Archive for March, 2018

The Ants are Busy

It’s Winter and the thermometer is reading -4 deg C and yet at Aberkil Pest Control here in Aberdeen, we’ve had several call-outs for ants in the past week. It just goes to show that not much will get in the way of the industriousness of these very small but capable little creatures. Many people will be unaware that ants belong to the same insect order as bees and wasps (Hymenoptra to be exact) and that ants evolved from an ancestor of the modern-day wasp that continued to branch out and diversify. It is easy to identify ants as they have very recognisable elbowed antennae and segmented bodies with an extremely narrow waist (any dieting tips lads?).

Ants live in colonies that can be few in number and all the way up to colonies of millions and anything in-between. Like wasps, colonies have very defined roles for different members to carry out, such as workers or soldiers and it is only the few queens and fertile drone males that have anything to do with reproduction.

While ants are not known as a public health concern as such, the fact that they may come stomping all over your food preparation areas after stomping over goodness-knows-what outside is enough to classify their presence in our living spaces as a problem. When customers tell me they’ve got ants crawling around their kitchen worktops, my first question is always ‘Does anyone take sugar in their tea or coffee?’ There’s an obvious hint in that question as to where I’m going with this line of questioning and that is that ants are crazy about sweet things and nothing will attract them quicker than a sugary liquid spilled onto the worktop surfaces. As pest controllers, we can utilise the ants’ sweet tooth to narrow down where they are likely to be living and gaining entry to a home or office. It simply isn’t practical to try and proof a building against ants as they are just too small. The size of hole or gap that an ant can exploit is bordering on invisible to the naked eye and it would really require airtight windows and doors to fully exclude ants and that just isn’t practical.

Ants Be Gone!

Thankfully, treating an ant problem is usually pretty straightforward with a very good likelihood of success with a single treatment. If the colony site can be identified readily, a number of residual insecticides can be applied in the surrounding area and the areas where the ant presence is causing the issue. Whilst this is an acceptable treatment option, at Aberkil, we prefer to use a more targeted approach that uses much less volume of insecticide per treatment, which is obviously far preferable from an environmental and health and safety point of view.

An insecticide bait strategically placed in spots of ant activity will attract passing ants with the high sugar content. The foraging ants go back to their colony and pass some insecticide on hopefully to the colony queen. As long as she is eliminated, the colony  will soon collapse removing the problem. Excess bait outside will quickly disappear and any used indoors can be safely wiped away with some kitchen towel.

Ants don’t pose a health risk to humans but if you have them crawling all over your kitchen counter, you’ll want them gone and it’s good to know that it’s a problem with a solution. If you have a problem with ants, call a professional pest controller to ensure complete eradication.

Gordon Mackay

Aberkil Pest Control

Don’t Let the Bed Bugs bite!

A customer recently told me that they had always thought bed bugs were a myth – something maybe to scare naughty children with, and we’ve all heard the old saying, ‘Sleep tight, and don’t led the bed bugs bite!’

This customer has been unlucky enough to discover that not only do bed bugs exist, they also bite and bite at night when we are sleeping. Acting like little vampires, they come out of hiding during the night and head straight for the nearest warm body, to gorge themselves on blood! You can even tell that a bed bug has eaten recently because their colour changes from a translucent tan-colour to an opaque dark red. That dark red colour is of course, the blood of their helpless victim. Bed bugs are incredibly stealthy and they can be living and feeding for months, even years, before people finally realise something is attacking them during the night, with some people’s bodies reacting to the bites with a nasty red welt of various degrees of size and severity. With other people, there isn’t much evidence at all of the nocturnal sorties of these apple-seed sized insects.

How do I know I have bed bugs or not?

Obviously finding bites on your neck, shoulders or legs and arms will raise suspicion of insect bites but to really confirm, the first places to check are on the bed sheets, mattress covers and mattresses at the head of the bed. Wooden frames with slats provide ample harborages, as do headboards etc. The bugs excrete blood after a meal and this will leave characteristic small dark brown – black spots. Sometimes just lifting a mattress and looking at the bed frame will reveal groups of bugs hiding together. But it must be stressed that the absence of faecal spots or actual bugs does not mean you do not have bed bugs. The are absolute experts at hiding. They can slip behind skirting boards, wallpaper, bedside tables etc, lamps, electrical sockets, blinds and curtains, wicker baskets…..The list is endless but keep in mind they are most likely to be near where they feed. So if your ankles get the bites, think that end of the bed etc. Mostly they will be near the head of the bed. They can hide away without feeding for as long as A YEAR, possibly deep, deep inside your mattress and this is one of the reasons that bed bugs are very time-consuming to eradicate. One single pregnant female bug can lay as much as 500 eggs over her life, so if left untreated, you do the math!

Cimex Lectularius, to give them their scientific latin name, have existed alongside mankind for thousands and thousands of years. Whilst they can feed on some other animals, it’s us Homo Sapiens-Sapiens (Humans) that are the preferred food source for this particularly creepy creepy-crawly. Bed Bugs have mouth parts which they use to penetrate our skin then inject saliva containing an anti-coagulant (blood thinner, like warfarin) plus an analgesic to prevent pain alerting the victim to the fact they are being fed upon. People rarely wake up during bed bug biting and feeding, only realising later when they notice a small mark on the skin that may itch or even be a little painful. Thankfully, bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans.

A full life-cycle of the bugs can be around 2 months and from hatching out of eggs, they will go through 6 moults, increasing in size with each one until they are fully grown. A rule of thumb is that an adult bug is around the size of an apple seed.

Bed bugs were all but eradicated in developed countries by the middle of the 20th century but a number of factors have contributed to a comeback to rival a Beatles reunion tour! The banning of insecticides such as DDT and the building up of resistance to the contemporary ‘go-to’ family of insecticide chemicals in use today called ‘Pyrethroids,’ along with our lifestyles of regular foreign holidays, and hotel/B&B stays, the bugs have benefitted from our modern jet-setting lifestyle. A good tip is when travelling and checking into a hotel. Put all your luggage in the bath when you enter your hotel room initially, then check for signs of bed bugs before you get comfortable! If you suspect any bugs are present, have a discreet word with the staff and ask to change rooms. Probably a room as far away as possible from the suspect room because in places like hotels, bed bug infestations can spread along, up and down floors! The staff will appreciate discretion and the tip-off of a problem that can be terrible for the hotel reputation; would you book a hotel that was known to be infested with bed bugs? Also, hopefully early warning for the hotel means they can get pest control out immediately to halt the spread and work toward eradication.

Getting Rid of Bed Bugs.

Frankly, bed bugs are tricky pests to eliminate. Their ability to hide away for long periods means they can be physically out of the reach of applied insecticides, waiting out of the active life of the chemical which will lessen in potency over time. Add to that the fact they have a pretty hardy exoskeleton, which takes time to properly penetrate with insecticides. In the right conditions they can multiply quickly and if you think about the fact that if an eradication treatment programme doesn’t kill all the bugs present, they may soon enough build their numbers and you are back to square one!

This is why it is vital to take bed bugs seriously. The amount of work involved by both the customer and a pest control technician to control bed bugs is simply unavoidable. There is absolutely no quick-fix. You may be just lucky enough to have caught an infestation very early on, with only a few bugs to kill. In that instance, the DIY approach may work. There are products available to the general public that are for the treatment of bedbugs but I would caution that only the smallest and localised of infestations is likely to be able to be controlled. And, if you do succeed in killing a few adult bugs, are you sure there are no eggs waiting to hatch? Or did you miss some bugs that were hidden away, happy to wait for months before coming out again? Will you notice quickly enough if that does happen?

We give our bed bug customers a printed copy or email of a detailed list of instructions for them to carry out prior to each treatment application. It involves quite a lot of work, depending on the property size and how much furniture and junk etc occupies the rooms. We ask the customer to sign a copy of the instructions too, because the likely success of the treatment will depend in part on the preparation they do before we arrive. It is a lot of hassle, especially for a large or busy family, but it is unavoidable. Bed Bug treatments must be thorough and prepared for seriously, to achieve the outcome we all wish for.

We ask that people de-clutter as much as possible, and wash or dry clothing and bedding at 60 deg C for an hour to kill off any bugs or eggs. Anything thats been treated by washing should then be quarantined away from other clothes etc. We need to be able to apply insecticide to many objects and structures – far more than we would to control say, beetles. Again this is because of the variety of places the bugs may hide. Beetles and suchlike will be mostly confined to floor level their whole lives but bedbugs can be almost anywhere; walls, blinds, wicker chairs, picture frames, desks….the list is endless. So while we cannot apply insecticide to absolutely everything, the more the better, especially in and around beds (or sofas, as people can be bitten when sleeping on a couch etc) and we must utilise the fact that the bugs, if not living within the bed structure itself, they are likely to be quite closeby, and importantly, the bugs will have to travel from their hiding place to the person sleeping on the bed. The idea being that the bugs will come in contact with insecticide as they travel over the floor and onto beds themselves. For beds that have legs, various traps exist that exploit the fact bugs may have to climb the bed’s legs and the traps sit under the bed legs and will trap the bugs as they attempt to climb the legs.

Bed bug treatments should never consist of a one-off spray. 2 or more applications separated by several weeks is required, ideally using different products to help come at the bugs from more than one directions, so to speak, as some resistance to certain insecticides has been recorded in some species of bed bugs so reliance on one chemical isn’t wise. It’s all-out warfare, throwing everything you have at them – they are a formidable enemy and should not be underestimated!

There are some non-chemical methods that can help too. Vigorous vacuuming is always helpful with insect infestations. Vacuuming can remove lots of insect eggs, larvae and adults too. Always empty the vacuum cleaner bag immediately afterwards, and outside of the home. Insects can and do escape from the inside of the vacuum cleaner! Diatomaceous Earth (also known as Fuller’s Earth) is a powder made up of millions of crushed microscopic shells. These tiny shell shards have razor-sharp edges and will cut into the body of an insect that crawls across them and this in turn leads to the insect losing its’ moisture content, this will cause the death of the insect. Fuller’s Earth is not harmful to humans but when it is being applied, a dust mask should be worn to prevent inhalation.

Other quite hi-tech treatments are available, such as heat-pod treatments. Simply put, this involves placing furniture inside a tent that is heated up for several hours. Insects will not survive this heating but one of the drawbacks is that not every potential hiding place can be treated this way, leaving the possibility of surviving insects that can re-infest a property later.

DIY or Professional Treatment?

Bed bugs really are probably one insect problem that requires professional help. Eradication is not easy,  it takes knowledge, experience and equipment as well as time. Most people are so horrified by a bedbug infestation that they simply won’t risk the DIY option. I tend to agree.


Gordon Mackay, Aberkil


Slugs in my Home!

A perennial problem of gardeners everywhere, slugs and snails can wreak havoc with vegetables and leaves etc in gardens. Despite being very slow-moving creatures, they are of the ‘slow but steady‘ nature and can travel a large enough area to get right round most gardens and allotments. Although basically harmless, many people find these pests singularly disgusting and I must declare I am one of those people too! Although slugs and snails hold no fear for me whatsoever, I find their slimy nature abhorrent and I hate the feel of them if I pick one up.

Over the years, gardeners have developed numerous home remedies for dealing with slugs and most of these remedies are based on very sound principles. Often the only drawback with the home remedies is that they may require a lot of effort or preparation if the area to be treated is large. The science underpinning most methods for slug control is sound and will be based on one or two of the basic principles that are:

  1. Creating a physical barrier that the slugs cannot traverse or really dislike traversing.
  2. Using materials that act as a repellent – usually harmless but enough to discourage a slug from proceeding through the repellent.
  3. Using materials that kill the slugs outright – many find this distasteful or unnecessary and only used as a last resort.

You may be surprised to learn that 95% of slugs in a garden will be below the surface -we only see 5% of the population at any one time. There are literally hundreds of slugs in a couple of cubic metres of soil! Not all slug species are detrimental to garden plants, instead eating mostly rotting vegetation and thereby actually performing a useful ecological function.

If You Have Slugs Inside the Home..

Then it’s definitely time to act to get rid of them. Nobody would ever want to live with waking up to slugs or snails or their silvery trails all over the kitchen floor in the morning; God forbid you should stand on one in bare feet! Yuk! If you do ever get slugs inside, often they will be found in parts of the home that are darker, more damp and cooler. Prime locations will be on the floor beneath sinks or around dishwashers etc. If there is damp being caused be a leaking pipe or something else that is fixable, then stopping the leak and therefore the damp, may be sufficient to make the place less favourable to the slugs and they will go elsewhere.

As stated earlier, there are numerous DIY methods for slug and snail control but when they are in the home it is important to try and work out where exactly they are gaining entry and to concentrate efforts there.

Slugs can elongate their bodies to an astonishing degree and squeeze through gaps that might seem to small for them, so it is important to inspect suspected entry points thoroughly bearing in mind that a very small gap under a door or cracks in stone/brickwork can be enough for them to pass through. A very common point of entry are the exterior air vents that punctuate the perimeter’s of houses and flats. I’ve found vents sometimes totally blocked up with various plaster or cement filler products – this should never be done! The vents are there for an important function; they allow the building to breathe and aerate. Blocking vents can lead to damp homes and damp can cause structural problems as well as respiratory problems because of molds etc that thrive in damp conditions.

I imagine people figured they would reduce heat loss/draughts by filling in vents. Also, vents can be where rodents gain entry too, so perhaps people who’ve suffered with rat or mice infestations felt they needed to block the vents to get rid of the rodents. In cases both of slugs and rodents, the vents should be proofed not blocked. This means in practice the fitting of some kind of screen that continues to allow air through, but does not allow the pests through! A fine grade of steel mesh, cut to the shape of the vent, fixed across the face of the vent, will create a solid long-term barrier. Depending on what building materials surround the vent, screws, wire, clips and glue can all be used to fix the mesh to the vent. It need not be Fort Knox, as a pest will be put off trying to enter there and will go elsewhere.

Creating a border right round the perimeter of the building is ideal. It acts as a wall the slugs won’t want to cross. It’s important to know the life-span of the repellent material. Some chemical or organic methods may deteriorate in a couple of weeks, other methods may last longer.

If you want to ensure that your slug problem is properly dealt with, contact a local professional pest control technician. They will have custom-made products that really work well, and after having inspected your building, they will be able to correctly target repellents, offer advice on other measures (such as leaking pipes or open vents) and often also offer the service of actually carrying out building proofing work. Take the disgust and effort out of slug control and get a professional to do it properly.

And Finally..

Most people will have heard of tried and tested methods of killing slugs and snails but I have decided to leave them out of this article, as many find these methods to potentially be very cruel and unnecessary. The effort involved in killing them is no less than the effort of repelling them and as long as people can successfully keep slugs away from the areas they wish, killing creatures when it is not absolutely necessary is a step to far for this author, especially when the pest is beneficial in the right environment. In pest control, certainly these days, killing pests is often a last resort and often totally unnecessary. All pest require food and water and shelter of some kind. Most of the time when there is a pest infestation, be it rodents, birds or insects, there are numerous measures that when taken, remove one or more of the requirements of the pest and the pest will no longer thrive there.


Gordon Mackay, Aberkil