Monday, December 11, 2017

Lessons from Rodent Academy


Dr. Bobby Corrigan delivers his introduction to rodents sharing his favorite Sherlock Holmes quote. Much of the class is
devoted to training students to be better observers of rodent behavior. 

Bobby Corrigan refers to himself professionally as a rodentologist, though he's slow to admit as much to just anyone. He describes the typical conversation with someone next to him on a plane, or at a casual encounter at a party:

"So, what do you do for a living?" 

"I'm a rodentologist."

"Oh, how nice!" [crickets]... End of conversation.

I for one am glad the world has rodentologists. Because we need them. Without a rodentologist we couldn't have offered the three day course held last week at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Dallas. And without rodentologists we wouldn't have a clue about how to manage these intelligent but unwelcome house guests.

When I first met Corrigan at Purdue University in the early 1980s he was the only grad student working on rodents in a department of entomologists, a pattern that seems to have continued throughout his career.  

"Despite their acknowledged importance from a public health perspective," Corrigan said, "I saw there was little in-depth information about how to control rodents for people working on the city, county and school level." While there seemed to be lots of money and resources for insect-related pest problems, Corrigan was always asking "What about the rodents?"

Corrigan's persistence  paid off in 2003 when he was awarded a $5 million grant working with the City of New York to help establish the Rodent Academy course. Since then, the NYC Academy has been offered twice a year, filling up every time it's offered. The classes have become legendary for their intense classroom sessions and nighttime tours of Norway rat-infested streets, parks and alleyways of the big Apple. Since it was first offered the Academy has trained over 2,000 people in rodent management.

In recent years Corrigan has helped put on Academies in other locations including Seattle, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Washington, DC. Last week was the first time the course was offered in Texas.  And if the response of this year's attendants of the first Texas Rodent Academy is any indication, the Academy will be offered again.  

Corrigan seemed pleased with his first Texas class. Very well organized [by Extension program specialist Janet Hurley], excellent faculty, "Almost like an experienced academy," he said.

Although Dallas differs from NYC in the density and intensity of infestations, rodent problems are based on the same template, says Corrigan. "Even though the two cities feel different and look different, from the rodent's perspective both make good homes.  Both produce garbage and have plenty of food in dumpsters, and both cities have people who litter, so the Academy curriculum works [in Texas as well as New York].  

An important part of the class arrives when students break into
groups to develop a rodent management plan for the IPM House.
One way that Texas does differs from New York is in rodent species composition. New York has massive problems with the large, bold Norway rat, as well as the adaptable and highly invasive house mouse.  While both rodent species are present in Texas, the secretive and acrobatic roof rat predominates in most urban communities here. One of the guest speakers for this year's Academy was Mike Swan, of Entex Pest Solutions in Richardson.  Swan showed pictures and described a recent encounter with a massive roof rat colony in a local suburb.  After an intense baiting campaign, the company ended up removing over 700 dead roof rats from several adjoining businesses in an upscale neighborhood.

Emory Matts, of Steritech/Rentokil in Dallas also assisted Corrigan with his talk on protecting our food supply from rodents.  Touting the U.S. Public Health Service Food Code as "a good read," Matts surveyed many of the laws protecting food safety and provided IPM tips for inspection and control programs.  He emphasized the importance of knowing who is auditing your customer's food handling premise, because standards for indoor and outdoor bait placement and service frequently differ depending on the auditing agency.

Application Rates

After establishing that nearly everyone in the class regularly used rodent baits in their business, Corrigan stumped the group with a simple question, "What's the appropriate application rate for rodent bait?" [crickets]...  The number one reason for poor rodent control, he said, is failure to estimate rodent density, and follow label application rates (oz. bait/area treated) based on the estimated rodent population.  Typical rodenticide labels require users to apply 3 oz bait/30 ft (for low infestations), up to 16 oz bait/15 ft (severe infestations). Very few PMPs know these application rates, with the result that few apply sufficient bait when going after an established rodent population.

Dry Ice

One of the biggest developments in rodent management in many years occurred this summer, Corrigan said.  After prolonged discussions with the National Pest Management Association, in late June 2017 the U.S. EPA approved a label for "Rat Ice," dry ice for asphyxiating rodents in burrows. When placed into a rodent burrow and covered with soil, pelleted dry ice is an extremely effective and low-risk treatment for ground-nesting rodents.  Until now, the only barrier to it's use was that dry ice was not registered as a pesticide and technically could not be used in commercial pest control.  

While there is still some confusion about where and how to purchase dry ice legally for rodent control, an EPA-approved label for "Rat Ice" is now available. Bell Labs is sponsoring the new label as a service to the industry and says it is working on state registrations.  Bell Labs will provide a more comprehensive update, including launch details, soon, according to a recent news update in PCT magazine. [Note: According to Texas Department of Agriculture regulator, Michael Kelly, the Rat Ice label has been registered in Texas.]

Biomonitoring

In Corrigan's opinion, another one of the most significant improvements in rodent management in recent years is non-toxic baits for biomonitoring. These non-toxic baits allow PMPs to minimize risk of baits to non-target organisms while identifying when and where rodents are present. Many of the newer baits also include bio-luminescent dyes that become brilliant "glowscats" when captured in the glow of one of the new LED blacklight flashlights.

Jose Dolagaray from Arrow Exterminators
in Georgia displays a dead roof rat discovered
during his outdoor inspection of the IPM
Experience House.
These non-toxic, bio-luminescent baits now act as tracking baits, providing information about three critical items: a) high-activity rodent trails; b) distances traveled, and; c) possible zones where nests are located. Consequently, glowscats provide clues to help you maximize effectiveness of trap and bait stations placements. Another benefit is when bioluminescent baits are placed outdoors only, glowscats found indoors provide evidence of penetrations in the building envelope.

As an added bonus, Corrigan said that in every instance that he's observed rats prefer these toxicant-free baits. They are inevitably the first baits eaten from a bait station. He believes they can help jump-start bait-shy rodents to feed when placed in stations on the outside of rodenticide-containing blocks and soft-baits.

IPM House

The IPM Experience House provided the hands-on setting for excursions on each of the three days. Because the house is situated next to an un-mowed culvert, and bounded by a minimally maintained tree nursery and garden area, rodent life outside was... interesting. Students caught glimpses of cotton rats, Sigmodon hispidis, and saw unmistakable roof rat burrows, runways and rub marks around parts of the building perimeter. A water filled bucket proved deadly for an inquisitive roof rat and provided an opportunity for participants to practice their rodent ID skills. Most agreed that being able to practice their new observation skills around the IPM House was a valuable part of the training.

The class covered much more than can be covered here, exhausting students by the end of the third day. If you want to learn more about rodents before the next academy comes along, consider purchasing a copy of Corrigan's very informative book: Rodent Control: A Practical Guide.

For more information about IPM Experience House and upcoming PMP classes, check out the website and consider signing up for the mailing list. A new listing of 2018 classes is coming soon.








Monday, November 20, 2017

Entomologists Ignite in Denver: Part II.

In the first of my two posts about the annual conference of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), I covered some of the non-urban entomology sessions.  In today's post, I'll review some things that are a little more relevant to the business of pest control.


Technology and urban pests

While sitting through some papers at ESA that went way over my head, it occurred to me that entomology has changed a lot since I went to school. One of the biggest changes is in technology. Today's technology is much more sophisticated, and enables us to study insects in ways we could only dream of a few years ago. For example, our ability to amplify minute amounts of DNA from an insect's stomach lets us know what kind of bacteria live there, or what the insect's last meal was. Amazing.

Wooden stake with Formosan termites. Unlike drywood termites,
which get their nitrogen from the air, subterranean termites
appear to get their nitrogen from ingesting soil. 
In one sense, this growing sophistication is a good thing.  It means that researchers now have better tools to understand the basic biology of insects.  On the other hand, there appears to be a trend in many universities to shy away from practical applied research and focus more on shiny new techniques and tools. In hallway conversations with industry reps, I'm told it's easy for hiring companies to find a young entomologist who knows her way around a genetics lab, but increasingly hard to find one who knows their way around a cockroach-infested apartment or a PMP's tool box.

One of my favorite student papers, with a balance of good basic science and applied biology, was also one of the shortest.  Aaron Mullins, University of Florida, explained in his three minute (!) paper that biologists have long known that drywood termites get much of the nitrogen (N) they need from the air (N is an essential element for protein building and reproduction). This makes sense because drywood termites live entirely in relatively low N-containing wood. Mullins wondered if the same was true for subterranean termites. He found that Formosan termites housed in organic (N) rich soil grew their colonies 10X as fast as similar colonies living in clean sand. He concluded from this and other evidence that subterranean termites get their N from the soil rather than air.  I'm not sure of the long-term impacts of this new discovery, but it will likely affect how we rear termites in the lab for experiments.

Jose Pietri with Apex Bait Technologies gave an interesting paper with potentially big implications. Testing the hypothesis that symbiotic gut microbes might play a role in cockroach resistance to insecticides, Pietri and colleague Dangshang Liang fed insecticide-resistant cockroaches a bait mixed with an antibiotic, doxycycline. They found a significant  increase in mortality from the bait with doxycycline compared to bait without the antibiotic. When the antibiotic bait was fed to insecticide-susceptible strains, however, it was no more effective than the bait without antibiotic. If confirmed, this might prolong the usefulness of some insecticide active ingredients for resistant cockroaches.

Ed Vargo, of Texas A&M University, reported that tawny crazy ant, Nylanderia fulva, infested five new Texas counties in 2017, bringing the current total to 39. He found that ants from different crazy ant colonies were not aggressive to one another, and he used sophisticated genetic tools to discover that there were no significant genetic differences among nests in a site or between states. These data suggest that TCA has extended colonies that might range over many miles.  This diffuse nest structure, similar to Argentine ant, at least partly explains why TCA is so difficult to control.

Bed bugs

Are even entomologists getting weary of bed bugs? Maybe. Bed bugs were the subject of 31 papers and posters this year, down from last year's 46 (and a record 56 papers in 2011).  Most of this year's talks were given during a symposium called Advances in the Biology and Management of Modern Bed Bugs. The session featured authors of a new book of the same name to come out in 2018.  If you dig scholarly work on bed bugs, this might be a nice addition to your library--if you can afford it (listed at $200, not unusual for academic books). According to the publisher, it will be the first comprehensive academic review of bed bugs since 1966. NPMA attendees will recognize the names of many U.S. authors like Rick Cooper, Changlu Wang, Dini Miller, and Jim Fredericks.  And there will be a number of international authors as well.

I'm saving up for my copy, but the title got me wondering, "What's a modern bed bug?" So I asked Dini Miller, of Virginia Tech and one of the editors of the book.  She replied that "these are not your grandmother's bed bugs." These are the "incredibly resistant" bed bugs that have made their comeback over the past 20 years. Modern bed bugs have thicker cuticles to resist insecticide penetration, tougher nerves, and better enzymes to detoxify these insecticides. Given that the tropical and the common species of bed bug both have developed these characters, the book theorizes that malaria control programs in Africa, where both species live together and are regularly exposed to DDT and pyrethroids, may have been the breeding ground for these new "super bugs."  Anyway, there is obviously a need for an updated book on on bed bugs.

Research Highlights

Today's bed bugs are more difficult to kill with insecticides. All
the more reason to use a variety of control tactics.
The Highlights of Urban Entomology session is one of my favorites for catching up on papers I may not have had time to read this year. This year's presenter was Chow-Yang Lee, Professor at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, and soon to be with the University of California at Riverside. He and colleagues recently reviewed the literature and found that resistance to chlorfenapyr (Phantom) is "brewing" among modern bed bug populations. Also, bed bugs tested recently from Cincinnati and Michigan show moderate to high resistance to neonicotinoids used in products like Temprid and Transport, Mikron and Tandem. If you had hope that baits might be the answer, a study by Yvonne Matos and coauthors found that secondary kill of bed bugs is much lower than for cockroaches. Even if a suitable way to bait for bed bugs was found, current evidence suggests that baits would likely not be as effective as cockroach baits.

Finding better formulations is a productive field for improving pest control. Vander Meer and Milne reported improved control of fire ants with a waterproof formulation of Distance fire ant bait. Made from dried distillers' grain with solubles and shrimp shells, it outperformed standard corn grit baits. This formulation will likely be more effective as a control for red imported fire ant and little fire ants, especially in wetter locales.

Literature reviews are papers that synthesize lots of scattered research into something that makes sense of the topic. A good literature review is invaluable, especially if you're not an expert. So, I was glad to learn of a new (and free via this link) literature review on fleas, recently completed by the venerable urban entomologist, Mike Rust. Rust looked at some of the more recent advancements in flea borne diseases, new control products, and resistance to insecticides. Contrary to what you might hear from pet owners, there is little evidence that fleas have developed resistance to the very powerful on-animal treatments like fipronil, imidacloprid or lufenuron. On the other hand, pyrethroid resistance by fleas is becoming more widespread. While on-animal treatments solve most problems, pyrethroid resistance poses a dilemma for PMPs needing to treat flea infestations that arise from non-pets, such as feral animals (in a crawl space, say, or in backyards). Not many non-pyrethroid broadcast spray alternatives are available for this task.

Certification

Lastly, I had the opportunity to attend a committee meeting on the ACE (Associate Certified Entomologist) program. This is a program for anyone in pest control who wishes to identify themselves as a certified entomologist. Since last year, Willet Hossfeld has taken over administrative duties for the Certification program.  He reported that there are currently 1025 active ACEs nationwide, with 267 in the application process. If you ever have a question about the certification application, he's the one to contact.

The main topic of discussion by the support committee this year concerned the difficulty of the certification exam (40% pass rate on first try), and how that has discouraged many highly qualified folks from taking it. Several at the meeting noted how useful the study guide that I and Richard Levine co-authored a few years ago, has been.  But there still seems to be a need for group prep classes to better prepare ACE candidates for the exam.  The committee took steps to begin updating the practice exam for those preparing for the test, and discussed how to make more prep classes available.  A prep class PowerPoint set has long been available to anyone who wants to conduct a prep class. This PowerPoint set will be revised and updated in 2018.  Any BCE or ACE who wants to sponsor a prep class, should contact Willet at ESA and he can tell you how it's done and how to get a copy of the prep materials.

You're Invited

Pest management professionals also attend these national meetings. If you haven't yet attended, I encourage you to give it a try (the next two meetings are in Vancouver BC in 2018, and St. Louis MO in 2019). The meeting is a great time to make new friends and professional contacts; and while it's not all pest management oriented, there are always good urban entomology sessions featuring cutting edge research. If you decide to attend, don't be shy--introduce yourself to speakers and others in hallways. Consider attending the Certification Board meetings; visitors are welcome. And bring a few extra bucks for a t-shirt or pet tarantula. Your coworkers will look at you strangely, and you'll know what it's like to call yourself an entomologist.

Entomologists Ignite in Denver: Part I.

One of the hottest exhibits at ESA was the BioQuip booth.
At what other meeting could you see people lined up to
buy pinned insects or live tarantulas and scorpions?
Ignite. Inspire. Innovate. Three motivational words greeted entomologists swarming to the 2017 annual conference of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in Denver, Colorado. Between November 5th and 8th, the mile high city welcomed 3,700 insect scientists to present over 1,000 scientific papers and 800 poster displays.

It's hard to describe the typical entomologist you see at these meetings. Some are old, many are young (some very young). Some are geeky, some cool. Some seem more comfortable working in a quiet museum surrounded by dried insects, and some happiest with beer in hand and at the center of a crowd. But all share an unusual enthusiasm for insects. After all, at what other meeting can you find long lines waiting to purchase live scorpions, pet tarantulas, pinned insects, insect t-shirts, and insect jewelry?

There is something for nearly everyone at these meetings. To that end, this year I determined to sample a variety of papers and meetings and speakers. My schedule started off with a Lunch and Learn event entitled "How to talk to a Nine-year-old about climate change (And other tough subjects)." Hosts for this session were employees of the Butterfly Pavilion, an "invertebrate museum" located 15 minutes from downtown Denver.

The Butterfly Pavilion uses an informal education approach, which means "a wise, respectful and spontaneous [learning] process... through conversation, exploration and enlargement of experience." In other words, informal education is learning outside a formal classroom.

Instead of lecturing with graphs and statistics to teach about climate change, Butterfly Pavilion staff show people live corals and follow up with questions: Did you know coral is a living animal? And even though coral reefs make up a tiny portion of the ocean floor they provide food shelter and breeding grounds to more than a quarter of all ocean life?

This approach is fruitful because we humans will only protect the things we love. By creating a connection with, and love for, corals (or insects), kids are open to caring about these organisms. All of a sudden scientific data showing that pollution, climate change, and disease are killing off many corals, becomes important. Using events like "Bugs and Beer" and "Tarantulas and Tequila" the museum also reaches out to adults to raise pollinator awareness and understanding of other environmental issues affecting the invertebrate tree of life.

Hemp

Industrial hemp is an outdoor crop grown for fiber
and the medicinal compound cannabidiol. Suggested
benefits of cannibidiol are controversial, but include
pain relief for multiple sclerosis, reduction of
certain epileptic seizures, and addiction
treatment. Photo by ShareAlike, Wikipedia
Since we were in Colorado, I wanted to check out the "buzz" over the symposium "Industrial Hemp and Entomology." Even with recreational marijuana now legal in Colorado and seven other states, it's still illegal federally. Hence, the EPA will not register pesticides for the purpose of protecting this plant. This is a big problem because lots of insects, I learned, like to eat marijuana (have you heard of the cannabis aphid?).  Given that a single marijuana plant can be valued at $700 or more, and two plants can be worth as much as an acre of corn, it should come as no surprise that growers will use insecticides (legal or illegal) to protect their plants. And without labeled insecticides that have been tasted for safety, purchasers of legal marijuana literally don't know what they're smoking...

In an interesting twist, the 2014 Farm Bill gave authority to state legislatures to decide how to regulate "industrial hemp," a variety of Cannabis sativa, the same plant species as marijuana, but without the buzz.  However, to be classified as industrial hemp the plant must contain less than 0.3% THC (marijuana's psychoactive ingredient).  Industrial hemp has been illegal in the U.S. since 1937; but as a result of the Farm Bill, many states have or are considering making outdoor culture of industrial hemp legal, as it is in Colorado.  The bill also allowed Colorado State University to develop guidelines for research and extension activities for the low THC crop. Hence now we have the first extension website on insect management in hemp. Check it out.

The Environment

Even though entomologists are, by and large, a happy group, we worry. We worry about the environment and the effects of climate change and pollution and invasive species and lots of things. One of the big concerns circulating the paper sessions this year was new data suggesting an international, general decline in the numbers of insects. Now people (perhaps many of your customers) might say, "I don't see a problem here." But think about it. Without insects there would be few birds, no frogs and toads, no trout to fish, and no "lot of things." You get the picture. Insects help hold the world together.

David Wagner, from the University of Connecticut, is a well-respected moth expert. He presented his own data, and data from Britain, Iceland, and Germany that seem to indicate a slow, but alarming decline in many insects over the past 60 years. In one German study, the overall weight of collected flying insects in parks went down 80% since 1989. In Britain, 54% of studied butterflies have declined in the past 10 years. No one really knows what this is doing to the health of the planet, but the consensus is that it's not good.

Other environmental papers focused on pollinator insects, especially bees. Because they pollinate crops and native plants alike, honey bees and the 4,000+ species of native bees in North America provide irreplaceable services to our ecosystem. Yet many species appear to be in decline. Katie Lamke, of the University of Nebraska reported on her work with the USGS to manage a pollinator library, a collection of information about what plants different pollinator bees are found on. This information can be used to help farmers and gardeners know how to select plants to help these important insects.

In tomorrow's post I'll cover some of the ESA sessions that relate more directly to urban pest control.







Monday, October 30, 2017

A few spots left for Rodent Academy in Dallas

The following announcement is from Janet Hurley, IPM Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  The course is being offered as part of our IPM Experience House educational events and will be held December 5-7 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Dallas. 

The primary trainer for the event is Dr. Bobby Corrigan, rodent consultant and author of the very useful book: Rodent Control: A Practical Guide for Pest Management Professionals.  I've known Bobby since our days as grad students in entomology at Purdue University, and he is well worth hearing. He is a rare expert on rodents and pest control, and an engaging teacher. 

Class size is limited to 50 and there are just a few spaces left, so you will have to move quickly to get in. To learn more about the class, cost and how to register, click here

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fall Pest Management Seminar in Dallas

Everyone needs a day of training to keep sharp. Why not have
fun at the same time, and join us on November 2?
Registration is now open for the Fall Pest Management Seminar, sponsored by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. This is one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to get your pesticide applicator CEUs in the Dallas area.  To register, go to our AgriLife Conference Registration site.  Early registration is still only $70, and includes lunch.

One big change this year is our location. This meeting, and all training meetings in the foreseeable future will be held at a new address, the Richardson Civic Center. It's a very nice facility and no more hard yellow chairs!  We hope you'll join us and check it out.

The class is designed for commercial and non-commercial applicators with turf and ornamental-oriented licences. Continuing education credits will count for both Structural and Agricultural license holders.  This year's course and speakers includes:

  • Review of the latest Ag and Structural Pesticide Laws and Regulations by Allison Cuellar. Yes, not the most interesting subject, but Allison knows her stuff and will keep you on your toes.
  • Rodent Management by Janet Hurley. Many of you know Janet from her many talks on school IPM and Laws and regs; but she is a rat catcher on the side.  
  • Gary Brooks with Bayer Crop Sciences will present an update on common turfgrass pests. Gary is an entomologist by training and loves sharing pictures and stories about the pest problems he encounters.
  • Raymond Miller with Dow Agrosciences will cover "Best Management Practices for Weeds". Raymond brings years of experience with weeds to help you do a better job managing tough weeds.
  • Dr. Frank Wong, also with Bayer Crop Sciences is a plant pathologist, but has recently been involved with Bayer's pollinator protections efforts.  He will offer suggestions on designing your IPM program to better protect honey bees and other pollinators.  
Brochures with maps and detailed registration and program information are available at the registration website, or by clicking here

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Texas sized mosquito event

Mosquito covered shirt in Port LaVaca, TX. Photo
by Richard Murray on Facebook.
Remember last week when I warned that mosquitoes would be hurricane Harvey's final gift?  Well, mosquitoes are here as seen in this Facebook image, taken in Port Lavaca, TX this weekend.

The giant mosquitoes in this picture are probably in the genus Psorophora, (sore ROFF oh ruh) one of our largest, most painful and aggressive biters.  Psorophora mosquitoes have some impressive chops when it comes to survival.  One of the so-called floodwater mosquito species, they lay their eggs on land rather than water like most mosquitoes.  But not just on any land--eggs are laid at the edges of receding floodwaters, where they will re-hydrate and hatch during the next large rain event.

Because Psorophora are opportunists, taking advantage of brief rainstorms, they must have a quick lifespan.  The larvae of floodwater species like Psorophora are the speediest growers of all mosquitoes.  They need as little as 3 to 3.5 days of standing water to pass through the four molts common to mosquitoes. The pupal stage has even adapted to survive and complete its development on the mud surface of drying puddles.

What we see in this picture is evidence that floodwater mosquitoes were primed at the pump when Harvey hit the upper Gulf coast two weeks ago.  When the rains came, mosquito eggs hatched across thousands of square miles of coastal prairie and marsh, and billions of Psorophora larvae raced through childhood. Add to this that Harvey's rainfall impacted over 400 miles of Gulf shoreline, dumping an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water. The rainfall was epic and completely unprecedented. The city of Houston doubled it's previous all time monthly rainfall record with 39.11 inches (and Houston gets lots of rain). That's 400 miles of Gulf coast prairies producing mosquitoes, also unprecedented, I suspect.

So don't be surprised to read and hear lots of mosquito stories over the next couple of weeks.  If you have to be out and about in this part of Texas, there is protection you can carry. For extreme conditions a mosquito head net will be necessary. Wear light colored, tight knit, long-sleeved fabrics. T-shirts or short-sleeved shirts will not be enough.  Permethrin-impregnated shirts and pants may be worth their weight in gold.  And don't forget to bring DEET repellent. Lots of it.

Thanks a lot, Harvey!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Insects and floodwaters

Fire ant floating colony in Houston floodwaters.
Photo by NBC DFW  @OmarVillafranca
Many in the pest control industry find themselves in the midst of the devastating floods hitting much of south and east Texas this week.  If so, it may be a good time to remind ourselves of some unique pest challenges associated with high water.

Flooding brings all sorts of wildlife into unusually close contact with people, but few critters are more dangerous than fire ants. When floods occur, fire ants exit the ground and float, instinctively linking their legs and forming a floating mat which is nearly impossible to sink. When they inevitably bump into a dry object like a tree, a boat or a person, the ant mass "explodes" with ants quickly exiting the mass and swarming the object.

Diving underwater, or splashing water on the ants, will not help.  The best option is soapy water, which is pretty good at killing the ants and helping drown a floating ant island.  According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension publication, "Flooding and Fire Ants:Protecting Yourself and Your Family", two tablespoons of soap in a gallon of water, sprayed on a floating mat is effective at drowning ants.  If any of you are engaged in water rescue this week, carrying a supply of soap along with a squirt bottle would be a good idea.

You might not have thought of it, but bed bugs can also become an issue after a public emergency like a tornado or flood.  When lots of people are brought together in an emergency shelter situation, the risk of bed bug encounters goes up.  The University of Minnesota has put together a nice publication on the subject. If you are in a community hosting an emergency shelter consider offering your services to inspect shelters and treat for bed bugs as necessary.  Don't forget the diatomaceous earth and silica aerogel dusts as a means of providing significant control for shelter bedding at minimal risk.

Lastly, after the storm is long gone be prepared for mosquitoes.  The primary mosquito species in the Texas Coastal Bend area are the salt marsh and pasture-land breeding mosquitoes. These are difficult to control at their breeding sites, short of aerial mosquito control campaigns.  But to some extent, these mosquitoes can be controlled in backyards with residual mosquito adulticides. If your company does residential pest control, but hasn't yet gotten into the adult mosquito control business, this may be a good time to start. One good way to educate your customers about the mosquito threat is the Mosquito Safari website.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Murine typhus on rise in Texas

Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Department of State Health Services recently reported an increase in the number of reported cases of typhus in Texas. Texas historically has had more cases of typhus than other states, but this new study published in the CDC's Emerging Infectious Disease journal  shows that numbers of cases have increased ten-fold in the past 14 years.

When rodents are present in a house, there may also be rat fleas.
The oriental rat flea is thought to be the principal vector of
murine typhus, a disease on the rise in Texas. (Image courtesy
Pest and Diseases Image Library, Bugwood.org)
In addition to a general increase in cases statewide, the data shows that what used to be solely a south Texas problem is creeping into more northerly parts of the state. Houston, for example, which had no cases of typhus as recently as 2007, reported 32 cases last year.  Nueces County, home to the city of Corpus Christi, had the highest case rate in Texas, reporting about 140 cases/100,000 population.

The causative agent for murine typhus (the term "murine" is a scientific term referring to rodents) is a rickettsial parasite called Rickettsia typhi. This parasite is always present in rodent populations, both Norway and roof rats, and to a lesser extent mice and opossums.  The primary vector that transmits the parasite from rodent to rodent, and occasionally to humans, is the oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, though other fleas, including the cat flea are suspected to be occasional vectors.

Symptoms of murine typhus include fever, headache and rash. Left untreated, the disease can be fatal in about 2% of cases; but once diagnosed, typhus is easily treated. Numbers of cases peak during the summer months of June and July, but in south Texas there is a secondary peak in cases during the winter.

The typhus pathogen is thought to infect people when they scratch an itchy flea bite. It is present in the flea's feces, which may be rubbed into the site of the bite during scratching.

While the exact cause for the increase in typhus cases is unknown, pest control will play an important role in any solution. Experience with murine typhus in the past has shown that cases peak when flea numbers are highest, and that case frequency declines when rats are controlled, and insecticides applied for fleas.

In 54% of the cases reported in this study, fleas were reported to be present in the home, and 34% of patients recalled a flea bite.  Rodents were known to be present by the victims in about 29% of the cases, and some form of other wildlife was present in 42% of cases.

Good flea control, rodent exclusion and rodent control are among the most important public health services our industry provides. So if you didn't have enough reasons to explain to customers why they need you, you now have one more.




Thursday, August 17, 2017

New resource for ant control

Take some of the best ant experts in the country and ask them to write about their favorite ant pests. What do you get?  The new eXtension Ant Pests page.

This new addition to the eXtension (pronounced EE-ex-TEN-shun) website is the latest contribution to an information repository from Cooperative Extension Service centers across the country. The goal of the site is to provide in-depth biology and control information about important ant pests for anyone who needs it.

And who needs it more than pest management professionals?

So check us out.  And while you're there, you might enjoy exploring other pest management resource areas including fire ants, feral hogs, pests around structures (school IPM plans), and Wildlife Damage Management.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A life saving opportunity

How would you like to save a life today? Through pest control? It's not as hard as you might think.

In the years since Bill Gates retired his position as CEO of MicroSoft Corporation, he and wife Melinda have devoted tremendous effort to battling malaria.  Malaria and the mosquitoes that transmit it is the single greatest killer of humans in the world, accounting for most of the 700,000+ mosquito-caused deaths annually.  But unlike many of the other major problems in the world, solutions to the malaria epidemic are available now.

The Gates Foundation is partnering with the NGO World Vision to give away 100,000 bed nets. These nets protect families from mosquitoes that carry deadly diseases, including malaria. Each one is treated with an insecticide that kills mosquitoes but has a low LD50 for humans.

Insecticide-treated bed nets have played an enormous role in the fight to end malaria. But distribution is a huge logistical challenge. This is where you can help.

If you're willing to take two minutes to learn more about the fight against malaria, and take a one question quiz, Mr. Gates has pledged to donate a bed net on your behalf to a family in Inhambane province--an area in the south African country of Mozambique where malaria is common.  You can do this at the Gates Notes Bed Net Giveaway website.

On a related note, my wife and I recently watched a film about the malaria problem in Mozambique called Mary and Martha, with Hillary Swank playing an American mom who loses a son to malaria.  It's a sad but compelling and uplifting film, well worth watching.  And it shows how a simple thing like a treated bed net can make a world of difference for families in another part of the world.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A loss for Dallas Pest Control

I know that many of the readers of this blog are not from the north Texas area, so sharing news of a local nature may be a turn off for some.  But there is something universal about the loss of a colleague that should cause all of us, no matter where we live and work, to pause and reflect.

Last week the Dallas pest control community lost a friend in Ray Porter.  I knew Ray from several projects we got to do together (meaning he was willing to help me out on some field trials) well over 10 years ago. He was one of the nicest guys I've been privileged to work with, always unassuming and extremely polite. Ray was an account manager for Orkin Pest Control from 1989 -1998 and then with Bizzy Bees Pest Control in Dallas from 1998 – 2013.  He became an Orkin man again when Bizzy Bees was bought out in 2013, until 2016 when he retired. According to his friend Errol Cohen, he was "devoted to his customers beyond belief, and always delivered exceptional service... Always a top performer and a President’s Club member numerous times, Ray went way beyond the extra mile every day."

Ray also went the extra mile for his profession.  He was active for many years in our local pest control association, working to build relationships among fellow professionals and trying to raise the reputation of the industry. In this regard his life should be an example, especially to the newer pest management generation.

It's sad when a good man passes away, but Ray's passing reminds me that we all are privileged to work daily with some pretty great folks. Let's not forget to appreciate them while we have them, and to enjoy the time we are given.  So long Ray, and thanks for your example and inspiration.

I remember being told by a customer in my first job in pest control, that a company is only as good as the people it employs. By this standard, Orkin and Bizzie Bees were definitely winners.  From Ray's obituary:
Raymond Nelson Porter was born August 14, 1942 in Sand Springs, Oklahoma to Harry and Bertie Porter and died peacefully August 10, 2017 at home surrounded by family. Ray was devoted to his wife and family (especially his grandchildren and great-grandson). He was an avid golfer, loved being outdoors and working at Bizzy Bees. Survivors include his wife Yvonne of 28 years; his son Eric Porter (daughter-in-law Stacy, grandson Brandon and wife Molly, great-grandson Luke and granddaughter Tiffani); his son Christopher Porter (daughter-in-law Carol, grandchildren Claire and Nicholas); his son Jason Porter (granddaughter Lindsay); his step-daughter Andrea Hefner (son-in-law Bill, granddaughter Alexandra and husband Colman, and grandson Riley); his step-daughter Stephanie Enriquez (grandsons Steven and Christopher); his sister Sue Orendorff (brother-in-law Ellis); and, his brother Larry Porter.

A Memorial Service will be held Saturday, August 19, 2017, 10:30 am, at Williams Funeral Home, 1600 South Garland Avenue, Garland, Texas 75040.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chalcid wasps in homes

After identifying an unusual insect for a homeowner today, the thank you email ended with a bang. Because I was able to quickly identify her pest, which her PMP had incorrectly insisted was a "bee", she concluded, "[I guess] it's best I change pest control companies."

Brachymeria podagrica on window screen
Could you identify this insect from this picture? Brachymeria
podagrica
 is a chalcid wasp parasitoid that attacks filth flies,
like those that feed on carrion.
Ouch... I hate to hear that.

Admittedly the insect was an obscure critter. I'm guessing that not one in 100 PMPs has ever heard of a chalcid (CHAL sid) wasp before. But chalcid wasps are common natural enemies of many insect pests. Identified by their small size and giant hind femurs, the Chalcididae family makes up one of the dozen or so "parasitoid" wasp families within the bee/wasp/ant order Hymenoptera.

Parasitoid wasps are certainly one of the most fascinating and wonderful, yet horrifying, of all creatures.  So seemingly cruel in its behavior that theologians and biologists argued over the last 200 years whether the mere existence of insects like the ichneumon wasp (a cousin of the chalcid wasp) served as proof against the Christian belief in a loving Creator-God.*

Parasitoids are parasite-like predators. Like a parasite, they grow up feeding on or in a single host. But unlike true parasites, which weaken but rarely kill, parasitoids invariably kill their hosts. Parasitoids begin their lives as an egg laid by their mother on a soft part of a host's anatomy. Upon hatching the parasitoid larva burrows into the body cavity of its host and begins feeding. The larva knows instinctively to begin with the non-essential parts, prolonging the life of its victim as long as possible. Eaten alive from the inside, ultimately the host dies. Ugh.

It does sound cruel, but parasitoids are also one of nature's most effective population control agents. Without them, crops would vanish under billions of caterpillars.  Flies would breed unchecked. Even spiders would be more abundant than they already are.  Parasitoid wasps possess some of the world's sharpest "noses" (actually antennae), able to sniff out prey even when the prey are vanishingly rare. They are also smart, with some species recently being trained to sniff out illicit drugs and even bombs on the battlefield. Gardeners and farmers, especially, reap the benefits of parasitoid services every day.

The key to identifying chalcid wasps is their tiny size (this is one 
of  the larger chalcids at 5 mm), reduced veination in the wings, 
and swollen hind femurs. This Brachymeria podagrica is further 
identified by its distinctive markings. Photo courtesy Graham
Montgomery via Bugguide.net.
Admittedly we in structural pest control don't have many chances to encounter parasitic insects in our daily work.  Most parasitoid wasps live peacefully out of sight in the natural world, ill at ease in our indoor environments. Occasionally, though, parasitoid wasps make an appearance in a home or business. For this reason, it's a good idea for PMPs to know something about these insects.

The species of chalcid wasp my homeowner encountered "swarming" in her attic this spring appeared identical to other similar wasp pictures I've received recently.  These turned out to be Brachymeria podagricaa parasitoid (primarily) of flies.  Their presence indoors suggests that the source could have been a dead animal full of fly larvae somewhere in the home--a theory backed up in this case by the homeowner's report of a foul stench several days before the little wasps appeared in the attic. Likely they were drawn to the smell of the carcass in search of their blow fly hosts.

When one, or a few, unusual insects show up overnight in a structure, they are often called "accidental invaders". Accidental invaders are chance occurrences, when an insect or spider accidentally enters through an open door or window, or unsealed crack. Such accidental entries occur on a regular basis in residential accounts, but usually with a variety of arthropods.  But when several (or dozens) of the same kind of insect appear inside a home, or when the same insects show up over many days, it usually means something is afoot. Insects always have a story to tell, and they never lie.

Chalcid wasps are not likely to enter an account over and over by accident. If you find chalcids indoors, get a sample and have them identified. Brachymeria podagrica suggests the possibility of wildlife or rodents; however other species of Brachymeria and other species of chalcids are known to parasitize beetle or moth larvae, and might be evidence of a stored product pest infestation.

And remember, if you're ever unsure of the identification of an insect, don't hesitate to bring it to your in-house entomologist (if you have one), or send to your state university or other reputable insect ID authority. And don't just call something strange a "bee" unless you know for sure that it is.

* An interesting discussion of the ichneumon wasp controversy can be found in Stephen Jay Gould's essay on Non-moral Nature in the book Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Asian tiger mosquito a focus of last week's training


Keith Haas demonstrates use of a handheld ULV applicator
for treating adult mosquitoes hiding in dense vegetation.
For which important urban insect pest did 70% of pest control companies get more calls last year? For which pest are 88% of pest management professionals (PMPs) confident that control options are better than they were five years ago?  For what pest do nearly 2/3 of companies have callback rates of 4% or less?

According to a 2017 report by MGK® Co., the repeated answer is "mosquitoes". It appears that pest control customers increasingly want to fight pesky mosquitoes in their backyards, and are willing to pay for it. 

Ultimately, this increased interest in mosquitoes is what brought 15 interested PMPs to the "Practical Mosquito Control" course last week at IPM Experience House. And, as students learned, the driving force for this demand may just be the tiny Asian tiger mosquito (ATM), Aedes albopictus, and its slightly less common cousin the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti.

A fast and opportunistic biter, tiger mosquitoes are relatively new pests, having arrived from Japan only about 30 years ago. When people complain that, "the mosquitoes are terrible this time of year", chances are they're talking about the day-flying ATM. But ironically, despite it's irritating bite, ATM is not currently a public health threat in most areas.

"The one good thing about ATM", said Scott Sawlis, county entomologist for Dallas County Health and Human Services, "is that it reminds people that they need to wear repellent, and thereby protect themselves from the more dangerous disease-carrying species."  In the Dallas area that would be Culex quinquefasciatus, the stealthier, nighttime-flying, southern house mosquito.  Even though folks don't tend to notice the house mosquito as much, it's the one to carry West Nile virus, our most serious mosquito-borne disease. 

Sawlis and fellow instructors (myself and Dr. Sonja Swiger with Texas A&M AgriLife, and Keith Haas, with Central Life Sciences), spent the day explaining to class attendees about the need for mosquito control, and some of the differences between the target species.  At the end of the day we got to practice what we learned in class by conducting an outdoor inspection and spending some workout time on microscopes looking at these tiniest of pests at a bug eye level. 

During our inspection we discovered mosquitoes breeding (naturally) just a few feet from where class took place.  Afterwards, students got to see fresh-caught mosquito eggs and watch mosquito larvae wriggle through murky breeding media.  Haas demonstrated the ability of a ULV generator to go through and around landscape vegetation, and Sawlis demonstrated proper use of a dipper when trying to determine whether mosquitoes might be breeding in a water source.

Although ATM may be one of the best things to happen to the pest control business in the past few years, it does have a darker side. The ATM is very difficult to control from city spray trucks and even from the air.  And it remains ready to transmit the viruses for Zika and dengue fever, should these diseases arrive in our area like Zika did last summer in Miami, FL and Brownsville, TX.  

One of the most effective tools, our class learned, for fighting tiger mosquitoes is the PMP. While county and city mosquito control staff must patrol streets with sprayers that treat city-blocks at a time (a technique that works well for the house mosquito), only the PMP walks backyards, identifies and treats ground-level breeding sites, and precisely targets sprays to ATM resting sites. This puts the pest control technician in an important role to reduce the most frequent mosquito bites, and to fight Zika and other Aedes-borne illnesses, should they arise here.

If you missed last week's class, and would like to learn more about control of ATM and its biting cousins, several regional training classes will be offered over the next few months.  Stay tuned here for more information.  


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Three new Experience House Trainings

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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The things we do for You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER ONLINE


Friday, June 23, 2017

Tips for your elevator speech

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bermudagrass stunt mite in lawns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fun spider facts PMPs need to know

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Boozy beetle wreaks havoc on lawn mower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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