The (Very Common) Common Enemy

The (Very Common) Common Enemy


By Kathy Danforth / Published February 2019

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Pests, by definition, are generally unpopular, bringing a degree of unity to resident opinions. Florida is full of them. Dr. Phil Koehler, professor of entomology and nematology with UF/IFAS Extension at Gainesville, states, “When people move to Florida, they need to understand that they’re going to be dealing with pests. One third of the pest control in the United States is done in Florida. We have a huge pest control industry—bigger than the citrus industry even before it collapsed.” Since household pests do not observe property boundaries, residents will want a concerted effort to combat infestations.

     Setting aside all thoughts of the random annoying sibling, household pests include creatures ranging from termites to bothersome or stinging insects to rogue wildlife. Possibly the most financially detrimental is termites. “For condominiums, termites can be devastating,” explains Koehler. According to the EPA, termites cause billions of dollars of damage in the United States annually. Koehler cautions that there are two different kinds of termites, which require completely different methods of control. “Subterranean termites nest in the soil and then tunnel into the home,” says Koehler. “There is not too much of a problem with subterranean termites when a good preventive treatment protects the structure. A building should have bait or soil treatment protection all the time.

     “Drywood termites nest in the wood itself, and there is no real prevention against them,” Koehler states. “The best method of

dealing with an infestation is with tent fumigation, but during fumigation the structure needs to be vacant. That also includes any adjoining residences next to, above, or below the fumigated unit. That precaution is needed in case fumigant gas leaks into those areas. This can get problematic if one residence has termites and the others don’t. Residents without termites may not want to relocate for a

couple of days, and there is also the issue of the bill. There are drywood termite treatments called spot treatments, but they have a higher failure rate.

     “The Formosan subterranean termite is a much more difficult termite to control, and it is now found in most of the major metropolitan areas in Florida,” reports Koehler. “These have very large colonies, and they build nests in the wall as well as in the ground.

     “Termites usually swarm in the spring, but with so many species, they can occur at any time,” notes Koehler. “Native termites tend to swarm from January to March or April, Formosan from April to September, and drywood from summer into fall. The presence of swarmers in a structure is a good indication of infestation.”

     Though roaches are not highly destructive, they are seriously lacking in hygiene and aesthetics. “A cockroach is just as bad as a dirty hand,” comments Koehler. “German cockroaches are most prevalent in kitchens and bathrooms, and they can mechanically transport food poison bacteria from spoiled food, such as crumbs under a refrigerator, to food preparation surfaces.

     “Also, German cockroaches produce several proteins that can cause asthma, which in severe cases can be life threatening. There is a great body of literature showing that this is especially a problem with children. In areas with high infestation, children lose more school days and have more visits to the emergency room, and parents lose more sleep.

     “The German cockroach can move through walls following the plumbing,” notes Koehler, “so if one resident has a problem, the person next door will get it, as well. In most cases, controlling them does need to be a concerted community effort.

     “The American cockroach prefers to live in sewers, which is an important consideration for those living in Florida who go north in the summer,” says Koehler. “If a resident leaves for a month or two, the water evaporates out of the plumbing traps under sinks and bathtubs, and then roaches can enter. This is also a real issue any time there is a spare bathroom that is not being used. A drain should be used every two to three weeks to prevent entry of roaches.

     “Though not as much of a disease vector, the Australian cockroach can be prevalent at times. These are arboreal, living in trees, but may also reside in tile roofs and later migrate inside,” reports Koehler.

     “German cockroaches and others can be controlled with a bait formulation, and some over-the-counter products are very good,” Koehler advises. “For other types of cockroaches, the best control is to cut off access by caulking, weather stripping, and keeping water in drains.”

     Though they had been almost eradicated by DDT and organophosphate pesticides, Koehler warns, “Bedbugs have returned. About 2000 they came back, and they are now prevalent in many areas of the U.S.” Condominiums are particularly susceptible if a large number of residents travel, as they may bring bedbugs back into their Florida home.

     The variety of species of ants, many of which originated in other countries, presents many different issues for homeowners. “One of the main imported ants is the fire ant, which has a painful sting,” advises Koehler. “These usually nest in lawns but also may nest in debris on flat roofs and forage down into the house.”

     Other problematic species include the tawny crazy ant, the white-footed ant, the ghost ant, and the carpenter ant. Koehler recounts, “With tawny crazy ants, you can have such a heavy infestation that when you spray, you can have piles of dead ants six inches deep. People actually have to use leaf blowers to remove them so more ants can contact the insecticide. Florida carpenter ants do not necessarily eat wood, but they will hollow out where wood is destroyed by fungus to nest.” Kohler recommends that primary control of ants be directed at the yard or grounds surrounding a building.

     “Drain flies, while not necessarily a health hazard, are annoying,” notes Koehler. “To prevent those, keep drains clear of slime. There is usually an overflow pipe, and if that gets clogged, it is a great place for flies to develop.”

     Mosquitoes combine annoyance with a serious health risk. Koehler advises, “Check with your local health department on the status of diseases in your area. This year we have not had locally transmitted Zika, dengue fever, or Chikungunya virus. Florida does have locally transmitted West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). The major disease transmission period is August through October.”

     To minimize mosquitoes, survey the property for water sources where mosquitoes might develop. “Likely spots include dishes under plants, bird baths, toys, and abandoned pools,” observes Koehler. “Empty the water source or add mosquito dunk products [containing bacteria toxic to mosquito larvae] to kill larvae. For more aggressive control, contact a professional pest control company or contact the mosquito district for spraying.”

     For spiders, Koehler recommends, “Brush them off the buildings in early spring, and that largely solves the problem. As for poisonous spiders, there are no brown recluse spiders in Florida; only black and brown widows. The brown widow is most common, but it plays dead when disturbed, so there aren’t many bites.”

     Stinging insects such as bees and wasps can present a different challenge. “Many people are allergic to wasps,” says Koehler, “and bees in Florida can be very aggressive and swarm often.”

     William Sklaroff, aka Willie the Bee Man, explains, “Rarely do bees cause damage. They fill a void which they find under a soffit or in a flower pot, barbeque pit, or birdhouse; they will go into almost any void about the size of a five-gallon bucket. The hole or crack that bees use as an entrance and exit is not caused by the bees themselves, but if you kill the bees but do not eliminate the entire hive, then you can have the stench of decaying bees and the problem of dripping honey, which attracts ants, roaches, and critters.”

     Sklaroff notes, “Most people are afraid of bees, but when bees are foraging for pollen and nectar, they won’t bother you. Also, when bees are swarming or hanging like a football, they are looking for a location in which to establish a new colony, so they generally won’t bother people unless they are attacked. However, if they are building a hive, any bees, not only Africanized bees, may become aggressive because they are protecting babies that are inside the honeycombs. Aggressive bees may come out of a hive at full speed.

     “People sometimes try to kill the bees themselves,” states Sklaroff, “but the Department of Agriculture recommends that all feral [wild] bees should be considered Africanized and should be exterminated. The safest way is to hire bee specialists to do the removal or the extermination. It’s important for people to know that there is no chemical treatment that will prevent bees from colonizing in particular places because all of the chemicals available last for only a few hours or days. Some people have tried smoking out bees by using fire or gasoline and have inadvertently burned down their houses. Soapy water will kill bees, but if bees are in a structure, such as a wall, roof, or soffit, an experienced and trained technician is needed to remove the hive.”

     Sklaroff explains, “We perform live removals whenever possible by smoking out bees with cool smoke, placing the empty hive and brood into a bee box, and brushing the adult bees into the box. If extermination is needed, we remove the entire hive—that is, bees, wax honeycombs, and brood—from the structure.”

     Bats also present unique challenges for communities. The two most well-known health risks are histoplasmosis [a fungal lung disease] and rabies, though John Greenwood with Friends of Bats points out, “Only a very small percentage of the bat population is thought to carry rabies. However, for professional facilities managers, there are also potential threats to the structural integrity and even the commercial value of buildings resulting from bat infestations. The smell from the excrement and urine and the subsequent staining on buildings and structures is a concern, and the build-up of waste products in attic voids can become excessive. Bat urine is very corrosive and can eventually cause damage to the waterproof membrane beneath the tile, shake, or metal roof covering, where they often make their roosts.”

     Bats may roost in colonies of 20,000 or more, according to Greenwood. “Each bat will eat 2,000–3,000 insects per night, which is why they are protected by state law.” Additionally, Greenwood explains, “They are very territorial, and babies born on a site consider it their ‘home.’  Typically, we find that bats excluded from a particular building in a complex or from a particular area of a building will simply relocate to the nearest available aperture or structure in the vicinity.” For this reason, communities will need a professional company to relocate the bats—with a guarantee that they will not return.

     Using professional pest control is most beneficial to a community, according to Koehler, because 1) they are trained to do the work, and 2) there will not be surplus chemicals to store. “One of the biggest problems with homeowner pesticide use is that they may not have the knowledge to do it correctly, which is often spraying it where it was not designed to go—possibly near waterways. Florida has certification of pest control operators, so communities should not use someone without a license.” With certification, a community is assured the pest control company is trained to apply and store the chemicals correctly following Best Management Practices, which will protect health and the environment.

     “The most common way accidental poisoning from pesticide happens is from improper storage,” says Koehler. “A grandparent may put leftover chemicals under the sink and not remember it when grandchildren are around. A contractor will take any extra chemical with him. If an association applies pesticides, proper storage is essential.”

     The term “pest control” is unfortunately a clue to the fact that this will be an ongoing issue. Most folks might prefer to have “pest annihilation,” but the reality is that more bugs and beasts will find a way to return. By working together in prevention and fighting infestations, associations may not finish the war on pests, but they can win the battles. 



Dr. Phil Koehler is a professor of entomology and nematology with UF/IFAS Extension at Gainesville.

Willie Skarloff is with Willie the Bee Man. For more information, call (877) 633-BEES or visit

John Greenwood is with Friends of Bats. For more information, call (888) 758-2287 or visit