Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Three new Experience House Trainings

Are you looking for pest control training using a practical approach? Do you have a new employee that you'd like to provide with some of the best training available?  Then you might be interested in the three new hands-on classes being offered this summer through the new IPM Experience House in Dallas.  Here are this summer's classes with information on how to register:
IPM Experience House provides a real world
environment where technicians learn by doing.
  • Practical Mosquito Control for PMPs (next week!) July 20, 8:30 am - 3:30 pm. This class provides an introduction to mosquitoes and mosquito biology. We’ll go through some of the basics of mosquito adult and larval identification, learn how to identify mosquito risk zones around the home and how to communicate with customers about risks from mosquito-borne disease. Different insecticide application methods and equipment will be demonstrated. Training will include both classroom, and hands-on and outdoor training at IPM Experience House. Cost for the course is only $20 thanks to partial funding by the Centers for Disease Control. If you are interested, you'll have to hurry. Click here for an agenda and information on how to register today.
  • Introduction to termite control for new technicians. August 2, 8:30 am - 3:30 pm.  This class is designed to orient new termite technicians to the art and science of termite control. Termite control expert, Dr. Bob Davis, will be demonstrating practical field skills for setting up and executing a termite job. He is joined by Dr. Mike Merchant in the classroom to provide some of the basic biology of termites you need to know if you are to be on the top of your game. This is a great opportunity to train new or old employees in the field of termite control. Half of this class will be held in the classroom, and half will be outdoors, conducting a termite estimate and treatment. Cost for the course is $40, includes snacks and water. Click here for an agenda and registration information. 
  • General Household Pest Category Training. August 23, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm. This first-time offering provides the necessary Pest category training for new apprentices and an introduction to general pest control for new technicians. Topics to be covered include: introduction to entomology and the general orders of insects; general insect pests; mosquitoes; rodents and other animal pests; introduction to IPM and pesticides; and equipment used in pest control. This is a great opportunity to train new or old employees in the field of termite control. Half of this class will be held in the classroom, and half will be in the field, conducting pest control inspections at the new IPM Experience House, looking at specimens, and getting some introductory experience with monitoring and treatments. Cost for the course is $50, includes lunch, snacks and water. Click here for agenda and registration information. 
If you've not yet visited IPM Experience House, we are a new training facility designed to provide hands-on training experiences for pest management professionals doing structural pest control in Texas. We are located at 17360 Coit Road, Dallas, TX 75252.  Classes will meet in the Building E classroom (Whitehurst Education Building), and walking to the IPM Experience House for part of the training.  For a campus map, click here.  Additional questions can be directed to Sharon Harris at 972-952-9201.

IPM Experience House is made possible through the redesign of a former dormitory on the Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas campus, the facility is financially supported by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Texas pest control industry.  This summer will be a great time to check us out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The things we do for You

Lab-reared cockroaches being released into a
previously pristine cabinet in the restaurant zone at
IPM Experience House.  Infestation for a good cause!
Last month I did the unthinkable. I purposefully infested a home with cockroaches.

My actions, though, were not criminal and will not harm any homeowner or renter. And the newly infested house is absolutely a good cause.

The cockroach apocalypse took place at IPM Experience House--our new, Texas A&M AgriLife-hosted, training facility for pest management professionals. IPM house is a 1000 sq foot facility with simulated kitchens, nursing home room, hotel room, pantry, restaurant, and attic.  Our vision at IPM House is to pest control trainees a with a safe place to learn their trade (think jet flight simulator for PMPs!).

But how to do this? One idea that has always intrigued me is having live cockroaches (or at least realistic signs of cockroaches) as part of the IPM House experience.

So last week my research technician and I released a hundred or so Blatella germanica in two locations at the House: a kitchen cupboard and a cabinet housing our new soft drink dispenser.  The cockroaches were provided by Doug VanGundy, my friend at Zoecon Labs, a branch of Central Life Sciences.  Zoecon maintains cultures of several key insect pests as part of their research labs in Dallas and generously agreed to provide three ice cream containers full of live cockroaches for our house.

By all appearances, the disgusting little guys we released today were more than happy to escape the confines of their sterile lab culture. Within ten minutes a few of the more adventurous had traveled a dozen feet or more from their release point.

Don't get me wrong. IPM House will not be a yucky place, full of cockroach allergens and creepy roaches. Our plan is to release the cockroaches and let them get comfortable just long enough to leave their telltale signs around the simulated residential kitchen and restaurant zones.  Once we've had enough of them, we'll pursue the infestation with state of the art control tools like dusts and baits.

I figure we've already got these little guys where we want them.  IPM House is pretty clean, and holds little food apart from which we are purposefully providing. Because of its relatively sparse furnishings, there are fewer natural harborages at IPM House compared to the average home. So I'm optimistic the cleanup operation will proceed quickly.  And if a few cockroaches manage to escape our insecticide blitzkrieg, I guess we'll just have a little more realistic classroom.

We want you and your employees to experience IPM House first hand.  Our first General Household Pest technician training is scheduled for August 23. So if you have some new employees who want their first jet simulator ride, have them sign up today. Class size is limited.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER ONLINE


Friday, June 23, 2017

Tips for your elevator speech

PMPs often get the dirty jobs that no one
else wants, including crawling hot attics
for termite, varmint and rodent control.
How many times do you get asked what you do for a job? Or, "What's your company all about?" And when asked, do you have an "elevator speech"?  A clear, quickly delivered "infomercial” about you or your business or other passion?

I thought it might be fun to ask what interesting bits of infomercial-worthy information might go into an elevator speech about pest control. So I've put together some ideas that might serve as an interesting mixture of thoughts and facts to entertain, inform and impress those who have no idea what we do every day in the pest control profession.

  • Pest control is more than a job.  It's a profession that's all about protecting your property, health and welfare. 
  • Pest management professionals help schools, businesses, homeowners and renters manage termites, rodents, cockroaches, ants and bed bugs. And we do it efficiently using the best science-based methods. 
  • Pest control employees not only go through apprenticeships and exams to get licensed; they're now required to get safety- and pest control-related continuing education credits annually in most states.
  • Insecticides are safer and more thoroughly tested today than ever.  The average cost of discovering and getting a new insecticide to market today is over $250 million, about $67 million of which is devoted to environmental and safety testing. Next to pharmaceuticals, pesticides are arguably the most thoroughly tested products used by consumers.
  • We're a modest-sized industry doing a huge job. The pest control industry is estimated to be worth $8 billion dollars a year--about the same as how much Americans spend on Halloween
  • Speaking of Halloween, how scary is it that a cockroach doesn't have to touch you to make you sick? Just breathing the air of a roach-infested home exposes you to cockroach allergens, which can lead to asthma. And over 60% percent of US homes have these allergens (the percentage is even higher for inner city homes--estimates range between 78% and 98%). 
  • Almost 1 million households were treated for bed bug by the U.S. pest control industry in 2016, up 11% from 2015.
  • One of the fastest growing pest control industry segments around the country is mosquito control, battling the deadliest animal in the world (mosquito-borne malaria kills close to 3/4 million people a year). 
  • Rodents chewing on wires and gas lines in attics and walls cause an estimated 20-25% of all fires of mysterious origin.  A PMP knows how to eliminate rats and mice while minimizing the risks of dead rodents in unwanted places.
  • A single house mouse visiting your kitchen in one night leaves behind over 50 virus and bacteria-laden droppings and up to 3,000 micro-urine droplets on floors, on countertops and in drawers. 
  • As U.S. cities grow, and apartment densities soar, the need for pest control is growing now at over 4.5% ($100 million) a year.
Of course, together these facts are way too long for an elevator speech (which should be 25 to 30 seconds, no longer than 80 or 90 words).  So pick one or two things to commit to memory and pull them out when you've got 30 seconds with a prospective customer (or your mother who still doesn't know what you do).

You probably have other things for your personal elevator speech.  If so, and you're willing to share, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bermudagrass stunt mite in lawns

The tufted witches broom symptoms of BSM in
are seen in the stem on the left.  Normal
bermudagrass stem on the right. Photo: M. Merchant.
I don't often address pest issues in lawns and on ornamental plants; but many Insects in the City readers do include lawn care services. So I thought I would address a lesser known turfgrass pest problem that seems to be on the increase.

Bermudagrass stunt mite (BSM), Eriophes cynodoniensis, is one of our tiniest arthropod pests of ornamental plants.  It lives inside the leaf sheaths of grass and is a common (but relatively minor and spotty) pest of home lawns. On golf course greens, where expectations of smooth putting surfaces are high, BSM is a serious pest throughout the southern U.S. According to some experts, the incidence of this pest appears to be on the rise--possibly because of the loss of older insecticides, a trend toward higher mowing heights and less irrigation, and possibly the use of newer, more susceptible grass varieties.

The BSM feeds only on bermudagrass (though there are closely related species that feeds on buffalograss and zoysiagrass). When the mite feeds under the leaf sheaths the leaves start to yellow and twist. As the grass tries to grow, the gaps between the leaves get shorter and shorter, resulting in a bunchy, "witches broom" appearance. Eventually the leaves and stems die, probably as a result of a toxin injected into the grass by the mite.  Look for areas of stunted, green to brown grass, and dead spots in a lawn. You can identify BSM damage by the stunted, tufted appearance of the grass around the edges of the dead spots.

Damage often seems to occur in grass that is stressed from not receiving enough water.  In my own yard for several years I commonly saw BSM damage in the median strip between sidewalk and street. Since upgrading my sprinkler system, however, I see fewer signs of these mites.

Dr. J.C. Chong, of Clemson University, got interested in this mite about 10 years ago, and found no one else studying it.  Today he has devoted as much time as anyone to studying these tiny pests.  His knowledge about BSM is in especially high demand this year, he says.

"I am getting more requests for diagnosis and confirmation from golf courses and high-end landscapes in Florida, the Carolinas and Texas in the past 3 months than the entire [2016] combined."

Damage from BSM appears as brown, dead patches.  Examine the borders of
these spots closely to look for the tufted, stunted plants typical of the mite.
According to Chong, the last time anyone bothered to studying control of BSM was in the early 1980s. At the time, the best insecticide by far was diazinon. Now that diazinon is no longer available due to environmental concerns, we have few comparable products.

Part of the problem is that there are few researchers with time or funding to study BSM.  Another problem common to turfgrass pests is that it is difficult to know if and where mites will show up in a large enough area to design a good insecticide trial.

Bifenthrin is a standard go-to miticide for many in the pest control industry. But experts vary in their opinions about its effectiveness against BSM.  Bifenthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, and deltamethrin products all carry labels for mite control in turfgrass, and may provide some control.  However, if you are attempting control with one of the pyrethroid insecticides experts advise using a surfactant to help the insecticide penetrate deeper into the leaf sheath. Dr. Eric Rebek, at Oklahoma State University, suggests using Dispatch at 3/4 oz. per 1000 ft sq. Rebek also noted that Dursban provides slightly better control of BSM than the pyrethroid products, but can only be used on sod farms, in road medians, around industrial plants or on golf courses (brand products differ, so check the label).

Chong has had little success with bifenthrin, regardless of timing.  In trials conducted between 2011 and 2015, he found avermectin to be the best treatment after diazinon. He used Avid 0.15 EC at 28 fl oz/acre, at two week intervals. When testing weekly applications, Chong found the best mite suppression came from four weekly applications in June compared to four weekly applications in April.

Another suggestion passed on by many experts is to scalp, or mow the grass to be treated very short, before applying insecticide. The reasoning is that this prunes off and removes many of the infested grass tufts, plus opens the grass canopy to better spray coverage. Bagging your clippings and disposing of them off site will ensure that the mites are not just spread around by the mowing operation.

On golf courses Chong now recommends Divanem (8% abamectin, by Syngenta).  A Restricted Use nematicide, Divanem has a 2ee registration for bermudagrass mite control on greens, tees and fairways (March 2017). Rate is 3.125 to 6.25 fl oz/acre.  He recommends using the high rate if economically possible, and repeating every 2-4 weeks.

Despite several years of field tests, Chong notes that there is still a lot to learn, especially when it comes to combining insecticides with different cultural practices like mowing, irrigation and varietal selection. Experience with BSM demonstrates that, at least for some pests, it's not always easy to come up with reliable management recommendations.  For a pest like BSM, one pest can lead to a career's worth of work for some lucky entomologist.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fun spider facts PMPs need to know

Cobweb spiders were found in 100% of homes in a recent
survey in North Carolina.  
Last year an article was published by Matthew Bertone and colleagues at North Carolina State University about arthropods found in homes.  The only organism found in 100% of the homes and over 90% of the basements surveyed was spiders.  The only other organisms that came close were flies and ants and carpet beetles.  By contrast, German cockroaches were found in only 6% of homes and fleas in 10% of homes.

What this tells me is that everyone in pest control needs to know something about spiders.  So here are some fun spider facts that you can impress your family and friends with.

  • Spiders consume an estimated 400-800 million tons of prey every year, at least as much meat as all 7 billion humans on the planet (400 million tons of meat and fish annually).
  • The world spider population weighs 29 million tons, as much as 478 Titanics.
  • Most spiders kill and eat prey in forest and grasslands (95%) and only 2% of annual spider prey are eaten in agricultural lands, probably because of the regular disturbances caused by farming activities.
  • Spiders have been around about 400 million years, longer than all but perhaps the earliest insects.
  • Over 45,000 different species of spiders have been described by science.  Only about 3,800 species are known from the U.S. and Canada.
  • Half of the different species of spiders in the U.S. are less than 3 mm (1/8 inch).
  • Spiders disperse largely by parachuting or "ballooning".  Young spiderlings produce lightweight strands of silk to catch updrafts, especially on sunny mornings. 
  • Some spiders have been captured ballooning at altitudes up to 2.5 miles, over 13,000 feet.  It's thought that electrostatic forces assist with flight.
  • Spiders feed exclusively on liquids.  They lack jaws to chew food.
  • Although nearly all spiders likely have venom, only a handful are capable of causing bites that are medically important to humans.  These include the widow and recluse spiders in the U.S.
  • If you ever find yourself walking into an orb-shaped spiderweb, relax.  None of the orb weaver spiders are considered dangerous to humans (For you Hobbit and Lord of the Ring fans, Shelob was more likely a cobweb spider, not an orb weaver).
This post was inspired by a recent Washington Post article by Christopher Ingraham. The fun facts were gleaned from several sources, including the Bertone et al. paper which provided estimates about spider eating capacity; a National Geographic post by Liz Langley;  Evolution of the Insects by Grimaldi and Engel; and Common Spiders of North America by Richard Bradley.  As a handy reference for the common spiders, I heartily recommend the wonderful little book Spiders and Their Kin by Levi and Levi.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Boozy beetle wreaks havoc on lawn mower

The tiny camphor shoot borer with a taste for
boring into gasoline containers. Photo by Adam
Sheffield. 
Every now and then I get a note about a pest so bizarre it's kind of hard to believe. This afternoon I received an email through one of our county offices from a citizen having problems with insects boring into his riding lawn mower gas tank.  He knew it was an insect that made the perfectly round holes, because they were still inside some of the holes, and he was able to carefully extract about 15 of them.

And this wasn't the first time.  His neighbor had a similar experience with his mower being damaged by the little pests the previous spring.

Being good at your job doesn't mean that you know all the answers, but it does involve knowing where to go for the answers. In this case I got lucky.  I put out an inquiry about gas sniffing beetles to entomology colleagues, and immediately got several replies.

Some of my colleagues recalled a paper put out in 2011 by Chris Carlton and Victoria Bayless at the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum.  They had published a scientific note describing cases where a small beetle had been found boring into plastic gas cans.  The authors identified the beetle as a type of bark beetle called camphor shoot borer (CSB), Cnestus mutilatus.

One of the gas cans enshrined in the Louisiana State
Arthropod Museum as a testament to the determined
bark beetle that loves its gasahol.  This can had over 150
holes cause by the beetles. From Carlton and Bayless, 2011.
The finding must have impressed even my Louisiana colleagues because, as they reported in their paper, the can is now permanently stored at the Lousiana State insect museum.

The CSB is yet another insect that's not native to this country.  It was first reported in the U.S. in 2004, and is now found throughout the Southeast from NC to TX. It normally feeds on a variety of hardwoods, but especially sweetgum. In Texas it's more likely to be found in the eastern part of the state.

One entomologist pointed out that these beetles are commonly attracted to his alcohol-baited traps used to collect other bark beetles.  Since most gasoline these days contains alcohol, it makes sense that alcohol may be what's attracting these little guys to lawn mowers.

Aside from patching tanks with duct tape, how can we use what we know about this insect to prevent it from ruining lawn mowers and perhaps causing fiery mayhem from Charlotte to Houston?  A glance at the collection data stored on BugGuide suggests that this beetle is active primarily in the spring (March to June).  So protecting gasoline containers in the spring is particularly important.  Storing gas canisters and mowers in enclosed sheds or under some type of tarpaulin may be helpful, especially in the spring. Keeping the outside of the plastic fuel canisters free of spilled gas also might help.

The last solution might involve finding gasoline that doesn't contain alcohol.  But that might be harder than building a new shed for the mower.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Unlicensed applicators in schools?

It has come to our attention that a bill has recently been introduced in the Texas legislature that would eliminate Texas state requirements for persons applying pesticides in public schools to be a licensed applicator.  HB 3590 was recently introduced by James Frank of Wichita Falls. It's a very short bill, and says merely that "a school district employee is not required to hold a license... to apply at a school building or other school district facility, in a manner consistent with the label, a pesticide that is available for purchase by unlicensed members of the public." [my emphasis]

While I and my fellow extension employees will not take a public position on any state legislation, I think it might be useful to make you aware of the issue.  To be clear about what the bill does, it would allow teachers, custodial staff, coaches, administrative assistants, kitchen employees or any other school district employee to apply insecticides at their own discretion in a school or athletic field.  This would bypass the normal process of pesticide approval and the authority of IPM plans as determined by the IPM Coordinator of the district.

As you think about how you feel about this requirement, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • School IPM requirements have been in place in Texas since 1995, and have become widely accepted and followed by school districts throughout the state.  While some school leaders have expressed concern over the IPM restrictions and licensing costs, our data show that safer practices are being adopted by schools and that overall knowledge of IPM and its implementation has increased significantly.
  • Licensing and training ensures that pesticide applicators are aware of the risks and rules governing pesticide use.  Licensed applicators are also trained in pest identification and how to determine the best and safest means of managing any given pest.  The rationale behind licensing is that untrained and unlicensed applicators attempting to control pests are less likely to be successful, and more likely to apply pesticides unsafely or unnecessarily.
  • Current rules already allow for certain unlicensed school employees to apply pesticides under limited "emergency" circumstances; however some verifiable instruction is required to ensure that the employees understand the pesticide label and how to use a product safely.
  • With the exception of a few restricted use pesticides, nearly any professional pesticide product or active ingredient is currently available for purchase by unlicensed members of the public via feed and seed stores, garden centers, hardware stores or online outlets.  Any of these products, if used without discretion or without following label directions exactly, can be dangerous to the health of children and school employees.
  • As was pointed out in a 1999 Government Accounting Office report on pesticides in schools: "Children are at greater risk from pesticide exposure than most adults because, pound for pound of body weight, children breathe more, eat more, and have more rapid metabolisms than adults, and they also play on the floor and lawn where pesticides are commonly applied. Children have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact as well." Concern about the safety of school children and the need for a safe school environment was the driving force behind passage of the Texas School IPM regulations in 1991.
  • In a recent statewide survey, 88% of school IPM coordinators agreed that the rules and regulations requiring IPM helps their school district provide a safer place for children and staff.