Feature articles

23 August 2019

Using tracking agents for pest management

Pest control| PPC96 August 2019

When talking to pest professionals who have a particularly tricky rodent infestation, our technical team usually suggest tracking agents as an investigative tool.

The usual response is, “Hmmm, yeah maybe, I have some somewhere, I might dig it out…”

We thought it might be worth giving an in-depth guide about this under-utilised tool.

BPCA Technical Officer, Natalie Bungay and Jim Kirk from Deadline Products investigate. 

when the dust has settled deadline products

My persuasive abilities could maybe be a little better at talking through the features and benefits of tracking dusts and agents.

Conversations about tricky rodent infestations regularly divert back onto traps, baits, etc.

But I really believe in the value of tracking agents - let’s take the opportunity to convert any non-believer in tracking dust to a bonafide ‘believer’!

Tracking agents are, in simple terms, a tool to use for discovering the truth.

Sounds dramatic but how often do you stand about pondering how and where the rodent is gaining ingress to a property? Or what routes of travel they are using? Or if the rodent is actually even bothering to investigate your traps or bait stations?

Yes, we can look for things like smear marks, droppings, trails of damage, etc but, when a rodent has newly entered a building, who’s to say these signs will be there?

And when you place down new(ish) monitoring or control points, how do we know if the rodent is even bothering at all with this new opportunity for food?

How do we know if the rodent has behavioural issues such as trap shyness or box avoidance?

It may be hard to spot some new evidence of rodents. You may also not want to wait for a long period of time to then come to an assumption that box or trap shyness is an issue.

Instead of ‘wasting’ valuable time pondering, why not dig the tracking agent out of the van?

There are two main uses for tracking agents:

  • For the technician to identify rodent movements. They aid your choice of the placement of bait stations and traps, providing direction of travel and entry/exit point information. They help to distinguish when rodents are approaching bait stations but not eating the bait or simply not ‘finding’ the bait (identification of bait shyness).
  • For the technician to demonstrate rodent activity, showing the customer where their rodent movements are, as well as helping to provide ‘proof’ post-treatment that the infestation has been eradicated.

Different types available

There are two main formulations of tracking available: one is dust and the other, relatively new formulation, is gel.

They both have their advantages and each of us may have our preference. Whichever formulation is for you, make sure you always have a supply in your van.

Dust is often the best choice on a porous surface, where the gel may soak into the surface, reducing the length of time it is effective.

Gel is usually the better choice on suitable surfaces. It is easier to clean up, stays where it is applied and can be applied to vertical surfaces.

The gel product is also HACCP certified, meaning it can be left down in sensitive areas like food sites for extended periods.

Dust is often the best choice on a porous surface, where the gel may soak into the surface, reducing the length of time it is effective. However, it can be a bit messy if you were to get a draught coming through.

I’ve also seen some interesting images of where the dust has spread and stained large areas of, for example, attic floor boarding.

Too much or too little?

Common mistakes can be applying too little which can mean that only a small amount gets onto the rodent, creating relatively short tracking.

Also, applying it in too many separate areas close together can muddy the water, making understanding the rodent movements difficult as it can lead to a mass of criss-crossing tracks.

Ultimately, every rodent infestation is different.

You should determine site-specific applications for tracking agents. With practice and experience, you’ll soon know where and in what quantities the tracking agent is needed.

when the dust has settled hunter pest services 2

Tracking dust in action

Tim Hunter, Hunter Pest Services

I have always been a fan of tracking dust and use it regularly, whether investigating noises in a loft or to establish regular runs leading to the entry point for unwanted guests.

I have recently used tracking dust to track the route of grey squirrels who had made their nest in an internal wall panel of an ancient timber framed thatched barn in Buckinghamshire.

An external survey revealed numerous possibilities for an entry point due to the age and construction of the building.

The customer contacted us following a sudden leak causing significant damage and it was at this time that noises had been heard within the walls.

Prior to my visit a plumber had tracked the noise to a plastic central heating pipe located within the ceiling.

The heating was isolated and the damage would require future remedial work but only once the culprit had been caught.

The site is surrounded by tall yew trees and the customer reported significant squirrel activity, however, none could be seen during my visits.

A fast remedy was urgently needed to avoid further damage to the property’s plumbing and electrics.

Following a thorough survey I removed an internal wall panel separating the kitchen and lounge.

“If it works for rats then why not for squirrels?”, I thought.

I found a squirrel nest made from rock wool insulation, somehow the squirrels had found a route deep into the structure of the barn.

I decided to try tracking dust in the nest with the hope of finding the entry point which could literally have been anywhere due to the age and structure.

“If it works for rats then why not for squirrels?”, I thought.

I visited the property again after 24 hours and was delighted with the results.

The squirrel had been in the nest, the dust had been disturbed and an outside survey quickly revealed the entry/exit point.

Pink dust could be seen all over a gap in the timbers close to the roofline and on this occasion there was no need to use UV light, it could easily be seen with the naked eye.

I was able to show my findings to the customer, who was very impressed and delighted with the findings. I was able to proof the entry point and site some traps in exactly the right location to trap the offending squirrels.

This example of using tracking dust shows how easily you can establish rapid results by finding the entry point quickly and efficiently to start an effective treatment programme and solve the issue.

It is also a fabulous tool to visually demonstrate your skill and professional knowledge to your customer.

If you haven’t tried it, give tracking dust a go - I’d highly recommend it!

Source: PPC96

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