Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Not all presents under the Christmas tree are welcome

Don't be stumped by strange, long-legged bugs in customer
accounts this month.  Consider hitchhiking aphids or other
insects when a Christmas tree is in the house.
Photo by Mike Myers.
The last week in November and first three weeks in December are Christmas tree season in the U.S.  All over the country, excited families take to the nearest tree lot to pick a recently cut tree for home.  Some of these trees, however, come with more than just needles and flocking.

Giant conifer aphids in the genus Cinara, are among the most commonly encountered insects on fresh Christmas trees.  These aphids form colonies on trees outdoors.  Smaller colonies and lighter infestations are often missed by the tree farm, or by a bright-eyed family out on a U-cut adventure.

Conifer aphids are sometimes mistaken for ticks by horrified tree buyers.  But ticks have eight legs, and are not likely to be brought into a home on a tree.  Aphids are not harmful to people.  They feed only on plants and will not bite people.  Nor do they live long off a live tree, so your customer need not be concerned about them laying eggs on, or infesting, their ornaments.

Conifer aphids are more likely to be present on cut Christmas trees after a warm fall like this year. The warm weather encourages higher late season populations on trees.

Closeup of a Cinara aphid, one of the most common
Christmas tree pests.  Note the two short tubes (cornicles)
on the abdomen that help identify aphids. Photo by Tom
Murray, courtesy
When introduced into a warm home after sitting in a cold tree lot, conifer aphids usually become active and many will move off the tree. Mike Myers, with Bizzy Bee Pest Control in Dallas, encountered a typical case today (inspiring this post). The insects had left the tree and were seen by his puzzled customer crawling over the fireplace, kitchen, and bathroom of a small apartment.

Insecticides are not necessary or desirable for control of conifer aphids or any other insects/mites on Christmas trees. If one of your customers brings home an infested tree and it has not been decorated, encourage them to take the tree outdoors, shake it well, and vacuum up as many of the bugs as possible.  Or better yet, return the tree to the lot for a replacement.  Be sure to inspect any new tree and pound the stump on the ground several times to check for live aphids before bringing it home.  

Take care not to mash conifer aphids on carpet or furnishings.  They will stain.

Other pests sometimes brought in on Christmas trees include other species of aphids or adelgids, spruce spider mites, and even praying mantid egg cases.  None of these are harmful, and either replacing the tree or vacuuming the offending bugs is usually sufficient.

And don't forget that firewood can be another source of insects, especially beetles, during the winter months.  A good preventive measure is to keep firewood outside until it is needed for a fire.

Luckily, none of these pests are especially common on live trees.  Nor should they discourage you or your customer from bringing a fresh cut tree indoors.  In my book the smell from a real Christmas tree more than makes up for the occasional arthropod hitchhiker.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Attic Safety

If you do pest control, few work sites can match the extremes of what you find in attics. Work in attics can be hot (or cold), difficult and dangerous if you’re not at the top of your game. Yet inspecting and servicing attics can be a critical aspect of pest control, especially for residential customers.  So in the spirit of keeping safe during the holidays, here are a few tips I've gathered for working in attics.
Having a stable work platform and maintaining three points of
contact when moving are essential for attic safety. (Photo by

Scheduling. In Texas, heat may be the biggest safety challenge of all in attics. If possible, it's best to schedule any summer attic work for the morning. Afternoon attic temperatures in Texas in the summer can range from 120 to 180 degrees F– dangerously high. Most pest control inspections in attics will be relatively short, but if you have to spend any significant time in an attic, get an early start and make sure you have plenty of water and/or electrolyte drink handy.

Clothing. Proper clothing is needed to protect you from Fiberglas insulation, nails, hard objects and possibly bites and stings.  Long-sleeved shirt tucked into pants, safety glasses and bump hat are pretty important. Thick soled shoes or boots to protect against nails are highly recommended. And take it from someone with more than his fair share of bumped heads, if you don’t have a bump hat--any kind of cap or hat is better than none.

Safety Equipment.  Perhaps the most important attic safety gear is a respirator. A disposable NIOSH rated N-95 respirator (retains 95% of 0.3 micron-sized particles) is the minimal protection you need from short exposures to Fiberglas dust in attics. Cheap surgical masks are not sufficient here. If you suspect rodents are present, especially in rural homes where deer mice could be present, more sophisticated protection is needed. The CDC publishes recommendations for risk reduction when working in environments where hantavirus is a risk. For any PMP who removes deer mice from traps, or work closely with rodents, CDC recommends a half-face, tight-seal, respirator with N100 filter. If you have facial hair, like I do, or if you do not medically qualify to use a negative seal filter, you may need a (positive pressure) PAPR (powered air-purifying respirator), equipped with N-100 filters.  Expensive!

A fit-tested, half-face respirator with N-100 filters is the
minimum protection you should wear when working around
rodent droppings or other potential biohazards.
If you'll be handling dead animals in an attic, insulation or other vertebrate-pest contaminated materials, rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves are essential.  You will also need a sprayer or spray bottle to spray infested insulation or dead rodents with a 10% bleach solution, and two plastic bags to hold the dead animals.

Tools. Carry any loose tools you need in a tool bag that you can drag with you. Always set your tools aside in the tool bag rather than on a rafter and risk losing them among insulation. Bring a corded work light or backup flashlight with you. This will be important if you drop your primary flashlight, or if your primary light's battery fails.

A digital camera may be very useful for documenting what you find in the attic.

Getting Around. If you must travel from stable flooring onto joist beams, follow the rock climber's rule and maintain three points of contact at all times. Move only one foot or hand at a time, keeping your other feet and hands on a secure joist or rafter. Joistmate™ (see picture) is one commercially available platform designed to provide a stable platform for working on joists.

Take the advice of a PMP friend who fell through a ceiling many years ago, "never step blindly into insulation assuming a joist or floor decking will be there. If you cannot see the decking, beams or joists, DON’T STEP THERE. And don’t assume that all joists are on 16 inch centers. Twenty-four inches is more common in newer homes." He also advises everyone to be wary of beams or joists that might be damaged by termites or rot. They may not hold your weight.

It's a good idea to disturb insulation as little as possible to avoid stirring up dirt, dust, fibers and mold. Even when wearing a respirator, you'll want to minimize tracking contaminates down from the attic on clothing.  And if you see old vermiculite insulation, which if breathed can cause cancer, leave it alone.

Be Ready for Surprises. You are in the attic for pest control purposes, so be ready for pests! Keep a sharp eye open for signs of bee hives or wasp nests, or other pests like rats, bats, squirrels or raccoons. The possibility of being startled by encountering a scurrying pest is another good reason to have at least three good hand-holds or secure footing at all times. Always think about your escape route in case you encounter a wild animal.

Vaccines. In this business keeping up with your tetanus shots is a good idea, especially in a location where a sharp nail can appear where you least expect it.  If it's been more than 7 years, you need a booster shot.  And if you work in an area with bats, or where you commonly encounter wild (possibly rabid) animals like skunks or foxes, consider a rabies vaccine.  It is MUCH cheaper to get the rabies vaccine before you need it, than getting it after being exposed to the bite of a rabid or potentially rabid animal (personal experience here again, story for another post).

Ladders.  Falls from ladders are a leading cause of occupational death nationwide. If you use a ladder to access an attic, make sure it is firmly set up (75 degree angle is best) and rated for your weight. Don't descend a ladder face forward. Maintain that three point of contact rule and don't reach for items when ascending or descending. It's also a good idea to place plastic under the attic ladder, or be prepared to vacuum any insulation or debris that falls from the attic into the house.

Considering all the potential hazards working in attics, you might ask, "why bother?" Certainly anyone who manages urban wildlife, or does rodent control, knows that attic service is an essential part of their work.  But termite inspectors and PMPs doing general household pest control also have plenty of reasons to venture into attics or onto roofs. Let's promise ourselves that when we do, we'll put safety first.

If you have any memorable experiences, or safety tips for working in attics, I'd like to hear about them. We're in the process at A&M of putting together an attic servicing and safety curriculum as part of the new IPM Experience House. Your input could be an important addition to our training class. Contact me via the email link under my complete profile at right.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gleanings from ICE 2016

After an unintentional break in blogging due to a month of travel, I'm finally caught up enough to sit down with my notes and remember what it was all about.

If you can imagine thousands of entomologists swarming a convention center like fire ants on Cheetos, that's what it was like at the 25th International Congress of Entomology (ICE) held in Orlando, FL.  Held every three years, and rotating to a different nation every time, the ICE is the largest gathering of professional insect experts in the world--and this one may have been the biggest ever.  This year there were over 6,600 registrants from 102 countries, giving 5,396 presentations.

This was my first ICE, and it was overwhelming. It seemed like I spent half my week just sorting through the program to know which sessions and posters I should attend.  So probably like everyone who attends the ICE, I came away feeling like I had a unique, though very limited, perspective on the meeting.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the Congress was meeting insect geeks from around the world. Some were bench scientists (who work in the laboratory), others worked in the field (including one enthusiastic fellow I met from Germany who brought his own dung on a field trip to trap Florida dung beetles--and it worked!).  There were first time visitors to the U.S., and many young and enthusiastic students. I met scientists from Finland, Vietnam, Australia, Kenya, and Iraq. But in the research sessions we were all just entomologists, despite different dress, language or customs.

So here are some highlights of my notes from the many hours of sitting in sessions and looking at PowerPoint slides:
  • German cockroach resistance to baits was the subject of a paper by NC State University researcher Jules Silverman. When comparing a susceptible German cockroach strain versus a field strain from Puerto Rico, his team found resistance to fipronil (15-20X), indoxacarb (15,000X) and even hydramethynon (350X). This was the first time hydramethylnon physiological resistance (as opposed to avoidance) has been found. Even with this resistance, in the lab they still saw complete control of cockroaches with gel baits.  But control was not as good in field trials where cockroaches had access to other foods.  My take home message was that we must be careful in our use of cockroach baits, and use them in combination with sanitation, sprays and other control tactics if we want to preserve them for coming years.
  • Paula Stigler Granados from the UT School of Public Health reported on the status of Chagas disease in the U.S.  Dr. Granados leads a task force studying the best way to protect human health from this important, disease transmitted by kissing bugs.  Doctors tend to downplay the risk of Chagas disease and rarely test for the disease.  Blood banks only test for Chagas if a person is a first time donor; hence some are concerned about the possibility of our U.S. blood supply becoming contaminated with the Chagas disease parasite. It's estimated that as many as 98-99% of cases in the U.S. remain undiagnosed.
          Educational awareness among doctors and patients will be a focus of the Texas Chagas task force, along with better screening, diagnosis and treatment.  Chagas is a chronic and ultimately fatal disease.  In previous years it was considered untreatable; but with a new drug therapy it now can be treated in earlier stages. Getting the drug to people who need it is still a challenge, however.
  • In related papers Dr. Gabe Hamer from Texas A&M reported on the results of a citizen science effort to study kissing bugs. From 2013 to 2015, they collected 2,812 bugs from 98 different Texas counties. The most common species detected was Triatoma gerstaeckeri, with 63% of those collected infected with the Chagas disease pathogen.  Another study by Rodion Gorchakov from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston showed that humans are the most common host for kissing bugs collected by citizen scientists in Texas with human blood found in 66% of bugs.  So why not more Chagas disease in Texas and other parts of the U.S.?  The current theory is that gerstaeckeri and our other native kissing bug species are not very good at transmitting the disease during biting--something to be thankful for.
  • A couple of the more interesting and fun talks I attended were on insects and Japanese art and culture.  Some of you may know Dr. Nan Yao Su, developer of the Sentricon system concept at the University of Florida.  Turns out he is interested in insect influences on Japanese culture.  
  • Gunter Miller, from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, spoke on the process of developing effective attractive toxic sugar baits (ATSBs) for mosquito control.  Based on the fact that both male and female mosquitoes feed on natural sugar sources (like nectar, honeydew), ATSBs must be competitive with these natural sources, so the process of developing these baits is more complicated than just mixing sugar with a pesticide and spraying it on plants.  Their lab developed a "mosquito sangria" mixture (includes beer and Sangria) that will remain attractive to mosquitoes for more than a month after spraying.  Their technology is being used in the Terminix All Clear Mosquito Bait Spray.  This approach to mosquito control has attracted a lot of attention because of its potential to control some Aedes mosquitoes (vectors of Zika, and the most common daytime biters), and because of its need for less insecticide that might be harmful to beneficial insects.  
  • Joel Coats from Iowa State University has been studying alternatives to PBO, the most commonly used synergist for pyrethrins and other pyrethroid insecticides.  He found that many of the plant extracts he tested synergized permethrin as well or better than PBO, and many worked faster than PBO.  Apparently PBO was developed early as a standard synergist for the industry, and few people have taken the time to look at alternatives over the past 50 years. Having an organic synergist could be a real market boost to pyrethrins sprays, most of which cannot be sold as organic because of the synthetic PBO needed to make it effective.
  • According to MacKenzie Kjeldgaard of Texas A&M University, who analyzed ant gut contents with sophisticated DNA techniques, the fire ant's top food source was crickets, but also included springtails, caterpillars, flies and spiders.  
  • Freder Medina introduced a new BASF termiticide injection system using Termidor H.E.  The new application system uses 4000 psi pressure to inject the insecticide into the ground, eliminating the need for drenching.  The system will come with a base unit and mobile app to communicate with BASF.  You should be hearing more about this in 2017.
  • Last, I had a pleasant surprise in the commercial exhibits when I discovered a new book just published by Stephen Doggett, University of Sydney, Australia.  Stephen is a well known bed bug researcher, but had the genius to put out a handy photographic guide to bed bug infestations for, well, just about anyone.  It has dozens of excellent photos, tells where and how to spot bed bugs and what to do if you find bed bugs in your home. This should be a useful resource to share with pest control customers, and as a training tool for employees.  Self published, and not widely available, but you can get it at BioQuip books for about $7.
Of course there was much much more information at ICE this year, some of which I may incorporate in future posts.  But it's Saturday and time to get on to other activities. I hope some of this has been interesting and helpful.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Comparing dusts for bed bug control

For several years PMPs have known that dusts can be useful tools in the management of bed bugs, but a new paper in the Journal of Economic Entomology by Narinderpal Singh and colleagues at Rutgers University shows just how powerful they can be.

Singh et al. used four different lab assays and two strains of bed bugs to probe the efficacy of eight insecticide dusts.  Each assay showed a different aspect of how these dusts perform.  Together, I think, they do a pretty good job of evaluating how you can reasonably expect these products to perform in the real world.

Four experimental assays used to study the toxicity of
various dusts and predict their effectiveness in the field.
Clockwise from upper left (1) brief exposure assay, (2)
choice assay, (3) assay where CimeXa-treated bugs are
allowed to mingle with untreated bugs, and (4) continual
exposure assay with treated paper . (Singh et al. 2015,
J. Econ. Entomol.)
One of the problems with doing lab assays is that they can be highly unrealistic.  Sure, you can put an insect on a treated surface and watch them until they die (a continuous exposure assay).  Certainly this kind of assay can tell you whether there is potential for a product to work; but in a customer's home do your bed bugs have nothing better to do but sit on the insecticides you put out?  Probably not.

More often than not in the real world, insects run quickly across an insecticide barrier and then spend most of their time resting on untreated surfaces. Insecticide exposure may be only a matter of seconds. At other times, insects that move back to a treated harborage may be able to sense when they are on insecticide residues.  They may then choose to move to a clean spot that has not been sprayed or dusted (a sign of repellency).  Continuous exposure assays may overestimate the effectiveness of insecticide applications, especially when applications do not reach key harborage areas, or when residues are repellent to the pest.

On the flip side, insects may inadvertently pick up insecticide residue from a treated surface and carry that insecticide on their cuticle back to a harborage area. When this occurs they may transfer it via contact to other bed bugs clustered in the same harborage.  Failure to account for this in lab assays might end up underestimating the effectiveness of your treatment.  

Singh and colleagues tried to account for all of these possibilities in their research. One assay required the bugs to sit on treated paper for the length of the study.  A second assay had the bed bugs walk across a treated one-inch barrier.  And a third test gave the bugs the choice to visit and rest on either dust-treated or untreated surfaces.
Bed bug dusts included in the trial were Tempo, DeltaDust, Cynoff, Pyganic, EcoPCO D.X, Alpine, MotherEarth, and CimeXa. 

As you might expect, all products killed bed bugs when they sat continuously on the treated surfaces. After five days there was 100% mortality for all bed bugs in the treated dishes. When bed bugs were allowed to choose freely to rest on either treated and untreated surfaces, CimeXa and Tempo gave 80-95% control after one day; however after 10 days MotherEarth (diatomaceous earth) and Cynoff were close behind.  

The clear champion of the toughest test, the brief exposure test, was CimeXa Dust. CimeXa provided 95-100% mortality (at 1 and 10 days after exposure) to bed bugs crossing a one inch barrier of the dust.  Tempo was the next most effective product in the brief exposure trial, providing 40-60% mortality against the two bed bug strains. This ability to kill bed bugs with very short contact can be a game changer. It suggests that CimeXa may be capable of providing decent barrier protection on bed and furniture legs, in dressers or even along door thresholds (though unprotected deposits will likely be quickly rubbed or swept away). 

Singh and his team then went on to see whether CimeXa might also have the ability to transfer from exposed to unexposed bed bugs. It did. Clean bed bugs, that had not been previously exposed to CimeXa, when placed with CimeXa-treated bugs also had significantly higher (80-100%) mortality after 10 days compared to untreated controls.

Singh's work backs up previous work done by Mike Potter's lab in Kentucky.  Potter's group found that CimeXa was more effective than liquid Temprid residues against resistant bed bug strains in continuous exposure assays. He also found that as a stand alone treatment in infested apartments it provided rapid and marked control, superior to diatomaceous earth, and similar to that provided by the top liquid insecticide sprays. 

What these studies tell me is that insecticide dusts should definitely be part of your bed bug control program, especially in accounts with insecticide resistant bed bugs.  Silica aerogel, the active ingredient in CimeXa, performed better than the other commonly used desiccant (MotherEarth, i.e., diatomaceous earth), and even out performed the other pyrethroid dusts.  It should be noted, however, in settings where harborages can be fully dusted, these other products may still provide good control. And laboratory tests cannot fully duplicate what happens in the field--your real world accounts.

But my real reason to single out this study is that it provides a true low-risk option for bed bug control.  Because the mode of action of desiccant dusts is based on abrading the cuticle of the insect, and not on any mechanism that would potentially affect human health, it's a no-brainer to make these products a mainstay of your dust arsenal.  Used inside furniture, behind drawers and baseboards, in cracks and crevices of bed frames, these products make excellent, safe to use, treatments. Even if heat treatment is your tactic of choice, insecticide dusts can provide a long-term supplemental treatment to kill any bed bugs that might re-infest an apartment, hotel room or other bed room.

If dusts are not an important part of your chemical or heat treatment protocols, you may be missing out on a relatively economical, effective and safe option to improve your success rate against these adaptable and tough-to-kill pests.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Zika the real deal for Texas PMP

More than 1600 cases of Zika have been reported in the U.S. so far, but until last week all of these had been in travelers--people who caught the virus somewhere else and brought it here.  As of last week, however, the picture is changing.  Last week four cases among people who had not traveled outside of their town were reported from north Miami in south Florida.  In an alarming development for Miamians this morning, 10 new locally acquired cases were reported today, likely signalling the first home grown epidemic of Zika infection in the U.S. All cases so far have been restricted to the north Miami neighborhood of Wynwood.

Jackie Thornton's Zika rash appeared about ten
days after he became infected.  It itched like
measles, he said.
Could this happen in Texas, or other states?  Absolutely.

When Jackie Thornton volunteered at his church to go on  a summer mission trip to the island of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean, the last thing on his mind was Zika virus.  Jackie is the owner of Alvin Pest Control in Alvin, TX, and long-time PMP.  "I was more worried about bed bugs," he admitted.

But when he arrived on Dominica (pronounced doe men NEE kah), someone mentioned that Zika and Chikungunya cases had been reported on the island.

Life in Dominica is a world away from a Texas suburban town like Alvin. Nighttime temperatures this time of year typically hover around 85 degrees F. Not so hot that air conditioning is a necessity, and besides few could afford such luxury.  The home where Jackie and his team slept was typical for the area.  Keeping cool at night depended on a nice breeze coming through one of the unscreened windows.

Knowing that Zika was around, and being an Associate Certified Entomologist, Jackie got interested in what was flying in his window.  Each night he would catch a few mosquitoes that looked more like house mosquitoes than the yellow fever mosquito, believed to be the primary Zika carrier.  Maybe things wouldn't be that bad after all.

But he got worried again about Zika about a week after arriving. "I developed a low grade headache that seemed to be behind my eyes," he said.  "It was worse when I woke up and lessened as the day progressed."  Eventually four others on his team also got sick, but not enough to keep any of them from working their shifts at vacation Bible school and helping repair homes damaged by Hurricane Erica.

After returning to Texas on July 24 the headaches persisted.  Two days later he woke up with joint pain in his hands, elbows, knees and feet, he said.  The next day, about a week and a half after the first headaches started, he went to the doctor for his joint pain.  On the way to the clinic, an itchy rash broke out "head to toe".  It was like having measles, he said.

Red itchy eyes was the only classic symptom of Zika that Jackie didn't have.  But he says he saw plenty of folks with red eyes while he was there.

Today, two and a half weeks after the first headache, he still itches, but the headache and joint pain is not as bad.  In typical PMP trouper fashion Jackie said he never felt like he had to be bedridden, but that it's been an "uncomfortable nuisance".  Indeed Jackie worked at his pest control company all last week, albeit while wearing long sleeves and lots of insect repellent to reduce the chance of starting his own Alvin, TX epidemic (an important community health precaution for any returning traveler, sick or not).

He now says, with a little bit of irony, "I may be the first U.S. PMP to come down with Zika."

I tell Jackie's story to remind us all that the risk from Zika virus is real... especially for anyone traveling to an area where Zika infections are active.

To see a map showing cities at highest risk for Zika this summer, click

To learn more about "Zika precautions for Women", see  and "What Texans Need to Know About Zika" see

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The OTHER clothes moths

This week I received reports of two insects that are sometimes confused with clothes moths or pantry pests. The brown house moth, Hofmannophila pseudospretella, is a common moth pest in the United Kingdom, but much less so in the U.S.  In a paper written in the 1950s, one researcher noted that it probably occurred in small numbers in every private home in Britain, and that few stores or warehouses in Britain were without at least a small population.  The brown house moth specimens I saw on a sticky card this week, however, were the first ones of this moth I've ever encountered in Texas.

Brown house moth on sticky card.  Head to tail, these  
small moths are between 4 and 7 mm long. 
The BHM could easily be mistaken for Indian meal moth based on size.  But wing patterns are different.  Wings are bronzy brown with dark flecks on the forewings.  It is a slow grower with about one generation per year, but capable of becoming abundant under the right conditions.  It appears to require high relative humidity of 80% or more, perhaps accounting for the fact that it is not so common in climate controlled homes here in the U.S.

The diet of BHM is varied, ranging from cereal products to wool and dead insects.  It is readily capable of developing in wheat germ, whole wheat, damaged beans, macaroni, fish meal.  When yeasts were present, it could also develop on feathers and flannel wool.

Woodroofe, a British entomologist who studied the moth over 60 years ago, felt that the importance of this moth in homes was more as a fabric pest than a pest of stored grains.  If this moth is found in a home the most likely source of infestation would likely be in a basement or garage with higher humidity.  Check for pet food, woolen clothing, furs or feathers being stored under damp conditions. Also look in light fixtures with dead insect accumulations, or old bird nests in chimneys or soffits. Sticky traps may be useful in catching some of the moths for identification. If the suspected site of infestation is in an inaccessible void, consider dusting the area with Cimexa or Tri-Die, or other dessicant dust. If given a chance, these little moths can become very abundant.

Household casebearer cases collected from a
home in east Texas.  Note the caterpillar head
emerging from the case on the far right, and the
flattened cases widest in the middle. Photo by
Randy Reeves.
Another interesting insect that I encounter more frequently in samples is the plaster bagworm or household casebearer, Phereoeca uterella.  A close cousin to the clothes moth, household casebearers live inside a spindle-shaped silken case.  University of Florida provides a nice article on this moth, which feeds largely on spider webs.  If that sounds like an odd thing to eat, remember that spider webs are a type of proteinaceous silk, and probably just as nourishing to a clothes moth as silk clothing made from silkworm silk.

Like the BHM, household casebearers thrive in higher humidity conditions.  The cases, like a silk purse, are usually flat in later life stages.  It is most likely to be confused with the casemaking clothes moth, a more frequently encountered pest; but the spindle shape, and flattened case are distinctive.  According to the Florida fact sheet these cases may be found "under spiderwebs, in bathrooms, bedrooms and garages... on wool rugs and wool carpets, hanging on curtains, or underneath buildings, hanging from subflooring, joists, sills and foundations; on the exterior of buildings in shaded places, under farm sheds, under lawn furniture, on stored farm machinery and on tree trunks."  Besides spider silk, the caterpillars have been observed to feed on wool, human hair and dead insects.

I've not heard of any infestations severe enough to require insecticide use with household casebearer. In most cases they seem to be a curiosity more than anything; but a vacuum cleaner to get rid of spider webs would be a good idea to make sure that your casebearers don't decide to nosh on something a little more valuable in the home.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Webinar on mosquito control Monday

Drs. Grayson Brown (top) and
Nicky Gallagher are featured
speakers at next week's Webinar.
Just a short post today about a webinar on mosquito control for PMPs on Monday, July 25.  It's sponsored by PCT magazine and will be held at 1 pm CDT (that's Texas time).  Free signup is available here.  Speakers are Drs. Nicky Gallagher with Syngenta, and Grayson Brown with the University of Kentucky, both excellent speakers and knowledgable in mosquito control technology.

My reason for plugging this particular webinar is its timeliness, in combination with the surprising growth of the mosquito control portion of the pest control industry over the past couple of years.  I was shocked to learn at this spring's National Conference on Urban Entomology that mosquitoes are now big player Orkin's #1 annual residential service offering.  And I was amazed to hear that Arrow Exterminating's mosquito annual revenue went from $39,000 in 2004 to $6.5 million in 2015,with mosquito control customers among their most loyal customers.

So if you service residential accounts and are not yet providing mosquito control services, you might want to check out this offering. All you need is a computer and connection to the Internet. What could be an easier way to grow your business?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

West Nile virus risk high in north Texas

Residual insecticides applied via backpack mist blower
sprayer can provide 3-4 weeks of mosquito control  during
times of peak mosquito activity.
July and August are typically the months of highest risk from west Nile virus, and true to form the past few weeks Dallas and Tarrant counties have seen a major increase in not only mosquitoes themselves, but infections within the mosquitoes.

After the major outbreak of WNV in 2012 in north Texas, some health officials made a decision to use something called the Vector Index (VI) as a form of threshold to ramp up mosquito control efforts.  Based on when human cases started to soar in 2012, and on suggestion from the CDC, a VI of 0.5 was determined to be a good threshold to consider going from ground based spray efforts to aerial spraying.

Two weeks ago the VI exceeded that threshold in both Dallas and Tarrant counties.  Both counties publish very interesting reports, available to the public, that include graphs to show  the latest mosquito counts and VI numbers.  To see the trends in Dallas and Fort Worth areas, check out the graphs below.  In the first graph, the Vector Index is the heavy red line.  Last week it exceeded the 0.50 threshold, although there was a drop this week. Note also the numbers of mosquitoes this summer (red bars) compared to average trap catches in 2012 (for the past four weeks, higher than 2012 averages shown by the blue bars). In Tarrant County (Fort Worth and surrounding communities) the VI (green line with triangle points) was likewise up last week, over 0.60 (new data is not yet published).  Note that the most recent 1-2 data points are preliminary estimates and may change as all the data is calculated.

These data are why there is discussion about aerial spraying this week.  In 2012 the number of human cases of WNV in Dallas county reached almost 400, and there were 19 deaths attributed to WNV. Serious business. Last week DCHHS issued a health advisory to the public, and this week the Dallas County commissioners voted to authorize the health department to prepare for possible aerial spray operations should conditions warrant.  

Where does all this leave the PMP who provides residential mosquito control service?  Municipal mosquito spraying actually complements, rather than replaces, mosquito control work on the ground done by professionals.  Aerial spraying generally provides better coverage of the tree canopy where WNV carrying mosquitoes (Culex quinquefasciatus in north Texas) live and mostly feed. Municipal truck mounted ULV sprays provide some control of lower level mosquitoes (Aedes mosquitoes that potentially transmit Zika and dengue fever, among other diseases), but they typically do not provide high level control in backyards or areas protected from spray coverage.  In that sense, the best control of Aedes mosquitoes is accomplished by your boots on the ground, looking for and treating or eliminating mosquito breeding sites, treating doorways, and treating shrubbery and other mosquito resting sites that are difficult to reach from the street.

As you and your technicians visit mosquito control customers this summer, keep in mind that you carry some of the most effective tools in the war against mosquitoes.  This summer, with Zika fears and WNV threats, what you do is more important than ever.

New Zika Resources for the Public

Hiring a professional is one way that the public
can help reduce mosquito biting risk around the home.
I was asked a few weeks ago if the collective "we" (meaning the whole state of Texas) were going to be ready for Zika.  My answer was a cautious, "I think so".  If we're not, it at least it won't be for lack of trying.

Zika is a much different disease than West Nile virus. It has different vectors, mosquitoes that prefer to feed on humans over any other animal (unlike WNV mosquitoes, which mostly feed on birds).  It is also very difficult to detect in wild mosquito populations.  The mosquitoes are more difficult to control with spray trucks, so responding to local cases is going to depend more on public cooperation.

Unlike WNV, Zika is virtually undetectable in the blood supply, as there is no approved way to screen newly donated blood to see whether it has the Zika virus in it. If Zika does make it into the country, it will also potentially affects more people.  Any family with members of childbearing age will need to be on high alert. The CDC recently released its response plan for Zika.  It's assumptions are sobering:
  • Travel-associated and sexually-transmitted cases will continue to occur and are likely to increase. (we just don't know how much!)
  • Local transmission (spread) of Zika virus in US territories and affiliated Pacific Island countries is ongoing.
  • Neither vaccines nor proven clinical treatments are expected to be available to treat or prevent Zika virus infections before local transmission begins nationwide.
  • The ability for mosquito control efforts to reduce infection risks may be limited, as has been the case with similar viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya.
The entomology department, and especially my colleague Extension entomologist Dr. Sonja Swiger, has been busy in recent weeks trying to figure out how to best arm everyone with the best information on how to prepare for the "Summer of Zika".

As part of the effort, some new fact sheets from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension are now available to answer some of the more common Zika questions. These may be useful for your customers who are worried about mosquitoes and how to protect themselves.  The DIY fact sheet talks about the different consumer-oriented treatment options, including hiring a professional.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Exam Experience

It's been a long time since I've had to take an exam that meant anything. This morning, however, as I sat waiting to be processed to take my pesticide applicator's exam I felt a familiar, almost forgotten feeling. Test anxiety. Can I do this? Sweaty palms. What if I don't pass?

After all, I worry, I've been doing pest control and pesticide application for more years than I care to count. If I flub the exam, my research technician, who is taking the exam today too, will know. How embarrassing would that be? I'm supposed to know this stuff. I teach CEU classes for goodness sake.

So why after 27 years as an Extension specialist am I taking my applicator's exam? Well truth is that I did have a TDA non-commercial applicator's license for most of these years; but several years ago, amidst the busy-ness of life, I let my license expire. Then I discovered that it was kind of nice not having a license.  I go to plenty of CEU classes every year, so the education requirement wasn't the problem. It was just the minor but annoying process of keeping track of certificates, and sending in renewal forms (and money) every year. Also, my job doesn't really require that I maintain a license.  When doing research, all the compounds I've worked with recently are already registered, and so don't need a Research and Demonstration license, which TDA requires for researchers working with unregistered (numbered) compounds. When I do put out insecticides for trials, I have worked with other licensed applicators, so it didn't seem necessary to retest and re-establish my license (in Texas, folks can work under the supervision of non-commercial certified applicators).

So why go through the trouble of re-upping now? I guess it felt like the right thing to do. I don't like relying on other people for my licensing credentials. And it didn't seem right for me to be an instructor of pesticide applicators and not have a license myself. And the part of me wanted to remember what it was like to go through the study manuals and take the test like a raw recruit.

So this morning I sat in the sixth floor, PSI Services exam office of the Empire Central Building off of Stemmon's Freeway in Dallas. Even though the employees there were very nice, a kind of static anxiety hovered over the room and the testing center.  PSI has provided testing services for TDA since June 2014, and serves other industries as well.  The nervous young man next to me was sitting for his electrician journeyman's license. The test takers I saw were not a talkative bunch.  Sort of like sprinters at the Olympics, focused inward, centered... thinking "help me, God."

So for me the anticipation for me was much worse than the test. The test itself would be challenging without study or good familiarity with pesticides and the law.  It's definitely not a "no-brainer". But once the clock starts ticking and the questions start flashing I knew I could do this. I was signed up for three exams: General Standards, Landscape Maintenance, and Demonstration and Research.

The testing room was silent with a half dozen test takers sitting quietly, focused on their screens.  I found the quiet relaxing, but also noticed that the testing center provides ear plugs for those who want them.  I guess they are needed by some for our protection against "sighers" or "groaners" in the room.  Everything, by the way, is under video surveillance--so security is high.

If you haven't taken a "final" in awhile, and the thought of a test scares you, you're not alone.  I think the longer it's been since high school or college, the scarier the thought of sitting for an exam. This is normal, especially for us adults who have a lot of pride on the line. So here is my personal set of advice for pesticide exam test takers:
  • Relax.  If you've studied, you've retained a lot more stuff than you probably realize.  It's all in there; you just have to relax and let it flow.
  • Read the instruction screen explaining all the available buttons.  There is some interesting stuff there that can help you be a better test taker. 
  • Take the test one question at a time.  If you come to a question you're not sure about, the PSI test allows you to mark it.  Put the answer you think is right, then tag the question with the Mark button.  When you get to the end of the test, you can use the GO TO button to go back and view all the questions that you've marked.  It's a nice testing feature, and it's also amazing how those questions sometimes clarify themselves after you've had a few minutes to reflect and think about something else.
  • Read all the choices. Carefully.  Eliminate the obviously wrong ones (called "distractors" in test writing jargon), and focus on the remaining choices.  The tests, by the way, are all multiple choice with only 3-4 choices.
         BTW, another nice feature of the exam is that you can Comment on questions.  If you think a question is poorly worded or unclear, hit the comment button and explain why you think the question isn't fair or how it could be improved.  As you write, you may actually develop a clearer idea of what the best answer is.  I did this on several questions.  I didn't know if anyone would actually read my comments, but at least I felt a lot better getting it off my chest.
  • Don't be surprised to see math problems on the exams.  If math is not your strong suite, be sure to work and rework the problems in the AgriLife Pesticide Applicator License Exam Study Materials ahead of time.  Learn the formula "Gal/Min=((Gal/Acre) x Speed x nozzle width)/5940".  And learn how to convert milliliters and fluid ounces to gallons, and how to estimate square feet and convert to acres. Trust me, you'll need this.  The study materials I would say are essential.  In my testing center the staff did not allow writing tools (I guess so you can't write down questions), though they said we could have scratch paper if requested...???  
  • When you get to the end of the test hit GO TO all your marked questions.  Review them, choose your final answer, and Unmark them one by one.  If you have time, GO TO all test questions.  Quickly scan through all the question and reassure yourself you did a decent job. 
  • Don't leave any question unanswered. If you do, you will get the question wrong.  If you have to guess at least you've got a one-in-three chance or better of getting the answer right. At the top of the test screen it will tell you how many questions are unanswered.  Check it to make sure you didn't forget to answer a question.
  • Once you finish your test, you'll fill out a short feedback form and then receive your results on the screen.  No waiting for days or weeks to find out how you did.  Passing score is 70%, an achievable score for most people who study. The software also shows you how you performed on the various kinds of questions (calibration, legal, pests, etc.), but this will be the only time you see that data, so look at it closely and see where you went wrong and right (especially if you didn't pass, this will tell you what to study).  As I left the Center I was given a printout showing my final score for the three tests I took (passed them all!), but this sheet did not show the score breakdown.
I communicated with Allison Cuellar of TDA about the Commenting feature of the exams.  She said that staff at TDA do have access to the comments, but most of the comments they see are the ones sent via email directly to their offices. She seemed genuinely interested in feedback about the testing process.  So if you feel moved to provide positive or constructive feedback about your exam experience, contact Allison Cuellar (on the Structural Pest Control Service side) or Perry Cervantes (on the Ag side).

If you or someone in your company is preparing for the exam, being a little nervous is normal (as I was reminded this morning). But for most of us the anticipation is worse than the event. As for me, I had so much fun this morning, I'm thinking that maybe I need to go next for the Structural Pest Control non-commercial applicators license. I wonder if there's a loyal customer discount?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Correction to LEED reporting

I thought I had vetted my notes on the NCUE meeting last week, but was corrected this weekend on a few critical points by my friend, Dr. Chris Geiger, with the City and County of San Francisco (CSF). Chris is the most knowledgeable entomologist I know when it comes to LEED credit language and IPM, and has been integral to the pesticide hazard ranking system used by CSF.

My mistake in reporting had more to do with the talk by Tim Husen on PMP frustrations with LEED. At least some of the issues Dr. Husen and others in the past (including myself) have had with LEED pesticide language have since been corrected by the U.S. Green Building Council, keepers of LEED certification.

Dr. Geiger pointed out that there was never any official San Francisco Tier III list of pesticides. Several years ago there was a temporary listing of pesticides put up by the City, "but it was not at all exhaustive and went quickly out of date."  Unfortunately the list lives on in older web pages, and some governments and architects still refer to the Tier III list as if it were the universally accepted standard of P.C. (pesticide correctness).

Instead, the CSF maintains a series of criteria for determining hazard tier of pesticides.  Under LEED, some pesticides that are classified as least-toxic (low risk, Tier III) under these criteria are exempt from resident notification requirements in the LEED-for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance.  There is no longer any list of pesticides, since registered products change so quickly; however the Pesticide Research Institute compares pesticides to these criteria in the PestSmart app I mentioned.

So apologies to Dr. Geiger and CSF for my misunderstanding, and thanks for the polite redirect. My notes, and last week's blog post have been corrected.  To see the LEED IPM credit language for IPM in Existing buildings, click here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Highlights of NCUE

Albuquerque, NM was a beautiful (and tasty)
location for this year's NCUE meeting.
One of the first professional meetings I attended as a newly minted PhD entomologist was the National Conference of Urban Entomology. Held that year in College Park, Maryland, the meeting was a revelation.  Finally, I thought to myself, a gathering of people who understand what I do for a living--like a Cheers bar for entomologists!

We've all been to parties and been asked what we do for a living. Answer that you're "an entomologist who specializes in structural insect pests", and if you're lucky you'll get a wan smile. Rarely does anyone get it. Not so at the National Conference of Urban Entomology. The NCUE is a gathering of very friendly, slightly nerdy, science-oriented people who love to talk about urban insects and pest control.  No one in this group needs bother with common names when discussing Periplaneta americana, or Coptotermes formosanus. Talks like "Gut bacteria mediate aggregation in the German cockroach" are guaranteed to draw a crowd.

This year's NCUE meeting was held in Albuquerque, NM, and it did not disappoint.  Besides a short, but packed agenda of buggy stuff, Albuquerque was a wonderful place to meet.  Not a whiff of Breaking Bad drug labs, but lots of clear skies, mountain and desert views, and great New Mexican cuisine. (Oh, and The Donald was even in town one night!)

To give you an idea about what all of us bug scientists talked about in the sessions and hallways this week, here are some of my notes to self:
  • Pest exclusion was the dominant topic for one session and was revisited throughout the meeting.  Imagine if homes and offices could be designed to keep pests out, or at least make them uncomfortable.  Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufman from the New York State IPM Program talked about two relatively new working groups dedicated to promoting better building standards to resist pests.  They call their project SCOPE (Scientific Coalition of Pest Exclusion), and the two groups focus on residential and commercial buildings, respectively.  The group has been meeting for approximately 2 years and has about 120 members.  Goals are to assemble a database of literature that supports pest exclusion (PE) concepts, and to provide checklists for builders and architects to promote better PE. A bit of controversy arose when a session speaker suggested that perhaps the typical pest control business model would not willingly embrace pest-resistant buildings. A PMP participant objected saying that offering pest proofing was an important part of their business model and how their company remained competitive.
  • Dr. Chris Geiger, with the City of San Francisco, spoke about how IPM and PE principles have influenced the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. LEED remains one of the most influential and successful certification programs ever, contributing $80.6 billion to GDP between 2011-2014 and changing the way architects design modern buildings. Dr. Geiger noted that 59% of LEED-for-existing-buildings applications take advantage of points for having an IPM program in place.
         Although LEED recognizes the importance of IPM to environmentally sound construction and maintenance of buildings, it has not provided strong leadership on pest exclusion. Consequently, in 2013 Geiger led a group to produce a guidance document for architects and builders to provide specific examples of how to make buildings more pest resistant.  These guidelines are being put to work in some major public housing renovations in San Francisco, and have been offered to builders as a standard to reference when trying to achieve IPM points in LEED projects.
         Dr. Geiger hopes to update these guidelines this year, and is actively seeking experts in pest control, engineering, entomology, and architecture to be a part of the process.  If you are interested in joining his group, go to this web form to add yourself to the list of participants.
  • Dr. Tim Husen with Rollins Corporation suggested that PMPs needing fast access to a listing of low toxicity products acceptable to LEED certifiers can use a mobile phone app called PestSmart, available through the Pesticide Research Institute. I found and downloaded this free app quickly on the App Store for my iPhone.  The listing is based on criteria used by the City of San Francisco in their (now extinct) Tier III list of low toxicity pesticides.  This famed list is no longer supported or updated by the City of SF, but is still sometimes referenced by architects, especially under the now dated, V3 (2009) LEED credits.  Keep in mind that the PestSmart app provides an assessment of likely toxicity, but does not take into account risk of exposure, an important component of hazard (toxicity X exposure = hazard).  
  • Famed "rodentologist," Dr. Bobby Corrigan, also spoke on rat exclusion, and provided a case history from the National Park Service's African Burial Ground Monument.  A highly sensitive, historically significant site in New York City, the property was heavily rodent infested prior to Corrigan's consultation.  Xcluder Geo Mesh was installed under sod at the site, and burrows were gassed with dry ice (2 lbs per burrow system) to successfully rid the property of these "diabolically clever" pests, as Corrigan described them. Though initially more expensive, Corrigan believes the use of CO2 and advanced mesh barriers like this could be very useful for eradicating rodents from sensitive locations.
  • Not surprisingly, mosquitoes were a hot topic of discussion this year. PMPs are beginning to shift their company business models to include mosquito control. Orkin's Dr. Ron Harrison noted that mosquitoes are his company's number 1 annual service offering. Rick Bell, with Arrow Exterminating, reported that his company's mosquito revenue has gone from $39,000 in 2004 to $6.5 million in 2015, all with little reliance on automated backyard mosquito misting systems.  He noted that Arrow's mosquito control customers are among their most loyal, with a 92% annual retention rate. 
  • Dr. Joe Barile of Bayer Environmental Science cautioned the industry about how mosquito control is marketed. He recommended use of the term "nuisance abatement" rather than any language that implied disease elimination or protection from mosquito borne disease.
  • Dr. Grayson Brown from the University of Kentucky summarized some of the latest promising technologies for residential mosquito control. He reported that the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC), a group founded over 10 years ago to seek solutions to mosquito borne disease, is currently evaluating 9 new classes of active ingredients for vector control. If even a few of these insecticides prove safe and effective, it could revolutionize adult mosquito control. He also noted that essential oils are also receiving more study as insecticides, repellents and excitatory agents to enhance the effectiveness of other products.
  • Although it appears that most pest control companies rely largely on barrier sprays as a core of their mosquito control programs, pollinator and beneficial insect concerns are an issue. Consequently, there is much interest in alternatives to backyard sprays for mosquito control. Among the promising alternatives, according to Brown, are autocidal gravid oviposition (AGO) traps.  These are artificial breeding sites for Aedes mosquitoes which trap, kill, contaminate or sterilize any female mosquito lured in to lay eggs.  In one study in Puerto Rico, 3-4 large AGO sticky traps per yard were sufficient to reduce Aedes mosquito populations 53-70% and prevented mosquito outbreaks following rain in 81% of homes. 
  • Pyriproxyfen, the insect growth regulator in Archer® and Nygard® insecticides, is also being tested as an active ingredient in some autocidal traps.  Research suggests that besides killing their mosquito offspring before they emerge from treated water or cups, pyriproxyfen residues in these traps transfer via the mosquito herself to other breeding sites through a process called auto-dissemination. This is one of the coolest and most selective mosquito controls I've heard of.  If proven in the field, a PMP or homeowner, could put a few gravid traps out in the yard for minimal cost and get season long mosquito suppression with no risk to bees, butterflies or other beneficial insects.  In combination with sprays and other control methods, it might be possible to achieve a high level of control and reclaim mosquito infested backyards with minimal harm to good bugs. Currently few lethal ovitraps are commercially available; but watch for new products to enter the market soon.
  • No gathering of urban entomologists would be complete without a few papers on bed bugs. Though the number of bed bug papers was down this year, those presented were oriented towards the practical.  Three papers came from Virginia Tech.  Dr. Dini Miller presented on bed bug vacuums. She found that all the battery powered vacuums she tested (several Black and Decker, and Dyson models) were surprisingly effective at removing adults, nymphs, exuviae and eggs. Besides offering a cleaner and more allergen free environment, it is notable that vacuums remove the exuvia (cast skins) of bed bugs.  This is important for control, she noted, as cast skins may be used by bed bug nymphs as a refuge from sprays.  She also recommended using disposable, knee high, nylon stockings over the mouth of your vacuum (which she colorfully called "condoms for your vacuum") to isolate your catches and reduce the risk of bringing bed bugs back to the office.
  • Katlyn Amos, graduate student at VT, tested two multi-action insecticides against pyrethroid resistant bed bugs.  Both Tandem and Crossfire, a new product from MGK, performed well against these resistant bugs. 
  • Molly Stedfast reported on mattress encasements for bed bugs.  One of her most important findings was that not all bed bug encasements were bite-proof. After stretching encasement fabric over the mouths of glass jars filled with bed bugs, and applying the fabric-covered mouths to the arms and legs of volunteers, many of the bed bugs were able to successfully feed. But as Stedfast noted, bite resistance is not an issue for box springs.  Nor may it be that critical for bed mattresses either.  Bed bug mouthparts are only about 1 mm long, so once covered with a mattress protector and sheet, the average sleeper should be well protected from any bed bugs trapped in a tight encasement.  Tight zippers and rip resistance are probably more important features when selecting an encasement. 
  • In the category of really-interesting-science-that-may-not-have-an-immediate-application, Dr. Rachel Adams, University of California-Berkeley, talked about the microbial diversity of homes.  The ability of science now to take DNA swabs and identify 40 microbes from one's forehead has rapidly progressed from my college microbiology class where "cutting edge" meant plating out and isolating a few microbe colonies on Petri dishes. This new technology means we can now isolate hundreds or thousands of fungi and bacterial DNA from the average home. The challenge we have today is understanding what these microbes are doing.  Are they reproducing, or just there because they floated in from outdoors?  And what are their human health impacts, if any? We know that microbes can positively or negatively affect our health, allergies and possibly ability to ward off disease.  One example Dr. Adams gave was the so-called 'farm effect', where children who grow up exposed to bacteria associated with cows and manure have asthma rates as much as 4X lower than urban-raised children. Insects may play a role in delivery of some of these microbes, good or bad, into homes.
  • Finally,  Dr. Coby Schal, one of the most interesting and creative urban entomology researchers in the country today, spoke about the gut bacteria in German cockroaches (Blatella germanica to us entomologists!). His research has shown that it may be bacteria that are responsible for much of cockroach aggregation behavior.  Cockroaches with their full gut bacterial complement grew up faster, reproduced faster, found mates faster, and were more efficient foragers compared to cockroaches without their gut microbes.  In addition, cockroaches were more attracted to the poop of other cockroaches with buggy guts, suggesting that these microbes might hold the key to developing a better cockroach attractant for trapping and control purposes. And you might be surprised how much cockroach feces humans are exposed to. A colony of 1,000 German cockroaches (a moderate infestation in some restaurants and apartments) produces an estimated 5 grams of feces per night, or nearly 2 Kg (4 lbs) of feces a year. These same feces contain 7.5 million units of Bla-g antigens, which can cause allergies or asthma in humans in amounts as little as 8 units.
Now you know what urban entomologists talk about when they get together. The subject matter may be boring, humorous or even distasteful to the average person; but be thankful that someone is interested in this stuff.  As for me, I'm glad there's at least one place where everyone knows my name. Cheers!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Elimination of tree holes for mosquito breeding

Tree holes near ground level are especially
attractive to the Aedes mosquitoes that may
spread Zika virus.
It seems you never know what interesting places and topics pest control will lead you. This week's rabbit trail for me was a discussion on how best to "fill tree holes" that are a common mosquito breeding site.

With the heightened interest in mosquito control and Zika virus this summer, tree holes are a significant problem. When a limb dies back or fails on a tree, the result is often a pocket in the tree that is capable of holding water. It turns out that such water-filled tree holes are perfect breeding sites for some mosquitoes, including Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti, the two potential Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

The standard mosquito control recommendation is to fill these holes to prevent their use for breeding. But how do we best eliminate such holes without hurting the tree?  Here are some practical suggestions on filling tree holes gleaned from colleagues and other reputable resources:
  • Filling tree holes with concrete, gravel or sand is a no no. Gravel and sand may help hold water in the tree and promote decay.  Gravel and concrete pose a real safety hazard for arborists or tree owners when the tree eventually has to be cut down--and not good for the chain saws either.  Concrete also adds weight to the tree, and does not flex or bend, causing internal friction and damage to the tree over time.  
  • Drilling drain holes to keep water from accumulating is no longer generally recommended, as it may open the tree up to further damage to health tissue, and infection. 
  • If a tree hole does not hold water it may be providing wildlife benefits, providing a home for birds or squirrels(!).  On the other hand, tree holes may provide a nesting site for roof rats. 
  • Not all tree cavities need to be filled.  However if a tree hole is retaining water or providing a breeding site for unwanted animals, expanding foam may be a good solution. This tool has been largely embraced by the tree care industry because it is lightweight and easy to carry into a tree and is safe for chainsaws.  It also excludes water and will flex and bend with the tree.  Some argue that foam is bad because water often finds it way in anyway and foam retards evaporation, but from a mosquito control perspective the benefits of sealing water-retaining holes probably outweigh the risks.
  • As when using expanding foam indoors in a home, don't overfill a hole. Use a foam with a lower expansion ratio, and inject the foam slowly.  Because foams can be unsightly where they emerge from a cavity, you might want to consider a black tinted foam like Pur-black and/or consider smoothing off excessive foam overflow after drying.
  • If rats or mice are an issue, using screen or or other pest control excluder materials in the filling may prevent their chewing their way back into the tree.
  • It is not necessary to clean out decay from the cavity before filling.  And "tree paint" dressings are no longer recommended by arborists for fresh wounds on a tree.
Thanks to colleagues on the Ornaent Listserve for their interesting and enlightening comments on this question this week.  

BTW, since I've done it here today, referral to a commercial product or website is for informational purposes only and does not imply endorsement by me or by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Monday, May 2, 2016

New resource for managing turfgrass pests

If your business has anything to do with keeping turf and lawn areas beautiful and healthy, you're going to want this new book just published by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.   (120 pp., 52 tables) The Weed, Insect, and Disease Control in Turfgrass guide was written by Extension specialists Casey Reynolds, Matt Elmore, Young-Ki Jo, and Diane Silcox Reynolds. It's probably the best single reference to pesticides used in turf, at least in Texas.

Despite some who claim that we need to eliminate turf to save water and reduce pollution from fertilizers and pesticides; healthy turf is essential for our urban areas.  Turfgrass is vital to our parks and urban landscapes, athletic fields, and golf courses; it helps moderate temperatures in urban areas, it holds the soil, and provides a soft cushion for our lives. Unfortunately, southern turf is often challenged by numerous weeds, insect pests and disease.  But with proper selection and judicious use, pesticides can help turf do these jobs better with minimal impact on the environment.

Information in the Weed, Insect, and Disease Control in Turfgrass 2016 guide will help you select the herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides you need. But the guide is far more than a listing of  pesticides.  It includes information on pesticide modes of action, turfgrass tolerance, application rates. It also provides an annotated, pest by pest index of labeled pesticides.

Hard copies of this book are available through the AgriLife Bookstore for $20.  But the electronic version is available for free download here. Also, if you haven't seen the new and updated Aggie Turfgrass website, check it out.  It has excellent descriptions of the most important Texas turfgrasses, and management information for weeds and insects.  It also has links to past and upcoming events like turfgrass field days in Dallas or College Station.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Webinar on Emerald Ash Borer

Trunk injections made by professionals are
one of the most effective tactics for
protection of urban trees. Learn more about
EAB management options at Wednesday's
free seminar.
For anyone interested in learning the latest information about the exotic pest, emerald ash borer, there is a training opportunity later this week that might be just the ticket.  Dr. Dan Herms, professor and chair of the entomology department at Ohio State University, has been involved in EAB research nearly since its arrival.  He will be offering a one hour webinar this Wednesday at noon.

Dr. Herms will be talking about the implications of EAB for both natural and urban areas of the Southeast, the next major region this insect is expected to invade.  The EAB is now known to be within 40 miles of Texas, and may already be here.  Every ash tree in eastern Texas is at risk, and arborists, especially, will benefit from advanced training on this insect.

Here's the official announcement:
The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) is now found in 25 U.S. states and Canada in North America, and is rapidly expanding its range across the eastern United States. It has the ability to kill all species of ash trees (Fraxinus spp). 
Being prepared for EAB is important if this pest is to be contained. This webinar will review EAB identification, biology, ecology and management strategies, with particular emphasis on the southeastern U.S. EAB is now considered the most devastating wood pest in North America. 
Dr. Herms has been involved in EAB research and outreach since its discovery in Ohio in 2003, and is also a collaborator with other entomologists researching the pest. No pre-registration is necessary for this webinar. Click here for information on how to join the webinar on April 20, 12:00 CDT. 
Tree care companies, Extension specialists, Master Gardeners, urban foresters, Natural Resources Conservation Service specialists, tree boards, tree nurseries, municipal managers, nature conservancies, and anyone concerned about the future of this important tree species will find this a very useful and enlightening presentation.
Other websites with information about EAB:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Preparing techs and apprentices

Janet Hurley, our school IPM program specialist, just sent out this reminder that I thought would be good to pass on to Texas readers of this blog.  If you have a technician or apprentice who could benefit from a prep class, you should know about our Ag and Environmental Safety Department offerings. 
Our office has received a lot of questions recently regarding training to help employees get their pesticide applicator's license. Dr. Don Renchie and his team with the Department of Ag and Environmental Safety offers a variety of classes throughout the year for you to choose from. Below are just two of the several courses they offer. 
General Standards Training.    This training is designed to satisfy the Structural Pest Control Service’s requirements for certification of Commercial/Non-commercial and Technician licensing of pesticide applicators (8 hours of training). This is the general training, and not category training. While the Texas Department of Agriculture does not require training as a condition to be licensed, this class will help prepare the applicant for the TDA General examination.  
Please note: This class can be used to satisfy the 8 hour re-certification training requirement for technicians. 
Classes are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with an hour lunch (lunch is not provided). Deadline for registration is one week prior to training date. Registration is $150.00 per person. The fee includes study manuals (General Standards - B-5073, and Structural Laws & Regs - B-6135). Register online at, or call (979) 845-2604.  
2016 Dates: 
  • Houston - 3033 Bear Creek Dr. 
    • May 25, 2016 
    • August 23, 2016 
    • November 17, 2016 
  • Austin - 2210 South FM 973 
    • July 13, 2016 
    • September 22, 2016   
  • Fort Worth (replaces the Dallas location) - 1100 Circle Drive 
    • February 2, 2016 
    • April 13, 2016 
    • July 27, 2016 
    • October 12, 2016 
  • Corpus Christi - State Hwy 44, West 
    • June 22, 2016 
  • Overton - 1710 FM 3053 North 
    • June 8, 2016 

Please contact the Structural Pest Control Service at (512) 305-8250 or (866) 918-4481 to register for the computer-based testing program for structural pesticide applicators. Applicants must be pre-qualified by TDA prior to registering to take examinations with PSI Services.  
For best test results, order your additional category manuals in advance. Please make separate payment if ordering additional manuals. To order manuals over the phone, call (979) 845-1099 or (979) 845-3849.  
Three Day Apprentice Training.  You can now provide your technician apprentices and other employees with an opportunity to receive 20 hours of in-depth, hands-on training relating to the 20 hours of “Classroom” training required by the Texas Structural Pest Control Service, effective September 1, 2000.  
This program will exceed the minimum 20 hours required to satisfy the apprenticeship classroom training as established by Section 7.133 (h) (1) of the Texas Structural Pest Control Act. In addition, untrained personnel from local and state governments, industry, and institutions (such as school districts) will benefit greatly from participation in this training program.  
Prepare your pest management personnel to be successful professionals, register today! Register online at key word 'apprentice' or call (979) 845-2604.  
Training will be conducted at Texas A&M University’s Riverside Training complex in Bryan, Texas. A map to the location will be provided upon registration. Cost is $350.00 and includes study materials (B-6135 Laws and Regulations, and Apprentice manual). Lunch will be served each day.  
For additional questions, please call (979)845-3849 or (979)845-1099 or visit the Ag & Environmental Safety website at  
2016 Dates: 
  • May 10-11, 2016 
  • August 9-11, 2016 
  • November 1-3, 2016