Thursday, September 20, 2018

On alert for armyworms

Fall armyworm caterpillars feed mostly on grasses. This year
is proving to be a banner year for armyworms in some areas.
Pest management professionals who care for lawns should be on the alert for fall armyworms this fall. Higher-than-normal populations of this lawn-eating insect have been reported from many areas in Texas these past two weeks.

While fall armyworms are nothing new, according to Dr. Allen Knutson, extension agricultural entomologist in Dallas, this year they are a widespread problem for hay producers and small grains producers across the state.  "I've had calls as far west as Wichita Falls, south to Comanche and across east Texas," he said.  Locally in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, my turfgrass colleague, Dr. Lindsey Hoffman, and I have gotten many calls this week from concerned lawn owners, schools and the media.

Fall armyworm (FAW) is the caterpillar stage of a drab gray moth, known scientifically as Spodoptera frugiperda. It feeds primarily on grasses, though it has been reported feeding on dozens of non-grass plants and weeds. It earns the name "armyworm" from its habit, during times of major outbreaks, of marching, army-like, across fields and roads and yards, consuming everything in its path.


Fall armyworms blend in well with the grass and soil. Careful
observation of the grass and bare areas may be needed to confirm
fall armyworm presence.
The FAW caterpillar is identified by three thin white or yellow stripes on the shield behind the head (pronotum), an inverted white Y on the face between the eyes, and by four dark hair-bearing bumps (tubercles) on the top of the 8th abdominal segment.  It takes three to four weeks of feeding to reach its full length of about 1.25 inches (34 mm). For a video that will help you recognize FAW in the field, click here.

The adult FAW moth has a wingspan of about 1.5 in. The hind wings are white; the front wings are dark gray, mottled with lighter and darker splotches. On male moths each forewing has a noticeable whitish spot near the extreme tip.

Damage and Control

Damage often appears to occur overnight, though armyworms need at least three to four weeks to complete their six larval stages (instars). The last week or two of the larval stage is when most of the feeding, and damage, occurs.

Fall armyworms feed on most common lawn grasses like bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass. But because armyworms feed on the leaves, and not on the critical roots and stolons, a little irrigation or a rain should restore lawns to their original condition within a week or two.

If this is unacceptable to your customer, FAW is relatively easy to control with any pyrethroid insecticide.  Organic customer lawns can be treated with products containing spinosad, a naturally occurring microbial toxin.  Be sure to avoid treating areas with flowering weeds or clovers that might attract bees, or else mow the lawn (and flowerheads) prior to treating.  This will help protect pollinators that might otherwise be attracted to freshly sprayed lawns.

Fall armyworm adult are strong fliers, travelling hundreds of miles from overwintering sites in south Florida, south Texas and Mexico each spring. In an strange, apparent case of migrational suicide, offspring of these northern migrants cannot survive freezing winter weather.  And unlike monarch butterflies which return to Mexico each winter, FAWs never return south. Therefore, they and all their offspring perish in the cold weather. The evolutionary advantage of this unusual behavior, if any, is not well understood.

For more information on our Aggie Turf website, click here.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Cixiid planthoppers

Here's one you never learned in technician training. Cixiid planthoppers are 1/4 inch-long (5 mm-long bodies) insects that are common at times on trees and shrubs. They are plant feeders, with nymphs that feed underground on grass roots. They are not your typical household pest.
Cixiid planthoppers are occasional invaders of homes,
identified by their jumping legs, finely veined, overlapping
wings. Note the dark patch (stigma) on the leading edge of
the forewing. Body length 5 mm, with wings 8 mm.

Over the past week in Dallas, however, I received numerous calls about these insects. One family described themselves as being "tormented" by these bugs, that insecticides wouldn't kill them and that the "bites" they were experiencing were surely these bugs.

The truth is, cixiid (sicks EE id) planthoppers do not bite and are harmless to people. Also, their damage to plants is negligible. Their only crime is that they are sometimes attracted to lights at night and, consequently, occasionally invade homes. Apart from reducing outdoor lighting and sealing windows and vents (especially next to outdoor lights), there is no real control for these creatures.

Infestations of cixiids should be temporary, but they are an interesting example of how, even in urban areas, nature occasionally intrudes on our otherwise sterile lives. They are also a good example of why the more a PMP knows about all insects (not just pests), the better professional he or she will be.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Watch this bug

This picture of BMSB was taken in Dallas
 in 2017 by Annika Linkqvist and
posted on iNaturalist. Note the white bands on
the antennae.
Brown marmorated stink bug has been causing a stink, literally, in many parts of the country for the past 15 years or so. It feeds on important crops, and finishes up its dirty work by invading homes in the fall.  It's the complete pest. Bad for farmers and homeowners alike.

Now the BMSB may be making a new home in Texas. According to EDDMaps distribution records, this stink bug has now been confirmed in four Texas counties. Two sightings were recorded last summer in Dallas County by the same observer, and one in Collin County in 2015.  It has also been seen in Harris and Ft. Bend counties in the Houston area.  To our knowledge there have been no reports of buildings being invaded or plant damage.

I live in Collin County and have yet to see a BMSB; but that doesn't mean they're not here, slowly reproducing and hiding out until they make their grand entrance. When they do, chances are that a pest control company will be the first to know.

I first posted about this pest 7 years ago, before any sightings in the Houston or Dallas area. Given these recent reports, I think its time to renew the call to vigilance.


So how do you identify BMSB? First, it is a stink bug (family Pentatomidae), all of which have flattened, shield-like bodies with a triangular plate in the middle separating the bases of the two wings. The BMSB is brown, about 17 mm-long (2/3 inch), and may produce a musty scent when disturbed. Several other stinkbugs look similar to BMSB. Identify by looking for three characters: First is the white band at the joint between the 3rd and 4th (last) antennal segments (see image).  Second is the shoulders: the BMSB also has rounded shoulder angles (corners of the pronotum at the widest part of the body) compared to other stink bugs with pointed shoulder angles or jagged teeth above the shoulder. Last, there are four creamy spots on the pronotum (shield) just behind the head and on the top of the scutellum (triangular shaped plate between the bases of the wings).

The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys, right) can be distinguished from the brown (Euschistus servus, left) and bark (Brochymena quadripustulata, center) stink bugs by markings and the white bands at the joints of the antennae.  (Note: These images not necessarily to scale.  The two left photos were taken by Mike Quinn,; and the right image by Melinda Fawver.  Thanks for permission to use.)

What to do

If you think you've run into an infestation of brown marmorated stink bugs, let me or one of our extension entomologists from around the state know.  To confirm, we will need specimens or good quality digital images.  If you choose to send a specimen, please follow the directions on this page, and include a completed insect ID form with accurate information about date and location where the specimen was collected.

We are especially interested if the bugs are damaging fruit (fruit, corn, grapes, tomatoes, beans) or coming to lights and invading homes in large numbers. If you have a good picture and want to report an infestation, you can also report to our national EDDMaps database at

This insect has the potential to become a major headache for households and businesses, as well as farmers. It reminds me of my latest proverb: "If you crave job security in your career, go into highway construction or pest control." Just as there will always be highways being repaired, there will always be new pests to battle. Brown marmorated stink bug is a good example.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Bugs and basil: Insecticides and veggies don't always mix

Who wants to eat insecticide?  Not me, and I'm guessing certainly not your customers.

So if your company does residential pest control, are your employees trained to know what to do when they encounter a vegetable garden, fruit or nut tree in a backyard?  And are they trained to answer a customer's questions about the safety of their insecticides around vegetables or herbs?  

Do your employees know what to do when encountering vegetables, herbs 
or other food plants around a home? Asking a customer about their edible
plants might save that account. Photo by Jeff Raska.
I'm guessing this subject is not commonly addressed in technician training classes. I was asked by an industry sales representative this week: "Is it appropriate for a technician to be recommending that a homeowner simply wash their vegetables after having their yard treated for mosquitoes, or should the vegetables should be thrown away?"

The answer to this question depends on whether the plants were directly exposed to the spray and what the label says.

I did a quick review of the common mosquito adulticides used in backpack sprayers.  None of them allow application to edible plants.  The Suspend® Polyzone label, for example, says “do not apply this product to edible crops.” The Fendona® label says to not use on vegetable gardens.  Some make no mention of vegetables or edible crops at all.  And when it comes to edible plants, if application is not explicitly mentioned, it's not allowed.

Will pesticides make a plant toxic?

Of course many insecticides, including some of the active ingredients in your tool kit, are used legally on crops all the time by farmers. This is allowed by the EPA only if that pesticide has been granted a tolerance for a given crop, and certain days-to-harvest intervals are followed.  These rules work to ensure that any pesticide residues left after a pesticide application are below levels of concern for human health. The 2016 Pesticide Data Program survey by USDA shows that this system works. Out of 10,000 market food samples analyzed in the study, over 99 percent had residues well below the EPA established tolerances. More than 23 percent had no detectable pesticide residue.

So insecticide residues on plants are not necessarily toxic, especially when label directions are followed and adequate time passes to allow the product to naturally degrade. The products we use in pest control may be the same active ingredients used by farmers; but they may differ in concentration and formulation. Most importantly, pest control insecticides do not carry food-treatment labels so they cannot legally be used on edible crops.

Talstar® products, for example, consist of the active ingredient bifenthrin, the same active ingredient used by farmers and even home gardeners under a variety of trade names. The Talstar® P label for mosquito control, however, says "not to apply to bearing fruit or nut trees or vegetables or edible crops." To a law judge it won't matter whether other formulations allow application to food crops. To a judge enforcing FIFRA requirements, you must follow the label on the product you are using.

Spray contamination 

If an insecticide is deliberately sprayed on an edible crop or plant, and the product is not labeled for such use, the plant would not considered safe by EPA standards. The implication is that all of the plant, or at least the edible parts, should be thrown away. Your customer could replant, of course, unless prohibited by the label.

Backpack mistblowers are commonly used
for applying residual insecticides to mosquito
resting sites; but mists should be applied carefully
to avoid drift onto fruit and nut trees and
vegetable gardens.
Labels generally do not, however, prohibit use of these products in the vicinity of a vegetable garden. I assume this means that if you take care to keep sprays directed away from vegetable gardens, any incidental drift from nearby spraying with a coarse spray, aerosol or mist generator equipment should not be a problem. Likewise, thermal foggers and ULV applications used nearby should leave insignificant residues as long as the application orifices are directed away from edible plants at all times.

Of course applicators should always be aware of weather conditions and the locations of edible plants.  If wind is blowing toward a garden, upwind applications should be avoided.

So what should you do if a fruit, nut, vegetable or herb is is accidentally over-sprayed? Such a plant should be pulled, or else the produce should be left uneaten or discarded, by the customer.

Systemic insecticides

Some insecticides are "systemic," meaning they have enough water solubility to be taken up by plant roots and translocated to other parts of the plant. Although the EPA allows some systemic insecticides on crops, in general systemics are not labeled for use on food crops because they can leave residues in edible plant tissues that do not quickly degrade.

Insecticides containing neonicotinoids and acephate are examples of PMP insecticides that may be systemic in plants. These include products like Merit®, Premise®, Transport®, Tandem®, Alpine®, Temprid®, Orthene® and others.  Herbs and other root or leafy vegetables exposed to systemic insecticides should be considered contaminated for the season and should not be consumed.

Some termiticides can also be systemic in plants, leading to concerns about vegetable gardens planted next to homes treated for termites. Fipronil, for example, is slightly systemic in some plants; and the Termidor® SC label says not to "apply around edible plants."  The label does not say explicitly how far away an edible plant must be, although the Premise® 2 label (whose active ingredient, imidacloprid, is much more water soluble) is more specific. It says to "not treat within a distance of one foot out from the drip line of edible plants."  The Premise® guideline, therefore, is probably a good, conservative guidelines for all termiticides. Keep the outermost leaves of garden plants at least a foot away from any soil-applied termiticide and you should be OK.


Regarding washing, your technician may want to suggest vegetable washing to a concerned customer whose nearby yard or house perimeter has been treated with an insecticide spray.  Washing is a good idea whether pesticides have been used or not. The best washing technique includes a pre-rinse with a 10% vinegar solution (for germ control) followed by 30 seconds of tap water.  This is a great way to remove urban dust, microorganisms and traces of pesticides from vegetable and fruit surfaces.  

Would you recognize an edible plant?

Lastly, can you and your technicians tell a basil from a begonia, a mint from a marigold, or a pear from a poplar? Any applicator wanting to follow label directions around a home needs to be aware of what plants are present. We all don't have to be botanists, or know all the local tree species; but we should recognize the most common fruit and nut trees, herbs, and vegetables. Would you know what the common herbs sage, basil or rosemary look like? Sounds like a good exercise for training day.

When visiting a residence the first time, ask your customer if they have any herbs, fruit trees, nut trees or vegetables that you need to be aware of. Today's gardeners are more likely to plant edible plants within flower gardens, so you might have a basil plant or a tomato plant growing among the daisies. Assume your customers are organic in their vegetable garden and avoid these areas accordingly.

Believe me, your customers will appreciate any extra consideration you give to their home gardens. Treat them well and they might even greet you at the door with a big bag of zucchini.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Keeping up with mosquitoes

Every knowledgeable PMP knows that assessment and monitoring is a crucial part of integrated pest management (IPM). Yet practically no one in the mosquito control business monitors mosquitoes. Why is that?

BG Sentinel traps are among the most popular
traps for sampling nuisance biting mosquitoes
like Asian tiger and yellow fever mosquitoes.
Well, mosquito surveillance isn't easy. It's time consuming, requires expensive sampling equipment and specially trained personnel.  Disease surveillance means sending mosquitoes to an outside laboratory or else conducting expensive, highly technical lab tests. So, it's no surprise, really, that few pest control companies include monitoring services, beyond perhaps backyard inspections for breeding sites.

Yet, monitoring remains important to any PMP wanting to implement an IPM/IMM program.  Without monitoring you don't know what mosquitoes are biting, what diseases are circulating, and when human risk is highest.  So what's a mosquito technician to do?

Good news. Many counties, mosquito abatement districts and cities have area-wide mosquito surveillance programs.  While not necessarily focused on your customer's property, these area-wide programs are often quite good. Some even provide neighbor-hood level detail in their public reports.  They may chart Aedes mosquito numbers collected from traps like the carbon dioxide-baited BG Sentinel trap.  And they may provide both Culex mosquito numbers and disease prevalence from gravid traps.

The gravid trap is an especially powerful monitoring tool.  West Nile carrying Culex mosquitoes are drawn to these traps like cats to catnip. They are typically baited with polluted water known as "stink water." While every health department has their own formula for stink water, it's usually made by steeping grass clippings in water for 2 weeks or so.  The foul smell of the water draws gravid female mosquitoes as they seek stagnant water for egg laying.  Gravid traps help health departments measure the number of potential WNV-carrying mosquitoes present.  Mosquitoes collected in these traps are also collected into groups, or "pools," and sent to laboratories for virus testing. Some health departments publish this data in up-to-the-week reports that can tell you and your customer about their local, seasonal risk for West Nile and related viruses.

Gravid traps consist of a tray with "stink water," with a suction
trap positioned a few inches above the water. Female mosquitoes
drawn to the water for egg-laying are sucked into the trap, where
they are collected, counted and prepared for testing.
If you live in or near one of these health departments you should be able to get useful information about your community's mosquito status by visiting their website. Some health departments even provide weekly email updates on West Nile virus and Zika surveillance. Usually all you have to do is ask to subscribe to these reports.  For those of you in north Texas, the Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) and Tarrant County Public Health departments offer some of the best mosquito epidemiology reports I've seen.  To see a sample report, click here.

There's a lot of data in these reports, but some of the key things I look for include the following.  Where in my community has WNV been detected in mosquitoes? How abundant are Aedes mosquitoes (these are the daytime biting mosquitoes most noticed by your customers)? How abundant are Culex mosquitoes (responsible for transmitting WNV to people)?  And how is the Vector Index changing?

A July 2018 graph from Dallas County Health and Human Services shows the average abundance of West Nile virus
(WNV) mosquitoes, and a calculated Vector Index (V.I.) in both 2012 and to date in 2018.  A V.I. greater than 0.5
indicates high risk of a WNV epidemic, and may serve as a threshold for aerial spraying against mosquitoes. 
The blue dotted line is the V.I. from 2012, the year of the most severe WNV outbreak in Dallas with over
400 cases and 20 deaths. This year's data (in red) shows high mosquito abundance, equivalent to 2012,
but a relatively low V.I. suggesting that human risk from WNV is still relatively low.  Graphs like these
provide a weekly snapshot of public health risk due to mosquito-borne disease.
The Vector Index (V.I.) is a mathematically calculated number that combines information about both mosquito abundance and percent of mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus.  If numbers of mosquitoes are high, but disease incidence is low, the V.I. will show low risk.  If mosquito numbers and disease incidence are high, the V.I. will be high.  The DCHHS considers a V.I. of 0.5 or higher to constitute an unacceptable high risk of mosquitoes. For Dallas county a high V.I. will trigger emergency public health measures, possibly including aerial spraying of insecticides.

Most of your customers will likely not be familiar with health department data, nor will they understand its interpretation. But by taking the time to get access to the data, and understanding its significance, your company can serve as an educational bridge to your community. By letting customers know when disease incidence and mosquito abundance is highest, everyone is reminded of when to take special steps to avoid mosquito contact, and the importance of their own mosquito control.

It's often said that information is power. Whether you include residential mosquito control as a special service, or simply an add-on benefit to your regular customers, you owe it to them to be informed about what mosquitoes are doing in your community.  A call to your local health department can provide you with a wealth of public health data, that can make you more a powerful advocate for your clients.

Some Texas and national WNV and mosquito information can be accessed online at:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Moving Beyond Mallis: The Veterans' Perspective

If you work in the pest control industry, and are even a little geeky about insects, you would probably like the National Conference of Urban Entomology.  Held May 21-23 this year in Raleigh, NC, the NCUE is the premier gathering for research and industry experts in structural pest control.  This year had more than its share of nerdy bug news.

In my last report I shared research papers presented by students. In this segment I will highlight talks given by “veteran” researchers, some of whom you may know by reputation or from state or national CEU conferences.

One of the most stimulating sessions this year focused on a term that was new to me: “assessment-based pest management.” Dini Miller from Virginia Tech thinks it might be the next big thing to replace (or improve) integrated pest management (IPM), a central philosophy of urban pest control.  Miller argued that because the IPM concept comes originally from agriculture, its logic has never resonated deeply with the public. Few people seem to associate the term “integrated,” for example, with the idea that using multiple pest control tactics (integrated controls) are safer and more effective than the "one spray to kill them all" approach. 

Assessment-based bed bug control will come if class action
lawsuits over failed control continue. Studies continue to show
that complaint-based service contracts do not solve bed bug
infestations. Pitfall traps, like this, can be used to detect bed
bugs early when control is more easily achieved.
Talking about assessment as a basis for pest control, she argues, might be an easier sell.  After all, all big companies assess their success by looking at the bottom line. Athletes assess their success with their batting averages and quarterback ratings. Investors follow financial assessments of their investments through annual reports. Shouldn’t consumers intuitively understand that assessment-based pest management is in their best interests?  Maybe.

But how would an assessment-based pest management program work? Without offering a comprehensive answer, speakers at the “assessment” session highlighted better ways to use monitoring and measurement in pest control.  Miller showed, for example, how by pre-assessing cockroach infestations in an apartment as low, medium or high, she could meter out how much bait a technician would need to get excellent control in that unit.

Rick Cooper, of Bed Bug Central, is successfully controlling bed bugs in low income, high rise housing—one of the toughest accounts for pest control. “Early detection is key,” says Cooper, who finds pitfall monitoring traps the most consistent way to detect bed bug infestations, even better than canines. Cooper assesses the success of his management efforts by looking at two metrics: percent of apartments with detected bed bugs, and severity of infestations based on numbers of bed bugs caught in traps. In one study he used an assessment-based approach, in combination with simple, non-chemical and low-impact control measures, to treat all apartments detected with bed bugs.  Using an in-house pest control company, they were able to reduce infestation rates from 15% to 2% over 12 months, while achieving a 98% reduction in bed bug counts. Given the success of class action suits against apartment management in recent years, it’s hard to see why managers would NOT demand this kind of information from their pest control providers.

Assessment based classes show the value of hands-on training
to teach both novice and experienced pest control professionals.
Faith Oi teaches at the University of Florida's Pest
Management University.
Faith Oi, University of Florida, focused her talk on assessing the effectiveness of continuing education through the Pest Management University (PMU) classes she offers. For any company wanting to recruit and maintain a well-educated workforce, Oi argues that training is key, including training for supervisors. Oi used pre- and post-tests to evaluate learning at PMU. For 330 students tested, she found an average 58% increase in test scores regardless of how long someone had worked in pest control. Surprisingly, supervisor pre-test scores were not significantly higher than technician pre-test scores.  Hands-on training, and training materials that are understandable to today’s technicians and even supervisors are critical. With a jab at EPA labels she observed that although pesticide labels are not infographics, perhaps they should be. What a great idea!

Michael Scharf, Purdue University, took assessment in a different direction. Imagine if, at the time of selling a big cockroach job, your company routinely collected cockroaches from the site, put a few in special, treated vials, and knew the next day precisely what insecticides would and wouldn’t work at that location? That’s what Scharf is pioneering. In a field trial he was able to predict ahead of time which insecticide combinations would work (some of his cockroaches were resistant to neonicotinoids and some were resistant to pyrethroids).  In a few years you might be able to purchase a set of pre-treated vials with instructions telling you how to run a resistance detection test. This could be a game-changer, because resistance can vary from one apartment complex to another—even within the same city or neighborhood.

To be effective, however, assessment must be affordable. Karen Vail, of the University of Tennessee, looked for a fast, cheap and effective inspection protocol for detecting bed bugs. First, she investigated whether residents, management and maintenance staff, and pest control professionals could be trained to work together to take over maintaining and inspecting pitfall traps. But after training these groups to find, report and clean traps, only 10% of apartments had maintained their traps (in place and dust free) after 22 months. She then tried a quick visual inspection of all apartments, followed by placing 2-8 traps only in apartments with a complaint or some evidence of bed bugs.  With as few as 2 traps per apartment (one against the foot of bed and one against a living room chair) she was able to detect 80-90% of the infested apartments in 3-4 weeks. It took only 2-3 minutes to conduct a quick inspection and place monitors in most apartments, and the method detected almost 4X more infested apartments than management was aware of. Her work provides yet more proof that relying on residents and staff to report bed bugs is ineffective, and that building-wide inspections are a must for effective bed bug control in high rise apartments.

The power of genomic testing never ceases to impress me.  Ed Vargo, Texas A&M University, shared the work of his student, Andre Eyer, who took a critical look at the tawny crazy ant genome (DNA fingerprint).  He wanted to know whether previous research was correct that found tawny crazy ants live in super-colonies.  Super-colonies house many queens per nest, may consist of millions to billions of ants and can extend for many miles.  Super-colonies may look like many individual ant colonies with individual nests; however, the ants in these colonies are all closely related and may in fact move freely from one colony to the next.  Previously the only way to test for super-colonies was to put together ants from different nests and record levels of aggression.  Eyer did this, plus looked at the diversity of alleles (different forms of a gene) in U.S. crazy ants vs. crazy ants from the native home in South America. He found low aggression among different TCA colonies and only half of the genetic diversity in introduced vs. native ant populations. His results confirm that TCA ants do form super-colonies, and that all the crazy ants he tested likely came from a one-time introduction (to the US).  This information may not be super-practical in terms of controlling crazy ants, but it puts scientific management of tawny crazy ant on a firmer scientific footing.

Thomas Chouvec, University of Florida, conducted some interesting experiments with Cryptotermes gestroi, a relatively new invasive termite in south Florida. Conventional wisdom suggests that fipronil is “invisible” to termites in the soil, making it possible to eliminate termite colonies through contamination. The idea is that termites travelling through contaminated soil blithely carry insecticide back to the colony, damaging or eliminating it. Using a more realistic lab assay technique with long foraging tunnels (similar to real foraging tubes), Chouvec showed that C. gestroi appears able to detect problems with nest mates returning from fipronil-contaminated tunnels.  In lab experiments the termites were able to maintain their colonies even when part of the colony was visiting so-called fipronil “death zones.” This finding suggests that fipronil may not work as effectively against C. gestroi, a cousin of the Formosan termite. More work, I’m sure, is coming on that idea.

Other worthwhile take-aways from this year’s meetings:
  •  If you battle tawny crazy ant in your community, you might be interested in the new crazy ant videos shown by Kelly Palmer, Alabama Cooperative Extension.  Topics range from an introduction to the ants, their habitat, management and preventing infestations. Each is less than three minutes long and features an expert in ant management.
  •  Johnalyn Gordon reported on what could be the next tawny crazy ant. Plagiolepis alluaudi, the little yellow ant, is a new invasive ant in south Florida.  It lives in leaf litter, and though it doesn’t sting, its large numbers and invasive behavior could make it a major pest in some areas, similar to tawny crazy ant. 
  • Bob Davis, BASF, reported 30-60 days control of striped scorpions with the new microcap insecticide Fedona®.  Microcap products provide control even on tough surfaces like concrete and soil.
  • Venerable, retired entomologist Mike Rust is still cranking out helpful information about flea control.  Using a statistical method developed for testing anti-cancer drugs he looked for synergism (a 2+2=6 effect) between common insecticides and insect growth regulators. He found variable results with some combinations working well and others not (for example, pyriproxyfen synergized fipronil, while methoprene did not; methoprene did synergize imidacloprid, but not vice versa). He concluded that IGR mixtures must be tested; and results cannot be reliably predicted.
  • Dini Miller was one of the few speakers to talk about digital innovations in pest control.  She is field testing a new Delta Five remote insect monitor for insects.  As an insect enters a Delta Five trap a picture of the invader is sent to a phone app. With a technician’s time worth about $1.50 a minute, Miller thinks that remote alerts from traps like this could save a lot of labor cost, especially monitoring bed bugs in large hotels. She did not address efficiency of the units in detecting low level bed bug infestations.
  • Coby Schal looked at behavioral aversion among German cockroaches to baits, and found that pesticide-resistant cockroaches may be at a disadvantage in a pesticide-free environment. For example, he found that glucose-averse, resistant-females have lower mating success.  This could be why bait rotation has been effective so long in keeping glucose-averse cockroaches from taking over the world.
  • Freder Medina, BASF, reported that over 6 million homes have been treated with fipronil since its introduction as a termiticide in 2000. The newest formulation and application system, HP II, has been tested on 81 homes so far, with a 98% elimination rate after 3 months. The new system relies on high pressure injection and a unique waterless formulation to eliminate the need for tank mixing.
  • Finally, if you haven’t seen it, you need to “meet the caste” of the new Tiny Termite House. Professionally produced and expertly photographed, NPMA worked with the City of New Orleans to build and infest an incredible, 1:16 scale house with termites. The purpose is to “raise awareness of the destructive nature of termites.” The videos show the house being consumed by 500,000 hungry Formosan termites.  If your company maintains a newsletter or blog, the videos are definitely post-worthy.  Your customers need to see this.
I overheard one entomologist comment that for her, the NCUE was the most important conference she attends all year. I agree. The smaller size and narrow focus of the meetings, means that NCUE is usually a perfect fit for the geeks among us in the structural pest control industry. This year's meeting was no exception.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Moving Beyond Mallis: Young Entomologists at NCUE

The biannual National Conference on Urban Entomology (NCUE) is always a treat.  It’s a relatively small conference with a personal feel. Many attendees know each other personally, and new students get to learn more about urban entomology outside their labs and classrooms. This year’s meeting in Raleigh, NC attracted about 200 students, university faculty and industry urban entomologists, including a score of researchers from the joint invasive pest ant conference.

When I attend NCUE I see folks whose lives and careers I’ve followed for many years, as well as new faces who are the future of our industry.  I hear controversy in discussion sessions as researchers politely prod speakers to think more deeply about their research results (entomologists are almost always polite); and sometimes I hear talks that will change the way I view structural pest control. While there were no real revelations at this meeting, many of the talks I heard this year fell into the category of “baby steps” toward better pest control and deeper understanding of the biology of structural pests.

Every NCUE meeting has a Distinguished Achievement Award recipient. This year’s honor went to Brian Forschler, a respected termite researcher from the University of Georgia. It was his job to open the meeting with a tribute to Arnold Mallis, who many of you know by his “ten-pound” Handbook of Pest Control. 

In the 1940s and 50s Arnold Mallis was a
rising star in the field of urban entomology.
Forschler noted that Mallis filled a desperate need at the time for science-based information on household insect pests. Though he had little to say about IPM (the concept hadn’t been formally proposed), in his books he summarized critical biological information upon which IPM programs could later be built. Mallis taught us that urban entomology is built upon a firm foundation of education and engagement with its stakeholders. Forschler urged each attendee, especially each student, to consider new ways to engage outsiders with urban entomology, while being the same consummate entomologist, naturalist and observer of insects as Arnold Mallis.

After Forschler’s session, the meeting began with papers from student award winners.  When I listen to students I always keep in mind that today’s students are tomorrow’s experts.  In just a few years these will be the folks making the rounds at CEU meetings for NPMA and other professional gatherings, so it pays to listen and make note of the new faces.

Emily Vernon, Bachelor of Science Student Award winner came from North Carolina State University where she studies Blattabacterium, a genus of symbiotic bacteria that live within special bacteria-hosting cells of cockroaches. These bacteria, she proposed, are essential to the German cockroach’s ability to survive in nitrogen-poor environments. In her research with 16S ribosomal RNA primers she detected high levels of variability in Blattabacterium in field populations of cockroaches, leading her to pose the question: “if we can manipulate Blattabacterium in the cockroach, might we be able to control cockroaches in the field?” I don’t know the answer, but I do know that when I was her age my most profound questions dealt with where to go for pizza on Friday night. Wow!

Master’s Student Award winner, Danielle Hoefele, Simon Fraser University, tackled a whole new structural pest, the European fire ant, Myrmica rubra. Think of it as a fire ant for the north.  The European fire ant is spreading into British Columbia and Washington State, as well as New England and eastern Canada.  It’s an aggressive ant with a sting that itches up to 10 days.  Danielle looked for different food sources that might work well in a fire ant bait. She found that baits combining carbohydrates and proteins were most attractive. Ultimately, she hopes to design a custom bait to provide a much-needed control option for this pest.

The herb thyme is a natural source for the monoterpene oil,
thymol, which has promise as a natural insecticide against
bed bugs. Relatively few plant oils have been investigated for
use in urban entomology. 
Sudip Gaire from Purdue University was the Ph.D. Student Award winner for his studies on the effects of plant essential oils against bed bugs. Sudip is pursuing more effective, safer, natural insecticides for bed bugs.  By looking at plant essential oils that have not previously been tested, he hopes to discover better options for controlling insecticide-resistant bed bugs.  He found carvacol, thymol, and citronellic acid to have to be the most toxic plant oils, none of which is currently in use against bed bugs. It may be years before these products are successfully brought to market, but Sudip is starting the process, and he reminded me that the field of essential oils for pest control is ripe for mining.

In another student paper, Sanjay Basnet from the University of Nebraska, is looking at ways to turn the bed bug’s own genetic material against itself. Interference RNA, or RNAi, are small RNA strings found naturally in the cell that help block expression of target genes. A few years back, someone got the bright idea that if we could find the right RNAi strings we might be able to use them as insecticides to turn off genes that are critical for an insect’s survival or reproduction. Sanjay thinks he may have found such an RNAi strand—one that can reduce egg production in bed bugs.  When injected into bed bugs this natural and biodegradable molecule reduced average daily egg production from 6/day to 0/day at 3 and 4 weeks after treatment. Much more work is needed to bring this kind of technology to your company; but its always encouraging to hear about any progress in this area.

One of today's rising stars of urban entomology is Zach DeVries, PhD student at North Carolina State under major professor Coby Schal.  DeVries is looking at a previously ignored component of bed bug aggregation pheromone called histamine.  You’ve probably heard of histamine. It’s an important chemical that our bodies produce to regulate our local immune response. On the positive side, histamine allows capillaries to become more permeable to our white blood cells so they can engage pathogens during an infection.  On the downside, it’s the chemical that causes inflammation and itching after an insect bite or exposure to an allergen. That’s why you may take an antihistamine drug for a runny nose or itchy eyes. Histamine also affects numerous organs, causes increases in heartrate, and difficulty breathing.

DeVries and colleagues inspected house dust from homes with and without bed bugs. They found up to 25X higher levels of histamine in bed bug-infested homes. They also found that histamine persisted for 3-6 months after an infestation had been eliminated. Whether these relatively low levels of histamine associated with bed bugs will have chronic effects on human health is unknown. But if significant, DeVries’ team’s discovery could be as important to pest control as the discovery of the link between German cockroaches and asthma in the 1990s.

DeVries also gave a second, more controversial, paper on progress towards developing a liquid bait for bed bugs. He suggests that liquid baits might offer an alternative insecticide-delivery method that could bypass at least one of the resistance strategies used by bed bugs (such as thickened, pesticide resistant cuticles).  So far, De Vries has identified good active ingredients (such as fipronil, neonicotinoids, and DMSO) for such a bait.  The feeding attractant for bed bugs is more of a challenge, however. Bed bugs eat blood of course, which is not likely to be stable in a bait formulation. And who wants blood-filled bait stations around their home?  He found that simple salt water, with or without the natural cellular compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP), made an attractive feeding stimulant for bed bugs.  The challenge, he argues, is to come up with a way to deliver this tasty insecticide to hungry bed bugs.  

But some listeners gently challenged DeVries to demonstrate how baiting might be more effective than a good trap, say.  The reason that most cockroach, termite and ant baits are so effective, is that they don’t just kill the individuals that come to the bait. They are effective because they kill the feeders and their companions. This happens when other cockroaches eat the feces or dead bodies of bait-fed cockroaches, or when ants and termites share their toxic meals with nestmates. At this point it’s hard to see how you might get secondary kill with bed bugs. Time will tell whether NCSU researchers will demonstrate the practicality of blood-mimicking bait stations; but it’s a thought provoking idea, and I’m glad someone is exploring it.

Whew. That was just some of what I learned from students at NCUE last month.  In my next installment, I’ll cover some of the highlights from veteran urban entomologists in Raleigh. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dr. Phil Hamman

Dr. Phil Hamman was a consummate teacher with a gift of
making dry subjects interesting. He trained many of the previous
generation of pest control professionals in Texas, and is still
remembered by more than a few of today's senior PMPs.
Last month Texas pest control lost a great friend. Dr. Phillip J. Hamman passed away May 31 in Kerrville, TX.

You may know Dr. Hamman's name from the Phillip J. Hamman Termite Training School in College Station. It was Phil's vision to establish a hands-on training facility near the A&M campus to provide a first class training venue for termite technicians around the state.

I owe my career here at Texas A&M AgriLife to Phil Hamman, who hired me in 1989, and served as my Associate Department Head of Extension until his retirement in 1996. He served on the then Texas Structural Pest Control Board for more than 20 years, and was in large part responsible for the current system of CEU requirements that ensure that PMPs keep up with the latest in pest control technology. He played an important role in making sure that Texas licensed only qualified people to handle pesticides and provide the best pest control service possible.

Phil was part of an earlier generation of extension entomologists who covered all aspects of pest control, including cotton, sorghum, rice and peanut insects. At the time he was also expected to cover pests of livestock, fruit and nuts, stored products, and households. He started his career as an Assistant Entomologist in 1964, and worked for Extension for ten years before being hired as Technical Director of the then National Pest Control Association. After a little over two years at NPCA Phil returned to Texas determined to focus on urban entomology. In 1981 he officially became the first Extension Urban Entomologist in Texas.  He served as department head for Extension from 1985 until his retirement in 1996.

Phil was fond of remembering how Clayton Wright, a Texas pest control legend and founder of B&G Chemical and Equipment Company (now part of Target Specialty Products), took him around the state in his car early in his career. According to Phil, the trip was a ride on the wild side (friends of Wright can probably guess what that meant), but it introduced him to pest control owners and operators around the state, and taught him a lot about the pest control industry.

For many years Phil was also the organizer of the Texas A&M University Urban Pest Management Conference and Workshop (now in its 73rd year).  His goal was to maintain first class training that included university researchers, giving Texas PMPs access to the latest information on the science of structural pests.

Above all, Phil Hamman was a gentleman with a good sense of humor, committed to those who worked for him. He cared deeply about the pest control industry and giving back to his community.

After retirement, Phil and his wife Pat moved to the hill country, first in Leakey, Texas and then in
to Hunt, and finally Kerrville, Texas. He was a woodworker and built many things for his home and for others. Phil and Pat have been very active in the Episcopalian church throughout life, and were involved with the Big Springs Ranch for Children, and the Hill Country Youth Ranch in Ingram. Phil served as School Board Member and on the HCYR Board for more than 20 years.

According to his obituary, Phil is survived by his wife, Pat; sister, Linda Donnell and her children, Deborah, Missy and Douglas; son, John Philip Hamman and wife Susan Reesby and granddaughter, Sarah-Margaret; daughter, Marion La Rue Hamman Starbuck, husband, Robbie and granddaughter, Keely. He is also survived by a step-son, Chris George Chapin; step-daughter, Martina Ann Thurneysen and husband David, granddaughters, Stephanie and Tricia and her husband John Jenkins; stepdaughter, Marian Katherine Williams, husband Jeffrey and grandson, George Anthony. 

A Memorial for Phil is scheduled at 2 o’clock p.m., Saturday, July 7, 2018 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. More information is available from Grimes Funeral Homes. In lieu of flowers Phil requested memorials to be sent to the Hill Country Youth Ranch in Ingram, Texas, or Center for Urban and Structural Entomology Fund.

We will miss you Phil.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Rat Ice: It's Complicated

The extensive burrow networks of Norway
rats in city parks have been hard to treat
safely, until now. (Photo courtesy of Matt Frye)
New York is planning to rely more on dry ice as a safer and effective treatment for rat colonies living in city parks.  But the logistics of labeling and marketing frozen carbon dioxide as a rodent control product have proved to be challenging.

Toxicity of carbon dioxide to rats is nothing new. When placed into a rodent hole and covered with soil, pelleted dry ice (frozen CO2) slowly evaporates filling the burrow with the gas and displacing the oxygen. Such treatments are low-in-risk for humans, leave no toxic residues, and pose no risk of secondary wildlife or pet poisoning.

Until now, the only barrier to its use was that dry ice was not registered as a pesticide and technically could not be used in commercial pest control. But last year, with the help of the National Pest Management Association, the rodent control product manufacturer, Bell Laboratoriesagreed to work with the U.S. EPA to develop a label for dry ice pellets. The EPA, in turn, moved quickly last June to support the new "Rat Ice" label.

Unfortunately, as of today, Rat Ice is not available through any pest control supply distributor.  Of course, different forms of dry ice are readily available through many gas suppliers, liquor stores and grocery stores. But forget using over-the-counter dry ice. It's not legal.

Rat Ice will be a proprietary product sold as a conventional pesticide and distributed through normal supply channels along with a label.  For example, if your local pesticide distributor warehouse agrees to serve as a supplier, they will purchase and store the ice in special freezers and sell them just like any other pesticide.

According to Bell Laboratories technical rep, Scott Smith, Rat Ice will be sold in 1/2 and 3/4 inch pellets. Purchasers will be issued a label to place on their transport box, and will take from the distributor to the job site.

"Working with a perishable product like dry ice is complicated," Smith said. "We have retained a national distributor to transport the ice to local distributors, and plans are looking good on paper, but we fully anticipate some "aha!" moments ahead."

Challenges for Bell include enlisting distributors willing to handle inventory that literally evaporates if not sold soon enough.  Also, there's a question about whether PMPs will buy a product that is similar to one they could purchase at their corner grocery store. And how will pest control companies located far from big cities and big distributors get the product?

Smith is confident that a good system will be in place by the time Rat Ice hits the market. But it will take time.  Expect several months before product roll-out takes place, he said.

As someone who has struggled to find a convenient-to-use version of dry ice for research, I like the idea of the pelleted formulation. It will make application to burrows easier and safer.  And our industry has generally played well by FIFRA rules long enough, I believe the issue of "product swapping" will be minimal.

Rat Ice is no silver bullet, but it may revolutionize the way many PMPs and city health departments do rodent control. In tests conducted in 2016 by the City of New York, dry ice pellets inserted into rodent burrows reduced the number of active rat burrows in one park from 60 to just two. Another city park saw a reduction of 368 burrows down to 20. Impressive.

Cost for Rat Ice has not been determined, but the quick kill and low risk associated with this product should make it a popular option, especially for anyone who does a lot of Norway rat control.

If this concept works, and I hope it does, the PMP tool box may have to expand to include high-end coolers to keep your CO2 in solid form.  Just be ready to explain to your boss why you keep a Yeti® in your pickup.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Classes at IPM House in 2018

IPM House provides a setting to put classroom knowledge to work. 
Just a short note to let you know about upcoming training opportunities at the IPM Experience House. In case you haven't heard about us, the IPM House is a hands-on training venue at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in Dallas.  We are offering some excellent opportunities for learning in 2018.

Registration is open for the next three classes, and dates are happening soon, so check them out:

Rodent Academy will be offered March 6-8. A reprisal of a very successful class held last December, the Spring 2018 Texas Rodent Academy will feature guest trainer, Tim Madere with the City of New Orleans. An intensive three-day, advanced rodent control training course. Tim is one of the leading rodentologists in the country today, and has a lot to offer. The goal of the Texas Rodent Academy is to provide a highly focused and standardized approach to managing rodent populations through Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Who Should Attend? The course is intended for pest management professionals, municipalities, universities, public schools, and food safety personnel involved in the rodent control programs. Class size is limited, so register soon.  Click here to learn more and for a link to registration. Cost of the three-day class is $300.

Sometimes IPM House provides the pests
along with instruction.
Introduction to termite control for new technicians on March 15 is designed to orient new termite technicians to the art and science of termite control. Termite control expert, Dr. Bob Davis, will be demonstrating practical field skills for setting up and executing a soil termiticide job. Kevin Keim, with Dow Agroscience, will provide an overview of termite baiting, including practical aspects of bait placement and installation. They are joined by Dr. Mike Merchant in the classroom to provide some of the basic biology of termites you need to know if you are to be on the top of your game. 

Owners, this is a great opportunity to get new or old employees ready for termite season. Half of the class will be classroom, and half will be in the field (at IPM House) demonstrating skills for performing a termite treatment. One termite CEU will be offered for those who complete the class. $55 Early registration. Click here to learn more and for a link to registration.

ACE Prep Class Coming to north Texas by popular demand, we are offering a souped-up, two-day version of the ACE Prep Class on April 12-13. This class is designed to help candidates prepare for the ACE exam. It provides a concise, well-rounded overview of the science of entomology and of the major pests that a PMP must know for the exam. The class provides 10+ hours of intensive classroom and lab training in pest control topics for any interested technician. You do not have to be pre-approved as an ACE candidate to take the Prep Class; however, it does serve as an excellent review and confidence booster for candidates who have been preparing for the exam. The exam will be offered at the end of the class to anyone who has applied for certification and paid the examination fee. Students wanting to sit for the exam are responsible for making arrangements with ESA prior to the class. Early registration cost of the two-day course is $100.

Click here to learn more and for a link to registration. Class size is limited to 30, so register early. Principal trainer: Dr. Mike Merchant.

General Household Pests Provides necessary Pest Category training for new apprentices and introduction to general pest control for new technicians. Topics to be covered include introduction to entomology and general orders of insects; general insect pests; mosquitoes; rodents and other animal pests. In addition, we will cover an introduction to IPM and pesticides, and equipment used in pest control. Hands-on activities include use of various sprayers and dusters, bait applications and situational problem solving. 8 hours. May date to be determined.

Lab experiences include microscopic examinations of pests.
Mosquito Control for PMPs provides an introduction to mosquitoes and mosquito biology. We’ll go through some of the basics of mosquito adult and larval identification, learn how to identify mosquito risk zones around the home and how to communicate with customers about risks from mosquito-borne disease. Different insecticide application methods and equipment will be demonstrated. Training will include both classroom, and hands-on and outdoor training at IPM Experience House. June date to be determined.

Application equipment selection, use and maintenance will demonstrate a variety of both new and old application equipment including sprayers, dusters and injection tools.  Experts from local manufacturers and distributors will discuss advantages and disadvantages of different tools, and show how equipment should be maintained and repaired.  July date to be determined.

Ant identification and biology. The first step in ant management is to know your enemy. In this class we'll review the major important ant species in Texas, and gain experience in ant identification using class microscopes.  August date to be determined.

Bed bug management. Get training in basic bed bug biology, learn about the latest research, and get sweaty installing encasements and searching for bed bugs.  Instruction from PMPs with lots of bed bug experience, this will be a very practical class for technicians.  September date to be determined.

ACE Prep Class will be offered a second time for those who missed our April class.  October date to be determined.

To keep informed of all upcoming classes and dates, join our mailing list.

Are bed bugs worse than we thought?

bed bugs and their feces on a mattress
Bed bugs produce an allergenic chemical called histamine to help them aggregate in sites like this mattress welt. Researchers worry that histamine may be adding another environmental allergen to our homes, like dust mites and cockroaches.
Bed bugs are trouble. They drink our blood. They soil our homes with their feces and cast skins. They keep us awake at night and add stress to our already stressed out lives. And they're revolting to most people.

Until now, if there was one positive thing that could be said about bed bugs, it might be that they haven't been found to carry communicable disease.  The impact of bed bugs seemed mainly to come down to sleepness nights and the economic sting of pest control expenses.

But newer studies seem to point to a darker side of these blood sucking pests. In 2011 Mississippi researchers Jerome Goddard and Richard deShazo scored postings from three popular bed bug websites.  They determined that nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, personal dysfunction and other psychological problems were common among online visitors. Some visitors to the sites were so severely shaken by their bed bug experiences that they scored high on a scale for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In addition to mental health impacts, in 2014 bed bugs were implicated as potential carriers of the Chagas disease pathogen, Trypansoma cruziMichael Levy, one of the senior authors of the study, said "we've now shown that the bed bug can acquire and transmit the parasite [in mice]." But it remains to be seen whether bed bugs can pass the parasite to humans.  Currently Chagas disease is only known to be transmitted by kissing bugs--large blood sucking parasites most common in Central and South America. If enough people with Chagas disease are exposed to, and fed on by bed bugs, it's theoretically possible that bed bugs could become a more important vector of the disease in the U.S. than kissing bugs.

Also, we now know that the causative agent for trench fever and several other diseases, Bartonella quintana, can be acquired and passed on in bed bug feces.  The effects of trench fever range from mild to severe, even fatal. The disease has dogged soldiers in wartime for centuries, but until now doctors believed the pathogen was solely transmitted by body lice, insects prevalent among refugees, the homeless, and soldiers in camps and trenches. In a series of studies over the past six years researchers have been finding the bacteria in unexpected places. Traces of Bartonella DNA have been detected in head lice (like bed bugs, not common disease carriers), ticks, mites, and even cat flea feces.  Now the focus is on bed bugs. In 2015 French scientists found the bacterium could survive in bed bug feces for up to 18 days. As with Chagas disease, the evidence falls short of proof that bed bugs do or can carry this disease to humans; but in light of the ongoing bed bug epidemic, the data are worrisome.

Finally, thanks to a paper published this month by entomologists at the University of North Carolina, we now know that bed bugs are a major indoor source of the allergy-provoking chemical, histamine. Histamine was recently found to be one of the chemicals bed bugs use to attract other bed bugs into aggregations.  In this study researchers collected house dust from homes both with- and without-bed bugs, and tested the dust for histamines.

“Histamine levels in bed bug infested homes were at least 20 times higher than histamine levels in homes without bed bugs,” said Zachary DeVries, lead author of the paper. Even worse, histamine levels remained high, even three months after homes were treated with heat treatments.

“Histamines are used in skin and respiratory allergy tests... they cause a bump in skin tests and restrict breathing in respiratory tests,” DeVries said. In addition, he notes in the paper that histamine exposure can result in thinning of the epidermis, possibly posing significant skin effects.

While this study didn't look at health effects among people living with bed bugs, they speculate that risks posed by bed bug-produced histamine could rival the allergy- and asthma-causing effects of cockroaches and dust mites. They worry that because bed bugs live in bedrooms, where we spend the most amount of time indoors, the impacts might be multiplied.

This should remind us of our history with cockroach allergens. Not until the mid-1990s did public health experts and entomologists prove that cockroach allergens have a major impact on human health, especially in big cities. We've never looked at cockroaches in quite the same way since this discovery.

We may eventually have to rethink the way we think about bed bugs. Until then, keep tuned into bed bug news and continue to hone your bed bug fighting skills. After all, who more than your customers deserves a good night's sleep?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Reading your first scientific review paper

Feeling scholarly? Today might be the day to kick off your shoes, put up your feet, grab a favorite beverage and read a scholarly review paper.

The Journal of Integrated Pest Management is a relatively new, open access (meaning free!) publication put out by Oxford Press and the Entomological Society of America.  Its purpose is to provide a place for researchers to publish reviews of the literature concerning significant pests.

Most of the papers appearing in the JIPM summarize current knowledge about the control of an agricultural or horticultural insect, weed or disease pathogen.  But this month a paper of interest to pest management professionals was published on brown recluse spiders.

Rick Vetter and Stoy Hedges, both long-time friends of the pest control industry, have teamed up to write a paper on current practical knowledge about the biology, importance and control of Loxosceles reclusa, better known as the brown recluse. Although both authors are well-published, Hedges admits the paper marks an especially sweet accomplishment for him, as his first paper in a refereed scientific journal.

What's a refereed article?

If you're a PMP and never read a scientific journal paper before, this could be a good one to start with.  But first, just what is a "refereed" journal article? If you've ever heard the old line, "publish or perish" as applied to college professors, the term publish generally refers to refereed journal articles or scholarly books. The "perish" in the saying is almost literal and refers to holding onto or losing your job as a professor. To avoid perishing professionally, it is almost universally true that professors must write refereed articles.

A refereed article is first and foremost a scholarly paper, written by someone who has become learned through study and/or research. Scholarly papers are not meant to entertain, but to precisely explore, inform or enlighten a reader on a topic.  Scholarly papers don't have to be dull or difficult to read (though many are), but they do have to be based on data, sound observation or logic. To ensure this is the case, all must go through a rigorous process of peer review and critique by fellow, equally qualified scientists or scholars.

To publish, Vetter and Hedges first wrote their paper and submitted it to the editor of the JIPM.  The editor then read the paper, made sure it was readable, whether the authors followed journal instructions, and whether it was appropriate for the journal. Once it passed the editor's initial review, willing reviewers with knowledge of spiders or urban pest control were identified and the paper was sent out for review.  Three (usually) reviewers read and commented on the paper, offered suggestions and told the editor whether they thought the paper was OK, whether it needed revision, or whether it was so bad it shouldn't be published. Only after it passed the reviewers' and editor's approval, was the paper approved for publication. Many, if not most, publications get rejected by reviewers at least once. If you look closely at these papers you can almost see the blood, sweat and tears... sometimes from both authors and reviewers.

By the way, reviewers are volunteers. If you are a professor or scholar who has previously published you might be asked to review a paper in your published field. This in itself is considered a scholarly activity and professors are graded by their institutions, partly, on how many papers they have reviewed in a given year. Reviewing a paper is a lot of work, but science could not advance without good reviewers.

The abstract

Most scientific publications have abstracts, usually at the beginning of the paper.  This is one of the most useful parts of a scientific paper. The abstract should summarize the reason for, and the key findings of, the paper.  Unlike a book description on the dust cover of a novel, the abstract should give away the ending. It should be short, but thorough enough to tell the reader what the paper is about, and its conclusions.  In a given year I read relatively few papers from start to finish, but I read a lot of abstracts. They are great time savers.

Vetter and Hedges' paper is a particular type of scholarly article called a literature review. Rather than writing about original research they conducted, they have summarized others' research and put that information into context. As the authors say in the abstract, "...we review biology and life history of the brown recluse spider as it relates to pest management as well as control measures as they pertain to an IPM strategy..." The best literature reviews are written by scholars who know their subject matter well enough to explain not just what another researcher published, but why it's important.  Literature reviews are one of the most important types of publications for new readers on a topic.


A literature review is typically peppered with citations--abbreviated references to refereed papers or books. You'll see lots in this paper. Citations generally include the first author, or two co-authors names, and the year of publication. For example, (Thoms and Scheffrahn 1994) refers to a paper by two researchers, Ellen Thoms and Rudi Scheffran, published in 1994 on the control of pests using Vikane gas.  The full reference citation is found in the section in the back of the paper, usually in the section labeled as References Cited. When the article has more than two authors it will be referred to by the primary author's name followed by et al. For example, Atkins et al. 1958 refers to a paper by J.A. Adkins and three other collaborators, Wingo, Sodeman and Flynn, published in 1958 on "necrotic arachnism" (spider bites that result in flesh-eating, slow-to-heal wounds).  Sounds like a real page turner.

Like all of us, scientists have egos; and having your name first in the list of authors is a badge of honor. Being first usually means that you led the study or done most of writing on the paper.  Surprisingly, being last in a list of authors is often considered second best. Last place is often reserved for the supervising professor (if the first author is a student), or someone responsible for securing project funding. Being stuck in the middle of a long author list is like being the "middle child"--more likely to be overlooked and forgotten.

Let's Read

That's really all you need to know to read this paper. It's more engaging (and you are less likely to fall asleep) if you use a highlighter to mark things new to you, or which might be relevant to control of these spiders. For example, several years ago I did some insecticide tests on brown recluse spiders, so I was especially interested in the review of insecticides that others found effective. I also know from talking with fumigators that spiders are notoriously hard to kill with fumigants. So I was interested to learn that Thoms and Scheffran determined that a 1.5X rate of Vikane was needed to kill brown recluse spiders. I highlighted both of these sections.

Lastly, remember that even writers of scholarly papers are ordinary people--sometimes a little geekier or nerdier than some of your football-watching buddies, but still just people who put their pants on one leg at a time. Even scholars make mistakes, overlook data, and draw bad conclusions. Even though peer review is a rigorous process, it's not perfect. To me, that makes reading science papers more interesting. It means that they should always be read critically, with an eye to your own experience and to common sense.

When you're done, take the paper and file it. I have a My Library folder on my computer. This article went into a sub-folder on spider papers.  Whatever system you use, put it somewhere you can find it later. Otherwise you will forget most of what you've learned and highlighted.

So grab a cold one and dig in. There's a lot to learn about spiders in Vetter and Hedges 2018.