— This article by Jerry Cates was first published on 14 May 2016 and last revised on 27 March 2017. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 17:05(02).
Not Our First War on Noxious Pests…
In 1986 EntomoBiotics Inc. (EntomoBiotics) declared war on the German cockroach. At the time Texas nursing homes were overrun with them, and nobody could bring them under control. When everybody else had thrown in the towel, we got to work finding a way, because a good solution was sorely needed. It turned out that beating Blatella germanica was not only hard work, it had to be done scientifically. Strict sanitation (we scrubbed kitchen floors, cleared the gunk from under refrigerators, behind and under dishwashers, and removed trash from closets in many a nursing home), applications of juvenile hormones to stop cockroaches from reproducing, and implementation of novel ways to inject low-toxicity pesticides in cracks and crevices where cockroaches breed and hide, slowly but surely wiped them out. News we could resolve German cockroach infestations with a minimum of pesticides spread. Soon we were servicing over 70 nursing homes scattered all over Texas, and all were soon totally free of German cockroaches. Our Texas nursing facility clients enjoy cockroach-free environments today.
In 1990 we declared war on imported fire ants and won again. As with cockroach control, we used a scientific approach that targeted fire ants specifically and left all the other beneficial organisms in the environment alive. Our unique fire ant control methodology is still in use today, but with a bunch of improvements that new research has provided. And because it protects beneficial organisms, it does not cause the inevitable increase in the populations of other noxious pests characterized by other fire ant control programs.
In 1995 we declared war on termites and launched our most extensive research project yet. Before long we had been awarded six patents by the U.S. Patent Office, and were bringing termites under control all over Texas. Today 0ur reduced risk, low-toxicity, fully guaranteed approach to termite control is second to none and includes every species of termite in Texas, including the Formosan termite that is now ravaging parts of Central Texas.
About the same time, we declared war on houseflies. Flies were pestering nursing facilities all over Texas, spreading disease and making life miserable for everybody. We took the bull by the horns, found the best control products and methods for the job, and learned how to use them right. When absolutely nobody else could bring flies under control, we could, without using pesticides that lace the air we breathe. As with all the other wars we’ve fought, we got used to being called from all over Texas to solve intractable fly issues, and we never lost the fight wherever we were called to do battle.
Over the years we’ve also declared war on spiders, snakes, mites, ticks, bed bugs, wild animals, and — you name it — if it’s a pest, lives in Texas, and represents an unusually serious threat to human health, we’ve declared war against it. And every time we’ve done that, we’ve won the war. That’s not bragging. It’s just telling it like it is…
So… What about Mosquitoes?
Before now we’ve never declared war on mosquitoes. Why not isn’t that complicated. Mosquitoes are noxious pests, but in North America the risks from mosquito bites have not — until recently — been thought to be very great. Perhaps most important, though, is the fact that the challenges to good mosquito control are daunting, particularly because traditional methods include lacing the air the mosquitoes fly in, and that humans breathe, with pesticides. Throughout the history of EntomoBiotics we’ve been very reluctant to employ that kind of pest management methodology, because — no matter how you do it (or say you do it) — it is simply too dangerous for humans and our pets.
As long as mosquitoes appeared to pose no greater risk to Texans than that represented by West Nile Virus (80% of those infected with WNV have no symptoms; of those with symptoms, less than 1% suffer neurological complications), we stuck to a three-pronged approach of recommending (1) traditional methods of mosquito breeding prevention, alongside (2) copious applications of mosquito repellant, while (3) we researched, formulated, and tested a variety of natural, herbal-based liquid and granular habitat modifiers and cleansers capable of creating environments that neither nurture or attract mosquitoes. That last part, making effective mosquito-related habitat modifiers in our laboratory, has been gaining ground of late, but we know that approach, by itself, is unlikely to achieve the status of a true silver bullet.
Today, though — with the introduction of the mosquito-borne Zika virus into North America — we need something very much like a silver bullet. Badly, and right now. It is time for EntomoBiotics to wage war on mosquitoes. And it is time for us to win that fight. As with all the other insect wars we’ve fought in the past, we don’t expect to find a silver bullet to use against mosquitoes, we are convinced that a combination of strategies, used in concert, will have the potential to produce results every bit as dramatic as those expected from one.
Here is the promise in 2016, made by our lead researcher and the author of this article, who has been a serious student of mosquito biology since 1963:
First — We are going to wage war on mosquitoes, we are going to win that war, and we are going to do it right.
Second — Doing it right means that, in the process, we will continue to steer away from any methodology that involves lacing the air that humans breathe with pesticides, because conquering one problem by introducing another is not an option.
Third — We’re going to wage this war against mosquitoes without using any pesticides whatsoever.
Fourth — we are going to win the war on mosquitoes without having to charge outlandish fees to do so.
Those promises still stand, but we are making some changes in our original plan of development.
Our intention, initially, was to enter both the commercial and residential mosquito control markets. We did so, and our reception in the commercial market was and continues to be gratifying. Not so, however, with the residential marketplace. Homeowners are being bombarded by so many new mosquito control programs, offered by newly formed companies devoted to mosquito control, they hardly know which to choose.
Companies with fast-talking sales personnel solve that challenge with hyperbole, and that is something we won’t do. So, for 2017 at least, we have completely withdrawn from the residential mosquito control marketplace. It was not an easy decision to make, but a necessary one.
What Will it Cost?
If we’re not going to use pesticides, won’t it cost more than methods that do? That would make sense, but no, it will most likely cost less. The weapons we will be using in this war are based on our proprietary improvements to a thoroughly field-tested mosquito ovitrap developed over the past sixty-plus years by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though the CDC ovitrap was originally designed to contain pesticides, and today can be modified to have pesticides inside its capture chamber, testing has shown that chemicals toxic to insects are not necessary for the device to work. Mosquitoes are lured to the trap by a harmless water infusion made of decaying hay or a similar attractant; they lay their eggs in the lower portion of the capture chamber — if they get that far before being trapped — and then they get stuck to the glue lining the sides of the capture chamber’s walls before they can depart.
By trapping as many young adult mosquitoes as possible before they can bite their hosts, and trapping as many others right after they have taken a blood meal, before or immediately after they have laid their eggs, we are able to interrupt the mosquito’s life cycle and significantly reduce the mosquito population within the trapping area. Started early in the season, the trapping process ensures that mosquito populations are never allowed to reach high population densities. Started later in the season, after population densities have already risen, the device has the potential to bring any existing the mosquito populations under nominal to essentially total control, though clearly it is best to begin such a control program as early in the year as possible.
This approach is more effective than those that use toxic pesticides. Pesticides that are considered safe enough to be applied in broadcast treatments throughout a yard don’t last. Most are quickly destroyed by ultraviolet radiation in ordinary sunshine, and all are washed away by rain showers. Our clients will have to do their part to eliminate the mosquito breeding sites under their reasonable control, but that is it. The ovitrap, which will need to be serviced no more often than every two months, will do the rest. Initial installation of the ovitraps, and servicing them each month, won’t cost a fortune.
Presently, at the nursing facilities, hospitals, and medical sites we presently service, our newly introduced mosquito control program is now included in their existing agreements with us at no extra cost.
More To Come…
Taxonomy: A thorough taxonomical treatment of mosquitoes is provided in a separate article posted on this website entitled Mosquitoes of Texas and the Southeastern United States.
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