Treatment countdown


April 1, 2005

By: Austin Frishman

If Perry Mason were a PMP…

One of my favorite TV shows is Perry Mason. Each show began with someone seemingly guilty of murder because of mounds of circumstantial evidence. But by the end of the show, Mason had convinced the jury his client was not guilty and in most cases forced the guilty party into confessing.

 Dr. Austin Frishman
Dr. Austin Frishman

Such is the situation with pest management: What appears to be an open-and-shut case may not be so. For example:


The theory: Subterranean swarmers are found on an exterior stoop one year after the initial job was completed. During the callback visit, you conclude the termites are still present.

The reality: A different termite colony is swarming outdoors. The swarmers are attracted to the sunlight reflecting off the front door, painted white. The termite colony is not invading the structure. The original barrier inserted in the soil is still working. There is no need to retreat.


The theory: Indianmeal moth (IMM) adults are flying around a kitchen. You conclude the infestation is stemming from grain products stored in the kitchen. After tearing apart the kitchen cabinets and inspecting everything, you find no IMM larvae.

The reality: A quick look in the garage reveals a large bag of heavily infested dry dog food.


The theory: Adult powderpost beetles (Lyctidae) are found on a wooden windowsill that has small holes in it. You assume that’s their harborage source.

The reality: The beetles are not coming from the sill. They are just attracted to the light coming through the window. The infestation is stemming from a wooden floor or piece of furniture on the other side of the room


The theory: Moles have tunneled around some shrubbery on a lawn. The plants are dying and show chewing at the base of the shrubs. It looks like the moles are the culprits.

The reality: The moles are insectivores and feed on earthworms and grubs. Voles or mice did the damage.


The theory: Thousands of adult cigarette beetles are found stuck in a very thin film of oil on top of a 55-gallon drum of olive oil. No other material around it has any beetles. It looks like the olive oil somehow attracts the beetles, even though you know they cannot breed in or feed on this product.

The reality: The drum happens to be located over a very bright ceiling light. The beetles are flying to the light from two aisles over. When they hit the light, they feign death and thus fall into the oil and get stuck.


The theory: A woman claims a fresh glass of grape juice she just poured has an adult scarab beetle in it. She concludes the beetle was in the juice can. She wants to sue the manufacturer.

The reality: It was discovered that no beetles were present in the facility where the juice was manufactured. In addition, the juice was processed and sealed in the can during the winter, when the beetles are not active.

On the other hand, the woman purchased the juice in June in an area where the beetles are plentiful. She has no air conditioning, so she leaves her kitchen door open — with a torn screen — in the summer. She now realizes the beetles probably flew in and landed in her juice after she poured it. She also admits she may have gone to the sink “for a few minutes” to do a couple chores before drinking the juice.


The theory: You’re inspecting a warehouse, expecting to find mouse droppings — and you think that you do.

The reality: You were too quick to conclude that, probably because it was what you were looking for. The “droppings” were merely spilled caraway seeds. Next time, check more carefully and use a better flashlight.


The theory: There are holes in a woolen garment and a moth cocoon on the cloths. Looks like a clear case of clothes moths.

The reality: Not so fast — the pupal case belongs to a grain moth. The mature larvae migrate away from a food product and pupated on the clothes. A chemical caused the holes.


The theory: Patches of carpet are missing in a rug, and the customer is convinced it is carpet beetles. A few carpet beetle adults are indeed found nearby.

The reality: A microscopic check of the carpet shows it is just wear and tear. The patches have developed where the customer walks over the most. No self-respecting beetle would stay in a high-traffic area to eat.

Next month, we’ll solve several more cases. Stay tuned.

Dr. Austin Frishman, an industry consultant since 1967, is president of AMF Pest Management Services in Boca Raton, Fla. Contact him at

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