Friday, November 6, 2015

Biting mite makes a fall appearance

Gravid female (left) and two more oak leaf itch mites (top and
lower center) feeding on the (brownish) larvae of a gall-making fly,
Macrodiplosis erubescens. The balloon-like structure on the female
is the swollen abdomen full of eggs. Photo by Rick Grantham,
OK State University.
It's a wise PMP who can diagnose what's biting himself and his customers. But given that some biting pests are obscure this is no easy skill to develop.  In the latest issue of Pest Alerts from the Entomology Department at Oklahoma State University, entomologist Justin Talley reports finding evidence of a biting pest that has not been seen in Oklahoma or Texas for over ten years.

The oak leaf itch mite, Pyemotes herfsi, is cousin to the straw itch mite--a predatory mite often associated with stored grain and stored grain insects, and known to bite people who come in contact with infested grain (if you've never heard of this or straw itch mite, check out the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control). It was first reported in the U.S. from Kansas in 2004, a year when the mite was unusually abundant and resulted in thousands of biting complaints from people working and playing outdoors. That same year the mite was found in Nebraska, Missouri and here in Texas.

The mite's normal home is inside of leaf galls found on trees, and it is best known from marginal leaf curl galls caused by a midge (Macrodiplosis erubescens) on oaks. It may be equally at home in other types of galls on different trees.  The problem with this mite seems to occur mostly in late summer and fall, when mites are prone to dropping from trees.  Although the mites are principally predators on insects, if they come in contact with skin they will bite, leaving a painful, itchy welt. For more information on the mites click here for a Nebraska fact sheet.

Bites from the oak leaf itch mite are typically seen on the neck
or shoulder region of people who have been outdoors under
trees with galls.
This little mite has a history in Texas too.  In October, 2004 the Dallas area had what was believed to be a mini-outbreak of these mites, when Dallas County Health and Human Services received a number of complaints from schools concerning "bug bites" among students and staff--apparently from playgrounds.  At that time DCHHS staff and I sampled leaves from a number of school campus trees and isolated a single oak leaf itch mite, confirming at least the presence of these mites in north Texas. The rash of bite cases was assumed due to this mite by DCHHS in its December 2004 monthly report of epidemiology activity.  No remarkable incidents of these bite complaints have recurred since 2004, although a few suspect calls have been received this year.

These mites are very small (0.2 mm-long) and difficult to find.  Bites, when they occur, tend to be around necks and shoulders, implying that the mites bite when they land, and do not crawl much on the skin before biting, like ticks or chiggers.

Complaints about mystery bites are one of the most common and frustrating calls for PMPs.  But if the complaints come from a client who has been spending time outdoors, and especially under trees that are shedding their leaves, this is one critter to keep in mind.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Training site has big ambitions

I just had the opportunity to check out the new distance learning website sponsored by PCT magazine.  I think it offers a good training option for PMPs, and has tremendous potential as a way to ensure your technicians are familiar with labels of products used by your company.

Under the Find A Course pulldown window you have
the option to take any of over 25 different label modules.
According to the site's author, Stoy Hedges, the site became active last August and will be free to anyone for the first two years.  After that time, the site should have a good mix of vetted training courses, and PCT will begin charging a modest monthly fee in exchange for offering courses for CEU credit in your state.

Right now lessons simply consist of label review courses.  So for example, if you want to ensure that your technicians are familiar with the Bayer Suspend® Polyzone label, have them take the review course and exam.  A certificate they print out after completing the course provides proof that they have read the label (possibly several times) and have passed an exam to show comprehension over the label contents.

Eventually the course will expand to include most of the popular pesticide labels and other subject matter including the contents of the PCT field guide series.  Hedges envisions 40 courses alone based on the PCT Field Guide to Ants.

"We have 400 current subscribers; but there are 100,000 pest professionals out there that we want to reach," he said. Hedges designed the site for training new and experienced technicians, but the current label modules are a great way for any pesticide user to learn a new label or get a refresher course for an older product.  The reviews are so thorough that one user reported that after taking the class he better understood his own company's insecticide...for which he wrote the label!

Wave of the future?

It's yet to be seen whether this type of training format will come to dominate the way we do continuing education in the future.  Online courses are certainly not the same as having a human instructor. But it does offer rigor that is sometimes missing from a one-hour continuing education class.

In Texas the Structural Pest Control Service does not yet allow online training classes to substitute for face-to-face CEUs.  But this may slowly be changing.  The Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee last year gave favorable input to the idea of allowing online CEUs for PMPs at least every other year; however I notice the new regulations filed in the Texas Register on September 4 (and open for comment until October 18) did not address any rule changes in this regard.

No one has a bigger stake in face-to-face training than me and my colleagues. Our entomology department faculty offer CEU classes to thousands of applicators every year.  These classes provide us with a personal connection to the industry, not to mention some financial support for our programs. But we support online training, and don't see it as a threat to the many conferences and face-to-face classes we offer. I don't think any online course can fully replace sitting with trained experts sharing knowledge and personal experiences and answering questions in real time.  But I like the idea of allowing applicators to get CEUs online every other year as a nice compromise.  It would make getting CEUs quicker and more convenient for many who choose that technology, but would preserve face-to-face training.

For better or worse, the wheels of change can move very slowly in our state. Perhaps in two years, by the time the PCT site is up and fully running, Texas will catch up with the rest of the world.  Meantime, sites like the PCT Distance Learning Classroom provide a great way to hone your skills and make sure your technicians know pesticide labels as well as if they had helped write them.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Integrated Pest Management Seminar Nov 5

This year's Fall Integrated Pest Management Seminar will be held November 5 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center on Coit Road in north Dallas.  Registration is online and can be accessed by clicking here.

This year we are especially pleased to have two guest speakers coming from College Station: Dr. Kevin Ong and Mr. Mark Dyks.  In his role as director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, Dr. Ong is at the center of the maelstorm involving new and emerging plant disease problems.  He'll bring us up to date on what to look for and available treatment options.

This may be the last Fall Pest Management Seminar held in the
venerable Pavilion building (Building C).  Construction is
expected to begin on a new Research and Extension building in
2016.  Goodbye to those good old yellow chairs!
Mark Dyks is the new(ish) Chief Apiary Inspector for the Texas Apiary Inspection Service housed outside the main campus at Texas A&M University.  He will be talking honey bees and what steps we can take to protect them from pesticides and other risk factors in the urban landscape.

In addition, our own Janet Hurley will bring updates about changes to pesticide rules in Texas and on the national scene; Dr. Matt Elmore will share exciting news about new turf varieties and how they might influence weed management in the future; and I will speak about aspects of ant management and the prospects for new ant pests on the horizon.

If you haven't been to one of our workshops before, we offer 5 CEUs for both TDA and Structural Pest Control Service license holders. We tend to focus on pest management in turf and ornamental plantings, though structural pest control professionals can get their Pest, L&O, and Weed CEUs here as well.

All of our attendees have grown used to the Pavilion facilities at the Dallas Center.  And every fall and spring we get asked when we will replace the hard yellow fiberglass chairs for something more comfortable.  I can't really answer that question, but this may be our last big event in the concrete-floored building with the uncomfortable seating.  A new Research and extension facility is in the works, and with it possibly more comfortable seating options.  Personally, I've grown to love the old building and will be a little sad to see it go.

This is the first workshop we've had since our spring 2015 event that was preceded by bad weather.  If you were among those who registered but were unable to attend, we've got something for you!  Conference Services has arranged to have your registration fees applied to the Fall Seminar.  You should be receiving an email shortly from that office asking you to confirm your attendance this fall.

We look forward to seeing you, our fall friends, in a few weeks.  Because of the short notice, we ask that you register quickly.  We want to save you a yellow chair.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bee removal workshop Oct 9

Honey bee hive removal is an essential part of eliminating
bees from a structure.  
Honey bee removal from structures has proven to be a valuable niche market for many pest control companies. But this type of work involves more than putting on a bee suit and squirting a spray can.  Professional honey bee removal requires knowledge of bee behavior, knowing how to efficiently locate and open walls and floors, and how to remove and/or relocate nests. In addition there are important legal requirements that affect persons doing bee removal.

If you're interested in adding honey bee removal services to your business, you might be interested in a hands-on class being offered next month at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas.  We are now accepting applicants for the class being held at the IPM Experience House on October 9.  Instructors include Charles Adams, of Adams Bee Removal in Sherman, TX, and Lauren Ward of the Honey Bee Lab at Texas A&M University.

Charles Adams serves as school IPM Coordinator for Sherman ISD.  He has extensive experience in pest control, wildlife control and bee removal, and will be conducting a live bee removal from the walls of our very own IPM Experience House.  If the removal goes as planned, bees will be removed alive and set up in a new hive box. Bee preservation and extermination options will be discussed.

Lauren Ward is a Texas A&M University student working under the supervision of Dr. Juliana Rangel of the Department of Entomology and the Honey Bee Lab at Bryan, Texas.  Lauren is a frequent teacher of bee-related topics, and will provide information on bee biology and behavior and legal and practical issues surrounding the protection of bees.

Participants in the class will watch a honey bee hive extraction indoors and are asked to bring a bee suit or an extra long-sleeved shirt and gloves (optional).  We will provide you with a head veil, if you do not have one.

Topics to be covered:
  • Introduction to the Honey Bee – Lauren Ward 
    • History and background of honey bees 
    • Basic honey bee biology and behavior 
    • Are honey bees endangered? 
    • Licensing and legal issues honey bee removal and insecticide use  
  • Lunch (box lunch provided)
  • Suit up and honey bee removal from IPM Experience House -- Charles Adams
    • Safety equipment for working around bees
    • Locating the hidden hive
    • Hive removal options
    • Moving bees to a hive box
    • Cleanup
    • The importance of bee proofing
The class runs from 10 am to approximately 3 pm, Friday, October 9.  Cost for the class is $75 before Oct 8 and includes a box lunch. Late registration is $90 after October 7.  Register for the class online at   Class size is limited, so don't delay.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

One less pest to worry about...the hobo spider

This news is not something you are going to find anywhere else on the Internet. Rather it concerns something you will no longer find on the Internet.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control quietly removed hobo spider from its website on venomous spiders.  This goes back to a story previously blogged about on Insects in the City, namely that there appears to be no verified scientific evidence that hobo spider as a cause of necrotic bites in humans. Nevertheless, until now, the CDC continued to list hobo spider as a cause of venomous bites on its website.

The hobo spider (Eratigena agrestis) is a common house
spider in Europe, where there is no history of
human envenomization.
According to Colorado State University Extension entomologist, Whitney Cranshaw, "This is a... long overdue, but very welcome change. A large amount of scientific evidence had accumulated over the past 15 years that utterly refutes the claims of the original 1991 study that purported to make a link between slow healing wounds and the bites of this spider."

According to Cranshaw, over the past year the American Arachnological Society and others have petitioned the CDC to remove hobo spider from its web page.

Sometimes referred to as the aggressive house spider, the hobo spider is a European import that has established itself over the past century in the Pacific Northwest, from Washington to Colorado. Following a flurry of publicity in the early 1990s, it was thought to be an explanation for brown recluse like symptoms sometimes reported from this part of the country, where brown recluse is not found. This information even found its way into some pest control guide books.

Despite fears in the U.S. the spider has no history of association with necrotic bites in Europe, and repeated experimentation in recent years could not replicate skin lesions supposedly associated with its bite.

Cranshaw bemoans the fact that it will still be a long time before all the hobo spider misinformation on the Internet fades, but in the meantime you and your customers can sleep a little easier. There is one less pest to worry about.

For more information

Anyone who wishes to look into this issue in more depth may be interested in this bibliography compiled by Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, of articles concerning Eratigena agrestis as a medically important spider.

Original articles suggesting Eratigena (formerly known as Tegenaria) agrestis is a medically important species 
  • Akre, R. D., and E. A. Myhre. 1991. Biology and medical importance of the aggressive house spider,Tegenaria agrestis, in the Pacific Northwest (Arachinida: Araneae: Agelenidae). Melanderia 47: 1–30. 
  • Vest, D. K. 1987a. Necrotic arachnidism in the northwest United States and its probable relationship toTegenaria agrestis (Walckenaer) spiders. Toxicon 25: 175–184. 
  • Vest, D. K. 1987b. Short communications envenomation by Tegenaria agrestis (Walckenaer) spiders in rabbits. Toxicon 25: 221–224. 
  • Vest, D. K. 1993. Differential diagnoses of necrotic arachnidism in the northwestern United States. Am. Arachnol. Soc. 48: 10 (Abstr.). 
  • Vest, D. K. 1996. Necrotic arachnidism-Pacific Northwest, 1988–1996. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 275:1870–1871. 
Articles refuting the purported association of Eratigena (=Tegenaria) agrestis as a source of necrotic arachnidism (skin disfiguring spider bites)
  • Binford G.J. 2001. An analysis of geographic and intersexual chemical variation in venoms of the spider Tegenaria agrestis (Agelenidae). Toxicon, 39:955-968. 
  • Vetter R.S., Roe A.H., Bennett R.G., et al. 2003. Distribution of the medically-implicated hobo spider (Araneae: Agelenidae) and a benign congener, Tegenaria duellica, in the United States and Canada. Journal of Medical Entomology, 40:159-164. 
  • Vetter R.S. 2004. Causes of Necrotic Wounds other than Brown Recluse Spider Bites. University of California Riverside. Last accessed August 19, 2011. 
  • Vetter R.S. and Isbister G.K. 2004. Do Hobo Spider Bites Cause Dermonecrotic Injuries? Annals of Emergency Medicine. December, 44:6. 
  • Melissa M. Gaver-Wainwright, Richard S. Zack, Matthew J. Foradori,3and Laura Corley Lavine. 2011. Misdiagnosis of Spider Bites: Bacterial Associates, Mechanical Pathogen Transfer, and Hemolytic Potential of Venom from the Hobo Spider,Tegenaria agrestis (Araneae: Agelenidae) . Journal of Medical Entomology 48(2):382-388. doi: 
  • Bennett, R. G. 2002. Hyperbole and hysteria on the path to enlightenment: a review of current Tegenaria projects of relevance to Canadian arachnologists. Can. Arachnol. Newsl. 4–10. 
  • Bennett, R. G. 2004. An approach to spider bites: erroneous attribution of dermonecrotic lesions to brown recluse or hobo spider bites in Canada. Can. Fain. Physician 50: 1098–1101. 
  • Benoit, R., and J. R. Suchard. 2006. Necrotic skin lesions: spider bite—or something else? Consultant 46: 1386–1394. 
  • Bettini, S., and P. M. Brignnoli. 1978. Review of the spider families, with notes on the lesser known poisonous forms. In S. Bettinik (ed.), Arthropod Venoms, Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology. Springer-Verlang,Berlin, Germany. 
  • Isbister, G. K. 2004. Necrotic arachnidism: the mythology of a modern plague. J. Lancet 364: 549–553. 
  • Vetter, R. S., and G. K. Isbister. 2004. Do hobo spider bites cause dermonecrotic injuries? Ann. Emerg. Med. 44: 605– 607. 
  • Vetter, R. S., and G. K. Isbister. 2008. Medical aspects of spider bites. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 53: 409–429.

Friday, September 4, 2015

New Study Guide for ACE Exam

A little over a year ago, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) asked if I would be interested in helping assemble a study guide for PMPs preparing to take the Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) exam.  The idea for a formal study guide had been kicked around for several years because of the frequent requests by PMPs for help knowing how to prepare for the test.  I think at that time we all envisioned a brief outline of some of the key points one would have to study to successfully pass the ACE exam.  After discussions with my future co-author, the energetic and highly competent Richard Levine, we began to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.  It turns out that there is a lot of stuff to know if you are going to be an ACE.  As a result, the book kept growing to its final size of over 200 pages.

This week ESA began accepting orders for the new study guide. IPM for the Urban Professional: A Study Guide for the Associate Certified Entomologist is available at an introductory price of $69 for ACEs or ESA members through the ESA website. Cost for ACE applicants is $49 with the introductory price.

If you are already a BCE or ACE and would like to put on a prep class for employees or fellow PMPs in your area ESA is offering a deal.  You get a free copy of the book with a purchase of 10 or more study guides for your prep class. I know this sounds a little like a late night TV ad, but WHILE SUPPLIES LAST early orders will receive a free copy of the Handbook of Household and Structural Pests, edited by Roger Gold and Susan Jones. I value this book on my shelf not just because of the detailed pest information, but also because of the useful cross references it provides for deeper study.

We knew from the beginning that the ACE study guide was no substitute for a good field guide like Smith and Whitman's NPMA Field Guide to Structural Pests.  And it doesn't carry the detail and documentation you find in the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control.  But I think we did a pretty good job of reviewing key concepts of IPM and the science of entomology, and how they apply to pest control. After having read most of the handbooks for PMPs, I think this one covers some new ground and provides just enough detail to help you face the ACE exam with confidence.

The study guide went to press yesterday, and will be officially available at PestWorld 2015 in Nashville.

Friday, August 21, 2015

School time and that means L.I.C.E.

Head lice are not your typical pests.  For one thing, they largely afflict children. For another, they have very short lives off their host, so are not considered structural pests. Yet PMPs and school IPM coordinators are frequently asked questions or asked to help with head louse infestations.  So I think it's important for the pest control community to know something about these insects, and the latest treatment options.

When my daughter was in second grade she came home from school with head lice. My wife was horrified, but I have to admit I was a little excited.  "My chance to get experience killing head lice," I thought.  But after the third shampoo treatment, and head lice still showing up, it wasn't fun anymore. Perseverance, and lots of time with the louse comb finally got rid of the problem; but it left me with a greater respect for the head louse as a worthy opponent.

With the new school year, we expect new cases of head lice. And according to a new paper delivered at the American Chemical Society and reported this week in, this year's head lice are running with a tougher crowd. In the paper by Kyong Sup Yoon, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Texas is among 25 states tested so far and shown to have head louse populations that are resistant to the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) head louse shampoo treatments: pyrethrins and permethrin.  In fact, most of the samples tested by Yoon and colleagues (104 out of 109 samples) showed resistance to OTC louse treatments.

If you work with school nurses at a school district, or are asked by customers about lice treatment, or are simply a parent yourself, it pays to be familiar with the latest treatment options for head lice.  After all, these aren't your mother's lice.

First, many lice problems can still be handled with OTC products. Keeping IPM in mind, however, multiple methods (insecticide plus mechanical control in this instance) are always better than one. Louse combs are a great second tool in the parents' tool box.  These fine toothed combs allow hair to pass between the tines, but not lice. Combing should always be done in combination with use of a louse shampoo.

In addition, new treatment options for lice are now available through your doctor.  These products include ivermectin (Sklice®), spinosad (Natroba™), and benzyl alcohol (Ulesfia®).  These products will likely be more expensive, you you might want to try the OTC route + combing first.  But it's always good to have options.  A recent review article by Drs. Cynthia Devore and Gordon Schutze in the journal Pediatrics does a nice job of reviewing these as well as other options for treating children for head lice.

Devore and Gordon also address the current recommendations for how schools should handle control including whether children should be screened, how to manage a child on the day lice are detected, and whether children should be restricted from school (they argue no).  This paper could be an especially useful resource pass on to your school nurse if you work for a school district.

To spray or not to spray

So are environmental sprays needed to help control head lice infestations in a school or home?  One can certainly find pesticides labeled for environmental louse control. Most professionals say no, sprays are not necessary.

Transfer of lice on furniture from one person to another can certainly occur.  I remember a day when my daughter had head lice.  She was reading a book in our living room chair when she got up to go outside.  I started to take her place when I noticed a live and hungry-looking head louse on the chair back where her head had been pressed.

Despite the occasional transfer of lice via furniture or bedding in this way, spraying of such items is not recommended.  Head to head contact, sharing of combs, scarves and hats during play, are far more important means of transmission; and spraying will not help stop these activities. Simple washing of hats, pillowcases and clothing is a safer and more effective means of dis-infesting these items than pesticide sprays.

Keep in mind that these tiny insects have a very short life span once they are off the human head. Head lice are highly sensitive to desiccation, and according to the CDC live no more than 1-2 days off of a host. Any head lice lurking on a bean bag chairs or coat rack in a classroom, therefore, will not survive a weekend in an empty classroom.

So let's leave treatment of head lice to doctors and parents. But let's be ready to offer advice and provide resources for customers and colleagues battling these adaptable pests.  For more information on head lice see our Extension publication on head lice.