By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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When no one comes running out of the house screaming and rubbing their eyes, Dominguez connects the hose on the front porch to one of the Vikane cylinders and shoots the gas into the home. After a few minutes he disconnects the hose. By this time tomorrow, the Vikane gas will have done its deadly damage and dispersed. From the moment the tent goes up, the entire fumigation process takes as little as 24 hours. The Vikane gas leaves no residue, and once the tent has been taken down and the home ventilated, the people who live there won't need to do a thing. No need to rinse dishes, wipe counters, or wash clothes. Okay, they'll need to do one thing: Clean up the corpses of all the bugs unfortunate enough to be caught inside the tent.
Bugs. Literally and figuratively, South Florida is crawling with them. Creepy little monsters of all shapes, sizes, phyla, genera, and species call this area home. University of Florida entomology professor Rudolf Scheffrahn, who made ripples in the bug world when he discovered a new strain of termite in Miami earlier this year, estimates that some 20,000 varieties of insects inhabit Florida, of which some 200 are considered pests. Despite the insecticide Malathion and citronella candles and flypaper and electronic zappers and crop dustings and bug bombs and lawn treatments and roach motels; despite Raid and Black Flag and Combat and Orkin and Terminix and Truly Nolen; despite Avon's "Skin So Soft" -- the tenacious little multilegged beasties continue to thrive in our subtropical climes, thumbing their antennae at our pathetic attempts to control them. They were here before us, and they'll be here long after we're gone. If their laughter were audible, we'd go deaf from the roar of their derision.
In fact our leading researchers in the war on bugs have abandoned all hope of actually eradicating insect pests and instead have set their sights on methods of "managing" them. "About two decades ago the USDA attempted to eradicate fire ants in the Southeast," relates Scheffrahn. "All they did was pollute the ground. There have been lots of failures trying to eradicate ants, termites, even Africanized honey bees. We've had some success eliminating small, recently introduced populations not native to this area, such as fruit flies. We combatted those by bombarding the population with sterile males and by luring them into traps baited with insect pheromones. But the bottom line is we have to learn to live with the existing pest population."
"Remember Jurassic Park?" asks University of Miami biology professor Peter Luykx. "You can find termite fossils millions of years old preserved in amber. They've been on Earth for anywhere from 200 to 300 million years, and they've been in South Florida ever since it's been dry land."
Mosquitoes. Ants. Spiders. Scorpions. Earwigs. Beetles. Wasps. Hornets. Gnats. No-see-ums. Bedbugs. Stinkbugs. Waterbugs. Bees. Fleas. Ticks. Mites. Moths. Centipedes. Millipedes. Grasshoppers. Crickets. Flies. Silverfish. Termites. You name the pests, it's a good bet we've got 'em. Hell, we've got a veritable cornucopia of roaches alone -- German roaches, brown-banded roaches, Australian roaches, smoky brown roaches, and American roaches (more commonly referred to by their quaint nickname, palmetto bugs). With the possible exceptions of California and Texas, no state offers sanctuary to more arthropods than sunny Florida.
"Any bugs you name, we have," declares Larry Weinberg, president of Guarantee/Floridian and regional director of the 50-year-old, 1100-member Florida Pest Control Association (FPCA), the statewide trade group that formed during the waning days of World War II.
"Larry should know," laughs FPCA spokesperson Melissa Reeves. "He's been around since bugs were invented." Reeves points out that her organization was instrumental in formulating the first legislation regulating pest-control operators in Florida. Back in 1947, 170 licensed exterminators operated in the state; today 2864 licensed firms employ more than 32,000 workers and generate some $1.3 billion in revenues (nearly one-third of the total billings for the entire nation).
That translates into a ton of dead bugs. "Roaches and ants are probably the two biggest pests facing South Floridians," reckons Michael Petrozzino, a one-time pest-control-company owner who now works for the Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "You've got chinch bugs and army worms that chew up lawns. Termites are a major headache because they threaten the structural integrity of a home, which is the biggest investment a person usually makes. People used to call exterminators for roaches probably more than any other problem, but ants have become a real problem. It's about a tossup nowadays."
Professional bug buster Raul Dominguez believes roaches have gotten a bum rap. "As far as their own personal hygiene, roaches are actually very clean," Dominguez proclaims. "They're always cleaning themselves. That's why some chemical treatments are so effective against them -- they walk across the powder, pick it up on their legs and antennae, and get it into their systems when they try to clean it off."
"There are some wasps that are excellent predators for cockroaches," contends UF's Scheffrahn. "But you can't tell a homeowner you're going to release a couple hundred wasps in his living room to get rid of the roaches. People don't want bugs in their houses, period."