Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus strikes training classes

The strategy behind today's protective measures of hygiene, social
distancing, and reducing human interaction is called "flattening
the curve".  This is why Extension programming is being
temporarily suspended.  Adapted from CDC/The Economist.
Who would have believed, even one week ago, that coronavirus would dominate our lives so quickly and severely?  This sort of thing is something that happens to other countries, not ours.  Yet here we are.

The reality of coronavirus hit home to me last week when we realized that we couldn't follow through with our plans to offer a long-planned mosquito control class as part of our IPM Experience House class curricula.  Texas A&M AgriLife and our local campus have moved to emergency mode, effectively shutting most training classes down for the foreseeable future.

In addition to IPM House classes, upcoming school IPM coordinator training courses are similarly affected.  We are cautiously considering whether we may be able to offer classes in May and June.

It took me a while to grasp the significance of the coronavirus shutdown strategy; but for what it's worth, here are a few facts and links that turned me around this week.

  • Understanding that the COVID-19 is not just another seasonal flu.  It's a disease with 4 to 7X higher mortality rate than the flu and longer persistence in the environment than the flu (up to 3 days on stainless steel and plastic).  Maybe worst of all, people (especially children) who catch it can be contagious without even realizing they are sick. 
  • We don't hear a lot about the plight of those who catch this virus and recover (not as gripping in headlines), but this is not a virus to take lightly. Early reports suggest the possibility of chronic lung impairment in some recovering COVID-19 patients
  • Yeah, it sounded bad in China, but look at Italy.  In Italy, where health care systems are more similar to our own but where quarantine actions were slow to be adopted, a crisis situation developed with lightning speed in emergency rooms of afflicted areas.  And if you think Italy's health care is inferior to our own, consider one statistic.  In hospital beds per 1,000 people, Italy leads the US 3.2 to 2.8.  Anyone thinking that our doctors and hospitals could do better in the face of overwhelming numbers of cases as in Italy would be wrong. 
  • Thankfully, there is a strategy behind the "stay at home" message we are hearing so much about. It's called flattening the curve, and it's based on the impact that self isolation and social distancing can have on the speed of spread of COVID-19.  While it may seem inevitable that some of us will get the virus, by reducing our exposure to others we can slow the rate of virus spread.  And if we do this, we might be able to spare our health care system the tsunami of cases seen in Italy. 
  • Our country rightly invests billions of dollars each year in science and health care.  It's time to listen to those smart folks who have dedicated their lives and their intellects to understanding health and illness and the spread of disease.  They don't know everything, of course, but they know a lot more than us non-health professionals know.  
So for all these reasons, I am working this week in an empty building with plenty of social distance around me. We use hand sanitizer, wash our hands regularly and stay away from large gatherings including, unfortunately, classes where we might otherwise be training some of you.  

Let us pray for our communities and our nation, and look forward to celebrating a return to face to face interactions in a matter of weeks.  Be assured that our IPM training classes will resume as soon as possible. 

Loving it with fleas

I love my job--especially when I get to identify tiny insects that no one else wants to look at. I recently received an insect from a gentleman whose daughter had been bitten at home. I could tell immediately we were dealing with a flea--usually a routine identification to confirm that the tiny insect was a cat flea.  But this specimen was different, and prompted a closer look. What fun!

Before I let the "cat flea" out of the bag, one of the fleas below was the flea I saw this week. Can you identify which is the one that was not a cat flea? (Hint: it doesn't have anything to do with the color, length of the body, or shape of the flea)

Two adult fleas.  Human flea on left, cat flea on right.
Click on image for a better view.  Photos by M. Merchant.

If you guessed the flea on the left was my mystery flea, you'd be correct.  But did you guess right for the right reason? 

First, it wasn't the legs.  Both fleas are "host fleas", which means they live most of their adult lives on a host.  Host fleas must have strong jumping legs to gain access to this host.  Nest fleas, on the other hand, live in the nests of their hosts (usually rodents or birds), only living on the host long enough to take a blood meal and returning to the nest after dinner.  Nest fleas rely less on jumping and and more on crawling within the nest to feed, so the third pair of legs is more like the second pair in size. 

The big difference between these two fleas is the presence or absence of dark, comb-like bristles on the face and behind the head.  The cat flea has combs both above the mouth (called a genal comb) and on the tail-edge of the first thoracic segment (pronotal comb) behind the head.  Fleas with both genal and pronotal combs are relatively rare, narrowing down their probable identity considerably.  Most fleas found indoors with two combs like this in homes are either cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis, or dog fleas, Ctenocephalides canis

The flea on the left lacks both a genal and a pronotal comb, ruling out cat flea.  This flea is a human flea, Pulex irritans.  The human flea, like the cat flea, has many potential hosts including small mammals, canines, pigs, humans, and even burrowing owls. 

Entomologists have identified over 2,500 different kinds of fleas from around the world.  Most of these fleas are highly fussy about their food, feeding on the blood of only one or a few closely related kinds of hosts.  These two fleas are exceptions.  Besides cats, the cat flea gladly feeds on dogs, opossums, raccoons (two frequent wildlife hosts that can bring fleas into homes when pets are not present), foxes, skunks, cattle, rats and rabbits, to name a few. [Curiously, squirrels do not seem to be a listed host of cat fleas, so are not likely to be the source of fleas in homes with no cats or dogs.]

Why worry about flea identification?  Because flea ID may provide clues to a possible source of a flea problem. If fleas found in a home or on a pet are not cat fleas, it's possible that the fleas are coming from rodents or other wildlife.  For example, rat fleas may suggest a rat or mouse infestation.  Rat fleas may pose greater risk for the homeowner from flea-borne illness such as murine typhus, or even (more rarely) plague, though the cat flea is not without its own risks. Cat fleas on opossums have been associated with increased cases of murine typhus in California and Texas and other areas.  Cat scratch disease may also be carried by cat fleas.

The following key is provided by the Centers for Disease Control (reprinted in the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control) and can help you identify some of the more common fleas found in structures or on pets. Combs can usually be seen by the practiced eye with a good 10X handlens.  If you want to see other features in this key, however, you'll need a microscope.  A 12X magnification will show genal and pronotal combs; but 25X to 50X is needed to see smaller characters shown on the key. 

If you do not see pronotal and genal combs on a flea collected in a home, and do not have a good microscope, it's best to save some specimens in either 70% ethanol or rubbing alcohol.  Specimens can then be sent to an entomologist for positive identification. Five or more pointed teeth on both the genal and pronotal sites will narrow any flea found on a pet or in a building down to a cat or dog flea, both of which have similar host ranges and control measures. 

CDC Pictorial key to adult fleas
Click on key for a better view. 

 Next time you get your hands on some fleas, take a closer look. Check for combs and use the key. I predict you'll get that same thrill of satisfaction entomologists get when being able to put a name on something that most people can barely see. Your customers will be impressed too.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Termite season (and training needs) around the corner

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Spring IPM Conference registration opens

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Pavement ant gets a new name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's in a Name?

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

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

Recognizing Pavement Ants

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Society meeting highlights risks of ignoring science

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

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

Glorious flies

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

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

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

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

The coming Insect Apocalypse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning from History

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

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

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

Insects and Health

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

Chance to learn more about emerald ash borer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other places to learn more about EAB include:

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

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