N. P. Ryan vs. The Spiders from Mars

Recently the BBC reported an elderly woman had to be rescued from a burning mobile home after it had been set on fire by blow torches being used to remove spiders from its underside.

A bit excessive, perhaps?

I once worked in pest control. While people calling us out and paying through the nose to have a casual spider removed was pretty much unheard of, they were something in our text book of how-to-deal-withs.

I’m not a fan of spiders; once, when cautiously using a torch (flashlight) to check in a dark basement that had the potential to be running alive with cockroaches, I bent forward only for the hood on my jacket to fall forward and touch me gently on the back of the head. Despite what I was looking for—roaches give me the heebie-jeebies plenty—it was the thought of it being a spider that had me panic, stand bolt upright and bang my head hard against a beam, before escaping the cramped confines a sweaty mess.

Some pest controller . . .

Still, despite the fear and the job title, I never got the need to kill them, preferring to take a more maybe if I come back in five minutes that’ll be enough time for it to leave of its own accord approach whenever coming ‘face-to-face’ with one.

So, just my luck that one of the contracts on my first patch was for them.

In being a contract, it meant our visits simply rolled-on on a regular basis with no end date in sight, unless a customer call out had us visit earlier or they decided to terminate the contract anytime after the first twelve months; the one in question had been going for a couple of years.

I could see from the paperwork the whole house was included in the treatment. It was massive. Four stories high, five floors when including the fully functional basement, and if all that wasn’t enough – also three houses knocked into one. In being so big the place had lifts (elevators) and more than one!

The owners were a family, and how they’d acquired such wealth was shown in numerous framed photos of them with mountains of product that were all over the place; that or they had a bizarre sense of Warhol family portrait.

The paperwork also told me the customer was paying to have every room in the house treated – the value of the contract was huge, outstripping numerous businesses, such as restaurants and supermarkets, also on my patch.

Different ‘terrain’ allows for different styles of treatment – if the place wasn’t already big enough, there was also all the highly elaborate furnishings and décor that could easily be damaged by the chemicals, not to mention the numerous dainty and expensive knick-knacks sitting on said furnishings that needed navigating while wearing a clumsy sprayer on the back.

Nonetheless, I diligently proceeded to treat every room in the house with a residue insecticide.

The next day the office needed a word urgently; they’d had a very irate member of said household on the phone—the one who hated arachnids, no less—telling them that when I carried out the previous day’s treatment I’d done so incorrectly.

Having been so meticulous with area, I wasn’t baffled on the skiving-off* score – instead I was shitting myself that I’d got my calculations wrong and the chemicals used had done some material damage somewhere really expensive, which really could have been anywhere and might have been everywhere.

*skiving-off: at first nothing more than nipping down the chippy during woodwork, only to later become being in contempt of one’s full contractual obligations to an employer.

I was still pretty green to the job – most of our customers were commercial. Contracts, never mind how full-on this one was, in domestic houses were rare and rarely for spiders; it was something none of the technicians who’d trained me were likely to have experienced (I never encountered treating for spiders again, whether a business, home, on contract or a one-off job).

Quite how green, though . . .

The ‘problem’ was that when walking through the house that morning, the member of it with the acute fear had happened upon the horror of a dead spider on the floor (one I’ve always imagined laying on the plush carpet with its legs bent like some downed Martian craft from H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds given the amount of hysteria it’d apparently caused).

Me: “That’s what they want isn’t it?”

Office: “They don’t want to see any spiders.”

Me: “That’s why it was dead.”

Office: “They don’t want to see any spiders – they don’t care if they’re dead.”

Me: “How . . . ?”

Office: “You’re the technician – it’s up to you how you make that happen. Just make sure it does.”

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How I imagined the downed spider to look; though without the miniature cows, buildings and bridge, obviously. 

The office’s inflection left no doubt of exactly how big the contract was – there was also every possibility we also looked after all the facilities involved with their business across Europe. The way these things worked meant the customer might not even know whether we did themselves, but if we (read, I) pissed them off any, they might be certain to ensure we had nothing to do with a single one.

Gulp!

The thing with spiders is, unless they’re really giant ones from the darkest depths of the jungle or the furthest reaches of outer space (well, Mars at least), they’re not really all that interested in seeing us. In fact, given the choice, I’m pretty sure they’d avoid us with extreme prejudice if they could.

As far as normal sized Earth spiders are concerned, all interactions involving us are the result of accident; whereas we frequently go places like dark basements and jungles knowing full well we can expect to find spiders there, yet still somehow manage to conclude they’re attacking when coming into contact, as though webs go out of their way to have us walk into them.

The offending spider was only there thanks to its normal habitat being doused in poison. Realising this, it’d tried to escape the only way it could—out into to the open—only to find the damage already done and die.

It meant any ‘successful’ treatment stood more chance than not of appearing failed to the customer.

Pest control/prevention is often misunderstood despite the intention being clear in the wording.

Unfortunately, people—be it personal or business—only tend to call once a pest is present in large numbers. In the profession, this is referred to as an ‘infestation’. In some cases, like ants, that can be naturally instantaneous. Whereas things like rats, mice and cockroaches are frequently ignored like they might decide to move out of their own accord, often for quite some incredible time (a bit like how I used to look at spiders, only with far more serious repercussions).

This is not ideal for someone focused on prevention – apart from anything else, it means numerous unnecessary deaths, sometimes with no end in sight given the ability of some pests to retain a semblance of ‘established’ having once been running completely amok.

The first principle of pest control is to stop them getting in to start with. But with all the best will in the world this can often be impossible to achieve. So failing that, ensuring something is already in place to despatch it/them as quickly as possible (read before they breed/do damage/spread disease) is an equally important first line of defence.

For flies, it could be insect screens on doors, then electric fly killers in the kitchen just in case; for rodents, the reducing of gaps under same said doors, then poisoned bait traps placed inside the building in case any find another way in.

By this method there as less deaths and less poisons needed, so better for the environment and less cost to the customer too; there’s also less chance of that above mentioned damage and disease, which could include being seen by a customer, or worse, found in their food.

Though the latter does require the seeing part too, otherwise might go unnoticed . . .

While I might’ve got away with only a hood landing on my head, I once had to interrupt a customer who was in the middle of explaining how bad their infestation to tell them two German cockroaches had just landed on their head and were now running through their hair – the Blattella germanica is so light they hadn’t noticed.

Spiders aren’t really a pest, but are considered so due to the fear factor they can evoke. That said, most people don’t want to find one floating in their breakfast, squished up with lunch or diced into dinner unless eating it means winning a big prize on a reality TV game show.

In this respect any restaurant actually caring about things like that doesn’t have to worry about spiders, as any possible treatment for them is by-default covered by part of what would be done as routine precaution against the far more concerning cockroach.

The logic of the treatment was to a) take out any spiders present b) stop any spiders present creating more. One might think—as I certainly had—the customer would be pleased to see reward for the catastrophic amount of money they were spending to have me do it.

But, no – and worse (for me), there was no other textbook approach to take.

IMG_20140726_210618

No one wants a picture of cockroaches suddenly stuck in their face, so here’s one of a couple of cute cats instead.

I considered using insect monitors, but again the name says it all. The whole point of them is places like kitchens, specifically where roach activity might typically be found when there isn’t an obvious infestation.

Using them for spiders would be random. Also, spiders aren’t cockroaches. Roaches are all dirty and gross whereas spiders a lot more Incy Wincy and up the spout until all poor and washed-out.

And not for the first time, either 😦

Monitors are fine for stinky roaches (and when there’s a lot of them, they sure are stinky!). But leaving a spider stuck there unable to move until it dies or—more fortunately or not, you decide—gets any breathing apparatus stuck and so suffocates before starvation slowly strikes like an ageing ninja; decrepit, yes, but nonetheless still only felt and not seen?

Then again, I reasoned, showing how little training we got for spiders in the process, wouldn’t it actually be the perfect poetic justice given spiders do after all trap things in their own sticky web where they either remain until they die or the spider turns up to wrap them in a cocoon and/or eat them while alive, which is surely a fate far worse than suffocation?

Perhaps not quite as extreme as it should be to match the crime even, but it would at least be an opportunity for the spider to consider the error of its ways, realise the prior terror and torment of all its former victims. Okay, so not all that much use moving forward given scenario end-game, by maybe a chance to preach to any passing spiders, the word spreading, arachnids en-masse considering vegan options from there?

But far more importantly there was the Jesus-factor: I had to be seen to be doing something.

On the next visit I laid a few monitors and on every subsequent one walked leisurely around the luxurious house picking them up to see if they’d observed any spiders since the last time. Then I’d have a nice cup of tea and a couple of biscuits with staff in the kitchen while writing my report and leaving it with them.

The customer never complained again.

But was it ethical to do literally nothing while the customer paid to have so much done?

More in: Spiders from Mars Supplemental

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