What do you know about cultural control methods?
An integrated pest management (IPM) program should consider chemical, physical, biological and cultural control. Pest managers should be quite familiar with chemical control options, and physical techniques to exclude pests from an area are somewhat obvious. Biological control is not used in urban pest management. But what is cultural control?
Cultural control is about manipulating the environment to make it less attractive to pests, providing fewer places to shelter and to make conditions less conducive to pest breeding and population growth.
Most of the cultural control techniques that are beneficial in urban pest management really have to be carried out by the home or business owner. However, they can have a quite profound effect on improving the performance of any pest treatment, as well as preventing the chances of a pest outbreak in the future. As such, it is worth spending a bit of time with the client explaining what you are suggesting and why – even if they decide not to act on your advice, it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.
We can broadly split cultural control options into two groups: hygiene measures and environmental modifications.
Customers generally don’t like to talk about hygiene and cleaning, as they think it reflects on them as a homeowner. Of course, it does, so you need to be a bit diplomatic when making any suggestions.
The removal of potential pest food sources is a key first step. The main actions are cleaning up spilled food, not leaving dirty dishes on the side, cleaning ovens, grills and microwaves, and cleaning under fridges. Not leaving uneaten pet food out is another. Correct food storage is often overlooked, so placing opened packets in sealed jars or containers is important to protect the food from a variety of pests including stored product pests, rodents, cockroaches and ants. Placing rubbish in sealed bags, which are removed regularly to outdoor bins with well-fitting lids, also removes a potential food source.
The other key hygiene measure is regular vacuuming. Not only does this remove dust and food from the floor, it can physically remove pests such as dust mites, fleas and carpet beetles. Encourage property owners to vacuum in all the corners and under furniture – the dark, undisturbed areas that pests love! Of course, using a vacuum can be part of your pest control treatments too before applying any product, especially for infestations of carpet beetles, fleas and cockroaches.
One of the biggest changes a homeowner can make is to the garden bed around the perimeter of the building. Dense vegetation, wood mulch and regular watering make this a haven for all sorts of pests, not just termites. It’s understandable that homeowners want to hide the hard edges of the building and make it more attractive, but a smarter design would be the use of plants in pots and pebbles as a ground cover (as pictured above), to minimise pest problems.
Much as removing sources of food can have a big impact on pest numbers, eliminating sources of moisture is important too. Identifying and fixing any drainage issues, leaks and dripping taps, both inside and outside will remove attractive, readily available water sources for pests.
Leaving lights on, especially outdoor lights, is going to attract a range of insects after dark. If they must leave them on, warm colour LED lights appear to attract fewer insects. Although as different insects are attracted to lights of different wavelengths, no bulb is perfect. If you are in millipede prone areas, advise homeowners to turn lights off and/or keep curtains closed during millipede season (wet periods during spring and autumn), to avoid turning the house into a massive ‘millipede magnet’!
Some insects require a humid environment to survive (e.g. silverfish), but in fact many insects will thrive when humidity levels are higher. Keeping humidity down in wardrobes can be achieved at a low cost with the use of a humidifier, protecting clothes from silverfish and mould. Along with reducing humidity is the need to increase airflow. This is particularly important in subfloors with moisture problems, as greater airflow makes these spaces less attractive to termites and inhibits mould development. Low-cost fans can be easily installed in most subfloor spaces.