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Tick removal and bees

By Al Cooke
Posted Sunday, September 6, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - Before we get to the toxicity to bees, I think there are a couple of other misconceptions that need to be addressed first: one is that we can eliminate ticks and fleas and the other is that some product is the answer. I'll suggest first that you can learn to manage the tick/flea populations and that products may be part of the solution. As farmers learned long ago, an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy is far more effective than a product only strategy. It also requires more from you.

An important component of managing both pests is dealing with the hosts. I always encourage pet owners to consult with their veterinarians about managing these parasites on their pets. It's also important to focus a lot of attention to any area where pets spend time. There are likely parasite eggs, larvae, pupae, and/or adults there.

The other hosts are more difficult and include deer, squirrels, foxes, raccoons, opossums, birds, rabbits, mice, lizards - all those other animals that move about your property. Using the product only approach assumes that in a few weeks (after the product has bio-degraded) the various hosts will be dropping more of the parasites in the areas previously treated and you'll need to treat again! To the extent practical - and I realize it's not very practical - exclusion of some of these hosts can be helpful. Deer are specifically implicated as hosts of ticks, and sound fencing is not a bad option.

Another useful component is habitat management. Open areas discourage certain hosts and tend to dry out quicker than wooded areas. Ticks especially do better where it's cool and damp. Managing vegetation to improve sun exposure and air circulation will help dry things out, making it a little less hospitable to them. Despite the aversion some people have to lawns, it may be easier to keep ticks and fleas out of a close-mowed lawn than more dense ground covers.

To get to the product, Demand is a synthetic pyrethroid; it is toxic to bees. In fact they are one of the targets included on the product label, http://www.cdms.net/LDat/ld2CD002.pdf. On the other hand, the presence of the product doesn't necessarily mean all the bees in the neighborhood will die.. Insects have to come in contact with it. I would not use it around the apiary. And I would not use it on plants in flower. But if you check the areas where you need to treat for fleas and ticks, also observe whether bees are present there, especially in the morning. Certainly don't treat areas that bees are frequenting, and don't use insecticides on plants in flower..

It may also be useful to consider an additional product that includes an insect growth regulator (IGR). While these are synthesized products they imitate naturally occurring chemicals that fleas and ticks use to regulate their maturation. In the presence of the IGR the immatures fail to mature and therefore do not reproduce. Fleas particularly use this process to delay the maturation of larvae to coincide with the chemical stimulus released when immature hosts are born - the natural world is chemically complex. Humans use it to work on breaking the reproductive cycle. Methoprene and pyriproxifen are commonly used IGRs that are usually compounded with an "adulticide" to work on the insect in multiple ways.

There are also parasitic nematodes that you may find if you search diligently. Availability is sporadic. Be aware that in dealing with a living agent such as nematodes it is important to keep them alive. It's important not only that you don't leave it on the dash of the car; it's also important how it was handled before you got it. How do you know that the microscopic nematodes are still alive? And keeping them alive in your environment requires that they have a host - such as fleas and ticks.

And that takes me back to the notion that we don't eradicate much from our environment. We learn to manage. Insecticides are typically a short term solution to a long term problem. It may be important to use the short term option. That gives you time to develop a more comprehensive strategy.

 
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