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  • Writer's pictureNoel McCarthy

Part 1: The 6 Most Invasive Insects and How to Deal with Them

Updated: May 25, 2022

Pharaoh Ant

Part One: Pharaoh Ants and Stink Bugs

When most of us hear the term ‘invasive species,” those of us familiar with the concept may think of the Africanized Honeybee, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, and, further up the food chain, perhaps the Burmese Python or wild boar. Unfortunately, these creatures represent only a tiny portion of organisms that now call the US home!

And there’s the additional problem of invasive plants —Kudzu and Russian Knapweed, for instance; invasive aquatic creatures like the notorious Asian Carp and the (apparently ravenous) Nutria; and, of course, innumerable pathogens and diseases. But for our purposes, we will be focusing on invasive insect species.

However, that said, it should be pointed out that all of these invasive flora and fauna can, and do, cause so much damage that the US Department of Agriculture has created its own National Invasive Species Information Center. For its part, the US Fish & Wildlife Services is blunt in its assessment of these threats:

“The negative consequences of invasive species are far-reaching, costing the

United States billions of dollars in damages every year . . . such infestations

can negatively affect property values, agricultural productivity, public utility

operations, native fisheries, tourism, outdoor recreation, and the overall

health of an ecosystem.”

What Bugs US Most? The Top 6 Invasive Insects

Research suggests that, from the point of view of the pest management industry, the following insects are the ones that prompt the most calls from customers:

  1. Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs

  2. Pharaoh Ants

  3. Argentine Ants

  4. Asian Lady Beetle

  5. Asian Tiger Mosquitos

  6. Formosan Subterranean Termites

A closer look at these six pests can help us to find more efficient ̶ and effective ̶ ways to deal with them.

How to Get Rid of Stink Bugs

Since stink bugs (brown marmorated ones, to be exact) are the top perpetrator, let’s learn a bit more about them and suggest, step by step, how to get rid of them.

It’s not entirely clear when and where the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug first made landfall in the US, but experts think that they arrived some time in the 1990s from Asia, possibly as a stowaway in a shipping container or a crate of some kind. In any event, this pest wasn’t really noticed, or even taken seriously, until the 2000s. In the intervening years they’ve found their way into some 38 states and have become the bane of farmers in the mid-Atlantic region, where they are a major threat to fruit, vegetable, and field crops.

Farmers, of course, have their own ways of dealing with these pests, but everyone else depends either on PMPs or their own DIY skills.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs are small- an adult is roughly 17 mm (0.66 in) long and is brown on the upper and lower body surfaces- and can be easily identified by the shield-like body. As one droll observer noted, stink bug looks a lot like a sci-weapon from a low-budget 1950s movie. Think Jack Arnold’s 1953 classic, It Came from Outer Space!

During the warmer months, they stay outside offices and homes, usually in leaf litter and other sorts of vegetation. However, once weather begins to grow colder, these pests start looking for sites where they can safely ride out the winter. And once they make their way indoors, they will hunker down virtually anywhere: in drapes and behind venetian blinds; under beds and inside sofas and settees; in crawl spaces and attics (a particular favorite); beneath floorboards and behind baseboards; in window and door trims; etc. In other words, look everywhere!

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs don’t do structural damage the way termites do, and they generally don’t breed inside or reproduce in homes. Plus, fortunately for us they don’t bite and they don’t transmit diseases. But they are a nuisance, and need to be dealt with promptly once found.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Here’s How to Get Rid of Stink Bugs:

  1. You can certainly use Sterifab® to eradicate these pests, as well as lice, ticks, dust mites, bed bugs, fleas, scabies and other unwelcome visitors.

  2. Spray the affected areas with Sterifab. You can return to the room within 15 minutes.

  3. Apply Sterifab around the perimeter of your house -- and be sure to include door and window frames and other points of access, e.g. the garage, if it’s attached.

  4. Make sure you keep your container of Sterifab away from children and pets. And always follow the instructions on the label.

  5. Remember: one application of Sterifab may not be enough to eradicate all the stink bugs that are hiding away in your house. You may need to respray.

Of course, you can also remove Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs with a vacuum cleaner, but be prepared for the noxious smell they emit (especially if they’re crushed under foot). There’s a reason they’re called stink bugs!

How to Prevent Stink Bugs from Returning

Finally, once you’ve gotten rid of these smelly critters you need to make sure they don’t re-invade. Julie Martens Forney, of the DIY Network, suggests these five simple steps to achieve this:

  1. Check Screens Make sure window screens are in good repair and fit tightly. Repair holes or tears promptly.

  2. Eyeball Doors Close your doors and give them a close look. If you see daylight anywhere, that’s a potential entry point for bugs.

  3. Inspect Your Home’s Exterior Cracks in the foundation, crevices around crawl space openings, holes in eaves and fascia boards and worn weather stripping around windows all roll out the welcome mat for hibernating insects.

  4. Prune Plants Remove any tree branches that hang over your home’s roof or gutters—they provide easy access for insects.

  5. Seal Utility Lines  Check every utility line that attaches to or enters your home. Insects often use utility wires as a bridge.

How to Get Rid of Pharaoh Ants

Next up on the list is the Pharaoh Ant. No one knows exactly where Pharaoh Ants originated, although it has been said that the name might have arisen from the misguided notion that these creatures were one of the plagues of ancient Egypt.

Whether or not that is true, this species is both widely dispersed- having been identified in places as far apart as Europe, the Americas, Australasia and Southeast Asia- and is regarded as a major pest.

Pharaoh Ants (or ‘Sugar Ants’, as they are sometimes called) are actually very small- approximately 1/16-inch long (roughly 1.5 to 2 millimeters in length)- and are light yellow to reddish brown in color. And yes, they do have stingers, but these are not used to attack opponents, but rather to generate pheromones! Pharaoh Ants are also stricken with poor eyesight.

Pharaoh Ants Go Anywhere and Everywhere!

Pharaoh Ants can nest virtually anywhere, although they do prefer dark places inside buildings. They can be found behind baseboards, inside light fixtures, in furniture, between the leaves of discarded newspapers and magazines, even in rags and clothing. As a rule, you won’t find these ants nesting outside, since they prefer locations that are warm, preferably between 80-85 degrees. And, of course, like most creatures they require water, so they can often be found in kitchens and bathrooms.

Part of their resilience also stems from the fact that they will eat virtually any type of food. Being omnivores, they will happily consume sweets, meats, any greasy food stuff they can find, other insects, seeds, nuts, nectar, bread, grains etc. They are not especially discriminating. However, they are a serious problem in hospitals and retirement homes since they have a liking for bandages and medical waste.

Needless to say, these proclivities make Pharaoh Ants a serious problem in hospitals and retirement homes, where they present a considerable contamination hazard. For instance, these pests will enthusiastically occupy unsanitary areas such as intravenous drip systems, containers of sterile dressings, and even on surgical wounds. What’s more, Pharaoh Ants have been known to transmit such infectious bacteria as salmonella, staphylococcus, streptococcus, and other pathogens.

Workers and queens galore!

Pharaoh ants are nothing if not resilient. And, if you are able to track down and destroy a nest, chances are that you have done nothing more than disperse its inhabitants- which can include up to 300,000 workers ants. What makes such efforts especially frustrating is that Pharaoh Ant nests often contain numerous queens- as many as 150 in some cases- so if a colony is intruded upon the ants are easily able to scatter and establish colonies elsewhere.

As the Texas Invasive Species Institute notes, because of the amiable relationship that exists between Pharaoh Ants, “the formation of new colonies by the process of budding is a major adaptation possessed by the pharaoh ant that allows it to become widely distributed4.”

Getting Rid of Pharaoh Ants

Unfortunately, because new colonies can form so easily, getting rid of these ants can be a real challenge, especially for homeowners (or even building management, in the case of office facilities). This is why it is important to call in a PMP (Pest Management Professional) when dealing with Pharaoh Ants. PMPs have the experience and expertise that allow them to track down nests quickly and employ the appropriate eradication measures. Plus, PMP can also identify other pest problems- issues that you may not even have been aware of.

Coming Up

In Part Two we’ll be looking at two more unpleasant invasive species: Argentine Ants and Asian Lady Beetle.

In Part Three we’ll talk about another two unwelcome ‘visitors’: the Asian Tiger Mosquito and Formosan Subterranean Termites.

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