When you see your pet scratching itself more and more, you know what's going on...
...the unsavory reality of a flea infestation
And once you confirm that your furry friend really does have the dreaded fleas, the real dilemma sets in: they'll multiply quickly, and cover your home.
After a bit of research, you've found that something called a "nematode" may do the trick and solve your flea problem.
But you're probably asking yourself, "What the heck are nematodes and how can they help you?"
Well, you've come to the right place.
Let's dig into how these little guys can save you a ton of pain and emotional grief.
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Nematodes: What Are They?
You've probably never heard of them, or perhaps didn't even know they existed.
These minuscule organisms are, actually, some of the best defenses on the market to combat the rapid spread of fleas around the yard at your home.
Nematodes (also called roundworms) are incredibly small, non-segmented worms with long, smooth bodies. And when we say incredibly small, we mean it:
These microscopic organisms can't be seen by the naked eye, but they do can serious damage to insect larvae while leaving mammals completely unaffected and minimizing the use of chemicals around your house.
That's what makes them the ideal solution for killing fleas in your yard.
You can apply beneficial nematodes around your yard to help reduce the flea larvae population in hopes that it reduces the chance your pets pick up hitchhikers while they're outside playing.
Naturally, they live in soils worldwide. Nematodes have a special gut bacteria which is fatal to all kinds of pests, but namely fleas. In a lucky turn of events, this gut bacteria isn't harmful to humans or pets whatsoever.
Are Nematodes Parasites?
Yes and no.
Not all nematodes are parasitic but the ones that help defeat fleas are in fact a type of insect parasite.
Nematodes take fleas as their host and live on the nutrients the flea provides. This means that by definition, these organisms do fall into the category of parasites.
While it may be strange to think that the best way to fight a parasite is with another parasite, consider this: fleas are almost microscopic themselves, so one of the most effective ways to kill them is with something even smaller.
Are Nematodes Harmful?
When most people think of a parasite, they think of a blood-sucking cretin which is harmful to its host.
Usually, that's the case, but this concept can be a double-edged sword: just because a parasite is harmful to its host doesn't mean that it's harmful to the world around it.
Nematodes are an example of a parasite that kills fleas, yet isn't harmful at all to larger animals kept as pets, or humans. They attach onto the pests as hosts, leaving you, your pet, and your home parasite-free.
What's a "Beneficial Nematode"?
Whether you're wondering what do nematodes eat or you're asking yourself how to prevent fleas in the yard, we've got the answers to your questions here with two words: beneficial nematode or by their scientific names, Steinernema feltiae (Sf), Steinernemacarpocapsae (Sc) and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora (Hb).
We call those names out because the flea eating variety of nematode are a very specific kind of nematode.
How Do Nematodes Work
When a batch of flea eating nematodes is released into an area, the individual roundworms get find their prey by tasting the soil and feeling for the warmth of other insects.
Once located, they enter their host through whatever openings they can find. Once inside, they begin killing their host by releasing deadly gut bacteria and continually reproducing. Within 24 hours you should start seeing results and a diminished population.
Why Are Nematodes Successful
Nematodes are successful for two reasons:
- They're cheap to buy; and
- Easy to broadcast throughout your yard.
Most products come with pre-assembled spraying attachments that allow you to quickly and easily deploy these buggers.
Aside from fleas, they also attack other insect larva like...
- Cut Worms
- Gnat Larva
- Japanese Beetle Larva
- Webworms and more
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How to Apply Nematodes for Fleas
If you can't see the nematodes, how can you set them out to do work in your yard?
This is a common question, and the answer is not as complicated as one might assume. Keep reading for the full description of what you need to do to set these guys in motion.
How to Treat Your Yard With Nematodes
Because nematodes thrive in soils, it's best to keep treatment outdoors to remedy your flea problem, even if you have an indoor pet.
The nematodes will find more fleas outside, strengthening their bodies and getting rid of all the fleas you may not realize you have lurking outside.
Because nematodes die in harsh sunlight and in high temperatures, it's best to apply them before dawn.
You have to mix the nematodes with water, and the correct ratio can be found on the packaging of your nematodes.
It's incredibly important to mix just the right amount of water, as the solution depends on the amount of nematodes you purchase. After this step is complete, you'll need a water can and/or a pump sprayer in order to propel the nematodes outward, across your lawn.
The Fleas Are Gone! What Happens Next?
Even if you're on board with releasing invisible worms around your yard, you're still probably wondering about what happens to the nematodes once the job is done?
Do they just hang out in your yard forever?
Are you essentially trading one parasite for another?
Here's the best part about using this method to kill your fleas: once nematodes have no more hosts on which to feed, they die. Their microscopic bodies begin to biodegrade, and no trace of them is left behind.
Smart Storage of Nematodes
So, we've convinced you and you've decided to hop on the bandwagon and you've gotten some nematodes to kill off those fleas.
Where should you put them until you've decided to release them?
Pantry or Fridge?
The most important tip we can give is that because nematodes are live organisms, they should be stored for as little time as possible. The lifespan without a host on which to feed is very short, so try to use them as soon as possible.
In the event that you do need to store them for a day or two, pop them in the fridge, preferably covered in aluminum foil.
The foil will insulate them even more and act as a shield against the light that comes on every time someone opens the refrigerator door.
Nematodes can live up to 14 days in a refrigerator, but keep in mind that this countdown doesn't begin the moment you've put them in your fridge at home.
These guys have been in transit to and from the original retailer, so it's difficult to know how long they've already spent inside of a refrigerated truck and a cold case, waiting to be purchased.
What Happens If They Arrive Dead?
In this digital day and age, ordering things online is becoming more commonplace than going to the store to physically buy things.
If you order nematodes online, do yourself a favor: make sure the seller is reputable. Read the reviews first to see that other customers have had a successful experience buying their nematodes from this retailer, and that they utilize best practices with shipping the product in a way that keeps them alive.
If everything checks out and you place your order but smell a fishy scent coming from the package, organize a refund.
Nematodes don't have a smell, but the decay smells rotten, so this is an excellent way to tell whether you've gotten a box full of dead, useless nematodes.
Because of the short lifespan without hosts, many retailers understand that the clock is ticking during shipping, and that accidents happen. When doing your product research, make sure to choose a retailer that is flexible in the event of the nematodes dying before they get to you.
The Bottom Line
One of the best natural ways to prevent fleas are nematodes.
They are regarded as your best bet. Not only are they a natural flea killer for your yard, but they also like to feast on other bad bugs that can ruin your day (gnats, etc).
After they've gotten the job done, they essentially disappear. These natural remedies for pesky fleas will restore your peace of mind while they keep your pet from discomfort and harm.
Curious about other flea guides? Check out our other detailed articles to help you deal with your pest problems.