WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLEAS GONE?

Not that anyone is actually complaining, but where are the large and difficult to control (insecticide resistant) household flea problems we all knew in the 1980's? You remember, during the summer months pet dogs and cats had so many fleas they could hardly walk without scratching, and by August most had developed an "attitude" and started threatening their keepers! Well, it has been several years since I've talked to a pest control operator that has any regular business controlling cat fleas in homes, or to a homeowner that has a serious problem. There are a few possibilities for the decline in cat flea populations:

[] The fleas finally killed most of the cats and dogs in the state, then the cat flea population crashed and have now vanished from the earth. Unlikely, since my two cats are still alive (and still have an attitude).

[] The earwigs ate them; that's why the earwig numbers have been some out-of-control--the populations are up because of all that flea-chow they've had. I prefer possibility not to be true, since we will have to find something to eat the earwigs, and that may be bigger earwigs!

[] The Japanese ladybird beetles ate them! That makes more sense, but I've been telling everyone that they ate the gypsy moths--so that idea is out

[] Some effective insecticides finally emerged on the the market--in spite of the gloom and doom-sayers that thought we were at the end. Yep, I think that's the answer!

Borates have been incorporated into some rug cleaning products,and may be used at sprays directly onto the carpet. Borate products work by contaminating the flea larval food (which is the stuff at the base of the carpet that never gets vacuumed out). When the larvae eat a sufficient (large) amount of borate they die. The advantage to borates is that they don't break down and remain in place for long periods (because we still don't vacuum very well). The disadvantage is that they may be slow acting and kill only the larvae. EPA is still not keen on borate powders applied to carpets and exposed to children.

Insect growth regulators, such as methoprene (Precor) and pyriproxyfen (Nylar) act by preventing larval fleas from developing normally and becoming adults. These are rather slow acting since they do not kill adult fleas and slowly impact the larval population. But they remain active in household carpeting and on the pet for long periods.

There are three veterinary products: Program, Advantage, and Frontline that are now available to homeowners. Program was the first product available (a few years ago); it contains a chemical called lufenuron. This chemical prevents the formation of the outer "skin" of insects during their development--called a chitin inhibitor. [Chitin is the main ingredient in the skin of insects.] It is a once-a-month pill fed to pets (right!--you try giving a cat a pill!). The lufenuron gets into the blood stream of the dog or cat and is taken into the flea when it feeds. Once inside the flea the lufenuron contaminates the flea's feces. As the flea feeds it's feces falls from the hair of the pet to the carpet where it becomes food for flea larvae. Once the flea larvae feed on this contaminated feces they are prevented by molting properly (enter lufenuron--finally!) and die! Ain't science grand! Advantage was introduced recently and it contains a chemical called imidacloprid. This product is applied to the fur of the animal as a "spot-on" application between the shoulder blades of the animal. It kills the adult fleas on the animal and has a fairly long residual life. Frontline was also introduced recently and contains the insecticide fibronil. It is diluted in isopropyl alcohol and applied with a pump spray directly onto the animal's fur. It also has a fairly long residual life, even after washing.

Before you start thinking "silver bullet" and the end to all household cat flea problems forever, hold on. I think Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea (see figure on last page), has been faced with this situation before (you remember flea collars), and I think 120 million years of evolution won out! We should expect that these products will work very well for some period of time, then cat fleas will figure them out, and then we'll have to get some different products, and use them for a while. The alternative is to remove all carpeting from houses and send all the cats to the moon.

CARPET BEETLES

Carpet beetles are probably one of the most common household insect pests throughout the world. Their small size and cryptic habits keep them from being noticed. But they are common in kitchens, bedrooms, and storage rooms. Pest status in insects is certainly linked to size--if it can be seen, it's a problem! Carpet beetle adults are small and are rarely seen and the larvae blend in to the background easily.

Carpet beetles are most often encountered in the fall and winter when people spend more time indoors and may be moving things from closets and kitchen cabinets, especially clothing, and pots and pans for holiday cooking. Carpet beetle larvae (the stage usually seen) are found in these areas because of their feeding and rather slow moving habits. The immature stages feed on a variety of organic matter, especially wool, fur, leather, feathers, dried flowers, and some dried food materials.

The adult beetles are active in the spring when they may leave the house and visit flowers. The adults eat pollen and nectar from a variety of plants. Outdoors, female beetles may lay their eggs in abandoned bird nests, old bee hives and wasp nests, or in animal burrows. Indoors they seek the organic matter such as those items listed above. Carpet beetle larvae are usually brown and with long hairs at their tail and sometimes along the side. During their development the larvae may shed their skin several times--sometimes as many as 8-10 times. The skins often collect in places the larvae are feeding, and these old skins may look like live larvae, making the infestation look much worse than it really is.

Control of carpet beetles in houses is difficult because of the wide range of material they can utilize as food. Keeping wool clothes in sealed (perhaps plastic) containers will help. If infestations are found or suspected, clothes can be placed in a closet or container with moth crystals (not balls) and "fumigated" (and beetle larvae killed). Cedar chests and closets will offer no protection from these beetles, and should not be relied on for protecting wool, fur, or leather. Dry cleaning is good protection, but it will not last more than a season.

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