Monday, November 24, 2008

Report from Reno

Five days and 27 pages of hand-scribbled notes later and I've returned from another Entomological Society of America annual conference. As usual, the meeting was an exhausting marathon of meetings and posters and mixers, sweetened by renewed personal contacts and much new and useful information about entomology and pest control.

Some of the sessions were probably topics only an entomologist would find fascinating, like measurements of insect diversity on Arizona mountaintops, how mosquitoes locate their hosts, or the history of DDT (which cost only $.18/ lb after WWII and even the famous Winston Churchill called "the miraculous powder"!). Nevertheless, there was much information that would be of great practical interest to a gathering of PMPs. Just a few valuable new insights and reports included:

  • An update was given on colony collapse disorder (CCD) of honey bees by Diana Cox Fisher, a researcher from Pennsylvania State University, who believes that a combination of stresses and new, or re-emerging, diseases (not pesticides) is probably responsible for the current crisis in bee deaths--at least in the U.S. Currently the best correlation with CCD seems to be a disease known as Israeli Acute Paralytic Virus, although the jury is still out on this one. She noted at the end of her presentation that one out of every three bites of food that we eat is thanks to pollinators like the honey bee.
  • Several interesting papers were presented on bed bugs. Mike Potter, of the University of KY, noted in his talk on the history of bed bugs, that within 5 years of the introduction of DDT, researcher John Osmun of Purdue University reported that it became nearly impossible for researchers to locate bed bug infestations to study. Tim McCoy, of Virginia Cooperative Extension, noted the importance and effectiveness of dusts as a tool in bed bug control. Tempo dust, Drione, and Tri-die dusts gave the fastest kill of all products (45 minutes to 6 hrs). Boric acid dust was the slowest, requiring over 18 days to kill. Dini Miller of Virginia Tech concluded that hydroprene was a useful additive to conventional sprays for bed bugs (especially resistant populations), though the effects of hydroprene are subtle and may not become evident until the second or third generation.
  • One of the most interesting bed bug talks was given by Changlu Wang of Purdue Climbup insect interceptor uses a rough outer surface to trap bedbugs in the smooth-sided inner 'moats'University. He compared spray-based and dust-based IPM programs for bed bugs. The liquid spray tested was chlorfenapyr, and the dust-based program used diatomaceous earth and an innovative bed bug interceptor device placed under bed posts to trap the varmits when they try to climb up, or down from the bed. The clever traps are being sold by Susan McKnight Inc. under the trade name Climbup™ Insect Interceptor. Both spray and dust-based programs worked well in Wang's tests. The traps caught more bed bugs than were observed by the inspectors in all apartments. Another interesting observation was that 94% of the trapped bed bugs were in the outer bowl, indicating that they were off the bed. This shows the importance of treating off-bed locations when controlling bed bugs. These devices might be especially useful for clients with low budgets and a high motivation to help with the elimination program. Of course the effectiveness of the bowls depends on eliminating contact of the bed and bedding with the floor and walls.
  • Tom Greene of the IPM Institute (organization running the Green Shield™ certification program for pest control businesses) reported results of a University of Florida study that showed that properly installed doorsweeps can reduce pest complaints in schools by up to 65%. He made an observation that I believe applies not just to school IPM programs, but to all professional IPM: "The question is not 'do you do IPM?', but 'how much IPM do you do?'" Most PMPs say they do IPM, but there is generally much room for improvement of the quality and depth of IPM done by professionals.

New Web Resource for West Nile Virus

dead blue jay sent in to be analysed for west Nile virusIn August I posted a story about the human face of West Nile virus. Now there is a website where people suffering from West Nile virus, or others interested in the disease, can exchange information about the topic.

It's called the West Nile Information Exchange, at, and it provides a forum for folks to talk about the disease and their experiences, or to learn more about research into WNV. The site was developed by Dr. Kristy Murray, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology for the Center for Infectious Diseases and Associate Director for Research for the Center for Biosecurity and Public Health Preparedness at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Public Health. It has the option for visitors to register and read and post comments about WNV, and subscribe to the comments (like this site).

If you have an interest in WNV, have suffered from this disease or know someone who has, this might be a good place to check out. It's new, so new registrants can help get the discussions going.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Should PMPs kill BEEs?

It's time to put an end to oft-repeated story that bees cannot legally be killed.

Every spring I get calls from the public looking for someone who can help them get bees out of a yard or home. This is a valuable service that I wish more pest control companies would engage in. Because pest management professionals are frequently unwilling, or lack the proper equipment and knowledge, to do bee removal, the job often goes to folks in the beekeeping business who may or may not be licensed to do pest control. Smoke calms bees located in the wall of a home while they are treated with insecticide applied using an ultra-low volume sprayer.

I'd be a rich man if I had a nickel for pest control salesman that's told a potential customer they couldn't remove bees, because bees are protected. This story certainly sounds credible because most people see bees as beneficial. In addition, the media this past year has talked non-stop about an imminent collapse of honey bee populations due to a condition known as "colony collapse disorder" (CCD). The truth is that bees are neither tottering on the brink of destruction, nor are they protected by law.

There is currently no state or federal law stating that pest management professionals cannot kill bees that pose a threat to health or property. One possible source of this legend may be the warning statements on some pesticide labels that prohibit the use of insecticides on certain crops or flowering plants where bees might be actively foraging. These warnings are designed to protect wild or domesticated bees from colonies that do not pose an economic threat. Indeed these warnings help protect commercial beekeepers from losing bees and honey due to pesticide contamination.

Nevertheless, when bees enter a home to build their nest, it poses a stinging threat to the family, pets and neighbors, and it can eventually create additional household pest and odor problems. Old bee nests attract mice, cockroaches, dermestid beetle larvae, ants and moths to the wall of the home where the old comb lies rotting. Furthermore, all social wasps and bees defend their nests. And nowhere in Texas is immune to the threat of aggressive Africanized bees. Even the supposedly docile European honey bee also has quite a temper when conditions are right.

Using the definition of a pest as any organism where it's not wanted, honey bees can certainly be pests. And PMPs can certainly kill or remove honey bee nests anywhere they are not wanted.

But what about the demise of honey bees? If we kill them won't that hasten their almost certain extinction? No. In fact, wild honey bee populations are, by all appearances, quite virile--at least in Texas. To my knowledge, no one is currently tracking wild honey bee populations in our state, but I can detect no decline in the number of phone and email complaints about feral bee swarms and colonies in the past few years. Although Texas has been listed as a state with CCD, at last report the bee keeping industry here has not seen the precipitous declines reported from other states.

It's still unclear what is causing these declines in honey bees in the U.S. and abroad. There are numerous viable theories including new viral diseases, parasitic mites, stress from their high-maintenance lifestyles, and agricultural pesticides. But our Texas honey bees appear to be in no immediate danger.

As far as the ethical question about whether PMPs should kill bees or not, in my opinion this is more of a personal preference, with no one answer being right for everyone. As with anything, the decision involves trade offs: the benefits of reducing risks from stings and possible serious injury (even death) versus the decision to kill what is usually considered a beneficial insect. The economic cost of having to remove bee nests from walls, floors and ceilings of homes, versus the decision to destroy a swarm of bees sitting in the tree outside the window.

But why even talk about killing bees when they can (often) be removed alive? Live bee removal can be, and is, done by some companies, but not everyone has the expertise or the extra time to devote to live bee recovery and restoration. Simply, you can take them alive, but it will usually cost you more. Again, this becomes a personal decision on the part of the homeowner and the business owner.

Ultimately, the relatively few bee colonies that are exterminated from the walls and backyards of homes are not going to have much impact on the big picture of bee survival in Texas. So go out there and remove bees, and make money doing it. But if your company doesn't do bee removal just say so. Don't tell consumers that it's illegal.