Toxic Free NC Tip of the Week: They’re Baaaaaack

I may hug trees, but I really hate fire ants.

April, 15, 2009 , by Billie Karel

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The fire ants are back in Raleigh already - what a bunch of jerks! I’m proud (and also disgusted) to report my first fire ant bite of the season. Ironically, it was obtained while placing out toxic-free fire ant bait at the kids garden where I volunteer (at the Raleigh Boys Club). I will keep y’all posted on how it works. Plain old boiling water is also a good option - just make sure you’re doing it right, and don’t expect to eradicate them (you won’t) - you’ll just move them away from an area where you often walk. The good news is that knocking out a fire ant mound early in the year should in theory be easier than later on, when the colonies get bigger and more established.

In other news, my dog got her first tick of the season - gross - and you know the fleas are coming right around the corner, too. So that reminds me that I have an important tip for pet owners: get yourselves a flea comb!
Overuse of flea treatments is wasteful, exposes pets and their people to potentially-hazardous pesticides, and has also cut down the effectiveness of the pesticide treatments as fleas have developed resistance over the years. To keep the amount of pesticides I have to use on my dog to a bare minimum, I’ve been using a flea comb the past few years with great success. In the height of flea and tick season, I still have to use the back-of-the-neck flea drops on my dog, and I hate doing it, because it exposes the dog and I both to a small, steady stream of those chemicals all day long. But on the other hand, I really can’t go without using any pesticides, or at least I haven’t yet figured out how: the fleas and ticks around here are just too vicious, and keeping the dog inside all summer would just be cruel.

The flea comb is an excellent compromise solution. I wait as long as possible to start using the flea drops every year, and while I’m waiting, I get by combing the dog with a flea comb. Here’s how it works:
Every few days in the Spring, and every day when flea season starts picking up, the dog and I sit on the bathroom rug in front of the open toilet. I run the flea comb along the dog’s back to the base of her tail. The fine teeth of the comb catch any fleas and flea eggs (along with a bunch of hair and dog dirt).
If I find no fleas at all on that first pass, I call it done and leave her be.
If I see one or two fleas on that first pass, I comb the rest of her really well, put any fleas I find in the toilet, and flush them down. If it’s just a few, I know we’re still OK, but that I need to keep an eye on it!
If I find a lot of fleas, I’ll continue combing to get as many out as I can, and then will start pesticide treatments for the season shortly thereafter.

This is a great way to keep tabs on whether or not your pet actually has a flea problem, and to delay the onset of flea problems and pesticide treatments until as late in the season as possible.
Battling bigger flea problems? Check out Toxic Free NC’s article on least-toxic flea control.


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  • arthurb3
    04/17 12:17 PM

    Fire Ants make a ugly mound in the yard and planting beds but otherwise they don’t bother me now that I am an adult. When I was a kid growing up on the coast I would get stung all the time because we would be playing in the yard then all of a sudden they would be all over you!

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