Image: Bed Bugs, Lanternflies got you Bugged Out?  An interview with Elbert Smith

Elbert “Smitty” Smith.

As we prepare for the return of the dreaded Lanternfly, to the chagrin of gardeners, lovers of the outdoors and tree huggers like me, one can’t help but bemoan the fact that Philadelphia has had its share of pests and infestations in the past years.

It was bad enough when the horrid, blood-sucking bed bugs infested the city making the city the Bed Bug capitol of the nation where we earned the undesirable distinction of ranking number One on the list of most Bed-bug-ridden cities in the U.S. by Terminix in 2019.

Finally, the problem, although not completely eradicated, seems to have somewhat subsided.

Then came the tree destroying, plant consuming Lanternfly first spotted in Pennsylvania in 2014 according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

With 34 Pennsylvania Counties placed under quarantine status due to the pests, another 8 counties, Lackawanna, Pike, Wayne, Franklin, Cambria, Cameron and Westmoreland joined that list earlier in the year.

Feeling bugged out, we thought we’d talk to an expert in the field so we turned to Elbert Smith, Jr. AKA ‘Smitty’ of Enterprise Exterminating and Supply Company to talk about pests. After all, having been in business since 1976, who would be better to talk to about those nerve wrecking creatures crawling around our homes.

“One day I was lying in bed and my mother had an exterminating company come out and he was spraying around the bed,” said Smith when asked about his early interest in the bug control business.

“I was wondering what he was doing and then when I figured it out, I went downstairs and saw my mother paying him money and I said, ‘Wow! This is a business. I could get into this’.”

Smith did some research and his interests in the industry went from mere curiosity to making a major decision, “I started the business down in the basement in my mother’s house. My father didn’t like it so much because there were chemicals in the house but my mother didn’t mind because she knew I had an entrepreneurial mindset,” he said.

“I was 18 when I got started.”

“I purchased the equipment and started going to classes and learning the business,” Smith said.

In those days he worked for one of the larger companies and in 1976 went out on his own.

“At that time, I purchased the property for the business after a few years and then started selling supplies as well as services.”

Going into people’s homes and businesses  to slay bugs isn’t as easy as buying some chemicals and putting out flyers. There’s licensing and training required – thank goodness! In fact, during the bed bug crisis in Philadelphia, many people may have unwittingly exacerbated the problem by unintentionally spreading the bugs by improperly discarding infested mattresses and furniture. Knowledge and experience make all of the difference in the world.

“What happens is that when people started moving them [furniture/mattresses] they weren’t educated to the fact that they couldn’t just take the bed down the steps because then the bugs start to spread. People would wonder why they had bed bugs around the house!” said Smith.

“Then they set the mattresses outside naked [without covers], sanitation workers were getting them [bed bugs] and taking them home and that’s why they came up with the requirement of putting bed bug covers on mattresses [before they are removed by sanitation workers].”

“They are hitchhikers actually and they can get inside your clothing and you can get them almost anywhere like on a bus or a cab, visiting a family’s home, a movie theater and then bring them into your house,” he said.

Bed bugs are nocturnal blood suckers and although they aren’t known to carry any diseases, they can cause serious itching, and in some cases, allergic reactions to their bites.

“When you are asleep, that’s when they feed,” Smith said.

“Once they do one feeding, they can actually survive off of that feeding for 18 months so we recommend that with bed bug covers and things like that, that you leave your bed bug covers on your bed for at least two years.”

Some businesses carry bed bug sprays and bombs but the pests are elusive and treatment isn’t as easy as it might seem.

“If bed bugs have been found in your home, resist the urge to use household bug sprays or "bombs." Bed bugs are resistant to the most commonly used pesticides. Using bug bombs and sprays on mattresses and in bedrooms will only increase your exposure to toxins but will not control bed bugs. Since pesticides are poisons, they should be used sparingly and carefully,” advises a Pennsylvania State University report.

“To control bed bugs effectively, you will need a combination of actions. Control is difficult, so it is best to consult a licensed and experienced pest management professional (PMP) to help rid your home of these pests.”

As for Lanternflies, they are beautiful but threaten the environment given the fact that they kill the trees and plants they infest.

“The best thing to do is to kill the Lanternflies as you see them but that is very hard because they are very fast,” Smith said, and as anyone who’s tried to step on one can attest.

“They have different stages that you have to look at, too. They have the adult, the larvae and during the different stages there are control measures that we can use.”

Pest control professionals are required to take courses and update their knowledge on the various treatment options for the diverse pests they are often called to treat and must demonstrate their knowledge to not only get their license but to annually renew them.

It is recommended that you use professionals because of their knowledge and training and the fact that they know how to handle the chemicals needed.

While most products sold on the market are said to be safe when used as instructed, there is nevertheless some degree of potential exposure to the harmful chemicals found in them.

“You want to avoid absorbing these chemicals as much as possible which can happen through your skin, your nose or your eyes. So, the best thing is to stay away from those products and let the professionals take care of it,” Smith said.

If you have issues or concerns about bed bugs, Lanternflies, mice or other pesky creatures, give Enterprise Exterminating and Supply Company a call at 215-849-7070 or visit them at 4943 Wayne Ave. or online at www.enterpriseexterminating.com.

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