Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Termite season (and training needs) around the corner

Dr. Davis suggests tips for better termite barriers
with participant at the 2019 termite class.
It doesn't take a PhD to predict that termite season is likely to arrive early this year. Record warm temperatures and abundant rain are already stirring the pots of pest activity in Texas, so all pest control companies should be gearing up now for a busy and early year.

If your company is hiring new staff this spring, or needs to get existing technicians cross-trained for termite season, this class is for you.  IPM House will be offering a one-day, 2020 Termite Training for New Technicians class on February 28. Dr. Bob Davis, BASF Corporation, and Kevin Keim of Corteva, will be assisting our team with an interactive course in termite biology and control.

If you've not yet attended an IPM Experience House course, this is a great opportunity to get involved. All IPM House classes are an interactive mix of both classroom and field training. The training day includes lecture and Q&A with top experts, microscope exercises and hands-on activities at the IPM House itself.

We especially welcome PMPs from other parts of Texas and out of state to attend and become part of the IPM Experience House alumni.

At $55 for the day, including lunch, this course is a bargain. To learn more about this month's class, please check out our registration page at https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/productListingDetails/3076

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Spring IPM Conference registration opens

For anyone who needs structural or ag CEU credits in the area of turf and ornamental pest management, 2020 Spring IPM Conference registration is now open.

This year's program will focus on how pesticides accomplish the challenging task of controlling pests. It's not as easy or as simple as you might think!

Dr. Christopher Bibbs with Central Life Sciences will talk on how insecticides work. Our Dallas turfgrass extension specialist, Dr. Chrissie Segars, will cover modes of action of herbicides.  And Scott Smith, Bell Labs, will review rodents and how rodenticides work. In addition, Janet Hurley, our school IPM program specialist, will be providing the latest updates on what's going on with re-certification rules and pesticide regulations.  And I will review those common, and not-so-common insects associated with turfgrass.

Our challenge every year is to make sure when you attend an IPM Conference, you leave with at least one useful piece of knowledge. There will be lots to learn at this meeting, so register now by going to https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/IPM.  As usual, a great lunch will be provided.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Pavement ant gets a new name

Tetramorium immigrans nest. Photo by Alex Wild.
A few years ago I was called to a home in the Dallas area to look at a stubborn "fire ant" problem.  Indeed the numerous mounds did look much like fire ant mounds, and the red ants like fire ants; but closer inspection showed the ants to be pavement ants. 

The name "pavement ant" comes from its preference for nesting in open, well-drained gravelly soil typical of sites under sidewalks and other pavement. By building roads and laying concrete throughout our cities it seems we have created the perfect habitat for these ants. 

Temperate climates, like those of the Northern and Midwestern states, are especially favorable to  pavement ants.  In some states, pavement ants are the most common household ant, foraging for crumbs and swarming indoors like termites or carpenter ants. Though less common in Texas, I suspect pavement ants are more common than we realize, often being mistaken for fire ants. 

According to BugGuide.net, there are seven native and introduced species of Tetramorium in the U.S. and 455 species worldwide. By far the most common and widespread species has, until recently, been referred to as Tetramorium caespitum or, more mysteriously, "Tetramorium species E".  This is the only Tetramorium that is a common urban nuisance pest.

It's not common to have an important pest insect whose identity remains a mystery for almost 100 years since it was first recorded. It turns out that the genus to which pavements ants belong is a real "brier patch" of related and difficult-to-tell-apart species. Taxonomists who have studied the group have realized as much and out of frustration have been calling our pest pavement ant "species E" within the T. caespitum "brier patch".  That has now changed. 

Two recent papers clarified the identity of these common ants, and they required some ingenious sleuthing to do it. A paper by Herbert Wagner and colleagues used a combination of two kinds of DNA, numerous body features and ecological observations to untangle the briers obscuring the Tetramorium species in Europe.  When they finished they (in a very scientific way) said "Phew!" and noted that it took six types of analysis to solve the "highly intricate" problem of identifying the European Tetramorium.  Without both molecular (DNA) studies and studying the morphological features of the ants, they never would have solved the puzzle. 

The new name of the American pest pavement ant is Tetramorium immigrans, an appropriate name since our pest turns out to be an immigrant from Europe.  Very similar in appearance to the Tetramorium caespitum first described and named by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, a group of researchers based in Florida and led by Yuanmeng Zhang recently studied the genetics of Tetramorium immigrans populations in the U.S. In Zhang's study, molecular evidence was taken from 90 samples collected across the country by mostly school children using Pecan Sandies® cookie crumbs to attract the ants.  The lack of genetic diversity among all the samples collected suggests strongly that all of today's ants came from a one-time introduction, perhaps as long as 200 years ago. 

What's in a Name?


Why is knowing the name of an insect important? Because IPM is important.  Integrated pest management is the definition of modern, effective pest control. One of the key principles of IPM is that control methods should be based on knowledge of the biology and behavior of the pest.  Without knowing what pest you are facing, its impossible to know with any certainty the lives and behaviors (and weaknesses) of any pest.  

Knowing the right species of ant will also help in selecting an appropriate bait. In the case of pavement ants, the Advion® Fire Ant Bait has a label that includes pavement ant. In the case of the Dallas home with fire ants, Advion® performed well against that infestation. 

Recognizing Pavement Ants


Pavement ant. Note the two node segments between thorax and gaster, two
small spines toward the end of the thorax, and parallel grooves on
the head and body.  Color ranges from light brown to black. From the
Ant Identification Guide by Bayer Environmental Science.   
So how do you recognize pavement ants? Determining Tetramorium ants to an exact species can be a challenge and requires a very fine microscope.  Fortunately, the genus is not hard to identify with a hand lens or modest microscope.  And most Tetramorium found in urban settings and as indoor pests in the U.S. will be T. immigrans.  

Pavement ants are in the ant subfamily Myrmycinae.  Like all myrmycines, pavement ants have stingers (rarely used) and two small nodes (bumps) between the thorax and gaster (tail segment). In addition, look for two small spines on the last segment of the thorax.  Color may range from light brown to black, and all the workers from a given nest will be the same size (monomorphic).  Pavement ants may superficially look like fire ants but they are generally slower, less aggressive when their mound is disturbed, and do not sting. 

Knowing what kind of ant, or any insect, you have in hand is essential to everything we do in pest control.  And having taxonomists working behind the scenes to figure out what pests we have is a real benefit to our industry.








Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Society meeting highlights risks of ignoring science

We ignore science, including the study of insects, at our own peril.  This was an underlying message in session after session of the 2019 Annual Conference of the Entomological Society of America.

This year's ESA conference, just a few minutes' walk from the iconic St. Louis Arch, was my first business visit to the the city where I spent most of my growing up years. Out for a jog on the first day of the meeting I remembered as a kid watching workers fit last shiny aluminum triangle into place at the top of the Arch shortly after my family arrived. I admit I felt a little old when I realized the Arch turned 55 this year.

Glorious flies

As glorious as technology can appear to the human eye, I was quickly reminded that insects are just as cool, and have been around a lot longer than any arch.  The plenary session speaker was Janet McAlister, British author of the book The Secret Life of Flies.  With a generous dash of humor, McAlister breezed through story after story of amazing flies.  One in ten living species on the planet is a fly, she said, with 17 million individual flies for every living human. Flies are also beautiful when you get close enough.

We can thank the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, a pest of kitchens and hospitals around the country, for its contributions to our modern understanding of genetics and the genes associated with diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Flies are important pollinators too. A type of biting midge is also the sole pollinator of Theobroma cacao, our plant source for chocolate. No flies?  No more chocolate.

And as McAlister pointed out, at times even crime fighters depend on flies.  The first murder solved with the assistance of insects was the strange case of  Dr. Buck Ruxton in England in 1935. Ruxton was convicted of murdering his wife and servant after the fly maggots found in his victims' decaying bodies were used to estimate the approximate time of the murder.  And as any fan of television's CSI shows will tell you, flies are used for the same purpose today. For some fantastic images of flies, check out Gil Wizen's photography page (featured in many of McAlister's slides).

The coming Insect Apocalypse?

It's not too often that I see reference made to the Bible in a scientific paper, much less a meeting; but this year's buzz-phrase for many attendees was "insect apocalypse."  One of the better attended symposia was devoted to Insect Decline in the Anthropocene (the Anthropocene is a scientific term for the man-dominated biological/geological era we are in today).  While I missed several talks in this session while darting between papers, the central message was clear.  Something is happening to insect populations around the world, and it's not good.

Among concerns of attendees are declines in many kinds of
wild bees, sometimes referred to as a "Beepocalypse"
Hans deKroon, from Radboud University in the Netherlands reported on the results of a 27 year study of insect densities in 63 German nature preserves.  Using the same sampling method and places for sampling in relatively unchanged parklands between 1989 and 2016, the researchers documented a 76% decline in the total weight of insects (biomass) caught in traps over this time.  The surprising thing was that declines were seen across all sites with all kinds of insects--not just a few.  The authors attribute some of the decline to land fragmentation (sites were often close to agricultural land), but also possibly pesticides and climate change.

David Wagner, University of Connecticut, reported a similar 70% decline in moths of pristine New England forests.  The decline, he said, averages 1-2% per year and is across a large region.  The only explanation is some kind of broad external cause(s). Beyond increasing global temperatures, possible causes for loss of moths and butterflies include nitrification, light pollution, exotic insects, and car strikes.

So what are the consequences of such large declines in insect biomass?  I mean shouldn't we be rejoicing in fewer insects if this means fewer pests?  Absolutely not. In addition to entomologists, all sorts of biologists and nature lovers should be concerned by these numbers. Insects are keystone (ecologically very important) species in many environments.  They help decompose dead organic matter, keep potentially invasive plants under control, and feed fish and birds and many, many other types of wildlife. Indeed, one especially depressing study in the Science journal this year reports a 29% decline in bird numbers in the U.S. since 1970 (click here to see the paper in full). While the reasons for bird decline are complex, losing an important food source is not good for birds or bird lovers.

Tim Showalter, Louisiana State University, cautioned attendees to take care in drawing hasty conclusions, and in careless interpretation of apocalyptic data.  In a cautionary paper, he noted that a 2018 paper on supposed food chain collapse and a 60% decline in insect populations due to climate change in a Puerto Rican rain-forest garnered attention in the press, but was ultimately based on faulty data.  A change in positioning of temperature stations, misinterpretation of different survey databases, and impacts of multiple hurricanes led the authors to erroneous conclusions.  The food chain is NOT collapsing in Luquillo, Puerto Rico, he said. A rebuttal to the paper is now posted on the journal website.

Showalter's paper illustrates the imperfection, yet self-correcting nature of science.  It also illustrates how easy it can be for interpreters of science to cherry-pick data to reinforce a given point of view. We all need to be critical readers of science; however, this doesn't mean we can't trust scientists.  Certainly the majority view of entomologists is that something alarming is happening to many kinds of insects in many locations around the world. We should not ignore this issue or the scientists raising fair warning.

Learning from History

Rocky Mountain locust, Melanoplus
spretus, ca. 1870s, Minnesota. 
As I get older, history gets more interesting.  The ESA is fortunate to have among its membership a significant number of scientists with an interest in the historical roots of entomology. For example, I learned from Jeffrey Lockwood, University of Wyoming, that the first recorded time our government called on science to solve a political problem involved entomology. Between 1874 and 1877 the Rocky Mountain locust caused staggering crop damage in Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota and Missouri. While inventors and hucksters of the day promoted a variety of solutions for locusts, little was really known about the biology and life cycles of these insects. For example, many farmers believed that locusts were so diabolically destructive because they were led by kings and queens (not true).

In 1876 a new governmental group known as the Entomological Commission was authorized by Congress to study the problem. The team quickly recognized that the key to the locust's destruction lay in identifying its true identity, its breeding grounds and the conditions that led to outbreaks (sounds a lot like an IPM program).  Also a collection of natural enemies was identified. While this information would have ultimately been useful in developing long-term control measures, Rocky Mountain locust swarms were already in decline by 1877--something for which the entomologists were happy to take credit. It turns out that by the 1880s the swarms all but ceased, likely because of the loss of the great buffalo herds which, by reducing food in the permanent breeding range, and pulverizing the soil with their hooves, would trigger the buildup of migratory locust swarms.

Entomologists were pragmatists in the locust wars, arguing against those who ascribed the swarms as evidence of God's judgement due to a general lack of morality and repentance.  Rather than promoting a day of prayer, however, entomologists insisted that farmers would be better served by looking to science to discover the causes and solutions to the plagues.  Today the Rocky Mountain locust is extinct, following the path of all organisms that cannot adapt to a changing environment.

Insects and Health

Like it or not insects are important factors in human health. Insects and indoor health was the theme of one session I attended.  Respected researcher Felicia Rabito, Tulane University, pointed out that asthma remains relatively poorly understood, despite its public health significance. One in 12 children in the U.S. suffer from asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. In her studies 73% of homes have elevated levels of one or more environmental triggers of asthma (e.g., smoke, pet dander, particulate air pollution, and pest derived allergens).  Cockroach allergens remain one of the strongest promoters and triggers, and appear to cause four times the hospitalization rate of other allergens. Her research with a relatively small sample size showed that even a single IPM intervention (bait only) could have significant positive health outcomes for kids living in treated homes. Their team plans to redo the study with a larger (300 household) sample size.

A co-researcher with Rabito, and one of the most original and thought-provoking urban entomologists today, Coby Schal, North Carolina State University, gave an interesting talk on reducing cockroach allergens simply through cockroaches baiting.  He argued that the comprehensive IPM approach, such as advocated by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, starting with improving sanitation, use of non-chemical tactics, biological control and (perhaps) chemical control may be too slow and expensive in most cockroach infested homes (think public housing).  His data suggests that IPM and health specialists should lead with cockroach baiting because it is the fastest and least expensive way to reduce indoor allergens. It remains alarming to me the number of pest control companies that still rely primarily on sprays to control German cockroaches, when baits have time and again been shown more effective in controlling cockroaches and improving public health.

Bed bugs remain a topic of interest in these meetings, though not to the level of 5-10 years ago.  Jonathan Sheele gave two papers on bed bugs from a doctor's perspective. In the Ohio Emergency Room where he previously worked, he noted that when bed bugs were found on a patient, that room would be out of use for cleaning and pest control an average of 20 hours. This would happen every 2-3 days on average. His hospital spent $30,000 annually on IPM costs associated with infested patients. Patients with bed bugs were more likely to suffer anemia, Staphylococcus infection, and use an inhaler than patients without bed bugs. In a separate paper, Sheele reflected on the potential for a future pill that people could take to kill bed bugs. In lab studies, both spinosad and fluralaner (Bravecta®) provided excellent control of bed bugs; however neither drug is yet approved for use on humans.  Abamectin is another antiparasitic agent that does have human approval, however tests on its effectiveness in humans against bed bugs have not been conducted. Such an innovation could be a big boon, especially for low income families suffering from bed bugs.

Stephane Perron, National Institute of Public Health in Quebec, Canada, looked at bed bugs in public health and reported that bed bug infestations often result in prolonged stress for patients. Some of the mental health impacts of bed bugs include fear, sense of lack of control, physical discomfort, sleep deprivation, financial stress, property loss, stress over preparing a home for treatment, conflicts with neighbors, the stigma associated with bed bugs, fear of insecticides, and exacerbation of prior mental health issues.  On the flip side, a recent study she conducted showed that anxiety and depression could decline when bed bugs were successfully controlled--a real benefit pest management companies can take pride in.

Zach DeVries, University of Kentucky, noted that the bed bug's status as only "a nuisance" is coming to an end. Again, public health professionals, decision makers and politicians need to take cockroaches, bed bugs, mosquitoes and other urban pests seriously.

Odds and Ends

Again I felt a little old during this meeting when I realized how different students are today. Grad students at the meeting are more diverse and more attuned to social media than ever before. As such they represent many of your younger pest control customers.

Striving to keep up, I attended a session on using social media.  I found myself in a group fellow laggards who did not understand some of the basics of the Twitter platform.  While I do use Twitter (@mikemerchant), I realized I still didn't understand some of the basics of the app and Twitter platform.  I learned how to better use hashtags, and that I need to follow more people if I want to expand my personal Twitterverse (I have a difficult-enough time with the regular Universe) #oldfashioned, #luddite, #booklover.  I reflected that if we fail to learn from these young professionals we risk ending up like the Rocky Mountain locust.

Joe DeMark, Corteva AgriScience, gave a paper on a new termiticide caulk formulation in the works. The caulk provides another above-ground option for treating termite tubes.  It could, I envision, replace the somewhat clunky (though effective) AG bait stations.  Caulk has an advantage of being flexible enough to inject into infested trees, or placed directly on an exposed termite foraging tube.  It has the same active ingredient as Sentricon, noviflumuron and is applied with a regular caulk gun.  In studies conducted in New Orleans against Formosan termites, tree infestations were consistently eliminated in about 2.5 months.  Control of termites in homes was accomplished in 30-90 days.  If it should ever become a product, DeMark does not expect it to be commercially available until after 2020.

The Asian longhorn tick is now present in 11 states since its discovery in 2017.  A first human bite was recorded this year, which was significant because of its ability in other countries to carry disease to both livestock and humans.  In a talk by Ryan Smith, Iowa State University, I learned that a 2019 study showed that the tick could pick up Lyme disease from an infected mouse (bad). But the same study showed it could not maintain the disease through molting. This is good news, because it means this tick is unlikely to transmit Lyme disease in the wild.  Nevertheless, there are other diseases of concern and the increasing number of exotic pests being introduced into the U.S. continues to threaten both ecological and human health

Lastly, the ACE Associate Certified Entomologist program hosted by the ESA continues to grow. As of this writing there are 1251 active ACEs.  ESA estimates that there will be 1,272 ACEs by the end of year (lots of new applicants currently), representing 13.5% growth since December last year. The ACE program is unique in that it is the only individual-oriented certification program. It can provide potential customers with assurance that your company has qualified staff, and allows you to attend meetings like the St. Louis conference at discounted rates.

If you think you're interested in becoming an ACE, check out the ESA Certification Corporation website.  And consider attending one of the upcoming Texas prep classes in Dallas or in College Station.  The class is an excellent way to either begin studying, or as a last-minute confidence builder before taking the test.

Each of us has a unique role to play in service to our society. But we only do our jobs well when we commit ourselves to lifelong learning. As is clear from these meetings, knowledge is expanding rapidly.  I hope each of you keep following the science behind the pest control profession (as you already are by reading to the end of this post) and continue to avoid the perils of unfounded opinion.

Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance. Hippocrates






Monday, October 28, 2019

Chance to learn more about emerald ash borer

Emerald ash borer is a small, metallic-
green bullet-shaped beetle.
The past week I've been speaking to PMPs at CEU conferences about the emerald ash borer.  Many folks have asked why they've never heard about this pest. I guess that's because it's a relative newcomer to the state and its impact is just beginning to be felt.

If you are one of the many in our industry who has heard little or nothing about this insect, let me enlighten you. The emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis (EAB), is a wood boring beetle that attacks trees in the genus Fraxinus, which we know as ash. Since it was first discovered in SE Michigan in 2002 it has spread with alarming speed throughout the midwest.  In 2017 the first beetle was found in east Texas.

The EAB is probably the most devastating forest pest since chestnut blight.  In areas where it has been in place for 10+ years it has virtually wiped out every ash tree. Some fear that certain ash species may be on the edge of extinction thanks to the borer. We have every reason to think the same thing will happen in Texas.

Ash is not as common in Texas compared to Michigan and other parts of the Midwest; but it is an important tree, especially in areas along streams and river bottoms. And it's a very important tree if you have one in your backyard.

Not every one of you provide lawn or tree care services, but if you do you should keep your eye on this beetle.  Even if you don't "do trees" you can still provide a service to your customer by alerting them to the risk of this beetle if they have ash trees on their property.

Emamectin benzoate is an effective
treatment applied by certified applicators.
Currently, EAB has been found in Marion, Cass, and Harrison counties in far east Texas.  Most recently a well-established infestation of the borers has been found in west Tarrant county, just a few miles to the northwest of Fort Worth. Anyone who cares for an ash tree who lives within 15 miles of a known infestation should consider their trees at risk (this includes most homes in Fort Worth), and should consider having it treated.

A handful of insecticides can provide protection of an ash tree at reasonable cost. If you are interested in being on the leading edge of how to treat ash trees for EAB in Texas, there are three workshops coming up, sponsored by the Rainbow Treecare company (Rainbow makes one of the leading insecticides for EAB management). Two of the workshops focus on community EAB management strategies, and one will provide a general introduction to EAB. 

These workshops are webinars.  If you've never attended a webinar, it's a pretty cool, and easy, way to learn. You sit at home or in your office, link up to a website, and watch and listen. You will also have the chance to submit questions and interact with the speakers.  To read about the webinars and register, go to https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2236702821873051149

Other places to learn more about EAB include:

  • The USDA Emerald Ash Borer website is a great source of authoritative information about EAB.   
  • The EAB Information Network is a multinational effort to assemble information about the borer including blogs and general information. 
  • EAB University is part of the EAB Information Network and has recorded webinar sessions on a wide variety of topics from top researchers and arborists in the country. All classes are free.
  • Emerald ash borer found in Tarrant County. Citybugs blog. Story of EAB discovery near Fort Worth.

I hope to write more about this beetle in the future. In the meantime, get out your tree books and read up on ash. Once you learn to distinguish ash you will be able to tell whether a customer's tree is at risk.


Friday, October 25, 2019

Winter has its own pest problems


Paper wasps are common throughout Texas, frequently nesting
in windows and under house eaves. With the advent of cold
weather, many of these wasps will head indoors.
Years ago, a friend described a memorable pest control experience that still makes me chuckle. It was winter, and she had noticed a few wasps flying around her immaculate home. So naturally she called her pest control company. Her technician arrived and noticed a wasp on the fireplace. When he opened the chimney flue to investigate, to his (and her) horror a large ball of paper wasps fell from the flue into his lap. He turned to my friend, fear in his eyes, and yelled, “LADY, GRAB YOUR BABY AND GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!”

I don’t recall how long it took them both to recover their wits and clear out the wasps; but if the PMP had known a little more about paper wasp biology and behavior he could have displayed more finesse and saved his customer an unnecessary fright.

Paper wasps are one of many insects that enter homes and other buildings during the fall and winter. Like paper wasps, many insects protect themselves from cold by instinctively seeking shelter in trees, natural rock formations and (in towns) buildings. This leads to a number of insects that are seen indoors only during the winter months. It’s important to realize what’s going on and how to recognize these often-interesting invaders when they show up in your account.


Polistes wasps 

Take my friend’s wasps. Paper wasps are the most common form of wasp in most Texas towns. The come in different colors and go by different names (e.g., red wasps, hornets, umbrella wasps); but all belong to the same wasp genus, Polistes. During summer months they can be recognized by their umbrella-like, paper nests that hang under eaves of houses, in sheds, and in trees. Polistes wasps do not enclose their nests with a paper envelope like hornets or yellowjackets; but they will sting anyone who gets too close or disturbs their nest. Every fall they exchange their paper nests for locations where they will be protected from ice and winter storms. Preferred sites are high points like chimneys, multifloored office buildings and towers.

Box elder bugs may enter homes in late
summer by the hundreds. 
Unlike summer-active wasps, overwintering paper wasps show little or no aggression. Without a nest to defend, wasps simply lack the instinct to sting. A fly swatter or vacuum are all that is needed to dispatch wasps safely. If my friend’s PMP had calmly put down his lapful of wasps and asked for the vacuum cleaner, no babies need have been evacuated.

Box Elder and Red-Shouldered Bugs 

Box elder and red-shouldered bugs (Boisea trivittata and Jadera haematoloma) are true bugs that feed on seeds of certain trees. They often become pests in later summer and fall when they seek protection from cold weather. To them, buildings must resemble big hollow trees, similar to what they would use for shelter in the woods. Control these insects by sealing doors and making sure window screens are tight and in good repair. Neither insect is damaging to the trees they feed on and they are mainly nuisances when they come indoors. During the summer box elder bugs will be found on box elder and maple trees. Red-shouldered bugs are feeders on soapberry, Chinaberry, golden raintree and other trees in the soapberry family.

Nipplegall Makers 

The hackberry nipplegall maker (Pachypsylla
celtidismamma) is common in homes, especially
where there is a nearby hackberry tree. 
Hackberry nipplegall makers are common wherever hackberry trees grow throughout Texas. These tiny (2 mm-long) insects are small enough to get through most window screens and any small openings in buildings. In the summer these insects form nipple-shaped galls on the leaves of hackberry and sugarberry trees. When they emerge by the thousands from their leafy homes in late summer they are commonly found indoors and especially around windowsills. The good news is that hackberry nipple-gall insects are pretty harmless. They do not bite, do not eat clothes and are a pest only because we don’t like little bugs in our homes.

Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles 

The multicolored Asian lady beetle
(Harmonia axyridis) has become a common
fall indoor pest in Texas homes.
One of the most annoying of the fall invader insects are multicolored Asian lady beetles. These large lady beetles are natives to China and have been causing homeowners headaches since the early 1990s when they first appeared in Texas. In their native Asian home, these lady beetles move into crevices in limestone bluffs in the fall. In the U.S. they are more likely to move into light-colored homes and buildings in wooded areas where the beetles feast on aphids during the summer. Caulking and sealing along roof lines and vacuuming up the (sometimes large) aggregations of beetles where they cluster indoors or in attics is the best solution.

Cricket Hunter Wasps 

The Texas cricket hunter wasp may be
one of the least well-known household
pests in Texas. 
Maybe the least widely recognized fall invader is what I call the Texas cricket hunter wasp. These medium-sized (1/2 inch), black wasps with dark wings can be found year-round but are most common indoors during warm days in the winter and spring. They are commonly seen actively climbing up and down walls of bathrooms and other living areas. So, what are these wasps doing in homes? In nature, female cricket-hunter wasps establish nest sites in holes in the ground, such as rodent burrows, and provision those holes with fresh crickets for their offspring. In urban areas the wasps substitute weep holes and cracks in soil under building foundations for nest sites. Hundreds or possibly thousands of crickets may be stashed under homes or in walls. During periods of warm weather, the wasps’ offspring that have fed on these dead crickets can emerge indoors in large numbers. For more information on these wasps, and how to deal with infestations, check out my online factsheet.

Wintertime may be slower for the pest control business in Texas, but there are still plenty of pests out there. It’s a sign of a true pest control professional to be familiar with the less commonly encountered pests--don’t be caught off-guard when that next winter pest challenge drops in your lap.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Upcoming classes in Dallas and Austin

Just a quick post to let readers know about a couple of pest control classes coming up soon, one in Dallas and one in Austin.

Dr. Bob Davis, BASF, has been teaching ACE Prep Classes
for more than ten years. I guarantee this will be one of the
best training classes you will attend this year.
On September 25 we still have room in our first Bed Bug Academy at the IPM Experience House in Dallas.  The class will cover basic bed bug biology and state of the art information on monitoring and control. The class will be taught by Mr. Alan Brown of ABC Home and Commercial Services in Austin, and myself.  It's an all day class (8:15 am to 5 pm) with CEUs and verifiable training hours for apprentices. Cost is only $60 preregistration. Class size is limited, so don't procrastinate. Registration, agenda, map and more information can be found at https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/productListingDetails/2913

For anyone who has considered becoming an Associate Certified Entomologist, ABC Home and Commercial Services in Austin is hosting an ACE Prep Class on October 1.  I've talked about this class in the past on Insects in the City blog, but if you are unfamiliar, this is a chance to either inspire your study or to do some last minute cramming before the test.  Even if you're not sure whether you want to be an ACE, the class provides an excellent overview of the technical side of being a pest management professional.  Led by Randy McCarty, myself and Dr. Bob Davis, this will be an intense but fun class. Best of all, there is no charge!  To get in there is no fancy registration, simply contact Randy McCarty and let him know you would like to attend (rmccarty@goanteater.com, 512-534-5772). The class will run from 8 am to 4 pm and will be held at ABC Home and Commercial Services office, 9475 East Highway 290, Austin, TX 78724.  Parking on the left side of building.

Remember you can never stop learning. The day you stop learning you might as well hang it up.