Pest Control 101

The holiday season, aka Christmas, is wrapping up (pun intended), but with all that extra food lying around over the last week or so, I should probably talk about pest control.  Pest control isn’t all that difficult if you follow a few simple rules.

Rule #1: Focus

In order to eradicate your pests, you need to focus.  This means that you need to define exactly what you are trying to eradicate.  Are you going after all your bratty nieces and nephews-or just the ones less than three feet tall?  What about those terrifying eyelash mites we heard about in Grade Six?  The ones that literally dive in and out of your eyelashes with reckless abandon, sucking the juices out of them until they (the eyelashes) wizzle up and fall off?

eyelash_mite
Demodex folliculorum (maybe)

I think this is an unretouched image of an eyelash mite contemplating diving into its next eyelash with reckless abandon. But I’m a little suspicious of the overall quality of the information on the site where I got the image (everything you wanted to know about eyelash mites).

For instance, I found this quote kind of misleading:

“Actually they (Demodex folliculorum) like to burrow into the follicles. You don’t have any symptoms. But your eyelashes can get irritated and very itchy. This can cause our eyelashes to fall out.”

Hello?  Last time I checked, irritation is a symptom.  Like when your patient says, “My eyelashes are irritated.”  That’s a symptom.  And if you’re really on your game that day, you will immediately counter with a patient-centered interviewing technique and ask,

“What do you think might be wrong with you?”

The patient will probably say, “I literally think I have eyelash mites.”

And what about itchiness?  Same story.  It’s a symptom too.

Eyelashes falling out is a symptom if the patient tells you about it, but if you happen to see eyelashes falling out on physical exam, then it’s a sign, not a symptom.  But maybe I’m splitting hairs.  And who the hell actually examines their patients these days anyway?

I’m just saying you should be a little wary of some of the stuff you read on line.  Especially the stuff in some of these would-be humor columns.

But I’m getting way off focus here, so let’s talk about spiders.  They make pretty good pests since many of us non-spiders are terrified of them.  And supposedly we’re less than three feet away from a spider  literally everywhere on Earth.

OK let’s stop right here.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but to me it seems like literally everyone  is misusing “literally.”  I wanted to see if anyone else was noticing this problem so I googled “overuse of literally.”  Literally less than one second later, my suspicions were confirmed.  Literally tons of people are concerned about this issue.  I found a great site that outlines the problem: stop saying literally .

The author, Liz Bureman, explains:

“When something is literally occurring, that means that it is happening exactly as described. Someone who is literally passing out from excitement has their eyes rolling back in their head, and is collapsing to the ground as we speak.

Usually, the intended word is figuratively, which means that whatever is happening is being described metaphorically. Someone who is figuratively on pins and needles with anticipation is really looking forward to something. Someone who is literally on pins and needles is currently experiencing small puncture wounds on their body.”

I literally adore the way Ms. Bureman thinks.

Note that just now I misused “literally” another way: I used it for emphasis when really, I should have been looking for some other adverb like “totally” or “absolutely” or “incontestably.”  Just saying.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, spiders.  Although I think they are great pests, it turns out that this whole less-than-three-feet-from-a-spider-almost-everywhere-on-Earth thing is another one of those pesky urban legends.  Just go to the truth about spiders where you’ll read about Norman Platnick’s tragic error back in 1995.  Norman Platnick is a famous arachnologist, in case you were wondering.

norm-platnick
Norman Platnick less than three feet away from a spider

You could also just try using some common sense.  Do you honestly think there are spiders crawling everywhere in Antarctica?  What about at the summit of Everest? Or during free-fall whilst skydiving.  Next time you are in Antarctica or on the summit of Everest, or in free-fall, take a look around, would you?

I want to move on but first I need to give you this short list of other things we’re literally never more than 3 feet from: nitrogen and oxygen molecules, our cell phones, someone bitching about Donald Trump even if we happen to be alone in a small capsule orbiting the Earth, 20 mph playground/school zones where there the nearest playground/school is literally 200 yards away, situated behind an 8-foot, barbed-wire fence.

Ok, we’re good.

I just realized that if we’re going to get serious about eradicating pests, right away we run up against a big problem, which is how to pluralize animals.  A good way to pluralize animals is to stick a male and female together for awhile.  You will probably wind up with more of that animal, sooner or later.

Now one platypus rooting around your yard isn’t such a big deal but what if there are more?  You will have a hard time getting anyone to take you seriously if you don’t get the terminology down pat.

You: Hello, I’d like to speak to someone about my pest problem.

Norm: Hi, this is Norm Platnick.  What can I do for you?

You: There are a bunch of platypuses rooting around my backyard.

Norm: Don’t you mean platypi?

You: Whatever.

Norm: I’d like to help you but I’m an arachnologist, not a platypusologist.  How did you get this number?

I literally just realized that I’m still in Rule #1 so I should probably make a new rule.  You need to know how to tell what kind of pest you’re dealing with, if it isn’t something obvious like a platypus or a spider.  This next rule will give some helpful pointers.

Rule #2: How to spot pests

If you have an octopus problem you’re likely going to find open jars of peanut butter out on the counter, or maybe open child-proof pill bottles.  You might find that all your combination locks are dangling open as well.  Octopodes are smart as hell and can open anything.  You really need to worry if you never had any peanut butter, child-proof pill bottles or combination locks in your house, because that means the octopus was bringing them into your house.  So that is one devilishly clever octopus.  Good luck.

Mice are easy.  Obviously you might see droppings or hear scritching sounds emanating from the walls.  More subtle signs include a note left inside the fridge:

cheese-request

Again,  good luck.  That is clearly not an ordinary mouse you’re facing although it seems to be polite.  It could have written: “More Gouda.  Or else.”  You should also probably watch “Mouse Hunt” a 1997 movie starring Nathan Lane, Lee Evans and featuring guest exterminator Christopher Walken.

mouse-hunt

Elephants are tough to spot.  Clues include random vibrations of the floor, random earsplitting trumpeting sounds, and random small mountains of dung also called “cookies.”

What about marine iguanas Piece of cake.  They’re easy to spot.

This next image depicts a marine iguana feeling quite pleased about life in general and its new hairdo in particular.

marine-iguanas_2
Marine iguana relatively free of eyelash mites but facing a fairly serious algae problem

What about snakes?  A surefire sign that there are snakes nearby is if you spot a hatchling marine iguana hauling ass and literally running for its life. If you don’t believe me you need to watch this clip: hatchling marine iguana literally running for its life.

That clip is the best thing I have ever seen.  Seriously.  Even better than that picture in which two guys are dueling with van de Graaf generator-based weaponry.  You will be on your feet cheering your heart out for that iguana.

You can literally trust me on this.

 Next month: How to tell if you have a Komodo Dragon problem when you’re not a deer.
komodo-dragon-problem

Author:

Dave Barry fan and Medical Director at Rocky Mountain Analytical

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