One of our commercial accounts, a country club in Little Egg Harbor, found itself in the midst of a flea and ant infestation near its entrance. One had nothing to do with the other; there just happened to be two simultaneous insect problems. Fortunately, neither insect had yet found its way into the building, and I was there to make sure that there infestations were stopped in their tracks before they could cause more difficult problems inside.
Fleas, wingless insects, are external parasites. There are several types of fleas, but the most common is the cat flea, which also feeds on dogs and humans. Like ticks, fleas live off the blood of mammals and birds, and through their bites can transmit diseases. Relative to body size, they are one of the best jumpers of all known animals. Even though a flea is no more than 1/8”, it can jump up to 7” vertically and more than a foot horizontally. Their legs end in strong claws that grasp onto its host in order to feed. Fleas have a laterally compressed body making it easy for them to move through the hair or feathers of a host’s body. On a person, fleas often settle in one’s hair, causing soreness and itching.
Fleas and ticks are a common problem with cats and dogs, so if there is a flea problem, there is likely a pet nearby that is infested with fleas. Since this flea infestation was outdoors near the entrance to the country club, I started with the assumption that there was some flea-infested wildlife living nearby the premises. I was expecting to find a squirrel, rodent, or some other wildlife holed up nearby. Upon inspection, to my surprise,I located a man-made home for a feral cat along with a bowl of cat food. Some employees were feeding and attempting to care for a stray. While well-intentioned, they unknowingly enabled the onset of a flea infestation right outside the door.
I removed the cat food and employee-made shelter, and the staff was instructed to not feed any strays. Free-roaming and feral cats are an admittedly difficult situation. We want to be compassionate, but at the same time, feeding and protecting them will just lead to even worse overpopulation. A single mating male and female cat can produce 420,000 offspring in seven years. Without vaccines and medical care, most of these cats wind up suffering premature mortality from disease, starvation, or trauma. Most animal shelters are unable to properly deal with the large number of stay cats they receive. Feral cats can also transmit diseases to people, and as we saw here, they can trigger flea infestations in and around buildings. There is no easy solution, but the Animal Protection League of New Jersey recommends spaying and neutering cats, and for those who wish to care for strays, managing cat colonies using trap-neuter-return.
To remove the flea infestation, I treated the surrounding areas with insect growth regulator (IGR) and flea specific residual pesticides. An IGR is necessary to control flea eggs and larvae. Insecticides only kill adult fleas. It is extremely difficult to kill fleas in the pupae (cocooning) stage because the cocoon is virtually impenetrable to applications. Since fleas do not emerge from the pupae at the same time, all of the fleas will not disappear immediately after treatment. Severe infestations may require multiple treatments over a period of weeks.
As for the ants, I followed their path and determined that they were coming to the building from a damp tree stump close by the front door. To treat the ant infestation, I saturated their home stump with Phantom, an indoor/outdoor insecticide that kills ant colonies through non-repellent ingredients. The ants will walk right over it, and then spread it throughout the entire colony, killing every other pest that they come into contact with. With social insects like ants, you have to kill the entire colony to get rid of the infestation; killing individual foraging ants will have no effect on the ant population.