The Electronic Component of Plant Pest Control

Cameras, smart devices and other digital/electronic equipment can enhance a pest-management program.

By Pan Demetrakakes, Senior Editor

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Building a better mousetrap these days means building a smarter one. As in one that can tell you, right away, remotely, when it catches a mouse.

Smart mousetraps are just one aspect of electrical and digital improvement in pest-control programs. Things like video surveillance and digital record-keeping have the potential to make pest-management programs more efficient – and allow food and beverage plants to participate in them more effectively.

Deriving digital data from traps is nothing new, but the presentation and use of that data is improving as technical capabilities increase, says Judy Black, vice president of technical services for Rentokil North America (www.rentokil-steritech.com).

“Electronic data collection has been around for a while, but lately we’ve been getting more sophisticated in how we can report on that to the clients, and then how the clients can actually use our website,” Black says.

For years, pest management service technicians have recorded basic data when they service insect and rodent traps, like the time of the visit and the trap’s condition. They also can note things like how much bait has been consumed and what is consuming it — for instance, if ants or crickets are being attracted to bait set out for mice or rats. Scanning bar codes unique to each trap, done first with dedicated devices and now on smartphones, allows technicians to match this data to the individual trap.

This data can be used to determine a proper course of action for specific locations within a plant – which is even more vital now that plant-wide fumigation with methyl bromide is a thing of the past, says Jerry Heath, product manager and staff entomologist for Industrial Fumigant Co., or IFC (www.indfumco.com). U-Trap-It/ProTrak software from IFC can pinpoint problems and suggest courses of action.

“One of the unique aspects of U-Trap-It/ProTrak is mapping,” Heath says. “This feature can allow drilling down to identify very specific devices or areas of activity – perhaps a difficult-to-clean piece of equipment, a structural harborage situation in need of correction or a door with perennial issues of being kept closed.”

Traps that transmit

The next generation of traps features remote monitoring, with real-time reporting and historical trending. This has been used for several years with grain bins, where probes can detect the presence, species and infestation level of insects. The concept is now moving to rodent traps that can alert pest management companies the instant a trap catches a mouse or rat.

“It does allow for quicker response. It also, with that quicker response, can provide some additional data that may not be as evident if you come a week later,” says Patricia Hottel, technical director for McCloud Services (www.mccloudservices.com). “It has the potential to provide more information as to why there’s a rodent, which is ultimately what you want to know – what’s the root cause and why there’s a mouse present in the facility.”

For example, Rentokil put a trap in a food plant that would catch mice every night, like clockwork, at 2:35 a.m. They checked with the customer and found out this coincided with ingredient deliveries. Learning about these rodent visits motivated the customer to change its approach to getting stuff in the door.

“They weren’t in a hurry before,” Black says. “It was just, you know, we’ll just get this truck unloaded, and there was no sense of urgency to that. But they said, 'Hey, we need to keep this door closed as much as possible. So let’s get the door open, get the stuff off the truck, get the door shut, and minimize the amount of time that’s available for the mice to get in.' ”

Knowing when traps go off can help a pest-management program in other, more routine ways. Hottel recalls a situation where snap traps in a bait station placed outside a building kept going off the same night they were set. Knowing this enabled McCloud personnel to go back right away and reset the traps, ensuring continued protection. If the traps weren’t able to signal when they went off, they would have remained useless until the next routine visit.

“Maybe we learned also that snap traps may not be the best tools there, because either they’re getting bumped or it could be a wildlife situation – raccoons or something – disturbing the [bait] station and voiding our protection because of that activity,” Hottel says.

Mouse cam

Another electronic embellishment to pest control is video cameras. They can track mice and other relatively large pests into and through a building, pinpointing entry points and pathways.

“Cameras and video are a great tool to monitor areas,” says Chelle Hartzer, an entomologist and director of technical services for Orkin (www.orkin.com). “We use these when we have certain spots where we know pests (mostly rodents but wildlife too) have been, but just haven’t been able to see them or where they are traveling. It’s a great tool for targeting specific areas for additional follow-up like sealing holes, setting more traps or even confirming that there isn’t a problem any more. They are also great for hard-to-access areas, say a wall void or a ceiling area, so treatment can be more targeted.”

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