Thursday, May 30, 2013

ACE program growing and getting better

The Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) program is growing in both numbers and maturity. This year has already been a banner year with the roll of Associate Certified Entomologists exceeding 640 and even a new Facebook page.
ACE Prep class held last fall at the Texas A&M AgriLife
Center in Dallas

Although I can't seem to get the hang of Facebook, many of you do it quite well.  So Facebook users, check it out, like it, and encourage the good folks at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) who are trying out  new ways to communicate with the ACE community.

Also, Chris Stelzig, manager of certification programs at ESA, has started a new service he calls  "Certified Science."  This is a blog, and a great way to keep up on the latest research that concerns urban entomology.  He lists urban entomology publications that have recently appeared in ESA journals, and provides a link to the abstracts. If after reading the abstract, you find that you want to learn more, you can sometimes find free copies of the full articles online, or else purchase a copy.  Certified Science is a service of the  for all Associate Certified Entomologists (ACEs) and Board Certified Entomologists (BCEs) who hold a specialty in urban and industrial entomology.

If you read my recent post on the ESA annual conference, you know that another advantage of certification is discounted registration for that meeting. Besides all the interesting talks, papers and posters, the Certification program has its annual Board meeting and certification program business meeting at the annual conference.  Show up once or twice and you might find yourself getting more involved with the program.

If you haven't taken the plunge, but are interested in certification, now may be the time. David Henderson, with Spring ISD in the Houston area, is organizing an ACE Prep Class this summer.  I and others will be conducting a day's review of the materials covered in the ACE exam.  If you have been studying and have already applied, paid your fees and been approved by ESA, we can give you the exam late in the afternoon.  It's a convenient way to take the exam with a group of fellow PMPs and a built in proctor.  Of course you don't have to take the exam.  The class can serve either as a kickoff for studying for the exam, or as a pre-exam review and confidence builder.  

The class will be held on July 11 at the Spring ISD Transportation Facility, 341A East Richey Road, Houston, TX 77073.  We start at 8:30 am and prep until about 2:30 pm.  The exam is offered from 3-5 pm. If you are interested contact David at Cost is estimated to be $50 to cover my travel expenses (the larger the class, the lower the cost).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A unique opportunity for Texas IPM professionals

In case you haven't already heard, Texas gets to play host to a major event in the world of entomology and pest control this year.  The annual conference of the Entomological Society of America will be held November 10-13 in Austin.  The theme of this year's meeting is Science Impacting a Connected World, and approximately 3,000 entomologists from all over the world are expected to attend.

Many of you might be asking, "What's in it for me?"  In my opinion, plenty. The ESA meeting draws urban entomologists from all over the country to hear the latest in structural pest control research and activities. For a taste of the kind of information that you can hear at ESA, check out my past posts on ESA meeting highlights. In recent years ESA has become very welcoming to the pest control industry, even to the point of sponsoring special sessions for ACEs and other PMPs.

Rates for attending the meeting include early bird and on-site  registrations.  If you register before September 23,  ACEs can register for for $455 (comparable to the member rate of $430). Others pay $635 for early-bird and $765 for late registration. The meeting will be held at the Austin Convention Center.

This year the Texas IPM Affiliates for Public Schools (TIPMAPS) will be holding their annual meeting jointly with ESA. The TIPMAPS group is Texas' professional association for Public School IPM Coordinators.  They and Texas A&M University will be sponsoring a day-long program called Under the Lens, a CEU granting educational program and annual meeting featuring entomologists speaking on various topics including delusions of parasitosis, mosquitoes, pyrethroid label changes and fire ants, bed bugs, and rodent management around schools.  Advanced registration for the day is $100 (includes lunch) and $125 for on site registration. Although the program is designed for school IPM professionals, PMPs should also find the presentations and speakers of great interest. Registrants for the program will get access to the meeting exhibits and limited access to some of the scientific paper sessions. If you are interested in registering, or just want to learn more, click here.

Besides the TIPMAP event, a few of the symposia and paper sessions at the ESA meeting that might be of special interest to PMPs include:
  • Applied Research on Bed Bug Management
  • Arthropod Associated Allergy 
  • Healthy Schools: Research, Benefits and Impacts in the Classroom 
  • The Impact of Repellent Research and Development of New Arthropod Repellents 
  • Chagas Disease in the USA? A New Risk?  
  • Transmitting Mosquito Information: From Laboratory to Surveillance and Management in the Field 
  • How Cool is Entomology? 
  • Red Imported Fire Ants: Global Approaches to a Global Invasive Species 
  • Stored Product Entomology: Impacts on a Connected World 
  • Urban Entomology Presented Papers
  • Medical/Veterinary Presented Papers
  • Informal Conference on Insects of Ornamentals
  • Click here for a full listing of special symposia topics
Though some of the papers are highly technical, most of the urban entomology sessions should be accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of entomology and an interest to see the latest science behind the craft. I hope many of you will consider attending. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Identifying Formosan termites

Formosan termites swarm around a streetlight in Metairie,
LA on May 22, 2013. (Mark Schleifstein, | The
Late May, around Mother's Day is traditionally when Formosan termites tend to swarm in both Texas and Louisiana.  I was reminded of this when someone sent me a link to last night's New Orleans Times Picayune report of readers' images of the "swarms" (these amateur photographers catch some pretty dramatic images--check them out).

While I know of no Texas community that experiences Formosan termites to the same degree as New Orleans, these termites are established in many locations in Texas.  So all Texas PMPs should be familiar with what to look for.

Coptotermes alates (swarmers) are yellowish to orange in
color and larger than Reticulitermes species.
Here are the basics for Formosan termite, Coptotermes formosanus, identification and how to distinguish them from other subterranean and drywood termites:
  • Look for termites that swarm at night rather than in the day.  Our native subterranean termites, the Reticulitermes species, are daytime swarmers; Coptotermes and some of our native drywood termites (Incisitermes) swarm at night.
  • Coptotermes termites are larger (body 6-8 mm) than Reticulitermes (body 3-5 mm) and are a pale yellow to orange color. Both Reticulitermes and Incisitermes can have dark (reddish brown to black) bodies. 
  • Coptotermes wings are distinctive.  They have two strong veins along the leading edge of the forewing, similar to Reticulitermes. But where Reticulitermes wings are hairless, Coptotermes wings are covered with many hairs.  Incisitermes have four major veins at the base of the forewing, and multiple branches between the leading veins in the forewing.
If you are in Texas and suspect you have found Formosan termites, you can send specimens to my office, following directions posted here.  I am especially interested in knowing about Formosan-infested locations in north Texas.  For more information about Formosan termites, see Extension publication E-367.

Coptotermes wings have two very prominent veins along the
leading edge of the forewing. The entire wing is covered with
very fine hairs visible under 12X to 25X magnification.

Reticulitermes wings have two stronger veins along the
leading edge of the forewing. Other wing veins, however, are
also prominent and there are no noticeable hairs on the wing

Incisitermes forewings have four branching veins at the base.
The forth vein has multiple branches along its length. Some
species have dark wings.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Honey bees at center of controversy

Neonicotinoids are toxic to bees and other
pollinators, especially when sprayed directly.
Applications of neonicotinoids directly to
flowering plants during daylight hours should
be avoided, per label directions.
What could present a more peaceful, bucolic image than the scene of beekeepers tending their bee hives? Beekeepers are traditionally seen as the gentlest of agriculturalists, not killing anything for food but merely reaping the labor of an industrious insect in exchange for nurture and protection.  Yet there is little peaceful about the verbal and political battle swirling about beekeepers and honey bees at the moment.

In case you haven't heard, the domestic bee industry in the U.S. and in other countries around the world was hit hard in 2006 with puzzling bee and colony losses, since referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  In a typical year beekeepers expect to lose 10-15% of their colonies to disease and various stresses.  Since CCD arrived, colony losses have averaged 30% each winter, a significant increase.  Despite dire headlines warning of the doom of agriculture, according to one 2012 report, the costs of CCD to consumers so far seem to be minimal and honey bee colony losses have been compensated for effectively by beekeepers themselves.

Nevertheless, something seems wrong with the world if bees are dying. And when a possible cause of bee declines is a pesticide, the debate is sure to get lively.

The USDA, university researchers and EPA have been mostly united for several years in the position that CCD is the result of multiple causes including parasites, lack of nectar source diversity, diseases, and overworked bees.  However some recent research on neonicotinoid insecticides has raised alarm bells for critics, and has even led to a temporary ban on this group of insecticides in Europe. The research in question includes laboratory studies with bees and field studies with bumblebees, thought to be more sensitive to insecticides than honey bees because of their smaller colony size.

The smoking gun for environmentalists opposed to neonicotinoids came in the form of studies reported last year that show that one of the sub-lethal effects of low exposure neonicotinoids include loss of the bees' sophisticated ability to find their way back home. This loss of homing ability would account for one of the more distinctive symptoms of CCD, namely colonies that slowly decline with no signs of dead bees around the hive. Other forms of colony decline typically include dead bees around the colony entrance.

While there is no doubt that neonicotinoids are toxic to bees at high enough doses, scientists are still divided on the question of whether bees that forage on neonicotinoid-treated crops are exposed to high enough levels of toxicant to suffer from flight disorientation, and whether there is even a correlation between CCD and neonicotinoid use. Indeed, in some parts of the world where neonicotinoids are extensively used, such as Australia, CCD is not reported to be a problem.

If you work in the pest control industry, by now you should be asking yourself the question, "If my company uses neonicotinoids on a customer's property, are we harming our community's bee populations?"  No one wants to be a bee killer.

If scientists who study bees are divided on the cause of bee risks from pesticides, it's likely that the answer to this question will be complex. But here are some points that might be useful as you consider how to handle this issue within your own company, and in discussing these insecticides with your customers.

  • Both the USDA and EPA recently issued a report summarizing positions that CCD is a result of multiple factors, not just pesticides. 
  • All labels are approved on the basis that when used according to label directions the pesticide must  not pose unreasonable adverse to humans or the environment, including honey bees.  The EPA has recently reviewed registrations for some of these insecticides and stands by its risk/benefit assessment that these products can be used safely if the label is followed.
  • While research is suggestive of a potential risk to bees from agricultural uses of neonicotinoids, the case is far from proven. And so far, to my knowledge, no credible sources have suggested that urban residential uses of neonicotinoids pose any unusual risk to bee colonies in urban areas. 
  • The greatest potential risk to bees from neonicotinoids appears to be in agricultural settings, where bee colonies are exposed to large acreages of treated plants.  The diversity of plants and the relatively low use of pesticides in urban settings argues for lower potential risks in residential and commercial landscapes.
  • Although neonicotinoids, like most nervous system toxins, are relatively toxic to birds, there is no pattern of bird deaths associated with appropriate use of neonicotinoids, as claimed by some.
  • Neonicotinoid insecticides are moderately low in toxicity to people and mammals due to some unique nerve junction differences between us and insects. Just because an insecticide is toxic to bees doesn't mean that it has broad ecological toxicity. 
  • Use of neonicotinoid sprays should be avoided on flowering plants during daylight hours.  Bees are at high risk when sprayed directly, or if they contact wet spray deposits.  In residential and commercial landscapes, neonicotinoids can often be applied effectively through root injection, greatly minimizing risks to pollinators like bees.
If your company includes neonicotinoids in its IPM toolbox, take a look at how you are using these products. If you are using products like Premise®, Merit® or Optigard® outdoors, are you restricting sprays to non-plant surfaces, plant root zones and soil?  Are your technicians aware of the risks and possible negative public perceptions of neonicotinoids, and are they well-informed enough to communicate how your company minimizes environmental risks when they are used?

Neonicotinoids are effective and valuable insecticides for a variety of structural and landscape pests. For some landscape pests there are no highly effective alternatives. It's up to all of us to ensure that these products are used safely and in accordance with label instructions. Good product stewardship is essential if we want to keep the use of neonicotinoids and maintain a "green" reputation in our communities.
NOTE: Neonicotinoid insecticides are a relatively new class of systemic insecticides that make up approximately 20% of the global pesticide market. The first neonicotinoid to be introduced to the pest control market in the U.S. was Premise®, the first non-repellent termiticide.  The active ingredient in Premise®, imidacloprid, remains at the center of the CCD controversy because of its widespread use in agriculture and in the ornamental landscape market.  Other common neonicotinoids mentioned in the bee controversies include chlothianidin (Arena®), thiamethoxam (Optigard®), and to a lesser extent, acetamiprid (Transport®).  Neonicotinoids are important insecticides for the control of termites, fleas, and bed bugs, and outdoors against sap-feeding insects such as scales, aphids and whiteflies.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fifth Anniversary for Insects in the City

Five years is a long time in the world of the Internet.  Five years ago there was no iPhone with GPS.  The iPad was still on the drawing boards of Silicon Valley, and the Apple App store was introducing a unique idea for consumers--adding apps to your phone to help you do everything from buying movie tickets to finding a nearby restaurant, to timing and tracking a morning run.  The Android system was just introduced by T-Mobile in 2008, and George Bush was still President.

So imagine my surprise when my computer told me that today marks a big anniversary. Five years ago I posted my first blog for Insects in the City. This post marks my 280th blog post...maybe not that many for many more prolific bloggers, but a lot for me.  At the time I started I didn't know if I could keep up with a regular blog, nor did I even know exactly what a blog was. During the past five years I've come to appreciate the power and usefulness of this form of social media.

I've learned from writing, and reading other cyber-bloggers, that blogs are a great way to learn from people who have the time to sift through all the noise in one little corner of the world and tell you what's important (or at least what they think is important). This is a significant service in this age of information overload. I encourage you to seek out other bloggers who focus on topics that interest you, and subscribe.  I may not know a lot about how to run a pest control business, but I know a few things about the pests that keep you in business (I have to sift through lots of information related to pests and IPM daily). One of my goals in blogging is to save you some time keeping up with changes in the science of pest control.

A blog serves as a great place to store and organize information. I frequently refer people to old posts on subjects like how long bed bugs can live without a blood meal, identification and control of carpet beetles, and how to identify whether a snake skin is from a venomous snake.  And I frequently look stuff up from my old posts when I need to refer to forgotten links or facts. In case you haven't tried it, try using the search button in the upper left portion of the home page for Insects in the City.  There's a decent chance you may find an old post that can help you solve a pest problem.

One thing I didn't expect to do when I started a blog was to tell about the passing of personal friends in the pest control industry. Friendships are one of the best things about this industry, and I've been privileged to get to know many of you. Saying goodbye is sometimes made a little easier by being able to write about good people like Grady Glenn or Don Stroope or Jeff Seabrook.

Of course we've had fun too. I've enjoyed sharing creative videoscartoons, and even a little Simpsons.  I hope you've enjoyed some of these as much as I have sharing them.

Most of all, I have enjoyed hearing from many of you about how you've found information here to be helpful or entertaining in some way. Feedburner, the internet website counter, tells me that 321 of you now subscribe to Insects in the City. I consider it an honor that so many of you are willing to let me stuff your email boxes with my slanted perspective on the world of pest control.

So thanks to you readers.  Without you I would have stopped writing a long time ago.  I look forward to sharing with you and learning with you for another five years.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Rutger's Bed Bug Videos

Rutger's University, in cooperation with the U.S. EPA and the Northeastern IPM Center has been slowly building a library of instructional videos, fact sheets, PowerPoints and research reports on bed bugs. These resources are now available online at the Rutger's University Bed Bug home page.  Videos range from basic information for homeowners to detailed information for professionals.  The video link above is perhaps the longest video in the library, a detailed set of bed bug control tips and suggestions.

The shorter, IPM-oriented video that you'll find on the video tab at this site is for a broader audience.  Rick Cooper, one of the site's developers, says, "We are using the seven-minute video to train housing managers, staff and residents.  The video delivers the messages in a concise manner that keeps their attention as much, and sometimes more, than an in-person presentation.

I believe even experienced professionals will find something they can use on this site.  Even if you know all the subject matter, these videos can be used in training with your customers and new technicians.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Undercover Boss

John Wilson on Undercover Boss airs Friday
night on CBS. Photo:
As a former Orkin employee many years ago, what I would have given to have the president of the company to ride around with me for a day.

Wait.  Who am I kidding?  I would have been scared to death.  Anyway, as Pest Management Professional reports, Rollin's President and COO, John Wilson, is doing just that tomorrow night on CBS' reality TV show "Undercover Boss".  Sounds like a winner to me, so I thought I would pass it on.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Advisory committee puts in a full day

State law requires that the Texas Department of Agriculture's Structural Pest Control Service be advised by a special public advisory committee.  Last week the SPCAC met for its quarterly meeting with a full agenda.  Present were Peggy Caruso (Katy ISD) and Johnny Hibbs (Carrollton Farmer's Branch ISD), public members; Dauphin Ewart (Bug Master Pest Control, Austin) representing the pest control industry; Dr. Thandi Ziqubu Page (Texas Department of State Health Services); and me, representing an institute of higher education.  Three other members (two pest control and one public member) were unable to attend, and one position on the committee (a consumer group representative) has been unfilled for three years.

This month's agenda was packed with topics about significant changes in pest control regulation in Texas.  I apologize for the long post today, but it was a long session with a lot of interesting discussion.

Penalty Matrix
As I discussed in my last report, one industry complaint heard around the state, especially during the tenure of the former Structural Pest Control Board, concerned the consistency of penalties for various infractions.  Two different companies with the same infraction might have substantially different fines.  To bring more transparency to the penalty process the SPCS has proposed a new penalty matrix, taking into account comments and recommendations made at our last advisory meeting.

The new version of the penalty matrix consists of a list of all possible infractions, each of which is assigned to one of three tables of penalties. The three penalty tables include: S1 (low hazard potential fines), S2 (moderate hazard potential fines) and S3 (high hazard potential fines).  As you might guess, fines go up from tables S1 to S3.  In the new matrix, a given violation type is merely classified as an S1, S2, or S3 infraction, with final assignment of low, moderate or high hazard to be determined by SPCS staff in consultation with counsel.  This will still allow some flexibility and discretion in assigning fines, but is more transparent than the previous system.  Discussion centered around whether it was better to have a very rigid or flexible system.  The committee preferred keeping some flexibility in the system, with the idea that the new matrix is less subjective and should be more consistent than the current matrix with its wide ranges of penalties.  This particular internal system does not have to be publicly reviewed, but can always be commented on once it is implemented.  A copy of the new penalty matrix should be available upon request to the SPCS.

The new system for taking technician and license exams is now up and running. The TDA has contracted with a test service provider, PSI Exams Online, to take over the examination role for structural pesticide applicators.  The new web page describing changes to the process of getting your exam is accessed here.  The new system is not only $11 cheaper, there are more testing centers than before, making it more convenient for most people.  Testing will no longer be offered at TDA offices, only at the PSI test centers.  To find a center near you go to the PSI website. To learn about the whole process, there is a detailed information booklet for test takers.

Changes to TDA Rules
As part of a routine four year review by the legislature, TDA staffers have been reviewing and updating the regulations pertaining to structural pest control. The committee was shown these proposed changes and provided feedback on each of them. Twenty-nine rules were reviewed, with some of them deferred for later action.  Some of the more interesting and important changes and clarification included:

  • Rule 7.134. Every other year licensees will be able to get all continuing education credits for the year via online or self study courses. The reason for the every other year limitation is that the TDA wants to continue to encourage face-to-face contact with instructors, and is still concerned about a certain loss of accountability of course attendees who do not physically appear at a CEU course.  This is a change from the current rule which only allows one CEU per year to be obtained using self-study or electronic courses. 
  • Rule 7.134. The rules will be clarified to ensure that certificates of completion for CEU courses must be kept for two calendar years after the calendar year in which the CEUs were obtained.  Apparently some folks were discarding their CEU proof of attendance exactly two years after the date of the class, which is earlier than was intended by TDA.
  • Rule 7.141. Every licensee and apprentice must carry their license or registration card with them at all times when doing pest control, and must show the card when requested by a customer, a TDA employee, a State Health Services employee, an EPA employee or a state or federal law enforcement officer.
  • Rule 7.146 (d. to be deleted) Indoor posting for schools, and other sites that require it, will no longer be required if the only pesticide application to be made to the structure is an outside perimeter treatment. 
  • Rule 7.147 clarifies that the applicator or technician does not have to physically hand or deliver the Consumer Information Sheet to a customer, only make it available to them (e.g., via website).  This wording is being changed to reflect changes made to the statute two years ago.
  • Rule 7.150 (a)(1)(D). Schools will no longer be required to conduct or produce records of annual facility inspection reports. While everyone agrees that facility inspections are important to do, there was a feeling that the requirement was burdensome on even the most diligent schools. The school members of the committee had no objection to this change.
  • Rule 7.150 (b)(2,3) The rules for CEU requirements for school IPM coordinators (SIPMCs) have been developed and, according to TDA staffers, will not go into effect until final posting of the rules. This means that, despite some understanding to the contrary over the past few years, SIPMCs are at this time still  not required to complete any CEUs. So if you're an SIPMC and you've been sweating getting your six CEUs before the end of the year--and wondering what classes you need to get, you can relax--at least for the moment.

    This rules clarifies specifically what the new CEU requirements will look like.  While SIPMCs do not have to carry a pesticide applicator's license, they do have to take a 6-hour class to teach them how to be a SIPMC. Four years ago the legislature passed an additional statute that requires all SIPMCs to have continuing education.  The proposed rule says that all IPM coordinators must obtain 6 hours of CEUs every three years, starting whenever the rules become effective (later this year), or at the date of completion of mandatory school IPM coordinator 6-hour training.  One of the six CEUs, according to the rules, must be in laws and regulations specific to school IPM in Texas.  The other five CEUs may be in pest, lawn and ornamental, weed control or general IPM categories, approved for a structural pest control licenses. According to what we were told, 3A (agriculture) credits would not be acceptable for re-certification.  Any SIPMC who does hold a structural non-commercial applicator's license, can also count any structural CEUs for SIPMC re-certification, and vice versa.
  • Rule 7.150 (d)(4). This rule now allows use of monitoring devices that do not use pesticides by unlicensed school district personnel for purposes of monitoring.  The committee asked that the rule clearly specify such devices are only to be used for monitoring, and that any applications of monitoring devices be under the supervision of the IPM coordinator. This rule attempts to balance schools' desires to be able to use sticky traps to know what's going on in their buildings with concerns about untrained and unlicensed individuals doing pest control. 
  • New Rule 7.151. This new rule is proposed to improve safety of stored pesticides by requiring that all pesticide containers in storage have a physical label and that any containers without a label, and of unknown identity, be disposed of, and not used for pest control.
  • Rule 7.176.  A new paragraph to this rule would prohibit pest control companies who provide WDIRs from providing termite estimates or conducting termite service on the same property as covered by the WDIR.  As a result of our discussion SPCS staff agreed to reexamine better ways to deal with concerns about fraudulent WDIR reports.

Lastly, there was some discussion of a House bill, HB3567, that would mandate a change in the composition of this advisory committee.  The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, would eliminate the Texas A&M (higher ed) representative and the representative of the Department of State Health Services, replacing them with industry representatives.  The existence of the bill in its current form puts at least a couple of us on the committee in limbo between now and the next scheduled meeting in July. If you have thoughts about this bill you can contact Representative Kleinschmidt or the Texas Pest Control Association.