Roof Rats are the most common home invader in San Diego. They are excellent climbers, often living above ground in trees or in dense ground cover, like ivy. If you see rat droppings around pet dishes or hear noises in the attic at night, chances are good these are evidence of roof rats. The first element of successful rat management is sanitation. Check to be sure lids fit tightly on garbage cans, and if you feed your pet outdoors leave only as much food as the pet will eat at a feeding. Better yet, feed them indoors. To rodent proof your home, check all vents - attic, sub floor, clothes dryer, and rooftop plumbing vents, to be sure they are properly and securely screened. Seal any openings around pipes or cables that go into the house. Cover the chimney with a spark arrester. Repair or replace weather stripping on exterior doors, including garage doors. Check window screens to assure they are in good condition. Trim tree branches and vines away from the house. Since rats are such agile climbers, they often enter attics by climbing trees next to the house. If you have fruit trees, pick the fruit as it ripens - do not let it fall to the ground, where it becomes an attractive nuisance. 
The Vector Control Program here in San Diego County will do a free inspection of the outside of your home upon request. If you have seen evidence of rats on the property, call them at 858-694-2888 or send an email request to They also offer a "Rat Control Starter Kit," which contains a bait station, some rat traps, sample hardware cloth, a DVD and a brochure. Visit their site here  to find out more. Vector Control is quick to point out they are not a pest control service - so if you need professional help beyond what they can give you, call us here at Centurion.
Although many of the exclusion methods outlined here apply equally to mice, these smaller rodents can squeeze through even tinier openings, often fitting through a hole the size of the diameter of a pencil! So even more care is required in mouse proofing your environment. We'll discuss control of the very common house mouse in tomorrow's blog. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rodent Quiz Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's Rodent Quiz. How did you do? Hopefully the answers will help you protect your home against these unwelcome visitors.
1. Rats have poor eyesight, but they make up for this with keen senses of smell, touch, hearing, and even taste. For this reason, when we set traps they are best placed next to a wall - preferably a wall the target rodent is familiar with. Sometimes the traps are not sprung for a few days, as rats are naturally cautious of any new and unfamiliar object or odor. So the answer is (d) - all of the above.
2. Rats can squeeze through an opening as small as (b) 1/2 inch. Keep this in mind as you look for ways to rat-proof your home. An opening the size of a half dollar can be a thoroughfare for rats. And if rats can fit through a 1/2-inch opening, mice can access a much smaller breech. Check the weather stripping on all your doors!
3. According the the San Diego County web page on rat control, a typical rat will travel up to(c) 300 feet to find food. Think football field. They may live in your neighbor's shrubs and eat at your house. For this reason alone it is a good idea to keep pet food indoors.
4. The best protection against rodent infestation is (c) exclusion. The more proactive homeowners are in sealing and screening vents, doors, and other openings that may invite rodents, the less likely they are to have to do any trapping or baiting.
5. Plague is not a historical disease. And it is not the only disease rats may carry into your home. Among other diseases rats may transmit to humans or pets are, leptospirosis, trichinosis, salmonellosis and ratbite fever. According to PCT online magazine, there are (b) 10-15 cases of plague per year in the United State directly related to rodent exposure.
6. The tendency of rats to avoid anything new in their environment is called (a) neophobia. Answer (d), "zenophobia" is a misspelling of "xenophobia," a related human fear of strangers. The other answers are ringers. Neophobia is peculiar to rats. Mice are much more inquisitive.
7. (D) Rodents are always seeking nesting material. Placing a piece of dental floss or string on the treadle of a snap trap has been found to enhance the likelihood of successful trapping.
8. As noted in the answer to #6 above, mice are naturally  more inquisitive than rats (d). Although both are rodents, it is helpful to know some of the basic differences as we try to protect our homes against rodent invaders. As is so often true in pest management, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Tomorrow's blog will give more suggestions for rodent-proofing  your house, along with information on free county services.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rodent Quiz

Here is a timely quiz, not just because it is the Year of the Rat, according the the Chinese calendar, but because we are at the end of summer here in San Diego. As the nights get colder, rodents look for harborage indoors. The more you know about rodent habits, the less likely you are to find them harboring with you. The answers to today's quiz will appear in tomorrow's blog.

1. Rats make up for their poor eyesight with a keen sense of
a. smell
b. touch
c. hearing
d. all of the above

2. Rodents can squeeze through small openings. How small an opening can a rat fit through?
a. 1/4 inch
b. 1/2 inch
c. 1 inch
d. 2 inches

3. About how far does the average rat travel to find food?
a. 50 feet
b. 50 yards
c. 300 feet
d. 300 yards

4. The best protection against rodent infestation is
a. baiting
b. trapping
c. exclusion
d. electric fences

5. Plague is a rodent-borne disease. How many cases of plague are reported each year in the United States?
a. 1-2
b. 10-15
c. 20-30
d. 50-100

6. Rats are naturally wary of new objects or odors. This behavior is called
a. neophobia
b. odophobia
c. zenophobia
d. exophobia

7. Placing a piece of dental floss on the treadle of a snap trap may be effective because:
a. mice practice impeccable dental hygiene.
b. mice are compulsive collectors of odd items
c. the dental floss gives off a scent which is pleasing to rodents
d. rodents are always seeking nesting materials

8. One difference in the habits of rats and mice is that
a. rats carry fleas, but mice don't
b. mice will not infest a home
c. rats love peanut butter
d. mice are more inquisitive than rats

Again, most of the answers are easily Googled. Try to answer without help. Answers appear tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rat Bait Debate

Although there is some consensus among pest control technicians about the effectiveness of various baits in attracting rodents to traps, the issue is still up for some discussion. Homeowners may be interested in knowing, if they don't already, that the stereotypical chunk of cheese is not necessarily the best bait to use. 
First, a discussion of the traps themselves. At Centurion, we have found sticky traps to be most effective when targeting mice, and snap traps most effective against rats. Mice are often so light in weight that they can take bait from a snap trap without triggering the mechanism. Rats are just big enough that they may be able to escape from a sticky trap. So it is important to determine which size rodent you want to target. The best way to make that determination is of course by visual observation. But if you are hearing noise in the attic, chances are good your intruders are bigger than mice. Rodent control may include using poisonous baits, traps, and exclusion. Since poisonous baits are not only dangerous to use but also may result in rodents dying in wall voids, we believe the most successful approach is with traps and exclusion, or sealing out the unwanted guests. We look for points of entry, then seal or screen those points as a critical step in limiting the number of rodents. Next, the traps are set.
In a recent poll of pest professionals nationwide, a majority of the respondents indicated peanut butter as a bait of choice in setting traps. Whether used in a small amount in the center of a glueboard, or applied to the trigger mechanism of a snap trap, peanut butter is a good choice. Other pest control professionals polled utilized a huge variety of baits, including marshmallows, dried fruit, corn chips, walnuts, chocolate, even dried shrimp or strawberry jam. One professional even mixed up his own bait using molasses and bird seed. The idea is that rodents are always foraging for food. Bait is designed to attract the rodent to the trap - and thus exclude it from the house. Rats and mice eat just about anything. But the debate continues, as some professionals feel bait is unnecessary. It is true that placement of the trap - directly in the area where rodents are most likely to run - is critical. Baits don't always attract rodents, but they are useful in catching them once vermin encounter the trap. So the great bait debate goes on. For more information on rat and mouse control, try taking tomorrow's Rodent Quiz. See how you do, and check your answers on Wednesday. The more we know about what's bugging us, the more effective we will be.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Great Race

Cockroaches were in the news again today, as a race between two giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches took place in New Brunswick, New Jersey yesterday. What made it newsworthy was how the roaches were named and how they finished. The New Jersey Pet Management Association included the race as part of their annual clinic and trade show. And the roaches were names John McCain and Barack Obama. According to one news release, McCain "sped to the finish while Barack Obama was reluctant to leave the starting point." There's no guarantee the race is a prediction of things to come in November, but you have to like their style. Madagascar hissing cockroaches get their name their place of origin, the island of Madagascar off the eastern coast of Africa, and from the loud hissing sound they make to scare away predators. They are large in the roach world, up to three inches long, and are sometimes kept as pets. Although they are not a pest control problem here in San Diego, we knew you'd want to know they are doing their part for national politics.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Doing the Math on German Cockroaches

As mentioned in a previous post, German cockroaches are not actually from Germany, but Asia. In fact, they are closely related to Oriental cockroaches. They are smaller (1/2-5/8 inch long) than some other species of cockroaches, and they live and hide easily indoors. But German roaches have an advantage over other varieties in their ability to reproduce in large numbers. Perhaps this is why they present such a challenge to homeowners and pest control management. In an effort to quantify the biological potential, lets do the math.
A basic formula for estimating how many roaches are produced per year from a pregnant female is to multiply the number of embryos per egg case by the number of egg cases produced per year. For instance, one pregnant American cockroach may have an average of 16 embryos in her egg capsule. If she lays 30 egg capsules, 16X30=480  mature adults in about a year. By contrast, if we start with one pregnant German cockroach that has an average of 30 embryos in her egg sack, and she lays 5 egg case, we would have 30X5=150 mature adults - in three months! If half the adults are female and they all mate, in 6 months we would have 75X30X5  mature adults. The number is now up to 11, 250, in half a year. If half those adults are female... you get the idea.  Saving you the math, one pregnant adult German cockroach could multiply into more than 63 million cockroaches in  a year, if left unchecked. Potentially, a German cockroach can out-produce an American cockroach by 131,000 times. 
Fortunately, we have management techniques to keep up with these common invaders. Insecticides that contain Insect Growth Regulators interrupt or inhibit the life cycle of the insect targeted. Sometimes called "birth control for roaches," these chemicals can be a valuable tool in limiting the biological potential of a cockroach population. If the bug can't reach adulthood, it can't reproduce. When combined with an adult cockroach killer, the results are significant. However, insecticides are most effective in controlling cockroaches when combined with sanitation and exclusion. Baits can also be useful, but are slow-acting and also require thorough cleaning to remove any other attractive food sources which may draw the bugs away from the bait. There is no easy or quick solution to a cockroach problem, but as the numbers indicate the best plan is to attack the problem before it becomes a nightmare - which in the case of German cockroaches, will happen quickly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Quiz Answers

Yesterday's quiz generated some good discussion about ants. Here are the answers to the quiz, with a few explanations.
1. Ants are close relatives of (c) bees and wasps. If  you said (d) aphids, you probably remember that there is a connection between ants and aphids, and there is. Ants are attracted by the "honeydew" aphids leave on plants - so they actually protect and care for aphids outdoors. But bees and wasps are the ants' close relatives, belonging to the insect order Hymenoptera.
2. According to San Diego County's website on ants, there are about (b) 200 species of ants in California. The website also states there are fewer than a dozen that are important. We are not sure how that makes the others feel. Among the most common are the Argentine ant, pharaoh ant, odorous house ant, thief ant, and the southern fire ant. To see pictures of each of these for purposes of identification, click here and scroll down.
3. Ant baits attract ants, inviting them to feed on poisonous bait and take it back to their nest. From a recent article on ant baits in PCT Magazine, we learn that the process whereby foraging ants bring food to those back in the colony is called trophallaxis. Workers collect fluids that are stored in the upper part of their digestive system, then regurgitate a portion of the stored food and pass it on to other workers, larvae, and queens. In fact, in some species, there are workers who remain in the nest, with the specific job of storing the fluid so it will be available in times of food shortage. This is the long way of saying the correct answer is (d) - ants eat the bait, then regurgitate it to feed ants back at the nest.
4. The chemical substance ants leave behind in a trail for others in the colony to follow is (a) a pheromone trail. The pheromones ants excrete are hydrocarbons that trigger a response to follow the path to food. Most ants renew the pheromones as long as the food is available. In some species, the ants actually mark trails that no longer lead to food with a repellent pheromone. Cleaning up an ant trail with a household cleaner can actually erase the pheromones and confuse the ants. But if the food remains, they'll be back!
5. Most ants we see walking around are (a) searching for a food source. Ants are always on a mission. The ones we see in our yards and homes are focused on foraging for food and getting it back to the colony. They do not need wi-fi, and have their own GPS.
6. This is a trick question. Give yourself credit for (a), since the ant queen is fed by the other ants. But the best answer is (c) - the queen is more like a slave or a prisoner. She doesn't order the other ants around, and is limited to her egg-laying role in the colony. Not a very glamorous life.
7. The best way to tell if you have Odorous house ants is to (d) squish one and take a whiff.  The identifying smell has been described as "rotten coconut." They are tiny, around 3mm in length, dark brown to black in color. Odorous house ants prefer sugary foods and fruits and usually forage in large numbers. These ants are less common than Argentine ants in San Diego, but now you know how to recognize one if you see one.
How did you do? Look for another bug quiz in next Tuesday's blog.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Test Your Ant IQ

We here at Centurion Pest Control think the more people know about bugs, the fewer they'll have to deal with. Hence, a new weekly feature on the blog: Tuesday's Quiz. Each Tuesday we'll test your Ento-IQ, with the answers to the quiz available in Wednesday's blog. You could probably Google the answers in about 5 minutes, but where's the fun in that? Instead, use the 24 hours between questions and answers to think through the questions logically and see how you do the next day. Or maybe use the quiz as a family activity, so everyone in the household gains a little more information about the bugs that bug us. Hopefully, as you learn more about the habits of these pesky invaders, it will help keep them out of your home and back in the wild where they belong.
Since yesterday's blog was on ants, the quiz today will stretch your knowledge of the characteristics of ants. Have fun!

1. Ants are close relatives of which of these bugs:
a. fleas and ticks?
c. bees and wasps?
d. aphids?

2. About how many species of ants are there in California?
a. 20
b. 200
c. 50
d. 500

3. Ant baits attract ants, inviting them to feed on poisonous bait and take it back to their nest. How do the ants take the bait to their colony?
a. Small particles of bait adhere to their legs and antennae, then transfer to other ants.
b. Foraging ants carry pieces of bait, often bigger than the ants themselves, back to the nest.
c. Like an ant STD, poisonous bait is transfered during mating.
d. Ants eat the bait, then regurgitate it to feed ants back at the nest.

4. Some ants leave a trail for others to follow. What is the name of the substance they leave behind?
a. Pheromone Trail
b. Honeydew Trail
c. Lipid Trail
d. Sweat Trail

5. What are ants most likely doing when they are walking around?
a. searching for a food source
b. searching for a mate
c. searching for their colony
d. searching for wi-fi

6. The "Queen" of the ant colony is...
a. waited on by the other ants, who bring her food.
b. distinguished by a crown-like appendage on the head.
c. more like a slave or prisoner than a queen.
d. too small to be seen by the human eye.

7. The best way to tell if you have Odorous House Ants is to...
a. smell the trail they leave.
b. put out foul-smelling bait.
c. look for an exceptionally large thorax.
d. squish one to find out if it smells bad.

Find answers to the quiz in tomorrow's blog.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ants Again

Do you have ants again? Although we've blogged about ants here before, they are such a common problem in San Diego we thought they deserved another look. Among the several varieties of ants in Southern California, Argentine ants are by far the most numerous. First, a little background.
Argentine ants were brought to the United States from Brazil in coffee shipments in the late 1890's. They are prolific breeders, so they quickly established nests across the southern states. They are also relatively aggressive among other insects, very effective in outnumbering and overtaking other varieties of ants. They are survivors! Around  your  home, you may have multiple colonies containing easily a million or more individual ants. Because all Argentine ants in this country came from the same colonies originally found in New Orleans, they can recognize each other and team up to form super-colonies, causing problems for home owners as they invade in search of food and water.
This tiny terrors can be stirred up by changes in weather. When we experience draught conditions, they may be in the house looking for water. When it rains, their nest may have been disturbed. Or perhaps you just left a crumb on the counter that was particularly attractive. Ants send "scouts" out looking for food. The scouts then make a trail from the nest to the food source - and all the ant cousins follow. Knowing this can help you break the trail and send the ants back outside. Empty trash containers in the house often, use food containers with tight lids, keep pet dishes clean, and follow any trails that may appear until you find the point of entry into the house. Some household detergents or window-cleaning sprays will help erase the scent scouts leave for others to follow. But if you use indoor bait stations, be sure  you do not spray detergents or chemicals near the bait, or ants will refuse it. Inspect caulk around sinks and windows, repairing any breaches. 
It is impractical to try to eliminate all ants outdoors, but some precautions can help keep them out of  your house. Outside, it is a good idea to check for cracks and crevices around the foundations where ants might enter. Caulk here too, as well as around places where pipes or wires enter the house. Avoid planting fruit trees too close to the house, and keep grass and mulch at least a few inches from foundations. Trim tree branches and vines away from the roof. Eliminate standing water and do not keep wood piles next to the house. Ant stakes may be useful as baits outdoors. If you have been diligent in trying to keep the ants out and feel you are losing the battle -  you are not alone! San Diego homeowners fight ants year 'round, but especially in summer months. If  you can't solve the problem yourself, call in a professional. New products help pest control companies do a better job in stemming the tide of these aggressive and populous pests. To watch a time-lapse video of ants tunneling  in an ant farm, click here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Maggots Made Cute

The new animated motion picture, "Fly Me to the Moon" is opening in local theaters today. Press releases for the film give mixed reviews, but we have to give them credit for making even the maggots in this fly-boy movie look cute. However, actual maggots are a far cry from the chubby pink images in the film. They are of course, fly larvae, most often found in garbage areas or congregated around decaying matter. If you have ever encountered these small, off-white worm-like crawlers, you  may already know that most bug sprays won't even slow them down. This is true for larvae in general. To stop them, find and remove the source. Here are some ideas for around the house and yard:
Empty and clean trash receptacles at least weekly. 
Keep doors and windows closed or properly screened.
Use garbage cans with tight-fitting lids, no holes.
Dispose of leftovers in plastic bags, securely tied.
Discard animal droppings as soon as you can, also in plastic bags.
Remove decaying fruit from under trees.
You can call the county department of vector control if  you have large numbers of flies around your property and cannot locate the source. Fly strips are a good way to eliminate adult flies indoors. Since flies can carry diseases like dysentery, cholera, pink eye, and even tuberculosis, it is important to address an infestation in a timely fashion. Unlike the cheerful cartoon creatures in the feature film, flies should not be a welcome guest in your home. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mosquitos in the News

Mosquitos are making front-page news today in San Diego. The San Diego Union-Tribune features a large article on the increase in "green pools" in the area and how they are breeding havens for mosquitos. Apparently, one side effect of the slump in the housing market and the increasing number of foreclosures is the neglect of neighborhood swimming pools. Without proper care, these pools become green breeding ponds, attracting mosquitos that lay eggs on the surface. Literally working overtime, vector control agents here are doing all they can to keep us safe. Here are some interesting facts from the article.
County environmental health officers have spotted nearly 900 "green" pools since May, using sheriff's helicopters to survey the city from the air. Mosquitos that hatch from these pools are rarely infected with the West Nile virus, but the incidence of birds that have died from the virus in the area has increased. Mosquitos that feed on infected birds and then on humans pass along the virus. What this means is that lowering the number of mosquitos in the San Diego area will lower the risk of human infection. For this reason, the county advises pool owners to maintain a proper chemical balance in their pools. Free mosquito-eating fish are available for ponds or green pools at the vector control office at 9325 Hazard Way, or by calling 858-695-2888. They advise us to use insect repellant containing the active ingredient DEET, wear protective clothing, repair window and door screens, and dump containers of stagnant water. For more information, go to or

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

American Roaches

The summer of 2008 has brought the nationalistic fervor of the Olympic Games into our homes as we watch athletes from all over the world compete. But one American team we can't bring ourselves to cheer for is the American Roach - especially if the team shows up in our own home. Common cockroaches in San Diego County include the German cockroach (most common, also known as a "house roach"), the brownbanded cockroach, the oriental cockroach, the smokybrown cockroach, the Turkestan cockroach, and the American. We are highlighting the American Roach today, not because we're hoping he wins gold, but because we have had an increase in the number of calls reporting this particular variety. Pictured above are three stages of the American cockroach, (r-l) the adult, the nymph and the egg sack, or "ootheca." American roaches are larger than the common house roach, typically 1 to two inches in length, and brown in color.
We find more American roaches in downtown San Diego than in other areas - perhaps because the buildings are older or because of the higher concentration of commercial buildings. They are often associated with plumbing problems, as they favor warm, damp locations and are known to infest sewers, storm drains, basements and trash areas. Here are a few ways to limit their access to your home:
Have a plumber check to be sure pipes are in good repair throughout the house.
Check weather stripping around doors and windows, and seal any cracks or openings to the outside of the house.
Keep landscape bushes and vines trimmed, especially near vents. 
Store trash in covered containers well away from the house.
Where practical, use gravel around the perimeter of the house.
Store food in insect-proof containers.
Properly dispose of stacks of newspapers, magazines, bags and boxes.
If you find you have an infestation of American cockroaches, clean and dry out areas where they have been seen, and call a pest professional. Baits and insecticides are useful elements in an integrated pest management approach,  but must be used with the above suggestions to gain control. To view a video on exotic varieties of cockroaches, visit the Natural History Museum website, here. Or if the Olympics have put you in an international mood, click here to view a "Crazy Japanese Cockroach Commercial."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Flea Cycle Circus

If the Flea Circus has set up tents in your yard or on your pet this summer, you may feel like you're going in circles! There's a good reason for that - the life cycle of the flea and its resiliency. As shown in the illustration above (click to enlarge), fleas go through five main stages in their development from egg to adult. The female adult flea (#1) can lay ten to forty eggs per day, after a blood meal. That spins out to hundreds of flea eggs over a few month's time. Adult fleas are tiny - 1/8 of an inch long - so imagine how small their eggs are. So small, in fact, that you will have to imagine them, because you won't see these smooth, oval, white eggs roll right off  your pet and onto pet beds, favorite sofas, or carpet areas. Flea eggs hatch in two to ten days, into the larval stage (#3). The larvae like to stay in warm, protected environments. Depending on the temperature, they can feed on adult flea feces, which contain bits of dried blood, and crawl around for five to fifteen days before building their tiny cocoons (#4). Within these cocoons, larvae pupate into a stage also known as "pre-emergent adult" (#5). Fleas can stay in this pupal stage for months, waiting until their environment is right before hatching into adult fleas. Warm temperatures, humidity, vibrations, and carbon dioxide in the air trigger the pupae to emerge as fleas, ready to feed. Since the life cycle is extremely variable, lasting from two weeks to two years, flea control can be difficult. The best way to stop the cycle is to use a spray labeled for use against adult fleas that has a good residual, combined with an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR), which keeps eggs from hatching. 
To sum up our integrated pest management tips on flea control, pet owners should seek advice from veterinarians regarding topical applications of flea control. Vacuuming thoroughly and regularly helps by removing dead fleas and flea feces, which are a source of nourishment for larval and pupal fleas. Clearing the yard of harborage for urban wildlife that may carry fleas into your yard is also part of the process. If these methods do not control your flea problem, call in a pest professional who can apply a spray that will kill adult fleas and prevent flea eggs from hatching. Even after a professional application, it may take three weeks before the circus closes down and the fleas are evicted from your house.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Year of the Flea

According to the Chinese calendar, 2008 is the Year of the Rat - a good year, according to custom, to get married or start a new job - a "good luck" year. But here in San Diego, it is shaping up to be the Year of the Flea - a good year to clear your yard of rodent harborage and treat your pets against these blood sucking pests. Fleas have been problem pests in Southern California for as long as there have been people or animals around for them to feed on. These pests multiply and thrive in our mild climate. Nevertheless, reports of flea infestations were on the decline a few years ago. Part of the reason was the development of new topical applications for use in controlling fleas on dogs and cats. Much more effective than flea collars or dips, these products helped cut flea infestations nearly in half and almost convinced us fleas were on their way out. So why have they returned with a vengeance? Here are a couple of theories.
First, we need to consider where the fleas that torment our pets come from. Usually, dogs and cats pick up fleas when they are outdoors, either in a yard or on a walk. As you can see in the highly magnified picture above, fleas have tiny, velcro-like spines on their legs that help them hitch a ride on Fido or Fluffy. Although dog and cat fleas prefer these animals, they are also carried by rodents, raccoons, opossums and other urban wildlife. If the increase in our flea population is due to an increase in wildlife hosts, the best protection for homeowners is an inspection of yard areas for possible harborage. Keep grass areas well-trimmed, clear out that unattended corner of the yard where weeds grow, remove or trim back overgrown bushes and vines. Look around the yard and determine where rats and squirrels may want to hang out - and clear those areas. Ironically, the Year of the Rat may be the cause of the Year of the Flea.
Another possible explanation for the increase in local flea populations is the question of the effectiveness of those flea treatments we have come to rely on. If you found the application your vet recommended did the trick last year, you  may be using old product or need to revisit the issue with your vet. Have fleas grown resistant to your regular control method? Ask the vet to recommend a product that is appropriate for your pet. Then  be careful to apply the medication according to label directions for best results. These flea controllers can be very effective, but don't always solve the whole problem. Because fleas can lay up to 40 eggs per day, and those eggs easily fall off the host animal, frequent vacuuming is also essential to flea control. If the problem persists, contact your pest professional. Tomorrow we will continue with a discussion of the life cycle of the flea and how different chemicals work to combat these pesky invaders.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Science Tidbits

Two items in yesterday's San Diego Union-Tribune are worth passing on. In the science section, a request was forwarded from the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, asking for photos of local wetlands plants and animals for its website. Specifically, as it applies to bugs, the conservancy is looking for pictures of sand wasps and spittle bugs. Although neither of these are home invaders, spittle bugs can do damage to yard and lawn. Their identifying characteristic is the foamy masses of "spittle" they produce as a way of creating their own moist environment and protecting themselves from predators. 
Female sand wasps burrow in the ground. Again, these are not pests you might encounter at home - but they are out and around San Diego County, and their image is being requested. If you encounter either of these bugs and have a camera handy, send your photo to or email questions to
The other item in the Quest section of the paper that relates to entomology is an anecdotal story about the late great scientist, Charles Darwin. Although we are not in the habit of passing on information we cannot substantiate, this was too good to pass up. The story goes that Mr. Darwin saw a beetle as he was taking a walk, paused and picked it up. He spotted another beetle he wanted for his collection and put that specimen in his other hand. As luck would have it, he saw a third beetle. Not wanting to leave it behind, he put one of the insects in his mouth so he could collect his new find. The beetle in his mouth promptly "emitted a noxious spray," causing Darwin to spit it out and drop the other two beetles. According to the article, "Darwin went home beetleless." Sounds like a good idea.
Next week: The Year of the Flea.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Slithering Silverfish

Silverfish (pictured above) are one of the oldest of insects - older even than cockroaches! They have survived so well because they commonly live about three years, eat just about anything, and can go up to a year without food or water. These slithering pests are survivors. Although they are not harmful to humans, they can do damage to books, papers, some fabrics, and can infest cereals and flour. They are distinguished by their long antennae and a distinctive three-pronged tail appendage. Since they typically hide during the day, we most often see them if they become trapped in a sink or container and can't get out. 
These resilient pests can travel long distances to find food, but once a source is located they usually stay close by. Favorite foods include the sizing on books and paper, and the glues and pastes used on wallpaper and labels. They like warm, moist locations - indoors and out. Reducing moisture in suspected or infested areas can make it less habitable, so be sure there are no leaks in sink or tub areas, keep laundry rooms and shower stalls clean and dry. Caulk any holes around pipes that come into the house. Occasionally, move book or magazine collections - checking them for infestation. Keep food in containers with tight-fitting lids. Outside, clean out damp mulch areas . Sanitation is helpful, but won't eliminate these pests once they have established themselves, so the best way to deal with silverfish is to avoid getting them in the first place. If  you do find a population of silverfish indoors, use a household bug spray that is labeled for use against this particular pest directly in the area where you find them. Foggers are not very effective against these survivors. For more help, call your pest professional

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Termites R NOT Us

It seems like a no-brainer: you think you may have termites, so you call your pest control company. But termite control is a separate industry, requiring different licenses, insurance and equipment. Many pest control companies do include termite divisions or subcontract their termite work. At Centurion, we do neither. So why are we blogging about termites? Because we often get questions from concerned homeowners and would like to help. 
There are at least 17 different varieties of termites in California. And in case you are wondering, as Noah is in the illustration above, why they are necessary - they make many positive contributions to the world's ecosystems. In fact, they are critical to the survival of the Sahara Desert, where they help reclaim soils damaged by heat and wind. But they don't help the ecosystem of your home if they decide to move in. So here are a few tips and places to go for more information.
Termites swarm in large numbers in warm months, especially early in the autumn here in San Diego. They look very much like flying ants. If you get close enough to examine them, you can distinguish a swarming termite from a flying ant by looking at some key elements. Flying ants have elbowed antennae, thin waists and wings with very few visible veins. Termites' antennae are straight, they have a thick waist and many small veins in their wings. If you see termites swarming near your house, you may want to call in a termite company to do an inspection.
Another sign of possible termite infestation is the appearance of termite droppings inside the house. Often the droppings are on window sills or by door posts. When you see a pile of material that looks like sawdust, clean it up, then find it again in the same place - call in a termite company to do an inspection. If it is addressed quickly localized treatment may be all that is necessary. To learn more about termites here in San Diego County, click here or here. For a referral to a local company we recommend, click here. As a note of interest, the US Department of Energy, in their search for sources of cleaner energy, have done research on using termites to replace fossil fuels through a process called metagenomics. Termites could be more valuable than any of us knew!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Earwigs, Away!

When Lewis Carroll coined the term "slithy toves," he might have had earwigs (pictured above) in mind. These semi-slimy pests slither and "gimble" through San Diego yards and homes in increasing numbers during the spring and summer months. According to Dr. David Kellum, a County Entomologist, "The rainy winter has caused a lot of plant grownth, and that means there is more food for bugs." Earwigs are easily distinguished from other bugs by "pinchers" near their abdomin. Contrary to the old wive's tale about earwigs entering the brain through the ear canal, these bugs are neither dangerous nor poisonous and can be helpful in the garden as a natural enemy to aphids. They can, however, become a pest control problem if they wander indoors. Here are a few tips for controlling these creepy but mostly harmless bugs.
Earwigs like a moist, dark environment and live on vegetation, like overgrown weeds, fruit dropped from a tree, or some varieties of roots and flowers. They also eat smaller bugs. Clear your yard of wood piles, rock piles, dead leaves and grass clippings. Keep the yard trimmed and the soil cleared, especially within two feet of the foundations of the home. Earwigs love marigolds - so do not plant these next to the house. If you find a large population in one area of the yard, leave a damp, rolled up newspaper near that area. They will often crawl into the newspaper during the heat of the day. In the evening, seal the paper in a plastic bag and dispose of it. Should earwigs invade your home, you may need the help of a pest professional, although they usually die indoors because there is little for them to eat. For earwig control outdoors, check with a good garden shop. They may look creepy, but these southern California pests are not out to get you!

Monday, August 4, 2008

West Nile Warning

San Diegans love the outdoors. Our temperate weather, beautiful landscapes, and proximity to nature's best venues draw us out - especially at this time of year. But last week the Union-Tribune reported two more cases of West Nile Virus here in San Diego County, and a recent online article posted by the County warns about the arrival of this summer's most unwanted tourists, the mosquitoes that carry this disease. These warnings shouldn't drive us all indoors, but may give us the tools we need to protect ourselves and our families.
West Nile Virus is spread to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Although it is potentially dangerous, only one in 150 people who are infected develop severe illness. Most at risk are the elderly and people with impaired immune systems. Eighty percent of people infected will show no symptoms at all. Symptoms can include fever, head and body aches, nausea, and swollen lymph glands. More serious indications include convulsions, disorientation, vision loss, and even coma. A local West Nile victim shared her experience here  in hopes of educating the public about the disease and its effects.
The County's West Nile Virus website gives information on the Vector Control Program's monthly larviside applications at area parks and open spaces where mosquitos are known to breed, as well as listing ways we can protect ourselves against the disease. The first thing homeowners can do, as touched on here in a previous post, is to inspect yard areas for mosquito breeding sources. Drain standing water in unused pools, buckets, flowerpots, bird baths, etc. You  might be surprised at the sources in your own backyard. Make sure windows and doors are properly screened, and that the screens are in good repair. If you have an ornamental pond, consider stocking it with Gambusia, or Mosquito Fish. The County advises we limit outdoor activities at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active, use insect repellant, and avoid sleeping outdoors unprotected when camping. Vector Control also encourages county residents to report dead birds. For more information on the Vector Control program, call (858)694-2888 or visit the California West Nile Virus Website.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mystery Bug Week, Part V: Of Words and Worms

Fly larva
Moth larva

The mystery in this last Mystery Bug Week post is two-fold. The first mystery is more etymology than entomology. We find our customers would rather say they have "bugs" than "roaches," rather have "mice" than "rats," and rather have "worms" than "maggots." No one wants maggots. We can't blame them! In fact, what most people report as "worms" are some kind of larvae. Doesn't that sound better? 
The second mystery is how to tell what kind of larvae they are. In the larval state, most common flying bugs look remarkably similar. There are variations in size, of course, but it is nearly impossible to tell fly larvae (maggots) from moth larvae (see photos above). One simple way to solve the mystery is to take notice of any increase in populations of the adult bug. Have you seen flies or moths buzzing around the house or in the yard? Identifying the adults those worms will turn into is critical in controlling the problem. We have discussed pantry moths in a previous post. They are a stored product pest, so if you consistently see moths in the house the chances are good they are coming from the kitchen or pantry. Find the source, eliminate it, and the problem is solved. House flies are less localized. They could be coming from anywhere - so a bit of detective work is needed to solve the mystery of where they are breeding. Flies need moisture, and usually breed in some kind of decaying matter. Check grass clippings and mulch piles outdoors. Inside, check house plants to see that they are drying out between waterings. Indoors and out, follow your nose. If there is a dead rodent in the wall void or a potato behind the fridge, these would be great sources for breeding flies. Whatever you choose to call the larvae that invade  your home, they are a problem that can be solved with a bit of detective work.