Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pine sawfly in northeast Texas

Pine sawfly damage (tree on right) in Kaufman County.  Photo by Pam Corder.This week I've responded to three calls about pest caterpillars defoliating pine trees in Lamar, Kaufman and Hunt counties. Initially I hadn't plan to post on this, since it is not really a structural pest control issue, but then I received a call from Mike Rogers of Accurate Pest Control. A customer of his was reporting damage that sounded suspiciously like my caterpillar. So in the interest of all of you who get asked about trees as well as termites, here's the update.

There appears to be an outbreak of pine sawfly in counties just east and north of the DFW metroplex. This is especially interesting to me since it's a new pest that I haven't encountered during the past 20 years of working as entomologist in the Dallas area. Although we have not confirmed its identity, it is likely one of the Neodiprion species of pine sawflies. Different species of sawflies cause periodic, widespread defoliation of pines throughout the southern staBlackheaded sawfly, Neodiprion excitans. Photo by Arnold T. Drooz, USDA Forest Service, courtesy The Bugwood Networktes. The Kaufman County report, from urban forester Pam Corder, was on loblolly pine.

Sawflies are interesting in that, despite their caterpillar-like appearance, are not true caterpillars from the order Lepidoptera. Instead they represent the only suborder of wasps (in the order Hymenoptera) that are plant feeders.

The caterpillars images we have examined are a greenish species with dark longitudinal stripes and orange to black head capsules. Leaves (needles) of infested pines may be chewed down to the fascicles at the base of the needle bunches.

According to Texas Forest Service entomologists, Joe Pase and Dr. Don Grossman, most affected trees should recover and re-leaf with no treatment. According to Pase, “The larvae feed mostly on 2nd year needles and leave the current year’s growth intact. The result is that few trees die from the defoliation. When tree mortality occurs, it is usually from attacks by pine engraver beetles (pine bark beetles) responding to stressed trees. Even then, few trees are attacked by pine beetles. Because the new growth on the trees this year has not progressed very far, the trees look especially bad, but I think most of them will come through OK – they just need a little time for the new growth to develop.”

If you are called on to treat a tree, effective control can be achieved by applying Conserve (spinosad), Sevin (carbaryl) or a pyrethroid insecticide like Tempo, Astro or Talstar. Care should be taken to avoid drift, and sprays should not be applied when wind speed is greater than around 7 mph.

It’s important to note that the commonly used, low impact, pesticide for caterpillars, Bt a, is not effective against sawflies because they are not true caterpillars, which this insecticide targets.

Because this insect commonly have more than one generation, tree owners should watch for additional feeding in late May or June. Trees that have been previously attacked, and which experience re-infestation by these 2nd generation caterpillars, may benefit from a spray. However diseases and natural enemies commonly keep later sawfly generations under natural control.

“Bottom line about the sawflies – I don’t expect them to be a significant issue with… pine trees,” said Pase.

The following links are provided courtesy of Joe Pase: (general information) (good written information) (good photo)

Here are links to information about pine bark beetles. Pine bark beetle, called “southern pine beetle” is not an issue for most northeastern counties in Texas, but may be found in east Texas and around the Houston area. (photos with descriptions) (discussion about pine bark beetles and its control. Onyx is the only pesticide I am aware of that is currently registered for pine bark beetles.)

Source: Joe Pase III, Entomologist, Texas Forest Service,

Understanding School IPM 2015

In late 2008 the IPM Institute of North America, a private institution dedicated to promotion of integrated pest management, and the University of Arizona, announced publication of a new national pest management strategic plan for IPM in public schools. Called School IPM 2015, this plan has generated both a lot of interest and some controversy over the past few months.

On the surface, School IPM 2015 is merely the latest in a long stream of relatively obscure documents called “pest management strategic plans” (PMSPs) submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.These plans are designed for use by the USDA and EPA to identify research, education and regulatory priorities for IPM projects. They are frequently referenced by agencies, like Texas AgriLife Extension, when applying for federal grant funds. The PMSP can help justify the need for IPM projects, and provide evidence for stakeholder support of specific research and extension efforts.

Usually PMSPs mostly gather dust and generate little public interest outside a small cadre of researchers and decision makers. However, School IPM 2015 is catching the attention of a larger, more diverse audience. For one thing, at 286 pages it is the largest, most ambitious PMSP ever developed. Also perhaps, for most Americans the target of the plan, our school children, is of much greater concern and hits much closer to home than, say, a national strategic plan for pest management of broccoli.

The title of the plan refers to its stated goal to develop a plan of action that will “achieve full implementation of IPM in all [U.S.] schools by 2015.” Why such an ambitious goal? According to the document, pest management practices in schools are sorely in need of improvement, with over 50 studies documenting deficiencies, including poorly managed pest infestations and unsafe, illegal or unnecessary pesticides use.

Federal agencies, such as EPA, USDA and Centers for Disease Control have recommended IPM use in public schools for years. Currently 33 states have some IPM requirements for schools, with several states moving toward adopting regulations affecting pesticide use in schools. Nevertheless, most experts agree that the vast majority of schools in the U.S. are a long way from full adoption of IPM.

One of the most important aspects of a successful PMSP is that it must accurately represent the views and priorities of key stakeholders. For School IPM 2015 a core group of approximately 23 extension educators, consultants, environmentalists, pest management professionals, industry representatives and government officials were involved in developing the plan. Nevertheless, in recent weeks, some key stakeholders are crying “foul!”, saying their interests were not represented on the panel.

The National Pest Management Association is the largest trade association for pest management professionals in the U.S. The NPMA recently complained that they were not invited to review the plan before its release. More recently, RISE (Responsible Industry for a Safe Environment), a lobby group that represents pesticide industry, has raised concerns about the plan’s fairness, claiming that it reflects an anti-pesticide bias.

The IPM Institute and other plan drafters are heading back to the drawing board next week to join RISE, NPMA and others to see how the plan can be modified to more accurately reflect all stakeholder views. At stake will be whether the EPA, which has yet to approve the plan, and USDA agree that it lays out a sound approach to the challenge of how to best implement IPM in all the nation’s schools, and that it accurately summarizes key school IPM stakeholder views.

In addition to the issue of bias, questions about whether the 2015 goal is attainable and how to know when full implementation of IPM has been reached, will certainly be a source of lively debate. Indeed even Texas, with its comprehensive school IPM regulations and dedicated regulatory and Extension team, has been working for 14 years to persuade schools to understand and adopt IPM procedures. Few of us would say we have yet reached full implementation. In light of the Texas experience alone, six years seems an awfully short time to attain full IPM implementation nationwide. In my opinion, setting a later, say 2025, date would be both challenging and attainable.

Regardless of the obstacles, one thing that all parties seem to agree on is that national adoption of IPM is a worthy goal. We should all be glad that School IPM 2015 has gotten us talking how we will get there.

Note: The full School IPM 2015 document can be a daunting read at its full 286 pages. You can download an executive summary or the full plan at:

Friday, April 24, 2009

TDA considers wide range of pest control issues

Texas Department of Agriculture officials met yesterday with the Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee (SPCAC) to discuss school IPM rules and other areas of improvement for pesticide regulation. The SPCAC was created last year as an advisory body/sounding board for the Structural Pest Control Service (SPCS)--the regulatory agency that oversees all structural pest control activities in the state.

I have discussed the committee's activities in previous blogs, but wanted to give you an update on this most recent meeting. The first order of business was reviewing proposed legislation that could probably affect pest control in Texas. Catherine Wright-Steele, legislation director for TDA reported on five bills related to TDA/SPCS.

The SB 1016, the TDA Sunset Bill passed the Senate 4/16/2009 and has been referred to the House Ag & Livestock Committee. This year the TDA has been subjected to the same sunset review that the old Structural Pest Control Board faced during the last legislative session two years ago, before it was shut down and responsibilities transferred to TDA. The sunset process looks at state agencies and determines whether the agency is doing it's job and needs to be continued or shut down. Sunset review frequently also results in the legislature making changes to the way an agency's rules and regulations. According to Ms. Wright-Steele, the sunset process is going well for TDA and consists of mainly of ensuring that provisions of the Agriculture Code that apply to TDA programs also apply to the Occupations Code. No major changes to TDA operations are expected from the sunset process.

Other bills are generating some interest, comments and concerns by some in the pest control industry. Senate Bill 768 and HB 2038 make modifications in who might be exempt from regulation by the SPCS. Examples include those who use raptors (e.g., hawks) to control nuisance birds, anyone who uses live catch traps, chimney sweeps, and other non-pesticide (low risk) methods of controlling pests.

These bills illustrate the debate in the industry between those who want to require a license for nearly every kind of pest control action, and others who call for more freedom from regulation (especially for non-pesticide-related activities). The Texas Pest Control Association, for example, is concerned about exempting all activities that involve minimal risk to the public, as in SB 768. These are significant issues at stake here and it would be good for all readers to look these bills over and comment to their legislators very quickly. According to Catherine Wright-Steele, SB 768 appears poised to move forward quickly for full vote.

The committee also reviewed comments received in response to the proposed new rules for school IPM. In contrast to the first draft of the rules, when over 200 comments were received by TDA, less than two dozen comments were made. It appears that schools and PMPs appeared to be relatively satisfied with the new rules, though there were in fact few explicitly favorable comments received. Another difference with this round of comments was that most of those received appeared to come from community activists concerned with minimizing or eliminating pesticide use in schools. The committee went through all of the comments, and for the most part declined to recommend any significant changes in the proposed school IPM rules.

Finally, the committee considered three new areas of concern identified by Jimmy Bush and TDA. The areas of concern included unethical and illegal termite pre-treatments, inadequate insurance coverage by many Texas PMPs, and wood destroying insect reports. These issues were discussed at some length. Both pre-treatments and WDI reports have been dealt with at length in recent years by the Structural Pest Control Board. Three committee members volunteered to form the core of a committee to look into those three issues and make recommendations to the whole advisory committee and TDA. The problem with ensuring that termite pre-treatments are done properly is one that is repeated in states throughout the country. One of the public participants at the meeting, Mitch Wassom, recommended that TDA focus on improving the quality of residential pre-treatments instead of focusing on commercial pre-treatments. The termite risk is generally higher for residential homes, consequently the economic impact of poor or incomplete treatments is greater for new home buyers. This will be an extremely difficult problem to solve.

Background checks on all certified pesticide applicators in the state are nearly completed. Only a handful of licenses were revoked after consideration by a committee of five TDA employees. This has been a very time-consuming and ambitious undertaking but should serve to make professional pest control a safer and more secure service industry.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hummingbirds and honey bees

On another honey bee-related topic, in the past few weeks I've had a couple of calls about honey bees driving hummingbirds away from bird feeders. I know this isn't really an issue that ranks solidly in the field of professional pest control, but think what a hero you can be to your customer if you actually know the answer to this question!

Of course honey bees don't particularly care about hummingbirds one way or another, but they will come to the sugar water that gardeners typically put in hummingbird feeders, even though the sugar water dilution commonly used in hummingbird feeders is not ideal for bees. Not enough sugar, according to beekeeper Janet Roe, who says bee food in the spring should be one part sugar, one part water.

To keep bees away from feeders, Janet suggests moving the feeders every two days or so (confuses bees who use landmarks to come back to the same site), and treating the feeder with "mentholatum or Vicks vapor rub" every couple of days. "If you just touch your finger onto the mentholatum and then touch that finger in between the feeder feeding holes you will leave a very small amount of mentholatum. That seems to work pretty well at repelling bees, when combined with every other day feeder relocation," she says.

Bee resistant hummingbird feeders are also available at stores and online. Just Google "bee resistant hummingbird feeders" or check out one commercial version at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bee DVD may not translate well to all areas

SwarmPlus videoRecently PCT Online ran a page promoting a new DVD called "Swarm Plus" from an Ohio PMP and beekeeper named Dave Duncan. I was curious about the quality and content of the video, because of a bee control training I conducted several years ago and the healthy demand for bee control services in our area.

Anyone can visit the site and view the excerpts online. The videos appear to be well made and very professional looking. Some of the bee footage even verges on spectacular. However, I was a little uneasy about some of the content, at least for Texas honey bees; so I asked a couple of beekeepers experienced in bee removals what they thought.

Janet Roe and John Talbert of the Collin County (Texas) Beekeepers Association were both concerned that the fellow was a little too cavalier with his protective gear. "We agreed that neither of us would ever pick up a swarm without our hoods on, but [climbing] up a shaky ladder with a fish net? ...nutty," they said.

One thing that surprized all of us was a section where the beekeepers remove an indoor wall with a large nest on the other side. In the segment, two people are using a pry bar to peel the wall away from the hive while wearing no protective gear. You should never do something like that in our state according to my experts.

"We decided he had to be way far north of any "mean" bees," Janet said. After a few years of watching the Africanized honey bee make its way across the state, beekeepers in our part of the country do not assume bees will be gentle, especially when handling brood boxes or opening up their nest cavity. John said he never allows anyone in his beeyard without at least head gear. And the behaviour of the bees throughout the video was much different that the bees we typically encounter.

John and Janet had some other technical criticisms about super frames and brood box frames (I love it when they talk technical) that went over my head, but I was relieved to know that I wasn't the only one who thought the video bees were way too tame.

To be fair, I haven't purchased and viewed the SwarmPlus DVD. I'm sure it has a lot of potentially helpful information. I also believe that the pest control industry needs more quality training materials in bee and wasp control. Finding a professional who is experienced in removing and controlling bees is difficult in many areas. I single out Mr. Duncan's product not to criticize, but as an example that we should evaluate all training materials we read or view (especially on the Internet) with a critical eye.

In the case of this product, I would encourage PMPs who are thinking about getting a copy to find a local beekeeper or PMP with experience with bees that you trust and asking them to review the video with you. And if you decide to try some of the activities in this product, wear a full bee suit--especially on a ladder and even if you're not in the land of Africanized honey bees.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What is Swarming Season?

An alate, or winged termite swarmer, emerges from its nest in the ground before beginning its nuptial flight.Termite swarming season has been going on in Texas for a few weeks now. In north Texas some early swarms have been reported, but PMPs are still holding their collective breaths waiting for the big day of swarms that can mean the difference between a red or black bottom line for the year.

Earlier this week while inspecting some dead trees outside Rockwall, I came across a mass of termite swarmers huddled under loose bark, like nervous football players waiting to run onto the field. Cooler weather over the past few days is likely a big reason that more termite swarming can be expected yet in our area.

So why do termites swarm? Why not mate with other termites from the same nest? Surely this would be safer and easier for all concerned. And why do termites swarm at the same time, overloading phone lines of pest control companies on a few days of the year instead of spacing out the excitement in a more gentlemanly manner? Perhaps not surprizingly, the answers to these two questions are related.

Swarming season, as most PMPs can tell you, is when reproductive termites leave the nest in search of mates in the spring. Swarming is a common means for termites and other social insects, like ants, to ensure genetic diversity and maintain healthy natural populations. Charles Darwin was the first scientist to show the value of out-breeding on biological populations. Darwin showed that plants that were cross-pollinated with other plants of the same species produced more seed and more vigorous offspring than plants that were self-pollinated. Animals and plants that are inbred, such as would occur when termite swarmers breed with their own siblings (all termites in the same colony being related), are more prone to genetic defects and diseases.

The same principle applies to termites, and possibly to our own inherent social aversion to incest and extreme familial inbreeding. Swarming is good for the termite breed because it increases the chance that termite kings and queens will mate with others from outside the family. This brings us to the issue of areawide, synchronous swarming.

When termites from different colonies swarm on the same day, or over a few days at the same time of year, they increase their chances of encountering more distantly-related termites from an outside colony. Although the exact clues termites use to synchronize their swarms is not fully understood, temperature and humidity clues certainly play a role. We still cannot predict termite swarming dates with any accuracy, but the possibility exists that someone will eventually figure out the exact clues and develop an accurate prediction model. Until then, sit back wait. And while you're waiting, marvel a little a the termite's remarkable adaptive abilities.

Texas School IPM Coordinators to Meet

Democracy in America By Alexis de Tocqueville, Henry Reeve, John Canfield Spencer:IN no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used or more unsparingly applied to a multitude of different objects than in America Besides the permanent associations which are established by law under the names of townships cities and counties a vast number of others are formed and maintained by the agency of private individuals The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest
I believe that one of the things that makes America unique, and contributes to our success as a nation, is our habit of association. What I mean by this is that Americans have the mindset that we are stronger and more effective when we band together to accomplish a goal. This is by no means a new thought. Alexis de Tocqueville, an early French student of American democracy and admirer of George Washington, devoted an entire chapter to this idea in his influential book, Democracy in America.

It's easy to recognize the power of association at work in our communities. How many Lion's clubs, PTAs, churches, professional and scientific associations, unions, Toastmasters, MS and cancer-fighting groups are active in your community or county? Probably more than you realize. In my mind, the people who give their time to these groups are the unsung heroes of our country, and have done more to make our society work than all the politicians since Washington.

A few years ago in Texas the idea of school IPM coordinators organizing a state association of their peers seemed unlikely, but over the past few weeks a group of dedicated school maintenance professionals has been working hard to do just that. A group of school IPM coordinators is doing the groundwork to form the first statewide association of school IPM coordinators anywhere in the country.

Why an association of school IPM coordinators? One of the goals of the committee is to seek wider recognition of IPM coordinators as an integral part of school maintenance programs. Since 1995 every school district in Texas has been required to appoint an IPM coordinator, get them a day of training, and put them in charge of pest control. In too many instances school IPM coordinators are appointed by administrators with little appreciation of the importance of the job and with little administrative support. Some of these coordinators do pest control themselves, some hire pest management professionals and oversee their work, some preside over staffs of in-house district pesticide applicators with a sizeable pest control budget. Until now there have been few opportunities for school IPM coordinators to interact directly with peers in other districts.

Over the past year Janet Hurley, coordinator of the Southwest Technical Resource Center for School IPM, has been instrumental in encouraging these leaders to get together and has worked hard to obtain seed money to put on a statewide association meeting. Just recently a meeting venue and a date was determined.

The first statewide meeting of IPM coordinators will be held in San Marcos, TX on November 18 and 19, 2009. The meeting will be held at the Embassy Suites and Conference Center just off I-35. The central location was chosen to encourage school districts from all parts of the state to participate. Dr. Bobby Corrigan, a nationally recognized expert in rodent control, has tentatively accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker, and an impressive array of speakers are planned for the 1 1/2 day event. Exhibitors will also be invited to show and demonstrate pest management related products.

The conference is open to anyone with an interest in IPM in schools. Pest management professionals who serve as contractors for schools will be welcomed along with all school district personnel and stakeholders with an interest in IPM. In addition to training, the meeting will provide a venue to officially kick-start a new state association of school IPM coordinators, elect officers and approve bylaws. So mark your calendars now. Anyone working in school IPM in Texas would be remiss in not being part of this inaugural meeting. De Tocqueville would even be impressed, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Invasive Pests Workshop on April 16

From top, the Caribbean crazy ant, azalea bark scale and emerald ash borer are three of the pests being discussed by speakers at this workshop.The AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas will be hosting a free workshop on invasive insects April 16. Training will be held in the Pavilion building from 1:00-3:00. The meeting is free and open to anyone interested in knowing about new pests threatening homes and landscapes. Trainers include myself and Extension entomologists Allen Knutson, Scott Ludwig, and Kim Schofield. The major pests being discussed will include the Caribbean (Rasberry) crazy ant, Formosan termites, chilli thrips, emerald ash borer, azalea felt scale, and other ornamental pests. We will also be discussing how you should respond should you think you come across one of these new pests.

Sign up is easy. Just call 972-231-5362 and say you would like to sign up for the Invasive Insects workshop. For a flier with directions to the center and more information, click here.

While most of this workshop is not centered on structural pests, if you do any landscape pest control, or are interested in seeing specimens of the caribbean crazy ant or Formosan termite, you might find the two-hour program helpful.