Creepy Crawlers a Cause of Constant Consternation

Watch your step and look out for fire ants, scorpions, wasps and snakes as you inspect septic systems.

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As a service provider, I am sure you always get interesting — if not amusing — questions from homeowners or clients. One such question I was made aware of recently came from a concerned homeowner: “Small, black ants are nesting on my septic bed. There are several nests. Could their tunneling pose a danger to the overlying sand, leading to a collapse? If so, what’s the best way to get rid of them?”

         Here in the upper Midwest, small black or red ant nests do not pose a threat to the operation of an onsite treatment system, much less the collapse of the system. The problems associated with multiple ant nests would be a minor nuisance. They could destroy the vegetation (grasses) established over the drainfield that prevents erosion from rainfall and helps hold snow in place insulating the system in the winter. Or if the number of ants is large enough, they could create ant problems in the house or impact kids playing in the yard.

         I remember an uncomfortable experience in my youth with ants at my grandmother’s house. I accidently dug into a red ant colony while in the yard,  which led to many ants crawling up my legs biting me and causing me to run to the house stripping off my clothes to get rid of them. One experience like that is enough to make anyone steer clear of ant hills!

         The bottom line here is that to avoid the nuisance problems, it is probably best to get rid of ants around the system. A visit to your local hardware store will provide options for control and elimination. To prevent colonization of most ant species, keep vegetation well established and maintained. Another good reason to keep the vegetation mowed or clipped in the area of the system.

FIRE IN THE HOLE

         In southern states an imported fire ant can be a little more problematic. Left undisturbed the mounds and colonies can become quite large, reaching several feet across and tall as well as extending 2-3 feet deep into the soil. In addition, there are some potential medical problems that can be the result of interaction with the ants.

         Fire ants are aggressive when disturbed and will defensively attack anything that disturbs their mounds or food sources. As a service provider, you should be aware fire ants can sting repeatedly. Symptoms of a fire ant sting include burning and itching. Although the stings are not usually life-threatening, they are easily infected and may leave permanent scars.

         Some people become sensitive to fire ant stings and should seek the advice of an allergist. If a sting leads to chest pains, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling or slurred speech, the person should be immediately taken to an emergency medical facility. Some people may lapse into a coma from even one sting. Relatively few deaths from fire ant stings have been documented, compared to deaths from bee and wasp stings.

         When on a service call, be cautious opening electric boxes, dropboxes, distribution boxes or riser covers. Lots of other insects and animals like to reside in dark places and can cause injuries and discomfort when encountered. It is one reason to wear long-sleeve shirts and always use gloves as a part of personal protection. Being stung multiple times by bees or wasps that have taken up residence in the parts of the system you need access to can cause discomfort and in extreme cases the need for medical attention.

         Some wasps build their nests in the ground, so it is sometimes not enough to be careful when opening system components but also when walking over any part of the system or area. Always be aware of your surroundings and be on the lookout for potential problems. As with ants, one of the best control measures is to have well-established vegetation in the area and to keep it maintained. 

CRITTER CONCERNS

         Other kinds of pests to be wary of when accessing system components include a variety of spiders that can bite and cause some amount of discomfort. A colleague of mine was bitten by a brown recluse spider in his lower leg. The bite area became infected, requiring multiple surgeries and months of recovery. So while spider bites are most often not fatal, complications arising from the bites can cause major problems.

         In the southwest, scorpions and rattlesnakes may decide to take up residence in those dark crevices. Scorpion stings, while not fatal, can be very painful with effects lasting for several days and can lead to infections that may cause other problems. Snakes are something none of us want to encounter. Septic tanks or distribution boxes that are not in continuous use are prime areas to be used as denning areas.

         Wearing the proper protective equipment can help you avoid problems caused by insects or animals while working on or inspecting systems. At a minimum service providers should wear steel-toed boots, gloves, protective pants and shirts, and proper headgear (hard hats). Avoidance and protection are the best ways to reduce the risk of personal injury or discomfort while in the field. 



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