Did you know that a cockroach can live for a week without its head? That an ant can lift 20 times its weight? That the termite queen can rule her colony for 15 to 20 years?
Sally Quick knows this stuff and more. As an Orkin Pest Control (orkin.com) route technician, Quick dispenses fun facts as she works her territory in the western suburbs. "Little kids, especially, have lots of questions," she says. "Education is part of my job."
Before Quick reaches a client's house, an Orkin Call Center operator relays bug IDs from homeowners to Quick. An operator knows, for example, that a "big, black ant with little waist" is probably a carpenter ant.
This time of year, ants dominate Quick's work. To eliminate them, Quick puts bait in cracks and crevices. They haul it back to their queen, which eats it and dies, ending the colony.
Ants like dark places near food sources, like under stacks of firewood, or stone or brick paths, says Quick. "Keep firewood up off the ground, away from the house," Quick advises. "And clean up food spills quickly. I have kids so I know how hard that is, but the ants will come inside for the food."
Spring also brings hornets, wasps and yellow jackets ( bees). If they are streaming out of a hole in the yard or siding, they are probably yellow jackets. Papery nests in trees contain hornets. The honeycomb-like nest on your house is a wasp condo.
Quick eliminates yellow jackets at dusk or dawn (when they are inactive) with a dust or liquid. She rids yards of wasps and hornets by bagging their nests and discarding them at the Orkin office.
During cold weather, mice dominate Quick's calls. "I find and seal their entry points, which is usually behind the electric box, by holes drilled for pipes or cable lines, or in cracks around windows and doors," she explains. "All they need is a dime-sized hole to get in."
The pests that homeowners really hate, says Quick, are silverfish. "They like dark, moist places, like your basement, crawl space or between the walls in the bathroom," she reports. They cease to exist there, though, after they eat Quick's anti-silverfish concoction.
Cockroaches are no more popular. "People think you only get cockroaches if your house is dirty, but not necessarily," says Quick. "They ride into your house with paper boxes or bags or come home with your college kid from his dorm." Quick locates and feeds them a lethal product.
Other frequent flyers on Quick's hit list include fleas, lady bugs and mosquitoes. She does not handle animals governed by state wildlife laws, such as opossums, squirrels and skunks.
Orkin's products, says Quick, are pet- and kid-proof. "They don't create fumes," adds Quick. "Unless you are very sensitive, you won't smell them."
A resident of Forest Park, Quick learned her trade by completing a company training course. She keeps up-to-date through continuing education. This is a second career for Quick, who worked the telephones at the Chicago Board of Trade, which she recalls as "controlled chaos."
The only critters at Quick's house are there by intention — two guinea pigs. While clients call her the "bug lady," neighbors know her as the host to her teens' frequent sleepovers and master of a vegetable garden that yields enough to share. Winters, Quick is content making batches of her homemade caramels. Summers, she cherishes the Cubs season tickets she shares with a group.
One of the upsides of her trade, says Quick, is job security. "People will always need pest controllers," says Quick. "Getting hornets out of someone's crawl space is not something that will be outsourced overseas."
Q How often are you stung?
A My first year on the job, I got stung five times. Since then, fewer times each year. I've learned how to be aware of my surroundings and to be careful.
Q What creatures scare you?
A If a spider jumped on me right now, it would give me the heebie-jeebies. But, on the job, I know where to anticipate them, which makes them less scary.
Q What can homeowners do to prevent uninvited critters from getting into their houses?
A Keep branches and mulch from touching your house. Keep your pets' food inside. Seal cracks and holes in your siding and foundation. Insulate your attic with bug-resistant Orkin-Therm insulation. And, rinse those food containers before you put them into the recycling bin.