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Flea control with nematodes

By Al Cooke, Ag Extension agent
Posted Monday, January 15, 2007

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Pittsboro, NC - Let me start by saying that this is a very good example of the idea that the strategy is more important than the product. Certain nematodes are parasitic on fleas and can kill them. It’s interesting to note that this effect is easier to observe under controlled research conditions than in field studies. The concept has been around for a long time but researchers are still refining the strategies that lead to success.

Nematodes are a large category of roundworms many of which are problematic for plants and animals. At least one is a human parasite. But if they are a parasite or predator of a species that we don’t care for, then we begin to consider them beneficial. A couple of species of nematodes have been found to be effective under certain conditions for the control of a wide range of soil insects. But it involves a lot of management and expertise.

Users must remember they are dealing with a living organism. At least you must hope it’s living. Since they are difficult to impossible to see with the naked eye, difficult to impossible to identify without training, and mixed with a carrier to facilitate survival and distribution, most of us must trust that there are living organisms in the container. If the container is sitting on a counter at the store, how long it has been there and how it has been handled in shipping and handling is a serious consideration. As living organisms the nematodes are sensitive to temperature and can be killed at extremes both high and low. And like most living organisms, some of us are healthier than others; the healthier ones are likely more effective at infecting fleas than the unhealthy ones. Rule-of-Thumb (ROT) application rate recommendations run to 1 billion per acre or about 23 million per 1,000 square feet if my long division is accurate.

Once you purchase these organisms, they may survive in certain conditions of moisture, light, and temperature. Timing of application can be very important. They seem to be more effective at flea control in moist sandy soil. They probably would not survive the night if applied on the surface subject to freezing overnight.

Timing is everything.

If everything goes as hoped, you may achieve a rapid knockdown of the flea population as well as other soil insects. If that happens, the nematode population will likely also decline. No food, no feeders. That sets the stage for pets or wild animals to reintroduce fleas. So the resident is still left with long-term management.

I have had good long-term control with insect growth regulators (IGR). IGRs are naturally occurring chemicals that regulate the maturation of insects to coincide with favorable growing conditions. Commercially they are available as synthetic products methoprene and pyriproxifen. Look for these IGRs on the ingredients section of the label. They are usually combined with an “adulticide” to kill adult fleas and inhibit the maturation of larvae into adults. Use only where and as directed on the label. Even these products, however, should be combined with good management strategies such as grooming pets to remove eggs, cleaning areas where pets spend time, washing bedding frequently in hot soapy water, and indoor vacuuming. No one of these strategies or products alone will do the job. But by combining them and actively pursuing an informed strategy, you can be successful. We call it IPM or Integrated Pest Management.

 
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