As the pest control industry moves more towards low-impact treatments (for people, pets, non-target insects, and the environment) there is a battle of opinions over which treatment method is “better”. Let’s discuss the Pros and Cons of each and how they fit into a modern pest control program.
Sprays have been around for almost 100 years. Early on they were viewed as “miracle sprays”. They were broad spectrum products that killed any insect they came in contact with. Very little thought was put into non-target insects such as honeybees or other beneficial insects. In the 1960’s the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) movement began. IPM is a strategy that includes using sprays, but only when necessary. IPM focuses on preventing pests with better education, cultural practices, and prevention. For example, why do you need to spray for palmetto bugs every month if you can just fix the gaps under a door that they are sneaking in? Sprays were still the backbone of most treatments to homes and agricultural crops, but spraying started to become less frequent.
This wasn’t just about being “green”. Farmers and pest control operator quickly realized when they spray the same product over and over the insects became resistant in only a few generations. As a result, many new product options were developed.
In the 1980’s baits became popular. Baits consist of a food source mixed with a very small amount of insecticide. Baits could be strategically placed only in pest harborages and achieve better control than spraying every baseboard in a home. Using bait you could apply 1000x less active ingredient in a house and achieve better control than using a spray. This is because pests will be attracted to the food source in the bait, eat it, and even share it with others so they all die. This transfer affect is especially effective in ants, roaches, and termite control.
Sounds great . . . . . . so why doesn’t everyone use baits all of the time? There are several reasons.
3 Reasons Baits Don't Always Work
First, there are some pests that won’t eat baits. Mostly, these are pests that prefer “live” food such as bed bugs, mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, spiders, etc. There have been attempts at baiting these pests, but overall they aren’t responsive to baits, so other control methods are necessary.
Second, you have to know a little about what you are doing for baiting to work. If you put out the wrong bait, the pests won’t eat it, and you won’t get control. For example, different types of ants eat different kinds of food (sweets, proteins, or fats). If you put out a protein ant bait for a sweet feeding ant, you are going to be frustrated. Plus, very small ant species can’t pick up larger granular baits even if they wanted too, so they won’t eat it, and once again, you will be frustrated.
Third, sometimes pests are just picky. For example, Maxforce Quantum Ant Bait is a great sweet bait that may work 9 out of 10 times on sweet feeding ants. However, for no apparent reason, sometimes ants will just decide they don’t want to eat it on a particular day.
The bottom line is for a bait to work, the pest has to eat it. Many people get frustrated and blame the bait and give up. It can be a little tricky to find the right bait and it isn’t as easy as spraying baseboards, but you do get better control in the end with less environmental impact. When trying to control ants or roaches, I always recommend using a rotation of three different baits to help ensure you get 100% control.
So let’s compare this to the Pros and Cons of “sprays”.
Pros & Cons of Spray
The old-school sprays that had high toxicity to people and pets are gone from the market today. Modern sprays typically have a lower toxicity to people and pets than the common household cleaners you find in most homes. Some of the brand new chemistries coming out even have a human toxicity level as low as drinking water. These products are also much more specific to a small group of pests and less toxic to beneficial insects like honeybees.
Sprays have also been developed with a “transfer effect”. These non-repellent sprays (such as Alpine WSG) allow the pests to walk through the residual, the pest lives for a few days, transfers the product to the entire colony, and the entire colony dies. This is similar to how a bait works without the trouble of having to get the pest to eat it. That is a really nice tool to have up your sleeve, especially if baits aren’t working for you.
Also, “organic” and “natural” treatments are growing in popularity. Unfortunately, most “organic” products are highly repellent to insects so they won’t work as baits. Organic programs focus on prevention, but when a treatment is necessary for an organic treatment it is often a botanical-based spray such as Evergreen Pyrethrum Concentrate.
The “Cons” of using sprays is that you need to be sure you are safely applying the product as per the label directions so you do not adversely affect people, pets, or the environment. Public perception of using an “old-school” spray is also something you need to carefully manage.
You can see there are a lot of Pros and Cons to baits and sprays. So what do I prefer to use?
As a standard pest prevention program, I am a fan of using only baits on the indoors and using a combination of baits/sprays on the perimeter. Indoors is where there is the most potential for people coming in contact with a product so I like the added safety of using baits. Plus, even baiting only needs to be done indoors if you have an active problem. In a perfect world, all treatments could be done on the outside perimeter to prevent pests from even getting inside.
As a preventative, outdoors I like treating 5-10 feet out from the structure with a multi-species bait (Intice 10, Invict Xpress, Niban, Maxforce Complete, etc.). I like to use sprays only on the base of doors and other possible entry areas where pests are likely to enter (around cable lines, poorly sealing windows, etc.). I prefer to use a long-lasting repellent spray (Onslaught, Suspend Polyzone, Demand CS) to prevent pest entry. Usually treating every two months during the pest season will prevent most pest problems on the indoors.
Every situation is different, but this is a good basis on which to build your low-impact pest program.
About the author:
Joe Jonovich is an Entomologist with over 20 years of pest management industry experience. He has owned his own pest management company, worked with manufacturers on product research & development, and still works as a technical consultant for leading pest management companies. His work with ePestHero.com includes education, developing treatment programs, and creating easy to use product kits to better serve “do-it-yourselfers” and pest management companies of all sizes.