Monday, December 22, 2008

Recent ACE Prep Class in Houston

On December 11 I had the privilege once again to participate as an instructor in the 5th Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) prep class offered in Texas. As with previous classes, the course was sponsored by the Texas Pest Control Association and taught by myself and Dr. Bob Davis of BASF Specialty Products. This class was also co-taught with first-time lecturer Dr. Grady Glenn, pesticide applicator training specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

As any of the participants will tell you, this is a classic cram course. We cover topics ranging from a brief introduction to entomology and insect classification, to toxicology, laws and regulations and overviews of cockroach, WDI and rodent biology to just name a few. The pace is quick, but fun as the class interacts with instructors and gets a few pointers about test-taking.

The purpose of the class is to prepare participants to take the challenging ACE exam, one of the prerequisites for becoming an Associate Certified Entomologist. At the end of about 6 hours of cramming we offer the exam to anyone who has applied through ESA and registered to take the test that day.

I enjoy teaching this class because of the quality and enthusiasm of the participants, each of whom must have seven years of experience in the pest control business. The other thing I value, and I think participants do too, is the opportunity we have to review fundamentals--the whys behind many of the little rules and facts we learn in pest control. It's a chance to dig a little deeper than the typical CEU class, and much deeper than technician training.

Of course taking the class is no guarantee of passing the test. Our pass rate is typically 50-60%, though this class had a nearly 90% passing rate. We find that success is highest for those who review the study subjects prior to taking the class and exam. But most importantly, we find that the pass rate is 100% higher for those who take the test than those who think about it but never get around to signing up.

If you've thought about certification, but hesitate at the thought of taking a tough exam (it's been a long time for all of us since our last final exam), consider taking one of the ACE prep courses being offered around the state. The next class and exam will be offered at the B&G Chemical and Equipment Company workshop in Arlingtion, on January 22. Note that the Arlington venue is the only B&G venue that will be offering ACE prep training this year.

To learn more about the ACE or BCE certification programs, check out the Entomological Society of America's website at There are no official study guides, but the website offers a very detailed list of the subject matter that is covered by the exam. Two of the best study resources I recommend include the Truman's Scientific Guide to Pest Management, and the NPMA Field Guide to Structural Pests. I suggest focusing study time on topics you feel a little weak in. Stored product pests and pesticide classification are two subject areas where many applicants seem to struggle. Also, definitely take the sample exam on the ESA website. It gives you an authentic taste of what the real exam is like.

Successful candidates receive a certificate and uniform patch and earn the right to advertise themselves as Associate Certified Entomologists. In addition, ACEs receive the ESA Newsletter and have the option to register for ESA journals and meetings at discounted rates.

Congratulations to those of you who recently took and passed the exam. I look forward to seeing many more of you join the ACE ranks in the near future.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Look out for signs of drywood termites

A pile of drywood termite pellets at the base of this roof joist spells troubleDrywood termites are not a common problem in many parts of Texas, except along the coastal bend areas from Port Arthur to the lower Gulf coast. Nevertheless, drywood termites can show up anywhere in the state. For this reason, PMPs should always be on the alert for signs of these insects.

Drywood termites belong to a different insect family (Kalotermitidae) than the more common subterranean termite (Rhinotermitidae). One of the differences in this family is that all colony workers are immatures, and there is no true worker caste. Another difference is these termite's ability to conserve water and live with no direct soil contact.

One of the best clues that drywood termites are present in a home is the presence of many tiny, six-sided fecal pellets that are ejected from the colony by the termites, or which spill from damaged wood that has been exposed by probing or carpentry activity. The pellets themselves are easier to spot than the ejection holes; but once found, ejection holes can be used as a portal to inject foam or liquid termiticides into infested wood.Drywood termite pellets caught in a crevice above quarter-round molding.  Attention to detail, sharp eyes and a good flashlight are essential for spotting  signs of drywood termites.

Fecal pellets are often less than 1 mm long, and vary in color from light tan to reddish to black. Surprizingly, the color of the pellets seems unrelated to the color of the wood on which they feed. Look for pellets along molding in living areas, when conducting attic inspections, and around window areas. Wings are another sign of drywood termite activity. Look for termite wings in window areas or spider webs in the corners of attics or Drywood termite swarmer wings on a pull-down ladder to the attic of a home in Dallas, Texas.rooms.

Just because you've never seen drywood termites in your community before doesn't mean they aren't there. Away from the more temperate, humid areas of the state, where they swarm and spread naturally, most drywood termite infestations are imported by humans via furniture or construction lumber. Because these termites reproduce and feed more slowly than subterranean termites, it may take many years for the colony to mature and begin producing swarmers.

Drywood termites are a good example of a pest that may or may not be seen frequently in your area, but one that all pest management professionals should know something about. Keen eyes and an ability to spot things out of the ordinary are skills that will help separate you from your competition.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bed bugs pose threat to schools?

Some school districts are beginning to worry about bed bugs. About a year ago the Bracken County School District in Kentucky closed their doors for a day to make sure no stray bed bugs were left behind following a find of a single bed bug in classroom. The bug was supposed to have come from a student whose home had bed bugs.

This week the Columbus Dispatch, in Ohio, reports another panic over bed bugs in school classrooms. According to the article, "Researchers and public-health officials fear that tiny, brown, blood-sucking bedbugs are going to spread through schools."

Greg Kesterman, director of the environmental health division for Hamilton County Public Health (Cincinnati, OH, where bed bug problems are growing quickly) is quoted in this week's story as saying, "Anytime an insect has the potential to crawl on a person, and travel with (people), you're guaranteed that you'll see them showing up in a public facility." This is certainly true. Bed bugs have, and will, show up in schools from time to time, especially as infestations in homes become more common.

What I question is the followup worry that steps need to be taken to avoid a "large scale problem" in schools. Are bed bugs really another problem that schools need to be highly concerned about? I doubt it.

While you never want to underestimate nature's ability to cause mischief, the threat of bed bug infestations in schools should be minimal. Bed bugs are principally active in the dark (except in cases of heavy infestations--which would not be the case with the occasional, stealth introduction to a classroom). After dark they need a reliable source of blood to sustain a population and spread. Since people generally do not sleep in classrooms (with possible exception of short afternoon nap times in pre-school rooms), it would be tough going for a bed bug that slipped out of a backpack into a typical classroom from an infested home.

In my estimation there is little risk of actual bed bug infestations requiring treatment in a public school classrooms or auditoriums. Dorms are another issue of course. Also, the risk of one or two bed bugs emerging from of a child's backpack and infesting other kid's belonging is conceivable, but the risk is also probably low. Should PMPs, school nurses and school pest management staff know what a bed bug looks like, and something about its biology and behavior? Sure. Should schools fear they are going to spread through schools and cause a citizen panic? No way.

Cockroaches are far more likely to migrate from a child's backpack and find "Southern Living" in a classroom. And backpack smuggling of cockroaches is at best a minor or occasional source of cockroach infestations in school classrooms.