Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Certification Year One winds down for school IPM coordinators

One of the big changes to school IPM rules during the last legislative session was to expand education requirements for IPM Coordinators (the individual in each Texas school district responsible for overseeing pest control and ensuring the district complies with state regs).  Beginning last January, every IPMC is responsible to obtain six hours of CEUs every three years (See the Administrative Code Rule 7.150 (b)(2)).

The problem is that after a year of the rule we still don't know precisely what qualifies for continuing education units.  Let's review what we do know:
  • Anyone who began duties as an IPM Coordinator for a public school district on or before January 1, 2011 will have until December 31, 2013 to obtain six (6) hours of CEUs.
What we don't know for sure is what exactly qualifies as those appropriate CEUs.  The Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee argued quite strenuously about this topic about a year ago, and some general guidance from that discussion will be used as the basis of whatever rules are drafted in the next few months.  The committee suggestions were: 
  • One of the six CEUs must be in laws and regulations specific to IPM Programs in Schools.  The remaining five credits can be obtained by doing one of the following:
    • Attending one of the TDA-approved training courses for IPM Coordinators (this would be the same 6-hour course taken within the first six months of appointment)
    • Attending any five hours of TDA-approved pesticide CEU training in areas relevant to a school IPM coordinator's duties (e.g., Pest, L&O, Weed control, or General IPM). These CEU classes are pretty commonly available around the state.
    • Attend classes not approved by TDA as long as you send information into the agency and get the class approved within 30 days (see Section 7.135(g) of the Administrative Code for details)
The committee wanted the CEU requirement to be as easy to obtain as possible, but I'm not convinced that we didn't make it too easy.  Specifically, I think coordinators need more than one hour of school IPM rules-specific training every three years. Of course training in herbicide selection, or termite identification or  cockroach biology is valuable for someone in charge of a school pest control program; but ultimately a coordinator's job is administrative, and much or most of it has to do with knowing the laws and regulations inside and out. For schools who contract out pest control, the coordinator may be the only person in the district keeping outside applicators square with the law. 

And these laws and regulations are not especially simple to learn. I find myself learning new things every year when I teach the class; so I'm skeptical that one hour every three years is going to do much to keep coordinators at the top of their game.

I know many of you know this. My proof is the number of repeat attenders we see in the introductory school IPM coordinator training classes I teach each year with Janet Hurley. And my sole consolation is that I know many of you will go the extra mile and get those extra school IPM dedicated classes, regardless of whether you have to.  I'm more worried about the folks who haven't had a refresher course in 5-10 years, and don't see a reason to do so.  

The trouble is that the clock is ticking on these CEU requirements.  One year is passed and we still don't absolutely know what criteria will be used to fulfill the six CEU requirement.  So if you're a Texas IPM coordinator, keep alert for the proposed new regulations. If you have an opinion about the CEU requirements, please let them be known at that time.  And if you think I'm crazy to want tougher requirements, that's OK. But let's think these things through and have a good debate.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The power of appreciation

What do you look for when you hire a new person for a pest control technician's position?  Experience with pest control?  Dependability?  Good driving record?  How about the ability to value other people?

I’m just an entomologist, not a psychologist; but even an entomologist can recognize the power of an appreciative word.  And as an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist, I’ve come to value people who can build a loyal IPM team. 

In its most basic form IPM is about people. This is true on all levels, but especially for IPM programs within large institutions that require the cooperation of many departments and individuals. If you look at dysfunctional IPM programs (yes, they exist) one of the first things you notice is a lack of appreciation for the jobs and accomplishments of others in the organization.  The best programs, on the other hand, have leaders who are able to value and recognize the contributions of others.

I was reminded of this yesterday sitting in on a simple ceremony in the staff kitchen of Memorial Elementary School in Plano, TX. David Lewis and Leo Largaespada, IPM Coordinator and IPM technician, respectively, for the Plano Independent School District (PISD), invited me to attend an appreciation lunch for one of their top kitchen teams in the district. The lunch was a simple affair, but illustrated powerfully a principle that often gets overlooked in our fancy ideas about what IPM is all about.

The most powerful words in IPM tool box may well be, “we appreciate you”. Take a look at the video below and see if you don't agree.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crazy ant update

Rasberry or Caribbean crazy ants have been confirmed in
Travis County near the Burnet and Travis county
boundary. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo)
According to a story published yesterday in  AgriLife Today, College Station and Austin have recently been added to the list of county locations with confirmed identifications of the exotic, new crazy ant species, Nylanderia sp. near pubens.  As reported in an earlier post, this means that PMPs should be able to use the expanded Termidor label for perimeter applications of fipronil as ant barriers around homes in Travis and Brazos counties.  The Texas Department of Agriculture automatically extends the Section 18 amendment of the Termidor label when a new county is added to the list of infested counties.

Under the expanded label, Termidor applications may be made three feet up the side of a structure and 10 feet out (the standard label restricts applications to one foot up and one foot out), and may be made two times a year, no less than 60 days apart.  To be legal, however, you must have a copy of the label AND these Section 18 use directions.

This new exotic crazy ant has several common names including the Rasberry crazy ant (in Texas), the Caribbean crazy ant (Florida) and the hairy crazy ant (Louisiana and Mississippi).  A definitive study to confirm whether these ants are in fact the same species has yet to be published, but I suspect that when the dust clears they will all be the same.  A fresh cycle of news stories came out earlier this fall under the name "hairy crazy ant" confusing some people to think that there was yet another invasive ant.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Salute to Don Stroope

I'm sad to report that Don Stroope, 86, passed away last week at his home.  Anyone who's been around pest control for any length of time in Texas has probably met Don, founder of Stroope Pest Control in Waxahachie, TX and one of the oldest active PMPs in the state. Don was a 1950 graduate in entomology from Texas A&M, and was one of the founders of the Texas Pest Control Association. I always enjoyed talking with Don and hearing his many stories about the business and his observations about people. He was one of the memorable characters in pest control in Texas.

As a sign of Don's love for the industry, his family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Texas A&M Foundation; in the memo of your check include Don E. Stroope Memorial Endowed Scholarship. Mail your contribution in Don’s name to Dr. Roger Gold, Urban Entomology 2143 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843.  Funeral services are being held tomorrow, December 13, in Waxahachie.  For an obituary, click here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spider bites and MRSA: A medical dilemma

A customer shows you a blackish, oozy bite on his hand and asks if it could be a spider bite. The wound looks like pictures of brown recluse spider bites you've seen on the Internet, but no spider was seen. How do you respond? A recent paper by Jeffery Ross Suchard, MD, in Orange California, in the Journal of Emergency Medicine (2011. Vol 41, No. 5, pp. 473-481) addresses this difficult dilemma.

The paper notes that previous studies have found that spider bites are often confused with other arthropods, or other diseases (in one paper cited, 80% of spider bite reports were erroneous).  Suchard reports on a survey he conducted of 182 emergency room patients admitting themselves for what they believed to be a "spider bite".  Only 7 (3.8%) of these patients were diagnosed by emergency room personnel with actual spider bites.  One hundred and fifty-six patients (85.7%) were subsequently diagnosed with skin infections.  At least in this California clinic, the author reports, clinically confirmed spider bites were rare, and when confirmed, were most commonly black widow spider bites.

Of course California is not Texas, nor Oklahoma, nor Missouri.  Neither is it home to native populations of brown recluse spiders like these states.  Nevertheless, even in brown recluse-endemic areas, numerous papers have appeared in recent years suggesting that spiders, including brown recluse spiders, are often erroneously blamed for wounds thought to be spider bites (e.g., Vetter and Furbee. 2006. Caveats in interpreting poison control centre data in spider bite epidemiology studies. Public Health 120: 179-181).  Many purported spider bites are increasingly being attributed to staph and other bacterial infections.  In some areas, methycillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the most common culprit.  Such misdiagnoses are potentially dangerous because MRSA can be deadly if not treated appropriately.  And if you don't believe me that MRSA and brown recluse bites can look alike, click here.

But there's danger in the other direction too, as pointed out in another paper published this year.  Rogers et. al (2011. Annals of Emergency Medicine 57(2): 138-140) describe a case study that illustrates the danger of misdiagnosing a real brown recluse spider bite as MRSA.  In their case a patient with a brown recluse spider bite underwent what was, ultimately, an unnecessary surgery as a result of an initial misdiagnosis of MRSA.

The message we should be hearing from this research is to be slow about jumping to conclusions about spider bites. Ultimately it's a doctor's determination to make.  And I figure that if even doctors have a difficult time diagnosing a spider bite, I am going to be wary of offering an opinion about a suspect bite.

The pest control profession can, however, provide customers with good spider identifications, and help monitor for the presence of venomous spiders. Sticky cards are pretty effective at trapping brown recluse spiders, the most likely culprit of an ulcer-like spider bite.  Of course, if a spider is caught in the act of biting, or found near the victim, by all means collect and preserve it properly. And remember that spiders do not commonly bite people.  If a customer complains of multiple "bites", chances are low that spiders are the culprit.

Both infections and spider bites can be serious. Anyone with a dark, weepy wound should be referred immediately to a local doctor or emergency room. Worry about assigning blame later.

Bed Bug program in Houston

If you work in pest control around the Houston area and want to learn more about the bed bug business, now's your golden opportunity. Dr. Paul Nester with Texas AgriLife Extension is hosting a bed bug workshop in collaboration with the Greater Houston Pest Control Association this week, on Thursday, December 1. The program will be held at the Harris County Extension office at Bear Creek (3033 Bear Creek Drive, Houston 77084) and will run from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm.

Paul has taken pains to include a diverse group of trainers from both the university and from industry.  Speakers include myself (history, identification and facts about bed bugs), Raleigh Jenkins with ABC Home and Commercial Services (control "nightmares"), Dr. Kate Johnson with Research Associates Labs (detecting bed bugs with DNA), Dr. Bob Davis (products labeled for bed bug control), Dr. Robert Puckett with Texas A&M University and Howard Franklin with ThermaPure Texas (control strategies), and Jay Jorns with JNJ Pest Control (the art of bidding).   Continuing education units will be provided.  Click here for the complete schedule.

This is a unique opportunity, both to learn from experts in the field, and to take part in a small, personalized, training environment. If you're interested, you can reserve a spot between now and Thursday by calling 281-855-5600 and asking for Diana Todd. Registration cost at the door is $45 per person. This is a great opportunity to build your business. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

EPA improves pesticide search tool

Back in August I reported on a new label search engine web site from the EPA. I complained at the time that the Pesticide Product Label Search was not a full-functioned database that allowed searching for all products labeled for a given site or pest (which it's not).

After reflection, and perhaps in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I've decided that perhaps my summer criticism was a little harsh.  Or maybe it's the new portal to the site, called Pesticide Chemical Search, that has mellowed my judgement.  In any case I think all of us in the pest control industry should have this new web-based application bookmarked on our phones and computers.  While not meeting all of our searching needs, it does provide an excellent and unique point of contact to search pesticide labels, toxicology information, and registration history and resources. To check it out, go to:

To find pesticide labels for a given chemical, search on the Quicklinks Label Information link to go to the Pesticide Product Label System.  If you have a particular active ingredient in mind, simply type in the pesticide common name, like deltamethrin, and you will have one-stop access to all kinds of scientific studies, toxicology information and registration status for that product. When searching on deltamethrin, for example, I clicked on the Science Reviews tab to find 15 otherwise obscure EPA scientific study reports on the compound. This is a good way to brush up on the safety information for a given product before speaking with a customer with chemical safety concerns.  This site would also be invaluable for service managers researching what products they want to use in their company.

My only bone to pick with this site during my quick tour this morning was under the Laws and Regulations tab.  This site offers a choice to review regulations by business sector, and there is no sector for pest control.  That seems like a huge oversight to me.  Also, once you visit one of these sub-pages it is hard to get back to the PCS homepage.

But, overall I like the revamped application a lot.  There is even a short instructional video on how to use the PCS site.  So on this Thanksgiving holiday, thanks to EPA for making government a little more transparent.

The Bed Bug Chronicles: Part II

Yesterday I presented some of my highlights of the 2011 Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual conference, most of which had to do with bed bugs.  Today I wanted to share some notes on bed bug monitoring, a subject which I think will be key to developing effective IPM programs for this pest.

Some of my almost indecipherable notes from a bed bug
talk at ESA
Apparently I'm not alone in this belief.  There were several papers at ESA this year on monitoring-related topics. The ability to detect bed bugs early, before they become abundant in an apartment or hotel room, is critical to quick elimination of infestations. A good monitoring method should be inexpensive (if it's to be deployed in hundreds of hotel rooms or apartments), easily checked, and effective at detecting bed bugs at low infestation levels.  To date, the ideal monitoring tool does not exist; but much work is going into the search.

For cockroaches, the simple sticky trap has performed quite well as a cheap and effective monitoring tool.  Unfortunately, bed bugs are not readily captured with sticky traps, for reasons that have not been well studied.  The best alternative approach so far is use of various pitfall trap designs.  Pitfall traps consist of a container into which insects fall and cannot get out.  These work well with bed bugs because bed bugs are not very good climbers on slick surfaces. The first successful manufacturer of pitfall traps was the ClimbUp Insect Interceptor trap, sold by Susan McKnight Inc., and designed to be placed under bed posts.  When placed correctly it traps bed bugs either exiting or climbing on to beds.

Narinderpal Singh and Changlu Wang (Rutgers University) have been using the ClimbUp to investigate ways to make pitfall traps more attractive to bed bugs.  They found that CO2 was more effective at luring bed bugs to ClimbUp pitfall traps than heat. However they also tested several volatile compounds as potential lures. The compounds nonanal, spearmint oil, octenol, and coriander mixed together was more effective than any of the compounds individually.  They also found that when these compounds were added to CO2 they attracted more bed bugs than CO2 alone. Of these four compounds, nonanal (aka nonanaldehyde or pelargonaldehyde) was the most attractive. This compound is emitted by humans and was recently found to be highly attractive to Culex mosquitoes.

Figuring out how to take basic scientific research like this and turn it into a successful product for PMPs has generally been role of the specialty products industry.  The chemical manufacturer FMC has been busy doing just that with bed bug monitoring.  For over two years FMC has been developing technology to build a better bed bug trap. The result of this project is a prototype of a new bed bug trap they announced to bed bug researchers at the meeting.  Tentatively called Verifi™, the trap uses a combination of CO2, pheromone (scent produced by other bed bugs) and kairomones (host odor components) to tempt bed bugs to enter their trap.

The Verifi™ trap design is based on the idea that bed bugs have two basic search behaviors: host searching when looking for a meal, and harborage seeking after consuming a meal. When searching for a host, bed bugs use both CO2 and host odors as orientation cues. When searching for harborage, they use scents associated with groups of other bed bugs, called aggregation pheromones. The good folks at FMC claim to have identified and produced two lures that effectively mimic host odors and aggregation pheromone. The aggregation pheromone is cleverly vented through one side of the trap to lure bugs into a dark harborage area. The kairomone and CO2 canister are designed to lure bugs into a pitfall trap. When the trap is checked by a PMP both harborage and pitfall sections of the trap can be observed to detect and monitor bed bug activity.

Data presented at the meeting by university personnel who tested a trap prototype in field situations looked promising.  One of the major advances that FMC seems to have made is in the technology needed to provide a slow release of attractants used in the lures. One of the big questions I was left with, however, was cost.  A lot of engineering has gone into this trap and cost will certainly be a factor. Nevertheless, I hope the industry will put this product through the most rigorous testing protocol--the real world--when it comes out in 2012.

Unfortunately for science, discovery of compounds that are attractive to bed bugs is a lucrative, and therefore often secretive, activity. For this reason, FMC is not sharing its “secret attractants” with others. Even some university researchers, like Emma Weeks (University of Florida), who is working on bed bug aggregation pheromones, are remaining tight-lipped about their research results until the research, and presumably patents, are published.  Weeks reported finding some 21 compounds that were active in attracting bed bugs to filter paper.  Meanwhile, until more is known and better options come around, we should all work on our visual bed bug inspection skills, perhaps the most basic and indispensable monitoring technique of all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Bed Bug Chronicles: Part I

Lake Tahoe is only a short drive from the casinos of Reno.
One of the meetings I try to make every year is the Entomological Society of America annual conference.  It's the only place in the world where you can see more entomologists than bugs in a given day--over 2400 of them this year.  This year's meeting took place in Reno, the prettier of the two big gambling destinations in Nevada.

The ESA conference is lots of great information packed into a grueling marathon of paper sessions that seem to go on forever.  So today you're the lucky ones because you get to experience ESA without the gluteus maximus crampus (sore patootie).

For a week there were more entomologists than insects
in Reno.
This year's bed bug theme is a continuation of last year, though I think the papers and the research are getting better scientifically every year.  Of course no one person can take in the whole conference, so my highlights are admittedly selective.  There were many good talks on urban entomology that I did not attend.
  • The lab of Changlu Wang (Rutgers University) continues to be a great source of practical research relating to bed bugs (BB) and other urban pests. This meeting Changlu reported on practical uses of carbon dioxide to control bed bugs. He found that putting 3 lbs of dry ice in a 42 gallon (3 mil-thick) garbage/yard waste plastic bag was sufficient to suffocate all stages of bed bugs in up to 22 lbs of clothes, when held for 24 hours. This amounts to a cost of approximately $4 to disinfest 22 lbs of clothes or other items that would fit in the bag. This adds another practical method for do-it-yourselfers looking for an inexpensive way to ensure disinfestation of personal items.
  • In a related study, Dini Miller from Virginia Tech, found that Nuvan Prostrips (dichlorvos) achieved incomplete BB adult (4%), nymph (6%) and egg (45%) mortality when used at the label rate on clothing in 42 gal. yard waste bags. On hard items (e.g., books, computers, shoes and other personal items) Nuvan strips at the label rate achieved 48% mortality for adult BBs, 84% mortality for nymphs and 100% mortality for eggs. [According to Miller, to follow the label rate for a 42 gal. bag, one must cut a single Nuvan strip into 22 pieces (1/22 strip/bag)] If a whole strip is used in the bag (22X label rate), and the strip is held for 14 days, all nymphs and adults were killed, but only 63% of eggs were killed. Nuvan is commonly used as a fumigant by our industry, and does kill BBs; however this study suggests that it will not guarantee a kill of all BB life stages, even at higher than label rates (which we would, of course, never suggest).
  • Susan Jones from Ohio State University tested bed bugs from six populations (five pyrethroid resistant populations, and one susceptible population) and found that three commonly sold “bug bombs” (total release aerosols) were ineffective in killing resistant bed bugs (0-30% mortality) held in open containers only 2-7 feet away from the aerosol emitter. The susceptible strain (unlikely to be found today in the field) was killed (100% mortality) under the same conditions.
         When provided with harborage to hide in during application, even the susceptible strain had very low (10-15%) mortality. These results confirm current recommendations by most Extension publications that “bug bombs” do not provide effective control for bed bugs for consumers.
  • Joell Olson, of Ecolab in MN, reported on the effectiveness of cold temperatures for killing BBs. She found the egg stage to be the most resistant to cold. Her research suggested that items to be disinfested be held in a chest freezer (<= -13 degrees C) for a minimum of four days. This is longer than previously reported freezing times for BBs. 
  • Many conference participants came away from the meeting with a greater appreciation for bed bug resistance to commonly used insecticides. Pyrethroid-resistant BBs are now predominant throughout the United States, with few susceptible populations remaining. Although I was unable to attend many of the resistance papers, I did catch one by Reina Koganemaru, a PhD student Dini Miller’s lab (Virginia Tech). With the aid of scanning electron microscopy she documented increased cuticle thickness in pyrethroid resistant bed bugs. Steven Kells (University of Minnesota) collected a different kind of data that supports Koganemaru's findings. Using both BBs and German cockroaches, Kells exposed both pests to Phantom insecticide (chlorfenapyr). He then washed and cut up his subjects and found 9X more insecticide on the outside of bed bugs compared to cockroaches. Similarly 9X more insecticide was found internally in the cockroaches compared to BBs. So, in addition to known target site (kdr) and enzyme-based detoxification resistance mechanisms, resistant bed bugs are thick-skinned as well. This suggests to me that surfactants/penetrants added to current bed bug insecticides might be one way to increase the effectiveness of existing products.
  • I unexpectedly came away from this meeting with a much greater appreciation for the role of bacteria in entomology. Bacteria got my attention during the Founder’s Memorial Award lecture by Angela Douglas, from Cornell University. In talking about the role of bacteria in the bodies of insects, Dr. Douglas stunned me with the fact that 90% of the cells in an insect are bacteria (the same ratio is reported for humans). This is possible because of the tiny size of bacteria compared to the cells in our bodies. The relationship between insects and bacteria is far more complex and important to the ecology of pest control than I’d previously appreciated. Wolbachia, an intracellular parasite (lives in the cells of its hosts) is a type of rickettsial bacteria that has now been found in bed bugs. This same genus plays an important role in mosquito biology and reproduction. In some cases, Wolbachia has evolved to play important symbiotic roles (beneficial to both host and parasite) in insects. For example, some mosquitoes are unable to reproduce successfully without this bacterium in their bodies, while males of some mosquitoes are rendered sterile by Wolbachia infections. We don’t know exactly what roles Wolbachia plays in the ecology of bed bugs, but its presence opens up some doors for possible biological control options for bed bugs. Indeed Wolbachia is thought to play a role in the bed bug immune system. Remove Wolbachia and the survivorship of bed bugs goes way down after traumatic insemination (the bed bug equivalent of rough sex).
My next post I will cover some of the papers related to monitoring for bed bugs.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Bill Stepan

    I'm sorry to report that our friend, Bill Stepan, passed away this week in Houston.  Bill was Orkin branch manager in Houston, and had served for many years in the pest control industry.  Bill was both a skilled professional and a very nice person to know.

    According to an email from Leslie Smith at the Texas Department of Agriculture, there will be a visitation on Wednesday, November 16, from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Garmany and Carden Funeral Home Chapel, 1201 4th Street, Rosenberg, TX 77471(281-342-4671).  A funeral Service will be Thursday November 17 at 2:00 PM at Calvary Baptist Church, 4111 Airport Ave., Rosenberg, TX 77471 (281-232-0372).  Bill battled aplastic anemia in the last years of his life, and requested that anyone wishing to make a memorial Donations to The Aplastic Anemia Foundation, American Liver Foundation, or The National Kidney Foundation.

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Stink bug sighting

    Last July I wrote about the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB).  This insect is a new invasive pest from Asian and has been spreading pretty rapidly across the eastern states.  Last month I got a report from John Rourk, ACE with Certified Termite and Pest Control in Corpus Christi, about what may be the first confirmed report of this pest in Texas.

    Fall aggregation of BMSB and other stink bugs under light outside a home.
    Photo by Leske, 2010.  (not from Texas)
    According to Rourk, he received a call from a resident about a large number of bugs in their travel trailer after a recent visit to Pennsylvania. When he got to the residence he saw two stink bugs flying from the RV flying towards the residence. He also found and collected three specimens from the RV and was told by the owner that they had already killed “more than we can count.” He he was unable to find any more evidence of activity or live specimens in the RV or on the premises.

    Rourk knew what he was doing when he collected specimens. The only way to confirm an unusual or exotic pest is to collect it. A photograph is better than nothing but is still not as good as a specimen (dead or alive). According to Dr. Roy Parker, Extension entomologist at the Texas AgriLife Center at Corpus Christi, the identity of Rourk's specimens has been confirmed by the Texas A&M University entomology museum, and has been reported to USDA.

    In a 2010 report by USDA's Plant Epidemiology and Risk Analysis Laboratory (APHIS/PPQ), BMSB is projected to be agriculturally important in east Texas and the panhandle regions. According to the report, once BMSB invades a new area it is very difficult to control because of its high mobility and large number of host plants.

    Called by some the "Interstate bug" because of its habit of hitching rides on trucks, RVs and vans, the BMSB will often be found clustered in engine compartments or other warm protected areas of vehicles.  Besides being an agricultural pest, once it becomes established it also becomes a household pest as a fall invader (see picture).

    Just because the BMSB was found in an RV in Texas does not mean it is likely to have become established here. Several hurdles have to be leaped before an invasive pest can establish a viable breeding population. Dispersing bugs may not be able to find one another for mating and reproduction in a new area.  There may not be a critical density of acceptable host plants at the point of introduction, and weather conditions must be favorable at time of import.  According to USDA, we still don't know the minimum population level needed for successful establishment of BMSB into a new area, although the insect has been successfully introduced to at least seventeen states. Since 2003, however, BMSB has been intercepted or trapped in at least seven states (Florida, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, and South Carolina) where they do not appear to have established breeding populations.

    Remember, as a PMP you are on the cutting edge of surveillance for new pests. Observations made by the pest control industry are, and will continue to be, an important part of urban entomology research and knowledge about insects.

    Friday, October 28, 2011

    New TDA leadership learning pest control

    Yesterday was the first Structural Pest Control Service Advisory Committee (SPCS-AC) meeting since the retirement of Jimmy Bush, and the new leadership showed up eager to listen and learn. Leading the meeting was David Kostroun, new Chief Administrator for Agriculture and Consumer Protection.  Also in attendance was Stephen Pahl (Administrator for Consumer Protection) and Leslie Smith (Director for Consumer Service Protection), who directly supervises Michael Kelly the Coordinator for SPCS.

    David Kostroun is one of the good guys.  By that I mean that he's an entomologist and former Extension specialist (:-)).  He has has worked for TDA for 16 years, has little background in structural pest control, but is eager to be better acquainted with the industry.  Leslie Smith has 23 years in pesticide programs, but is also new to structural pest control, as is Stephen Pahl is a former TDA ag inspector. Over the next year or so it's important for all of us to get to know these new leaders, so if you run into any of them at industry functions I know they would like to meet you and learn about your interests and concerns.

    Impact of Legislative Session on TDA

    Last summer the agency that regulates pest control and oversees the state's agricultural programs was hit by the state legislature with a 40-45% budget cut.  This meant reducing TDA staff by 140 full-time equivalents (FTEs) and forcing the agency to rely even more on "cost recovery".  Fortunately the cuts did not affect inspector ranks, but it did require the agency to raise fees by 57%.  House bill 2742 also reinstated the agency's powers to regulate advertising and soliciting pest control business.

    The budget cuts and layoffs spurred the agency to reorganize.  This fall the agency has gone from ten divisions to three: food and nutrition, Trade and Business Development, and Agriculture and Consumer Protection (home of the SPCS, our regulating agency). Jimmy Bush, former agency head who steered the SPCS for the past three years or so, retired at the end of August.  His successor, David Kostroun, has a big job in front of him as he tries to balance a smaller budget against the need to maintain public safety.  His mantra for the agency is "quality, consistency, and efficiency."

    Clean Water Permit program for pest control

    In earlier blog posts I wrote about the clean water permitting system slated for implementation this year. According to TCEQ staffer Joy Tegbe, the permitting system is scheduled to go into effect on November 2; although a recent article by the Delta Farm Press reports that a possible two-year moratorium is still being debated by Congress.  If the NPDES rules do go into effect, cities and agencies who meet the thresholds in the law will have 90 days to apply for permits to use pesticides that might be applied to, or drift into, waterways.  This will affect pesticide applications made for mosquito control, aquatic weed or animal control, area-wide pest control and forest canopy pest control.

    Since my original post, several clarifications have been made about who is required to get a permit.  For one, the thresholds for groups requiring permits have been liberalized.  For example, a permit is only required for entities that apply pesticides for mosquito control, forest canopy pests or area-wide pest control to more than 6,400 acres of land.  A permit for pesticides to control of aquatic animal or plant pests will only be required when treating more than 100 acres of water or 200 miles of stream bank each year. Contrary to early reports, re-treatments of the same land or water are not counted toward the annual acreage count.  In other words, if you treat the same 640 acres ten times, you've still only treated 640 acres--not 6,400 acres as we were originally told.

    Now that the cards are all on the table, I believe the new NPDES rules will not greatly affect us in the pest control industry, although some of you may be asked to help explain these rules to large customers, such as municipalities.  The requirement that will affect most people are those for Level II entities.  These are public or private entities that annually treat more than one acre and less than 6,400 areas of land with General or Restricted Use pesticides.  These folks will have to keep on hand a letter of self certification, stating their intention to comply with the state's general use permit.  Failure to have such a letter would put these folks out of compliance with the law.  Golf courses, cities, park systems, and school districts are likely Level II entities and will probably need letters.  Most homeowners and smaller scale pesticide users will be classified as Level III entities and will not self-certify, rather they will only be required to follow label directions and precautions.  More about self certification letters in another blog.

    To read the whole permit: http://www.tceq.texas.gov/permitting/stormwater/pesticidegp_stakeholder_group.html
    WARNING: this permit is long and dense reading.  If you have questions, I suggest calling a real human such as Joy Tegbe or James Moore at 512-239-4671.

    Need for New Members
    The SPCS-AC was formed two legislative sessions ago to serve as a sounding board for TDA on structural pest control issues. The committee gets its mandate from Chapter 1951.101 of the Texas Occupations Code, and consists of nine members (two experts in structural pest control application, three public members, one member from an institution of higher education knowledgeable in pest control, one member recommended by the pest control industry, a consumer member, and a designee of the commissioner of state health services).

    Almost all of the advisory committee terms have either expired or will expire in February, meaning that the SPCS is accepting applications for most seats on the committee.  If you are interested, call Michael Kelly of the SPCS for an application.  The consumer seat on the committee has never been filled, so if you are a consumer with interest in the pest control industry, this is your chance to get involved.

    Bill Stephan in hospital

    The empty chair at our Advisory Committee meeting yesterday belongs to Bill Stepan, with Orkin Pest Control in Houston.  Bill is the Branch Manager for Orkin; long-time, active industry member and one of TPCA's appointees to the advisory committee.  We learned that Bill went into the hospital this week with complications due to recent cancer treatment.  He was rushed to emergency on Monday, but I understand from close friend and Orkin colleague, Steve Dogner, that he has improved greatly this week and is in good spirits.

    If you would like to send Bill a card of encouragement, Steve asks you to send them to his office and he will see that they are delivered.  Send them to Bill care of Steve Dogner, Orkin Pest Control, 3901 Braxton Drive, Houston, TX  77063.  I don't know if Bill checks his Facebook page often, but you can also leave messages there.

    Bill, here's to seeing you back on your feet soon.  Godspeed.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    How much would you pay for a bed bug?

    Bed bugs (Photo by Bart Drees)
    I was speaking with the Greater Tarrant County Pest Control Association (Fort Worth/Arlington) last night and we began discussing how much people pay for live insects.  My audience was amazed to learn that I will be paying more than $2 apiece for bed bugs for an upcoming project. I could see the wheels turning in every head, calculating "if I had $2 for every bed bug I've killed!" And I had to admit that getting paid for both removing and delivering bed bugs sounds like a pretty good deal in this tight economy.

    My bed bug-requiring project is an insecticide trial; and I need insects of a certain life stage, of guaranteed health and known lineage to ensure that results are consistent and can be replicated.  Field caught bed bugs typically vary in age and life stage, and can be damaged during collection.  They also are more likely to be  genetically variable (making results more difficult to analyze), are of unknown pesticide susceptibility, and can not be easily re-collected by another researcher who might want to reproduce the results.  For these reasons, you can't just scoop up a few bed bugs and turn around and sell them on Craig's List (at least for research purposes).

    It surprises most people to learn that there are a number of companies (called insectaries) that make money raising and selling live insects for something other than pet food or fish bait.  If you have a need for silverfish or cockroaches, cat fleas or house flies, chances are you can find a reputable seller (like my friend Bill Donahue's Sierra Research Labs) of these and other pest species.  Bed bugs are reared not only for research labs, but also to keep canine handlers supplied with fresh bed bugs for bed bug sniffing dogs.

    In addition to pest insects, there are dozens of "beneficial insectaries" that sell beneficial insects for use in biological control programs.  They are represented by a trade group called the Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers.  Most of the insects produced by ANBP member companies are probably of little use to PMPs unless your company also controls insect pests of interiorscapes (indoor live plants) or greenhouses, where biological control has proven most effective.  One biological control agent exception is for cockroach parasites, especially tiny parasitic wasps that control brown banded cockroaches. Beneficial nematodes are another example of a non-insect predator that can control some difficult to control soil inhabiting pests like fungus gnats (to give an indoor example).

    Finally, consider the butterfly rearing business.  There are a growing number of people who rear butterflies for profit. A few weeks ago I paid a visit, with an eager class of master volunteers learning about insects, to a small business in the Dallas area called Butterflies Unlimited.  Owner Dale Clark explained that the butterfly business is still growing as public and private gardens, museums, and even weddings are incorporating butterfly releases into their events.

    There appears to be a lesson for all of us in this. There's more than one way to make a living off of insects.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Structural Pest Control Advisory Board to meet this month

    Leslie Smith, new TDA Director for Consumer Service Protection (and replacement for Jimmy Bush), has announced the next Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee to be held on Thursday, October 27th, in Austin, Texas.  This will be the first meeting of the committee since last spring, and the first opportunity to hear first-hand from the new director about changes at the Texas Structural Pest Control Service since massive agricultural department budget cuts this year.

    Anyone interested in the activities of the SPCS is welcome to attend this meeting.  Since the merging of the old Structural Pest Control Board into TDA three years ago, this is the only regular public venue for agency to hear and respond to public comments about its programs and plans.

    The committee will meet at 9:00 am in Room 1003A of the Stephen F. Austin Building in Austin, Texas.  Anyone who wants to make a statement about anything can sign up to do so at the beginning of the meeting.

    The Texas Structural Pest Control Service is the TDA division that regulates structural pest control in the state of Texas.

    Fall and winter is growing season for PMPs

    The Texas State Fair is open.  We've had three days of rain and cooler temperatures.  I think I finally believe that summer is done for, and fall is here. I thought Dallas had it bad this summer with over seventy 100 degree days, beating the previous north Texas record heat wave of 1980.  But Wichita Falls, TX crushed their previous (1980) record of 79 days with 100 days of triple digits this summer.  Add to all of this the exceptional drought and add some of the worst wildfires in history--it's enough to put 2011 in the record books.

    The Fall 2010 IPM Seminar in Dallas drew over 300 pesticide
    applicators for their required annual training.
    Besides relief from the heat, the end of summer means a busier time for us on the education side of things. In October my Extension colleagues and I generally start a new round of CEU courses around the state.  I look forward every year to the chance to see many of you Texas readers again in the coming months.  Here are some of the meetings in Texas and around the country you might want to check out.

    An increasing number of PMPs are getting certified and learning about the educational opportunities of participating in the Entomological Society of America's annual conference.  The largest scientific society devoted to entomology in the world, the ESA annual meeting may be just the kind of challenging educational event you've been looking for.  Swarming with Ph.D. entomologists and eager graduate students with an enthusiasm for insects, there are always dozens of presentations and posters on urban entomology subjects.  This year's meeting is in Reno, Nevada. Click here for more information.

    The National Pest Management Association's annual meeting, Pest World 2011, is in New Orleans, October 19-22.  Serveral thousand PMPs, industry experts and entomologists attend this prestigious meeting each year.  I've always found this meeting to be entertaining and informative.  Many of the new products for the year are also introduced at this meeting.

    Cirque du Insecte

    I've been feeling guilty about not posting more in the past two months, so to make up to my Insects in the City subscribers I thought I'd broadcast a link to this very clever YouTube video posted a couple of days ago by SnapDragon Cell phones.

    After watching the video I wondered what kind of person gets to come up with these fantasies and make them a reality?  Since this is advertising, I assume it wasn't just done by someone with too much time on their hands.  To whoever's responsible I say, "Congratulations on figuring out a way to have so much fun and get paid for it."

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Bed Bug Academy offers surprises

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I got invited to attend the Bed Bug Academy event sponsored last month by the Texas Pest Control Association. I knew that I knew something about the subject of bed bugs, but I also knew there was a lot more that I needed to know. Boy was I right on the last part.

    In case you haven't been paying attention, over the past year or so bed bugs have generated an incredible new business in products that offer control as well as conferences on how to build your bed bug business. The North American Bed Bug Summit offered last year and again next month in Chicago, IL is perhaps the biggest venue.

    The experience and manpower behind these conferences, including the smaller Bed Bug Academy here in Texas, is Bed Bug Central.  Brainchild of Phil and Richard Cooper, of New Jersey's Cooper Pest Solutions, Bed Bug Central has established itself as the premier training provider for pest control companies wanting to enter the bed bug arena.

    After attending the summit I've concluded that the Cooper brothers do a pretty good job of presenting information in an understandable and comprehensive way.  No one could criticize them of being superficial in their coverage either. Their main instructor, Jeff White, is obviously well experienced and a good communicator.  The result was a stimulating and helpful boot camp for anyone wanting to begin, or get better at, bed bug treatments.

    I have to admit that I’ve yet to personally treat an apartment or hotel room for bed bugs. I have, however, attended a number of presentations by bed bug researchers and PMPs at Entomological Society of America meetings where the process has been described. I’ve always come away amazed at the amount of work these folks say needs to be done to thoroughly treat an apartment or room.

    Typical research-based recommendations for treating a room include removing all furniture and belongings, treating every square inch of room and closet, and thoroughly inspecting, treating and replacing every furniture piece before returning to its place. In addition, the standard scorched earth protocol requires extensive preparation on the part of the tenant or homeowner to clean up and bag most of their personal belongings. Just describing the process makes me tired.

    The BBC approach evolved from the real world where tenant cooperation and follow up is unreliable, and technician time costs money. Consequently the stripped down approach taught in these classes is different from what I expected to hear. This is not saying that the BBC system is not a lot of labor--it is.  But the BBC approach, I think, is more sustainable and practical for most accounts.

    According to White, the biggest challenge in bed bug control is to make bed bug control more affordable. So rather than charge all accounts a higher rate based on worse-case scenarios, they hedge their bets with a careful assessment and cost estimate for each account. Standard service starts with a two-technician, 20-minute inspection to evaluate the numbers of bed bugs and the complexity of the account. All sites are then classified as low (less than 20 live bed bugs), moderate (21-100 live bed bugs) or high; and treatment complexity is assigned on standard room contents plus additional costs for more cluttered or complex living situations.

    Service of units with low level infestations is the most stripped down.  It includes a thorough inspection and treatment of the bed and all furniture within two feet of the bed. Unless other furniture or closets are seen to be infested, they receive only minimal treatment with residual sprays. Other rooms of the house are only given thorough inspections and treatment if other people are known, or suspected, to be living there. Wall junctions and baseboards are treated, but not ceilings unless bed bugs are observed. Steaming, which is a slow, but essential part of the service, typically takes only about five to ten minutes per apartment with this targeted treatment approach. Vacuuming is used to remove live bed bugs encountered during the inspection.  A two foot area is steamed around any spots where live bed bugs or their droppings are found.  Only in high- or moderately-infested accounts does the company begin to come close to the "scorched earth" strategy.

    Perhaps the most surprising difference in the BBC approach is their Limited Prep model. The idea behind limited prep is that when tenants scramble to clean things up before the treatment date they inevitably scatter bed bugs into sites where they would not normally be found, such as closets or bookshelves. By leaving things in place, bed bugs are more easily found and treated or vacuumed. Using this model the tenants are asked only to the clean the unit enough to allow technicians access. Items under and around the bed are requested to be left in place. If the technicians encounter anything that needs to be laundered or emptied, they leave the items bagged with an instruction sheet on top telling the tenant what to do for the next service.

    Evidence for the success of the limited prep and tiered treatment approach is Bed Bug Central’s customer promises. Moderate infestations are charged on the assumption of have three to four services. If bed bugs are still a problem after four services, the client is not charged. The company also boldly offers a five-month "No bugs--no bites" guarantee for most accounts.

    Refreshingly, the focus of the BBC approach was not on which insecticides work best. All current bed bug insecticides have their limitations, we know. According to Dr. Dini Miller, the best we can expect with the current arsenal of insecticides is contact kill. In other words, “you only get what you hit.” None of the pyrethroid insecticides are consistently providing residual kill--that is, once they have dried. This means that good application skills are absolutely essential. Heat treatments, barriers, traps, steam, cold, and vacuuming all should play a part in an effective bed bug control plan.

    Of course the Academy covered much more than what I can in this short review. If you have a chance to attend one of these programs, I think you’ll find it worth your time. As to the inevitable question lurking in the backs of everyone’s mind, “Can anything good come out of New Jersey?” In this case I think the answer is YES.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Imprelis Recall Shows Limits of Registration Process

    In case you didn't catch the flurry of news stories about a week ago, a herbicide from DuPont has recently been associated with tree damage in a number of northern states.  This article from the Detroit Free Press lays out the story pretty well.

    In response to the reports, last Thursday DuPont sent a letter to its turf management product distributors and announced a voluntary suspension of sale and product recall for Imprelis.

    According to the letter, the damage appears to primarily affect certain sensitive tree species, "such as Norway spruce and white pine, but DuPont has also received reports of damage to other species. The majority of the reported damage is concentrated in a geographic band that includes Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Wisconsin."

    According to Dallas Urban Forester, Micah Pace, no reports of tree damage have been reported here in Texas, but certainly this is an issue PMPs engaged in weed control should be aware of.  Any questions about the suitability of Imprelis for use in southern lawns should be directed to the DuPont hotline at 866-796-4783.

    So what does this northern herbicide story have to do with Insects in the City?  The Imprelis crisis illustrates one of the inherent limitations of the pesticide registration process.  Our country has an excellent system for testing and regulating pesticides, but it's not perfect.  Imprelis had been tested on a variety of tree species and under a variety of conditions, but not on all species under all conditions. The fact is that safety testing for all products continues even after a pesticide has been registered and sold. The process is sometimes referred to as product stewardship, and it provides an extra measure of protection for consumers.

    Obviously it would have been better and less costly for DuPont had the alleged tree sensitivity been detected during the testing phase, prior to its sale and use around the country.  But to some extent real world testing is always going to be more comprehensive and rigorous than the pre-registration screening process. It shouldn't come as a complete shock that problems would arise with a new (or even older) commercial pesticide.

    Rank and file PMPs should recognize this and be ready to report any unusual problems with an insecticide to the manufacturer.  These reports, in turn, are supposed to be reported to EPA as part of the product stewardship process. This is the way that our regulatory system, as imperfect as it is, must work.

    UPDATE (August 12, 2011). There are two recent EPA updates on Imprelis:

    http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/fifra/dupontimprelis.html  Describes stop sale EPA issued August 11, and notes that 7,000 incident reports have been filed with EPA since June by the Manufacturer.

    http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/regulating/imprelis.html Additional notes on the issue as well as some discussion about the label limitations on Imprelis regarding use of treated clippings in compost.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Like a search for an honest man

    When I started working as an extension entomologist I began a collection of books and files containing all the pesticide labels that I might have to reference in the course of answering questions from the public. Today I've pretty much trashed all the hard copies of labels in my office, because nearly everything is available online.

    This doesn't mean, however, that finding things is easy.

    What got me thinking about this was an email announcing EPA's latest update of their search engine called the Pesticide Product Labeling System (PPLS). According to the email, PPLS is a collection of over 170,000 current and historical pesticide product labels that have been approved by EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs under FIFRA.

    The newest version of PPLS contains enhanced features to help you locate labels and label information you might need. For example, you can:
    • Search by product name
    • Search by company name
    • Search by EPA Registration Number
    • View labels in PDF format
    • Search label content
    • View the history of products that have been transferred from one company to another
    It seems to me that the ability to quickly trace an EPA Registration number is a useful feature here, especially when trying to decode a service ticket where the number was given, but not the actual label name or formulation. The history function of this website is also interesting. For example, if I want to see how a Termidor 80WG label read from 2001, I could look that up. You can also read the cover letter from the manufacturer explaining what amendments were made to each label revision. 

    I guess this is something that would be useful to lawyers, so it's good to know that it's out there; but the EPA site still doesn't quite do it for me.  If I know what I want to kill, or where I want to treat, and want to see my product options, it doesn't provide any help.  It's not a full featured database.

    When PCT online announced it's search tool I thought I had found the holy grail of label search engines for structural pest control. You have the option of searching by manufacturer, formulation, site, pest, state or product name.  The problem is that it doesn't work very well.  When I searched for cockroach baits, for example, it only retrieved two products--a JT Eaton boric acid insecticide dust (not a bait?) and a Nisus Triple Shot Bait Station.  What happened to Avert and MaxForce and Advion and the dozens of other cockroach baits out there?

    Univar's Pest Web also provides a product catalog and manufacturer links on their website.  Both of these are useful, especially the product catalog which allows you to search for all products by a manufacturer, or all products in a certain category like "insect growth regulators".  But that's about as far as it goes.

    Agricultural pesticides have their good databases such as Greenbook, CDMS and CropLife Foundation; but no such (up-to-date) service seems to exist for structural pest control.  

    While searching for a specific label has gotten easier with the Internet age, looking for a list of available products to solve a problem has not.  The search for a good search engine is a lot like a search for an honest man. We're all still looking.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    No place to hide

    A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit with scientists at Research Associates Labs in Addison, Texas.  They told me about a new application of DNA detective work that, I believe, has some exciting uses in the pest control industry.  Last week I had the chance to catch up again with one of Research Associates' scientists, Dr. Kate Johnson, who was explaining the service to PMPs attending the first ever Bed Bug Academy of the Southwest sponsored by the Texas Pest Control Association. More about that meeting in a later post, but to see what Dr. Kate had to say, and how the process works, check out the video below.

    This meeting was Research Associates' Labs first introduction to the pest control industry. Until recently, their focus was on providing molecular diagnostics tests to vets and zoos. The techniques that Dr. Kate describes  may seem like cutting edge stuff to us in pest control, but the technology is not especially new.  Using a technique known as real-time PCR, DNA collected on a swab can be rapidly amplified so that it can be detected by laboratory equipment, much like a stereo receiver amplifies otherwise inaudible radio waves.

    The key to pest detection is finding a piece of DNA that is unique to the target organism you wish to detect.  Once this DNA fragment is identified, special primers can be selected that will amplify only the target DNA strands.  If the unique DNA is not present, nothing get amplified and detected. Research Associates Labs has taken the time to customize the technique to look specifically for human bed bug DNA.  Using sterile swabs, a PMP can walk into an account and quickly sample the likeliest locations in a room for bed bug DNA. Once received by the laboratory, its only a matter of a few hours to learn whether bed bugs have been present in a room.

    There are a few limitations to the procedure and how to interpret the results.  First, you have to take a good sample from the right spots in a room.  Second, some chemicals, including pesticides, can interfere with the results.  But perhaps most importantly, the test cannot easily tell whether bed bugs are still active in a room.  Because bed bug DNA lasts a long time in an indoor environment, one cannot assume that a positive test didn't come from an infestation that was eliminated a year earlier, for example.

    With time, I suspect we'll see the real value of DNA testing in detecting low level bed bug infestations in homes where visual inspections don't reveal bed bugs, but where a client insists that bites are occurring.  Given the expensive nature of expanding bed bug treatment into rooms beyond a bedroom, the technique might also be useful when initially inspecting and bidding an account to determine whether additional rooms in a home might need treatment. At $15 a pop, hotels might find the service a little pricey for regular use; however the technique might be useful in confirming a positive detection of bed bugs by a canine bed bug team doing routine hotel inspections.

    With additional tests, the DNA technique could be most helpful in confirming the presence or likely absence of biting mites, fleas and bed bugs from those mystery bug clients we encounter so often.  While there's not yet a test for the several home-infesting species of biting mites, cat flea and scabies mite tests are currently available.  Pretty soon I predict that bed bugs, and perhaps all pests, will have no place to go, no place to hide.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    Eyes open for brown marmorated stink bug

    Closeup view of BMSB from the Penn State University.
    By all accounts the brown marmorated stink bug smells bad.  On top of that, it's stuck with a tough name. But this new stink bug pest deserves it.

    The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys, is native to Asia and was first detected in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 1998. This pest is now well-established in the northeast and has been detected in more than 25 states, including Oregon.

    Although most University types are concerned with the BMSB because of its potential impact on agricultural crops like fruit trees, sweet corn, tomatoes, soybeans and ornamentals, this pest has the potential to become another significant structural pest.

    But don't start counting your increased revenue stream just yet.  The BMSB is not a satisfying, or easy, pest to control.  It's the same kind of seasonal invader of homes as the boxelder bug, paper wasps or the Asian multicolored lady beetle.  Like these pests, it's attracted to the outside of structures on warm fall days in search of protected overwintering sites. It readily enters buildings where it occasionally reappears in living areas during warmer, sunny periods throughout the winter. It again emerges in the spring. Like these pests, the solution may be more in the line of sealing and caulking the home and vacuuming up the bugs instead of being easily blocked by an insecticide application.

    To date, BMSBs have been reported from approximately 33 states, but not from Texas.  This will likely change soon, as they are easily transported in cars, campers and RVs.

    Here's where you can help.  If you think you run into an infestation of brown marmorated stink bugs, let me or one of our extension entomologists from around the state know.  You can send specimens or good quality digital images.  If you choose to send a specimen, please follow the directions on this page, and include a completed insect ID form with accurate information about date and location where the specimen was collected.
    The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys, right) can be distinguished from the brown (Euschistus servus, left) and bark (Brochymena quadripustulata, center) stink bugs by markings and the white bands at the joints of the antennae.  (Note: These images not necessarily to scale.  The two left photos were taken by Mike Quinn, TexasEnto.net; and the right image by Melinda Fawver.  Thanks for permission to use.)
    The BMSB has some similar relatives that are common in Texas.  The best identification mark is the white band at the joint between the 3rd and 4th (last) antennal segments (see image).  The BMSB also has rounded "shoulders" (corners of the pronotum), and four creamy spots on the pronotum (shield) just behind the head and on the top of the scutellum (triangular shaped plate between the bases of the wings).

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Icky ticks

    Screen shot from the TickApp showing male and female lone star ticks.
    Certainly one of the most disgusting pests PMPs are likely to encounter are ticks. Those of you who live in heavy tick zones know what I mean. But how many times have you found a tick, or been asked about ticks by a customer, and been at a loss for answers? Now there's a new web application called "TickApp" that provides quick information about everything you need to know about ticks.

    Researchers and extension specialists at Texas A&M University developed TickApp as a smart-phone friendly website to provide information about ticks.  Anyone with access to the Internet at home or on their smart phone can access it at http://tickapp.tamu.edu.

    "Ticks  are blood-feeding parasites capable of causing irritation, inflammation and infection in animals and humans, as well as transmitting the  pathogens that cause tick-borne diseases," said Dr. Pete Teel, Texas  AgriLife Research professor and associate entomology department head.  "We are frequently contacted for assistance from lay and professional  audiences to identify ticks and answer questions about their biology,  distribution and control, as well as the potential for acquiring a  tick-borne disease.”

    TickApp provides in-depth content on tick identification,  biology, ecology, prevention and management, and was designed for  primary delivery on smart phones such as BlackBerry, Droid, and iPhone  using Internet browsers, Teel said. It also can be accessed by desktop  or laptop computer, as well as other personal portable electronic  devices.

    PMPs who have to work outdoors in tick infested environments should find the app useful, as well as pet owners; state and federal park managers and employees; animal shelter workers; animal control employees; outdoor educators; animal health inspectors; military personnel; veterinarians and vet clinic employees; public health and medical clinic employees; and recreational consumers, such as campers, hunters, birders, hikers and fishermen.;

    Read the original article by Paul Schattenberg for more information.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    No new taxes (but maybe new fees)

    If it didn't hurt so much, it might be funny. In case you haven't noticed, there's nary a politician in the country who wants to be caught voting for higher taxes these days. Yet in order to balance budgets without dismantling essential programs, fees are quietly being raised for many different state and federal programs.  The latest proposed fee hikes for pest control licenses are just one example.

    The Texas Department of Agriculture has published a proposal to raise licensing fees an average of 57% for business, applicators' and technicians' licenses and continuing education courses.  The reason for the fee hike is that this year's Texas legislature declined to fund benefits for TDA employees, with instructions for the agency to make up the budget shortfall with fee increases.  As predicted in an earlier post, the agency took a major (45%) cut in its overall budget, though the major impact of this on the structural pest control service was in employee benefits.

    According to TDA Assistant Commissioner Jimmy Bush, "The initial review for the structural program indicated that an estimated 80% increase in fees would be required.  In an effort to reduce the impact of the fee increase as well as comply with the intent of the legislation, TDA has further reviewed the mandated requirements and department activities to identify efficiencies.  This review has resulted in the 57% fee increase as opposed to the initial estimate of 80%."

    Some of the proposed fee changes are as follows:
    • Original business license fees will increase from $180 to $280
    • Renewal of business license fees will increase from $180 to $280
    • An original certified applicator's license will increase from $85 to $135
    • Renewal of a certified applicator's license will increase from $80 to $125
    • An original technician's license will increase from $65 to $100
    • Renewal of a technician's license will increase from $65 to $100
    • Fee for taking an exam in each category will increase from $50 to $75
    • The cost for registering a CEU course will go from $40 to $60
    • The option for paying fees in six month increments will no longer be available
    If you have comments on the schedule of proposed fee increases, you may contact Jimmy Bush, Assistant Commissioner for Pesticides, Texas Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 12847, Austin, TX  78711.   You must have your comments in by August 7.

    The name for this approach to keeping things running is "cost recovery".  You will be seeing this occurring in many state agencies (including my agency) unless and until someone comes up with a more equitable way to keep state government running.  Daniel DeFoe, Ben Franklin and Margaret Mitchell all had it right.

    P.S. There will be no Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee this summer.  Meetings will resume in October.