Biting insects enjoy long, not summer

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 20, 2007

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
Our dog Puck has been inundated this summer by fleas and ticks. And it’s not only our pet. Many Rowan residents have called complaining about these and other nagging pests including mosquitoes and chiggers. Inconsistent weather seems to provide the perfect environment for these urban pests.
Fleas can be a problem not only for pets but also for the owners. Fleas infest non-pet residences as well as those that house pets. Fleas are established in a non-pet home by attaching themselves to pant cuffs or socks. The fleas then become established in carpet or other areas of the home from the pet or can be carried in by unsuspecting homeowners on clothing.
Fleas reproduce year round, but at a reduced rate during the winter. Over-stuffed furniture, upholstery and drapes are also breeding grounds. Unsealed cracks in hardwood, linoleum floors and baseboards also offer perfect breeding grounds.
Controlling fleas on the pet is the first step to eliminating fleas. Regular flea baths or flea dips are necessary to control fleas on pets. Flea dips contain insecticides such as pyrethrins or carbaryl (Sevin). Treat the pets’ sleeping quarters both indoors and outdoors with insecticides. Various insecticides are available as liquid spray or in granular formulations.
Carpets, rugs, furniture and other upholstered material indoors should also be treated routinely with indoor insecticides. Vacuuming carpets, rugs and other upholstered material before treatment increases the effectiveness of the insecticides. Repeating vacuuming after treatment and prompt disposal of the vacuum bag will aid in elimination of fleas.
Aerosol bombs that contain both insecticides and growth regulators are very effective in controlling fleas. Repeat applications of insecticides, both indoors and outdoors, and treatment on pets, is the only solution in controlling fleas.
Most people have a great fear of ticks for good reason. Ticks carry a couple of nasty diseases, namely Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Ticks are most common in overgrown areas so it’s best to keep lawns mowed.
Consistent mowing keeps the ground dry, making it difficult for ticks to survive. If you have woods near your yard, rake back leaves and other litter that can harbor the pest. Ivy, pachysandra and other dense ground covers also offers a safe harbor for ticks.
Use granular insecticides just before rainfall or water these into the soil to make sure the pesticide has been released. Keep pets and children off treated areas until dry.
Tick facts:
– There are more than 800 species of ticks worldwide.
– Ticks are not insects but closely related to spiders.
– Ticks must feed on the blood of an animal to reproduce.
– Ticks don’t fly or jump but climb to the ends of blades of grass or weeds and patiently wait with front legs extended until it can grab onto a passing host.
– Not all ticks are infected and you can’t tell if a tick is infected just by looking at it. So, it is important to remove any tick that is attached to your skin as soon as possible. Ticks that are just crawling on you cannot transmit diseases.
– Ticks may sometimes be found on well-mowed lawns, or even inside your home. This is because they drop off pets or other animals that cross over or enter these areas.
– More information on ticks can be found at this Web site: depts/ent/notes/Urban/biting. htm
People who pick wild blackberries know about chiggers. They leave red, itchy bumps on your skin and can make life miserable for the wild fruit harvesters.
Chiggers are the larvae of mites and the larval stage is the culprit that causes the itchy bites. Chiggers do not burrow under your skin or feed on animal blood. They actually feed on the fluids in skin cells. The mite larvae attach themselves to a skin pore or hair follicle and inject a digestive enzyme that ruptures the cells. The enzyme also hardens the surrounding skin tissue, forming a sort of straw for sucking the skin cell fluids. The whole process irritates the skin, causing an itchy red bump that continues to cause discomfort for several days. Chiggers are extremely small, only about 1/50th of an inch in diameter, too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Chiggers are attracted to moist conditions on hosts, too, so they tend to attach to skin under tight clothing, such as socks and underwear, or in concealed areas of the body, such as the groin and the armpits. Loose clothing when you’re in the woods will decrease chances of infestation. Take a warm shower as soon as you get home to remove any chiggers before they attach to your skin.
Chiggers don’t spread any diseases to humans, but chigger bites can get infected if you scratch. A common remedy for chigger bites is to apply nail polish to reduce itchiness. This does not kill the chigger or treat the bite in any way, but seals the area off from the air, keeping the bite from itching so badly. If you want to apply something to relieve itching, it’s much better to use a salve or cream that contains antihistamines. These treatments seal the bite and will also help to prevent infection.
It seems we always have mosquitoes right after a summer rain. Mosquitoes are important pests because they often interfere with outdoor activities and can transmit disease organisms to people, birds and domestic animals. Most mosquitoes are active during twilight hours and at night; however, around the home, those that breed in discarded containers are active during the day.
Mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle. They can breed in almost any source of water and some species need only a few days to complete their life cycle. Pesticides are only a short-term solution to nuisance mosquito problems. Solving the problem effectively and safely requires locating and eliminating breeding sites which may be in your own backyard.
Containers that fill with water should be discarded or at least emptied. Bird baths should be dumped and replenished on a regular basis. It’s also a good time to get out the ladder and clean out debris-clogged gutters.
Surveys of residences indicate that the dishes under potted plants and the tarps over wood piles, boats, etc. are major sources of mosquito production because they often get overlooked. Potted plants need extra water during the heat of the summer but don’t leave standing water in the dish beneath the pot.
Storm sewers and drainage ditches along roadsides often become clogged with silt, vegetation and trash on roadways. Remove debris and/or report drainage problems to the appropriate state or municipal agency.
Researchers still stress the need for personal protection. DEET remains the most commonly used repellent although the EPA recently approved some new alternative chemicals. You can read an earlier press release from the CDC concerning these repellents:
Repellents should be used diligently and carefully, particularly on children. They should be applied only to exposed skin and/or clothing. You can read more about mosquito control and repellents on the N.C. State University Web site: Urban/westnile.htm
Clogged gutters, flower pots, old tires, anything that can hold water for a few days is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Darrell Blackwelder is an Extension Agent-Horticulture with the N.C.Cooperative Extension Service, 2727 A Old Concord Road; call 704-216-8970 or see the Web sites or http://rowan.ces.