So cute, so beneficial, so stop poisoning them already
Pocket gophers construct burrows under the ground using their strong forelegs, enlarged claws and even their teeth. Their vision is poor because of their habitat as is their hearing. When the gopher digs, it kicks the dirt behind it with its hind feet. When a lot of loose dirt has accumulated, it turns around and pushes the dirt to the surface using its fore paws and face. The resulting mounds are an indication of their presence in your yard.
Gophers feed on the underground portions of plants, but will occasionally come to the surface and pull green vegetation underground. They live alone in their tunnel system, but males will enter female tunnels during mating season, usually early in the year. Female gophers will have one to seven young at a time. The baby gophers will disperse on the ground when they are mature enough to leave their mother and often fall victim to predators at this time. They usually have only one litter per year.
Actually they are very beneficial animals. A single gopher can move approximately a ton of soil to the surface every year. Their tunnels are constructed and then fill up with dirt as they are abandoned. The old tunnels contain the nests, waste material and partially filled pantries well below the surface where they become important as fertilizer. Soil that has been compacted by cattle trampling, grazing and machinery is benefited by the tunneling process of gophers. In the mountains, snow and rainfall are temporarily held in gopher burrows instead of running across the surface causing soil erosion. The mounds the gophers make also bury vegetation deeper, thus increasing soil quality over time. Additionally, fresh soil in the mounds provides a fresh seeding area for new plants, which may increase the variety of plants on a site. Gophers are also in the food chain and are fed upon by large birds, other mammals and snakes. Other animals such as lizards and toads take refuge in the cool, moist burrows.
As much as I am trying to make the case that gophers have a place in our area, there are times when we have to control them. Poisons are available but I never recommend them. Most of the gopher baits contain strychnine, diphacinone, chlorophacinone, or zinc phosphide. None of these rodenticides are very pleasant and accidents can result with other animals digging them up. These products shouldn’t even be allowed to be sold in stores. There are traps available that can be placed in the burrows, but they are not easy to use and have only limited success. I have found that the best method of gopher control is simply asking them to move. You can do this by pouring a foul smelling liquid into their tunnel system. Fish oil emulsion works well and castor oil is also effective. Since gophers generally live alone, once they move, they are not likely to return unless they are forced to move again, so a repellent can be very effective.
When using a repellent, you will have to probe the dirt to find their tunnels. Generally, a tunnel will run straight between two mounds and they are normally about 18” below the surface. You can use a metal rod or even a pool cue to probe the dirt. Once you hit the tunnel, the probe will fall through. Then take a long-stem funnel such as used to put oil in cars and place it in the hole created by the probe. Pour the repellent into the funnel and move on to the next tunnel.
My latest book, “THE BUGMAN'S GUIDE to NON-TOXIC PEST MANAGEMENT FOR YOUR HOME AND GARDEN” is available. It has information and non-toxic control methods for cockroaches, ants, wasps, bed bugs, lice, flies, termites, scorpions, centipedes, spiders and other pests. It has a section on how to pest-proof your house, and a section that covers lawn and ornamental pests plus information about rodents and pigeons. There is also a list of safe products you can use to controls pests. It has a section how to pick a competent pest control company if you want to use one. It is available on my website askthebugman.com. I believe you will find the book very helpful in controlling pests around your home or business without using toxic pesticides.
If you have any pest questions, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-385-2820.
Less toxic options
This week I would like to offer some least-toxic alternatives for controlling pests. I say least-toxic, not non-toxic because if it can kill a bug, it is slightly toxic. I will mention some brand names. I have no vested interest in recommending them. I do recommend them because they work very well.
Terro Bait is an excellent ant control bait that you can buy in stores. There are several Terro products, but I recommend the box that contains 6 bait stations. Terro is a sweet gel bait made from Borax. You take a bait station out of the box and hold it upright and cut off the colored section. Then place is and the rest of the bait stations in the box label side up near where the ants are active and where they may be coming into your home. Even though the active ingredient is Borax, make sure you don't place the baits where children or pets can come in contact with it. It can make them sick if they eat it. However, this product is much safer than the bait stations most pest control companies use as they contain pesticides as an active ingredient. This bait will work on a number of different species of household ants including the very common odorous house ants (Tapinoma sessile), little black ants (Monomorium minimum) and pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum). If you have ants that don't take this bait, then you need to get them identified. You can send me some specimens and I will be happy to identify them for you and make a recommendation on a non-toxic control method.
Niban Bait is a granular bait made from Orthoboric acid. It is an excellent bait for controlling cockroaches and is also labeled for controlling silverfish, crickets, slugs, snails, carpenter ants and some other species of ants. It also works on controlling harvester ants, the ones that make the big mounds outside and sting if you bother them. Niban lasts several months, so you don't have to apply it very often. I recommend putting Niban under and behind appliances, under kitchen and bathroom counters, around hot water heaters, in your garage and in areas around your home, such as where the water meter is. If you only have cockroach problems, you will never have to use an exterminator if you use Niban Bait. You can buy Niban online from several sources. One source in New Mexico is pestcontrolsupplies.com.
EcoSmart products are very good and are safe. They are made from plant oils and are EPA exempt. Much better than using synthetic pesticides. EcoSmart products are available in many stores.
There is an excellent fly trap that you can buy in stores. It is called Rescue Fly trap an it is a plastic container that flies will enter but can't get out. There is an attractant that comes with it that you put in the trap and add water. Flies love it. I have caught hundreds of flies in some areas in just a few hours. I would not recommend using indoors as the attractant is not pleasant smelling. The attractants are made with sucrose, putrescent whole egg solids, yeast, trimethylamine and indole. It will catch house flies, blow flies and flesh flies as well as some other species. These traps should be used on ranches where dairy cattle are kept and other livestock facilities but they work around homes when flies are present in large numbers for some reason.
Believe it or not, beer is very effective at controlling some pests. If you soak a rag in beer and put it in the middle of your garage floor at night, it will be covered in drunken cockroaches the next morning waiting for you to dispatch them. If you put some pie pans filled with beer out in your yard you will attract cockroaches who will get drunk and die in the brew. They do not check IDs and, for some reason, do not like Lite beers.
If you have any pest questions, you can contact me at email@example.com or call me at 505-385-2820. My website is askthebugman.com.
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Ants in Your Pants
Recently I got a call to help a homeowner with some ants. She had three pest control companies come by and none of them were able to identify the ants, yet they all treated her house. The problem persisted. I identified the ants for her as Liometopum apiculatum, which are not common household ants in New Mexico, but they do occur. If you don't recognize them, it is impossible to control them. They make nests hundreds of feet from where they are seen and in her case, it wasn't even on her property. The ants were climbing a tree on her property and getting on the roof from branches that were touching the house. The ants feed on the honeydew secretion of various homopteran insects such as aphids, scales and mealy bugs, so they do like sweets. I suggested she make a sweet bait with two tablespoons of honey, mixed with a teaspoon of boric acid, and place it in areas in the house where she sees the ants foraging. I also recommended she pest proof her house, including trimming all the branches on the tree so they don't touch the house. She followed both my recommendations, and her problem was solved.