By: David Moore

The phrases and words you use when you speak to your client about their pest management program has large bearing on what they understand. Using proper terminology when explaining pest management methods and tools to your clients allows you to educate them in a more accurate, yet precise manner.

Let’s review a few of the commonly misused or misinterpreted terms or phrases that apply to the pest management industry:

Venomous vs. Poisonous. If you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous. If it bites or stings you and you die, it’s venomous.

A rattlesnake is venomous, while a blister beetle can be poisonous. Both pose a threat, but being able to articulate the difference will go a long way when communicating with your clients.

Bug vs. Insect. The saying “not all insects are bugs, but all bugs are insects,” is completely accurate. True bugs are in the order Hemiptera. Insects that aren’t in this order are not technically bugs. By calling everything a bug, we devalue our expertise and do not educate the client. Additionally, the client may think that the resolution to all their “bug” problems is to simply spray.

Toxic. Our clients and the general public focus on toxicity as the measurement of how dangerous or risky a pesticide is. It’s easy to see why — because toxicity is a simple and straightforward concept. Each pesticide has an LD50 which is the dose required to kill 50 percent of those exposed to it. The LD50 (which can be found for each product on the Safety Data Sheet [SDS]) does not, however, consider how we use these products.

In actuality, the phrase, “The dose makes the poison,” is a more accurate reflection of the health risks of pesticides. The most toxic compound in the world poses no hazard if no one is exposed to it. On the flipside, a low-toxicity compound can lead to harmful outcomes if exposure to it is high. In structural pest control we largely use products with a high LD50 (the higher the number, the lower the toxicity) and take significant steps to mitigate exposure risks with personal protective equipment, use patterns, and non-chemical control strategies.

Pesticides. Not all pesticides eliminate insects, rodents or other pests. Using the proper terminology on your service reports, and with the client, can reduce confusion and ambiguity around your service. Understanding the different types of pesticides and their use is crucial. The most commonly used pesticides that pest management professionals will run across are:

  • Insecticide: kills insects
  • Rodenticide: kills rodents
  • Fungicide: kills fungi
  • Herbicide: kills unwanted plants

Repellent vs. Non-Repellent. This may seem simple, but the difference between repellent and non-repellent insecticides confuses many people.

Repellent materials act as a chemical barrier or knockdown agent. Some are designed to work quickly on pests, but don’t provide long-term control. Others may last longer, but don’t quite give you the desired knockdown.

Non-repellents, such as baits and insect growth regulators (IGR), are undetectable to pests. Because pests are unaware of their presence, more individuals are exposed to the product, which is key if you’re dealing with social (ants, yellowjackets) and communal (cockroaches) pests.

When explaining the difference to the client, you may consider pointing out that a repellent can help keep ground beetles out of their home, but a non-repellent would be more effective for knocking down an entire ant colony.

Nest vs. Harborage. Some insects nest, while others have harborage areas. Insects that nest are social insects such as ants, wasps, termites and bees. These insects have group integration, division of labor, distinct castes and overlapping generations. Insects such as cockroaches, bed bugs, and earwigs seek harborage. These insects may share a common shelter, but they are not reliant on each other to survive.

Fogging vs. Fumigation vs. Bombing. All three of these treatments are different and, in many cases, misused.

Fumigation is a highly specialized service in which pesticidal gas is introduced to a structure, chamber or commodity. The gas penetrates materials thoroughly and kills pests. Fogging and bombing are similar but still different enough to differentiate them from each other. Fogging is the use of specialized equipment designed to produce pesticidal fog. This fog is not a true gas and does not penetrate materials. “Bug bombs” are more accurately called total release foggers — aerosolized insecticides that fully discharge their contents with the push of a button. Total release foggers are commonly used in the consumer market for cockroaches and bed bugs.

Many clients will equate bombing a house or restaurant as general pest control service, which is inaccurate especially if a liquid treatment is being used. Additionally, each treatment has its own set of regulations so if you are documenting the service incorrectly, you are opening yourself up to potential liability.

IGRs, Pheromones and Insecticides. Insect growth regulators (IGRs) disrupt how insects grow and reproduce and can prevent reproduction, egg-hatch, and molting from one stage to the next. IGRs are meant to augment a pest management program and supplement insecticides being used.

Pheromones are chemicals secreted by insects as a means of communication. Pheromone traps are used to attract specific insects and help monitor pest populations.

Insecticides are pesticides designed to kill, harm, repel or mitigate one or more species of insect. As mentioned previously, insecticides work in different ways. Understanding how the insecticide you are applying will impact an insect population aids you in structuring your program properly.

FINAL THOUGHTS. These are just a handful of phrases or concepts that are not always understood completely by our clients, and some pest management professionals. Educating yourself, and your team members, on the correct use of pest-related phrases and treatment methods will allow you to communicate much more effectively with your clients and improve your documentation of pest issues.


David Moore, BCE, is the Manager of Technical Services at Wil-Kil Pest Control. He has a master’s degree in entomology from Virginia Tech.  

This Tech Talk article was originally published in the July 2020 edition of PCT magazine.