Five seasoned professionals share stories about the Island’s continuing problems with pests, and their efforts to protect us from the harm they may cause.
Walter Wlodyka: Skunk, Raccoon & Pest Animal Removal
What pests do you trap and remove?
Skunks, squirrels, rats, bats, snakes, moles, and voles — pretty much everything that’s here.
Are skunks native to the Vineyard?
I’ve heard stories, but nobody really knows. I heard that a gentleman here in Tisbury brought a pair of skunks over, a male and female. I also heard there’s a very old diary in the West Tisbury library that mentions a black-and-white animal that smells. Take your pick!
A skunk is totally omnivorous and cannibalistic. If they can’t find food in a hard winter they will kill and eat their own. It’s the only animal I know in nature that is truly omnivorous: The skunk could chew the bark off a tree and digest it.
Now, we’ve had two mild winters which means that the females are healthy, as the ground hasn’t been frozen. They can dig up grubs, worms, and dig down three feet, where the ambient temperature is 55 degrees year-round. So the skunks have no problem surviving and multiplying.
What’s a normal day like for skunk catching?
I could be setting three sets of traps, or 20 — it’s such a crapshoot.
So far, I caught six skunks today; it will be more. With probably a squirrel or two, and maybe a raccoon. I use peanut butter to bait the traps. And a little bit of animal ferment.
Right now is mating season so the animals are going crazy, getting together. The male skunks are fighting over the females, spraying each other, biting each other. People are complaining over that when they call me for services. I investigate the territory, see what the problem is and explain it to the client, then set the traps. By law, I come back and check the traps daily.
Once I remove the trapped animals off a person’s property I do away with them very humanely. Under law, I have to put them down. Then I have to bury them in a sanitary manner. You can’t put a dead animal in a dump. It has to stay in the county. It’s all part of my license.
I used to do exclusion work, meaning treating areas of the house to keep the pests out. Finding out where they are getting into the house, going in and putting exclusion wire under the deck or foundation. I gave that business to my daughter Sasha, as I’ve decided no more ladders and no more digging for me at my age.
What about squirrels?
They are tree rats — rodents. If squirrels get on your roof they are very destructive. Of all the animals I trap, the worst you could have on your roof are squirrels. They go from window to window and chew the sashes out, destroying all the windows in your house.
How about bats?
I deal with bats all the time. Though they are very beneficial creatures, as they kill a lot of insects, they can be carriers of rabies. Last spring there was a rabid bat found in West Chop. The bat is the most dangerous animal we have on the Island for rabies. Rabies has three stages: in the first stage the behavior is not normal, like roaming during the day; in the second stage they become extremely aggressive, they will attack; in the third stage the nerves and muscles in the throat tighten and they froth at the mouth, as they are trying to breathe. That’s when they die.
A scenario: a bat flies into the house at night and ends up in your bedroom; it’s in the second stage of rabies, and it comes and bites you while asleep. Bats are tiny, maybe twice the size of my thumb. The teeth are so tiny — you may not know you were bitten, and you won’t find the wound. The bat can transfer the rabies to you.
If anybody calls me saying they have a bat in the bedroom, I tell them to go right to the hospital and get the shot for rabies. If the bat is rabid, it could be the end of your life.
I caught a duck in a chimney in Aquinnah last year. I went into the house and put the protective suit on, and looked up into the flu, and there was a rare duck in there. He had fallen into the chimney and gotten stuck.
I can release an animal on the property and let it go, that ‘s legal. I didn’t destroy a rare duck.
What training and licenses are necessary?
I have a Problem Animal Control license, my traps are licensed, and then I have a trapping license: It takes three licenses to do this. I’m completely licensed and completely insured.
And I’ve been doing this work for thirty-seven years. I’ve been trapping and hunting my whole life. I came to the Island as a fisherman, had a dragger, and settled down in Chilmark with my wife. Fishing was going downhill, so I got into caretaking, and this fell into my lap. In those days there were no licenses.
Who are your clients?
Everybody. You name it: A to Z.
How many pest animals do you trap per year?
That’s a hard number. Skunks in the thousands. Raccoons could be in the hundreds. Squirrels in the thousands.
Are there more pests now than years ago on the Island?
There are more skunks, more squirrels, more racoons — more of everything. As there are more people on the Island and more houses, more problems; the denser the population the more problems.
Eco Island Termite & Pest Control
What pests do you treat?
Rats, mice, termites, carpenter ants — a lot of wood-destroying insects — inside and outside. Also, mosquitoes, wasp nests, and bed bugs.
What do you use to treat insects?
I can use a product that is 100 percent all natural. I use a mosquito, flea and tick treatment which is all natural for the most part. The way I’m different, as we all use the same all-natural mixtures, is that I spray the outside areas but I granulate the lawn up to a certain border. Ninety-nine percent of granules will fall past the flowers and go onto the lawn area. Then the flowers don’t get treated by the spray.
Anytime you see “cide” on any pest control product, it does mean kill. You should always be careful with it. One of the top-rated products I use is from a company called Eco Via, in conjunction with Eco Smart, a home friendly version. You still must be careful, as all pest control products are very dangerous, especially for birds and aquatic life. Even if it says “eco- friendly” or “green.” I have discovered a few ways to solve these problems, learning from other people and studying about natural solutions and trying them … I’ve been doing this for about 25 years now. I’ve learned how to control some bed bug problems almost 100 percent all naturally.
What equipment do you use?
We have a spray gun attached to a 200-foot hose, attached to a 50-gallon tank. The tank can contain the all-natural pesticides or regular pesticides used by all the major pest control companies around the globe. We can treat foundations and crawlspaces, and even wasp nests if necessary.
What about bees?
I try not to treat bees anymore, unless people have a health issue with bees. That includes carpenter bees as well. Carpenter bees, honey bees, bumblebees are being depleted around the world, and without the bees we aren’t going to have food.
When I’m at a site, I speak to a few beekeepers nearby to ask, “Where are your bee hives?” So I can be more cautious when I’m treating around their neighbors.
What got you involved with natural pest control?
In 1989 I was going to a county college in New Jersey, and I took an environmental science class, and the teacher took us on a nature walk … up and down some streams. That was the first time I opened my eyes to some of the environmental problems we’re having (we’re not supposed to have suds in the water). He made our class realize that a lot of those suds were coming from laundry detergents and pesticides getting into our water and river and streams.
So years later when I decided to start my own business in 2004, I decided to go all natural. Then, not too many people cared; but now, maybe 50 percent of people we speak to are at least inquiring about natural products.
The bed bug problem is BIG out here, every summer. This Island hosts people from around the world every year. So when you have people coming from airports it’s a problem as a lot of airplanes have insects, rats, mice, and roaches. I worked as a service manager for Terminix servicing Newark Airport, when we’d get calls to treat jumbo jets for roaches, ants, and bed bugs. They are insects that travel by means of transference. They get on your clothes, you travel across the country. You can have a huge problem.
How are you different from other pest control services?
Some companies use eco-friendly products, and some companies are eco-friendly. There’s a big difference: I’d like to say that we’re an eco-friendly company.
We incorporated last year to become Eco Island Home Services to include pest control, skunk exclusion for decks and porch, home improvement, caretaking, painting, landscaping, clean outs, and dump runs.
774-521-7874; 973-223-3709 (cell); email@example.com
Luiz Fogaca, Geese Partners
What is Geese Partners?
We are a humane and eco-friendly solution for geese control. We treat properties with a natural spray product at least once or twice a month, depending on the location or mowing schedule. This is our second season in business; we started last year in March.
What product do you use?
Our product is a natural occurring compound called anthraquinone found in many common plants such as aloe, senna, and rhubarb. It can be found in many over-the-counter products people commonly use to help reduce arthritis pain and aid in digestion. When the geese sample treated grass they experience a harmless but effective digestive irritation, reinforcing the message that there is something wrong with the food. It is the only spray-on solution that is eco-friendly, odorless, waterproof, and does not harm humans, vegetation, or wildlife.
What is the procedure for treating an area?
We spray the lawn with a ride-on machine or backpack sprayer in the areas where the geese droppings are found; in 30 minutes to an hour the mixture dries. It doesn’t wash off — it can rain or snow. It lasts up to two or three months, depending on mowing frequency. It can last up to three months if you don’t cut the grass.
When is the best time to spray?
Early spring is the best time to initiate a program as it is nesting season. Spraying in spring greatly reduces the chances of nesting on a property. It can dramatically reduce bird infestation in the summer months.
Are the geese here year-round?
Yes, the Canada geese are not leaving the Island anymore. In previous years they would migrate during the winter. For several years now they have been here year-round.
Do the geese cause any harm?
The geese on the Island are much more bold and aggressive than other places. They might attack you if you tried to remove eggs from the nest, but normally they are not harmful.
With a large population of Canada geese on Martha’s Vineyard it is important to be aware of the diseases they may bring to our area. Some parasites Canada geese may carry are chlamydiosis, E-Coli, listeria, pasteurella multocida, and salmonella.
Who are your clients?
At the moment our clients are mainly homeowners and landscape companies. We have the products and services to help towns, schools, and commercial properties protect their properties from the growing population of Canada geese.
Mario Spindola, Oh DEER
All Natural Deer, Tick & Mosquito Control
What got you started with Oh DEER?
I grew up in Edgartown and graduated in 2004 from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. After college in Florida, where I studied hospitality and business management, I wanted to start my own business. Working as a landscaper on the Island every summer, I saw two pest problems that not many people were addressing: deer eating the gardens and the growing population of ticks and mosquitoes. I met the Upham family in 2013 while landscaping in Edgartown and shortly after went to work with Kurt Upham, who had founded a deer, tick and mosquito control business in Wayland. By establishing Oh Deer on Martha’s Vineyard, I became the first franchisee outside of his area. Once I started working for Kurt, I realized how we are different from other pest control services and landscapers; we use a saturation method for spraying our all-natural product.
What is the saturation method?
With two workers on each truck at a property, each person starts following the perimeter spraying 6 to 10 feet on the ground and then up on the trees. Once they meet, they focus on spraying the yard, house, the foundation, the trees, shrubs and flower beds. Just about everything gets sprayed. We are actually soaking the areas and the plants instead of misting or squirting.
We treat a lot of sensitive areas, and the product has no water toxicity. We can go right up to the water line and treat a path to the beach — one of the most infested areas. We can spray all the way to the water. Pesticides have restrictions.
Our products are all natural. The solution we use to spray for ticks and mosquitoes is a mixture of rosemary oil, peppermint, cedar, and wintergreen with water. It’s strong enough to kill ticks and mosquitos on contact. Once it dries, it becomes a repellent, unlike a pesticide that continues to kill anything that lands on the treated area. It is completely safe for you, children, and pets to be outside while we are spraying, and right after as well.
What is the solution used to treat deer?
The mixture used to treat deer is an egg-based solution: mint oil and peppermint. We change it a bit every season so that the deer don’t get used to it. Sometimes we add a little garlic or white pepper. The fact that we use all-natural products is our biggest selling point; people are looking for an alternative to chemicals. Our clients don’t want chemicals around their children and pets.
How do you protect your workers from ticks?
We recommend wearing treated pants from Insect Shield. The pants come treated with permethrin when you buy them, causing the ticks to fall off. They will last 70 washes, which is pretty much the whole spraying season. We’ve had no cases of lyme disease among workers. We try to be very careful and alert — and do our daily tick checks.
How do you charge?
For deer control, the fee depends on the amount of plants the deer like to consume. We go to each property and assess the plants the deer will eat since we spray each individual plant. The tick and mosquito fee is based on the size of the whole property because it all gets sprayed.
When we visit a home to assess and provide a quote, we can give the homeowner tips to make the property less tick friendly. Ticks need shade and moisture to survive so the first thing to do is to clean out the leaves and cut the grass. We recommend that the homeowner clean up the yard first before we come to spray.
Are you seasonal?
Deer control can be done year-round. During the spring and summer the deer go after the perennials, the flowers, the bulbs … in the winter they go after the evergreens, like arborvitaes, azaleas, and holly bushes. They’ll eat as high as they can reach. For ticks and mosquitos, we treat April through October, when we spray every two to three weeks.
We work all over the Island and treat about 150 homes a week. Each year we add about 100 more homes to our client list.
T.J. Hagarty, All Island Pest Management
Tell us about your background handling pest control
I’ve been a sole proprietor offering pest control since 1993. Prior to that I worked for the County of Dukes County, running the rodent control program for 13 years. I’ve been a licensed Mass Fisheries and Wildlife pack licensee for skunk and racoon trapping for 30 years. I have a Mass Agriculture & Pesticide Commercial license to place poison and pesticides on other people’s property. I handle getting rid of skunks, racoons, rats, mice, ants, termites, bats, hornets, bees, yellow jackets, and spiders.
Do you work year-round?
My business keeps me busy primarily for three seasons. Problems with mice and rats continue year-round. But the bulk of the business is from spring until the end of October. I’m full time 24/7 during the summer months. I don’t plan any holidays. I receive calls from various police departments and animal control officers when they have a situation at night with raccoons, alarms going off, skunks getting into houses or businesses — the phone rings at all hours. Everything about the business is complicated — it’s multi-tasking.
What are your tools of the trade?
We have full gear for bee and hornet removal; there’s a heavy coverall suit with gloves and hat to deal with bees. When you are face to face with a bald-faced hornet nest (a lot of people are highly allergic) their sting is very toxic. Yellow jackets and hornets are destroyed. Honey bees I try to vacuum out of the house. They can be under a stairway, hanging from a tree limb, in a tool shed. The yellow jackets burrow and they can be in a log, in the ground, under a fence. Once the andromeda and the magnolias blossom out, I see a lot more bees and carpenter bees.
My little crab net comes in handy for bats. It’s illegal to kill bats as they are an endangered species; only if you’ve been attacked by one can you kill it. Then you have to preserve the brain to be sent off and tested for rabies.
These spray cans are primarily for ants, to mix up a pesticide. Ants are over 50 percent of my business. In the industry the product label is the law, meaning that I can’t make up my own dilution. It’s right there on the label: ounces of product to how much water to use. I don’t spray if gardens have edibles and herbs planted around the foundation of the house. I move pots to protect from drift. Once sprayed, the product dries and it adheres to the building. It transfers into the colonies when the insects walk over it.
For rodents, I use the tamper-proof black box weighted down by a concrete block inside to prevent racoons and dogs from moving it around. The box is rated to be secure from harming children and pets. Each cube of poison bait has a hole in it to stay in place on top of pins inside. Rats and mice crawl right in, chew into poison, fill their mouths up, and then take the poison back into the colony and stockpile it. It doesn’t just kill the rat that goes in, but others as they are hoarders. I place the boxes under the house near the household dryer vent, as it’s a favorite spot for mice. I put boxes by the trash bin and by the outside woodpile.
Another staple of the industry is a box of latex gloves. I buy them by the case as I can go through over 3,000 pairs in one season.
If I am working under a house in a crawlspace I use a protective suit. Or when dealing with spiders or beetles in an attic and I need protection. Also, I wear it when pulling insulation out of a basement that’s been infested with mice and rats’ urine and feces.
This Ketch-All aluminum pole with loop is to catch raccoons or an occasional snapping turtle — the loop tightens around the head and neck. Barbara Prada, Edgartown Animal Control Officer, and I used the loop pole to take a racoon out of the courthouse stairwell one morning. As we crested the top step about to secure the racoon into a trap, we were greeted by two Edgartown police officers with their guns drawn.
Which pest is the smartest?
Rats. There was a rat population on the Bikini Islands in the Pacific, where atomic testing was being performed by dropping nuclear bombs. The rats survived the atomic testing, since they burrow underground. The descendants of those original rats are still there.
Don’t you own the blow-up rat?
Yes, I primarily used the inflatable blow-up rat for the 4th of July parade for many years. Also I had it at the Ag Fair for a while. Then Community Services picked it up; they auctioned off a ride with the rat for the 4th of July parade. I got it from a company in Chicago that makes balloons. The first time the big rat was used on Martha’s Vineyard it came from the carpenters’ union in Boston. The union was demonstrating in Buzzards Bay, and I asked if I could borrow it — they met me at the boat and they gave it to me on loan.
Now, after 18 years, the 12-foot big rat has not been invited back to the 4th of July parade this year. I’ll save myself 200 pounds of bubble gum.