Monday, December 20, 2010

What's the connection between IPM and mental health?

I returned last week from the annual conference of the Entomological Society of America--or, as I heard it referred to by a (non-entomologist) hotel visitor, "that Bug's Life group". With over 3100 attendees this year the ESA meeting is probably the largest gathering of professional entomologists in the world, with papers ranging from highly technical reports on new molecular biology techniques to an artist's perspective on the aesthetic beauty of insects.  Regardless of your interest or background, there's always something of interest at ESA.

While a number of sessions and talks were devoted to bed bugs this year, one of the most interesting perspectives I heard was from Dr. Christiana Bratiotis of the Boston University School of Social Work.  She addressed a symposium on how to engage people from diverse backgrounds in urban IPM. Bratiotis's expertise is on hoarding behavior, but she addressed the wider question of how to recognize and deal with people who, for a variety of physical or mental reasons, pose a special challenge to the PMP. 

Making IPM work, Bratiotis said, is especially difficult when pest control customers suffer from a variety of mental and emotional disorders, cognitive limitations, and limitations due to age. Some of the primary mental illnesses likely to be encountered by anyone in the service industry include depression, anxiety, hoarding (of both belongings and animals), schizophrenia and psychoses.  Personality disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder, histrionics, borderline personalities, and narcissistic personality disorder. In addition, cognitive limitations in the mentally challenged and older adults, as well as visual and hearing deficits in many people can lead to difficulties with communication and getting clients to recognize and report pest control problems.

Mental health disorders, especially, can lead to unexpected encounters with a pest control technician, such as the violently angry customer, or the customer hallucinating about unseen pests in walls or crawling on skin at night (delusory parasitosis).   Add to this that the PMP may be one of the few visitors that a depressed or reclusive person may have in his or her home for months (even years), and the stage is set for some interesting interactions.

Mental health problems are far more common that most of us realize.  According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, approximately 6% of the U.S. adult population suffers from severe mental illness.  Over 26% of American adults experience some form of mental disorder in any given 12 month period.  The chance of any of us experiencing a mental disorder of some form over our lifetime is approximately 46%. Clearly, this is not a minor issue.

The relevance of Bratiotis's paper to pest management is obvious, yet I'd wager that most of us in the pest control industry rarely give much thought to how many of our clientele are struggling with mental and emotional health issues.  I know I tend to approach most people with the attitude that they will be just like me--that they will have the same needs and desires, that they will approach problems rationally, and they will be looking for solutions in their own and others' best interests. Sadly, this is not a valid assumption for many people.

If your company's PMPs interact with dozens to hundreds of people daily, having tools and skills to recognize and deal with mental health issues is essential.  If you're an employer with one or more employees, you need skills to recognize and deal with mental illness within your staff as well.  This point came home tragically to the Dallas pest control community last August, when an employee of one of our local companies shot and killed a co-worker in an incident almost certainly due to mental illness.

According to Bratiotis, learning a few simple phrases or techniques can, in many cases, help a PMP better deal with customers who are not acting or thinking rationally.  For the person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who is fearful that they must perform in a specific manner to get rid of pests, affirmation is important.  Assure them that things don't have to be done perfectly to make a big improvement.  For the emotionally unstable or angry customer the best response may be, "I can see you're not doing well today.  I'll come back when you're feeling better." A self-centered (narcissistic) person should be affirmed and empowered to be part of the pest control solution.

Recognize that some problem clients may simply be visually- or auditory-impaired.  Such limitations do not necessarily imply cognitive (thinking) disorder or mental illness, but they can present similar challenges for the PMP.  Visually-impaired clients may not be able to read notices or see the bed bugs or cockroaches in their home.  Auditory-impaired clients may not hear instructions or reports, even though they nod or imply that they do.  Technicians should be aware and on the lookout that some clients will fall in these categories, and will need extra help.

In many cases outside help may be called for.  Letting the apartment manager know what's going on with a problem tenant is important for multi-family housing accounts.  Elderly or mentally challenged customers may need a personal care attendant or access to support services that can help with residence clean-up.  Extreme cases of hoarding will likely also require the help of a professional. 

Additional suggestions include:
  • Help identify resource people or agencies that can help a physically or mentally challenged person (this means educating yourself about the social and mental health resources in your community).
  • Schedule ongoing follow-up and monitoring. Knowing that someone cares and plans to return can make a significant difference in rate of compliance with challenged customers.
  • When making sanitation recommendations to challenged customers, break suggestions down into manageable tasks.  Breaking a recommendation into small steps can make all the difference between progress and paralysis.
  • Realize that many of your customers may be struggling with mental and physical challenges that may not be immediately apparent.  Liberal praise and encouragement  is especially important for these customers when they make an effort to participate in the IPM effort.
Finally, get to know some of the mental health professionals in your community.  These folks may be willing to conduct awareness training and provide resources for your staff.  Conversely, your knowledge and expertise may be of value to the health care community.  It was obvious to me after last week's paper that we in the IPM business need to communicate more with social workers and mental health physicians.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    U.S. EPA celebrates the 40 year mark

    Cuyahoga River fire
    Like Hurricane Katrina and climate change, and the honey bee decline today, the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 caught people's attention about the state of our environment like headlines never did.

    I was in high school when the Environmental Protection Agency opened its doors 40 years ago today. That might not seem like something a high school student would be interested in, but as a budding environmentalist, passionate outdoor enthusiast and Earth Day organizer, I was very interested.

    At the time of the late 60's protection of the environment was not a high priority for our government. Concerns about waste disposal, clean air and water, pesticides and wildlife were growing and regularly reported in newspapers and magazines. Thanks in large part to the EPA, there is much to celebrate about the state of our U.S. environment. Streams run cleaner, food is (arguably) safer, the air is much clearer in most parts of the country, and standards for pesticide safety have never been higher. The bald eagle is back, as are peregrine falcons and ospreys and brown pelicans.

    We're certainly not without challenges and controversies today. Rapid climate change has even our best scientists perplexed about causes and solutions. Fisheries continue to decline. Pockets of unhealthy air persist. Toxic chemical waste proliferates, even with (or because of) our technological advances to computers. Trash in our streams seems worse than ever thanks to our ubiquitous plastic. Oil hasn't run out, though we see the limits to fossil fuel based energy more clearly than ever. Worldwide, more species have vanished, or are threatened, than we might have guessed 40 years ago.

    With all the popular hue and cry about shrinking big government, I for one am thankful that our country had the foresight forty years ago to set up an independent agency to guard our natural heritage.

    I know that government itself needs its watchdogs, and EPA is no exception. Nevertheless, I fear that in our scramble to cut budgets, we may forget the progress of the past 40 years, and lose sight of the need for an independent arm of government with an interest in the future of our world at its heart. A strong environmental ethic is exactly the export we need in this era of global exploitation of the environment. Just look at the Aral Sea (formerly USSR, today Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) and the Yangtze River valley (China) and many of the other environmental disaster areas if you need a reminder of what unrestrained environmental exploitation looks like.

    Here's a toast to all the dedicated workers at the EPA who have worked so hard to please Congress and Presidents past, while keeping their eyes on the prize of a cleaner world.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Rodenticide changes explained

    Bell Laboratories has done a nice job laying out the 2011 EPA changes to rodenticide rules in a new website  These changes will affect what formulations you use and will result in significant label changes.  So don't be caught flat-footed come June.  The changes will impact all manufacturers, retailers, distributors, professional, agricultural and home users of rodenticides.

    Speaking of home users, it might be a good idea to let your customers know the whats and whys of these changes.  Retail consumers will only be able to purchase first generation rodenticides and they will only be available in bait station formulations.  This should improve child safety and could have the effect of making professional rodent control help more attractive to the average consumer.  For EPA's take on the changes, click here.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    TIPMAPS 2.0

    Keynote speaker, TDA Assistant Commissioner Jimmy Bush, connected
    with the crowd on Day One.
    In case you're new to this blog, you may not have heard me talk about our state association for school IPM coordinators, TIPMAPS.  Short for Texas IPM Affiliates for Public Schools, the group is an affiliate of the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO), a well-respected professional organization for school professional in our state. 

    The TIPMAPS group recently held its second annual meeting.  According to TASBO, the conference was attended by over 220 attendees and vendors, representing 108 school districts.  The business meeting on the second day of the conference held over 90 participants, significantly more than 2009.  This is wonderful growth for this new group, and seems to indicate that school IPM coordinators are beginning to take ownership of their relatively new profession.

    For me the highlights of the meeting were hearing coordinators and school administrators present their own take on how IPM works in Texas schools.  Jim Olenski, Greenville ISD, gave an excellent presentation on how to get staff on your side in a school IPM program.  "Don't be a battleship [trying to bend people to will]," Jim said.  Instead, "be a cheerleader." Encourage folks in the positive things they do, and respect the contributions everyone makes to the district.

    Martha Buckner, Humble ISD, shared her insights as to how to work with school boards.  Knowing your board members as individuals, knowing what makes them tick, their special interests and their connections in the district is key to developing a working relationship there.

    Charles Adams, Sherman ISD, shared his extensive experience with trapping wildlife with two classes.  The highlight of his talk was watching him do an outdoor inspection of the hotel and find rat activity (one jumped out of a burrow in front of the class) and raccoon scat a few feet from the elegant outdoor dining area.  Everyone in the training was also treated to a whiff of several baits guaranteed to drive critters wild.

    This year's keynote speaker was Mr. Jimmy Bush, Assistant Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, over all pesticide programs including school IPM.  Many people cited Bush as one of the highlights of the conference, as he gave an understandable overview of how pesticides are regulated in the state.  In addition to Bush, Randy Rivera gave an informative session on IPM and ag science programs; and inspector Perry Cervantes explained the licensing process and how to get the necessary training for unlicensed employees.

    Comments from participants included:
    • Appreciated the fact that unlike some CEU programs, speakers were not spokesmen for particular products
    • Enjoyed the opportunity to network and see what other schools are doing
    • It was nice to meet and greet the vendors
    • Hearing from people from different fields [of expertise] helps
    • Well prepared and knowlegable speakers.  I appreciate the in-depth information
    • Wish I had come last year!
    • Can't wait till next year...
    To see more photos from this year's conference, click here.  And if you couldn't make this year's event, don't miss it in 2011.  The hotel is reserved and ready for next time.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Bed bugs go to school

    Treating school classrooms for bed bugs should be
    a last resort, and only if the pests are known to be present.
    A recent incident in a New Jersey public school made headlines, and got me thinking about right and wrong ways to deal with bed bugs in schools.  In the story, two bedbugs were found on the book bag of a student on a school bus, resulting in an immediate inspection of the school and "fumigation" of the bus.

    Without actually detecting bed bugs in the classroom, the story says that a "specialized exterminator" (I wish we could lose that name) was called in to treat the surfaces where bed bugs could take refuge in the affected class. Later, a bed bug sniffing dog was called in to clear the classroom. Similar incidents with similar aggressive responses are being reported throughout the country.

    If you read the story you can see the incident from the perspective of a school superintendent. The superintendent wants to be able to get up in front of the media and confidently say, “We’ve taken care of the problem.” To this superintendent, this meant that they had involved the highest authority to affirm that the school viewed the problem seriously (State Board of Health—who likely didn't really want to get involved) and gotten professionals to identify the pest and deal with it quickly (by “fumigation”).

    This may be good PR, but it's not the ideal IPM response. Eventually schools, I think, will find this sort of approach unsustainable. This will occur when bed bugs start showing up more routinely in schools. State Boards of Health will no longer accept calls about bed bugs, the maintenance department’s pest control budget will become strained from all the extra, premium-priced service calls, teachers will get tired of having their classrooms “sealed off” unnecessarily, and those dogs will get doggone'd expensive. And inevitably, parents will soon begin to worry about their kids' exposure to pesticides.

    The main problem with the approach reported in story is that some schools are over-reacting to what will certainly become a relatively routine pest problem. Schools want a guarantee that they are bed bug-free, something that is very difficult in real life.  Professionals know that if they really treated every surface where bed bugs could hide, it would require a major investment of labor and time (one I hope you would be charging for). Such efforts would certainly not be warranted without first determining that there was an actual infestation.

    By the way, this brings up our use of the terms infested and infestation. I think it’s better, when it comes to bed bugs, if we reserve use of these terms to situations where bed bugs have settled in and are reproducing as a result of a consistent and available nighttime food supply—something that will probably not be very common in the average public school. I recommend that we start referring to isolated bed bug sightings as detections, not infestations.

    We aren’t told what “fumigation” referred to in this story, though it was certainly not a real fumigation job involving fumigant gases. At its most harmless level, the treatment was likely an application of a non-residual, contact insecticides to cracks and crevices around the backpack areas and the student's desk. It might have been an aerosol ULV application to the bus (not very effective against bed bugs in good harborage). At it's worst, the treatment may have been haphazard spot treatments with residual pyrethroids, which could easily result in contamination of surfaces where kids might have contact.  None of these treatments, as they are commonly applied, provide an absolute guarantee of no more bed bugs. 

    A school district in Texas recently went through a similar incident in several of its classrooms. The response of this district, well trained in IPM, was to do a visual inspection of the room, alert the parents of the child, and have their pest management contractor put out two carbon dioxide bed bug monitors over the weekend to confirm that bed bugs were not present. Monitoring, not pesticide application, is probably the best first response to reports of “hitchhiking” bed bugs on a school backpack.

    This same school district has determined that in cases where the children are likely to continue to come to school with bed bugs, their backpacks will be zip-loc™ bagged during the day as a precaution. This district recently held a district-wide training for its school nurses about bed bugs, and also sends informational letters out to parents in classrooms where bed bugs have been detected.

    We're still learning about the best ways to deal with bed bugs in schools, and doubtless we will come up with better protocols. In the meantime, we should avoid over-reacting to what will become an increasingly routine problem.  And this means educating superintendents and school principals about the facts of life when it comes to bed bugs.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    The bizarre life of a parasite

    I received an unusual sample last week that nicely illustrated the lengths some organisms go to survive.  A woman was puzzled by a number of hard flaky objects that mysteriously appeared in her bed sheets. The accompanying image shows the sample under 6X magnification.  The objects were hard, but crushable and 2-3 mm in length.

    It's not uncommon for people to find objects presumed to be droppings or some other evidence of insect presence in a home.  Rodent droppings, American cockroach, silverfish and other insect droppings are not unusual to find indoors.  In addition, carpenter ants have the interesting habit of tossing insulation and other debris, along with dead insects and insect fragments, out of their nests.  Most often carpenter ant "frass" is found in windows and doorways, where carpenter ant "kick-holes" (garbage shoots) are commonly located.

    My sample was none of these, however.  My first task was to determine whether the client had a dog or cat.  A quick phone call confirmed that the family had no cats, but did have a dog which frequently slept on the bed.

    This answer clinched the diagnosis of "tapeworm proglottids". The dog tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum, lives and feeds as a parasite in the intestinal tract of dogs, cats and (rarely) humans.  These worms are long and flat and may reach lengths of up to 12 inches. The body of the tapeworm consists of segments called proglottids. As a tapeworm matures, the oldest proglottid segments detach from the main body of the tapeworm and wriggle from the anus of the infected animal. These fresh tapeworm segments move with a stretching and shrinking motion.  They are opaque or pinkish white, flat and rectangular, and initially can move short distances.  Eventually they dry into 1/16 inch-long, rice-shaped sacs as seen in the image.  These sacs contain viable tapeworm eggs, and are often seen attached to the hairs around the pets's anus, in feces, or in areas where the pet sleeps (in this case a human bed).

    Here's where things get really bizarre.  Fleas are essential to the life cycle of the dog tapeworm.  Tapeworms use fleas to disperse from one host to another.

    Flea larva. © M. Merchant.
    Flea larvae are the least frequently seen life stage of the flea, but are always present in the soil (outdoors), flooring, carpet or pet bedding of an infested home.  Normally flea larvae scavenge unnoticed around pet loafing areas for the dried blood that always flakes off the fur and skin of a flea-infested host.  Since flea proglottids are likely to drop into these same locations, it's not uncommon for flea larvae to encounter and feed on them. Once a proglottid is nibbled on by a flea larva, the ingested tapeworm eggs hatch inside the flea's body.  In this way the flea larva (and eventually the adult flea) becomes infested with a life stage of the tapeworm that is capable of infecting warm-blooded hosts.

    A cat or dog subsequently becomes infected with tapeworms when they ingest these infested fleas during grooming. Once released into the pet's digestive tract, the tapeworms begin to grow into mature adults that help themselves to a share of the unwitting pet's diet.

    Finding tapeworm proglottids in a home does not indicate a threat to people (though small children have been known to become infested when they pick up and eat fleas!), but they are an indication of a tapeworm-infested pet. If you find tapeworm eggs in a home, recommend to the homeowner to take their pest to the vet for treatment with anti-parasite drugs.

    The dog tapeworm has got to be one of the most unusual pest life cycles encountered in the indoor environment.  For more information about fleas and tapeworms see our online publication, Controlling Fleas.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Texas A&M Workshop to offer ACE prep class this year

    The Texas Pest Control Association, Texas AgriLife Extension, and the Texas A&M University Department of Entomology will be hosting the 65th annual pest control workshop in Bryan, TX on January 12-14, 2011. If you've never been before, this conference is designed for both the newly certified applicator and those who have been in the business for years. The focus is on providing you with the latest research-based information about the science of pest control.

    The workshop includes two full days of continuing education credits (Wednesday and Thursday) and three short courses on Friday.  Topics of the three short courses include pest control in commercial food establishments, termite biology and control, and fumigation. Participants can choose one course and receive up to three additional CEUs. Be sure to sign up early as space is limited to the first 100 people. School IPM even gets its own track at the A&M workshop.  On Thursday, one concurrent session track is designed for IPM Coordinators and individuals interested in school IPM topics.

    In addition to the regular program, the ACE (Associate Certified Entomologist) exam prep course will be offered for the first time at the A&M workshop.  The prep class is a popular way to get motivated to finally take that ACE exam you've been promising yourself to take.  If you are experienced, and think you know your stuff when it comes to entomology, check us out. The ACE certification program does not require a degree in entomology, but seven verifiable years in pest control and willingness to subscribe to the ACE code of ethics.  Sponsored by the Entomological Society of America, ACE certification is another assurance for your customers that you know your profession well.

    Dr. Bob Davis, BASF Corporation, and I will present the prep class on Wednesday, from 10:15 am to 5 pm.  In addition, if you want to take the ACE exam, it will be offered the following day, Thursday, January 13, from 8 am to 12 pm.  Anyone wanting to test must apply at least 30 days in advance by completing an online application at the Entomological Society of America (ESA). You do not have to pre-qualify to take the course without the exam. The course is also good for one General-Other, one General-IPM, one Pest, and one Termite CEU, as well as 4 technician credit hours. There is an additional charge through ESA to apply and take the exam; and anyone wanting to sit in on the class or take the exam must be registered for the workshop.  For more information about the ACE program and how to apply, go to the ESA ACE website.

    If you're interested in registering for the workshop, call (979) 845-5855 or check out the website at

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Bed bug sniffing dogs not perfect

    From New York Times story.  11/11/2010
    One of the most popular tactics in the world of bed bug IPM has got to be bed bug sniffing dogs.  Let's face it, a PMP with a worried face and a flashlight can't hold a candle to a cute pup with mysterious powers to sniff out bed bugs where they hide.  The problem, we are learning, is that bed bug sniffing dogs are fallible.

    A New York Times article published last week details a number of cases where dogs gave "false positives"--that is they detected bed bugs when they didn't appear to be there.  According to the story, one couple paid $3,500 in extermination fees after a dog indicated there were bedbugs throughout their home. After throwing out a bed and 40 garbage bags full of clothes and baby toys, the customer continued to get bites.  Another pest control company couldn't detect any bed bugs, and eventually the problem was traced to a rodent mite infestation. 

    While not a scientific evaluation of doggie abilities to sniff out pests, the story points out some nagging concerns about dogs and pest control. 

    Assuming dogs can be trained to accurately and consistently sniff out bed bugs, many factors can influence the effectiveness of a dog team.  I say team, because a detector dog service is a team of animal and handler.  If the dog is poorly trained, or training is not reinforced on a daily basis, or a handler is not used to a dog (or vice versa), nearly everyone admits that reliability will suffer. 

    Dogs were popular in some markets 10-15 years ago as termite detectors, but few companies seem to employ them today.  I suspect that the high cost of maintaining dogs and retaining handlers were the principal factors leading to the demise of termite beagles (though the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service still employs contraband-sniffing dogs at international airports--and sniffing dogs are used in many other venues).  Perhaps the termite market wasn't robust enough to sustain termite-sniffing dogs.  It's yet to be seen whether bed bug sniffing dogs will have greater success.

    If these dogs are going to make it, a credible certification program is sorely needed, as pointed out in the Times Article.  The stakes are very high, because a handler who suggests a room is infested when it's not stands to cost the customer a bunch of money.  And let's not forget the potential for fraud with unscrupulous handlers trying to drum up money to treat apartments or hotel rooms that don't need treatment.  It seems to me that this is one very good reason for pest control companies to keep their financial distance from canine detection services.

    The key to developing effective IPM programs for bed bugs, I believe, is good monitoring and detection techniques.  Pitfall traps, pheromone and carbon dioxide traps, skilled inspectors, and sticky cards will undoubtedly be around for awhile.  But only time will tell whether bed bug dogs will find an honored place among the bloodhound, drug and bomb sniffing honor roll of service dogs.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Loss for Texas pest control

    Any of you who knew Jeff Seabrook will be sorry to hear that he lost his battle with cancer yesterday.  According to a TPCA email today, there will be a memorial service for Jeff at Dalton Funeral Home in Lewisville, TX (972-436-6511) this Saturday, November 13, from 2-5 PM.

    Jeff was one of the great personalities produced by the pest control industry in Texas.  I first met Jeff when he worked for ICI Americas, but he had worked as many capacities in the industry that one can.  He always had a story, or a gadget, for every occasion.  I will be forever grateful for his invite to go on a fishing trip many years ago in Costa Rica... a trip I'll never forget.

    In recent years Jeff and his wife Diane moved to the Davis Mountains area where he reveled in the scenery and wildlife.  If you are a Facebook follower, consider taking a minute to write a note on his Wall.

    Wind turbine woes

    Wind turbine near Abilene, TX.  NY Times photo.
    When does urban entomology have nothing to do with houses or cities?  Perhaps no better example can be found than the recent email received by my colleague  Dr. Chris Sansone.  He was contacted concerning a wasp problem by the supervisor for a company that provides maintenance services for wind turbines.

    If you haven't traveled recently to west Texas, or the corn fields of Iowa or Minnesota you may have missed the sprouting of thousands of towering wind turbines on the vast, windy plains of America.  The size and scope of these wind farms is truly amazing, providing a reported 4.5% of Texas' energy.

    Apparently 2010 has been a banner year in many areas for paper wasps. Paper wasps, genus Polistes, are the most common of the social wasps around the state, with nests easily found around most homes and buildings.  Polistes wasps are predators on caterpillars and other insects, and build umbrella-shaped paper nests under tree branches, under eaves of buildings and in windows.

    Paper wasps around the entrance to a wind turbine. 
    Photo courtesy Aaron Foster.
    Most Texans learn sooner or later to respect paper wasps for their powerful sting and their willingness to defend their nests with joint attacks on intruders.  No wonder then that maintenance crews of wind turbines get a little skittish when wasps gather at turbine doors at the ground, inside the tower and, even worse, at 300 feet around the generator housing (nacelle).  Imagine being at the top of one of those towers and getting a face full of wasps!

    This phenomenon should not surprise pest management professionals who have observed paper wasp behavior over the years.  Each fall, we see paper wasps abandon their barren nests to seek shelter for the winter.  These overwintering wasps are queens, and they are especially drawn toward structures, especially tall structures in their search for overwintering quarters.  Tall buildings, chimneys and towers are common points of congregation for paper wasps during the months of October and November in Texas.

    This behavior explains the high frequency of complaints by office workers (and homeowners) of wasps in buildings during late fall, winter and the early spring months.  Once inside the attic, or false ceilings, of buildings, paper wasps will move around, especially during periods of warmer weather.  These same wasps frequently find their way into living and working quarters, to the dismay of people.  The good news, however, is that without a nest to defend, these wasps have little fight in them.  Therefore, there is little risk of being stung by wasps at this time.

    Wind turbine crews aren't the only high fliers worrying about wasps.  Communications tower workers, construction workers and even NASA launch pad workers have discovered the fondness of paper wasps for high places.  When encountering wasps in such locations I have no doubt that the best course of action is to keep calm, wear clothing that can be buttoned tight and try your best to ignore the critters.  Of course you're not getting me up there to test the theory.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    A closer look at bed bug resistance

    An interesting story came out last month from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center at U.C. Berkeley.  The story does a nice job of explaining the connection between DDT and pyrethroid resistance, and why pyrethroid resistance has appeared to develop so quickly in the short time that bed bugs have re-emerged as an important North American pest (The one bone I have to pick with the story is its confusion of the relationship and terminology between pyrethrins and pyrethroids--there is no such term as "pyrethrums").

    The answer is that when bed bugs reemerged this decade as a major pest they had already been "pre-selected" for resistance to pyrethroids by their previous exposure to DDT.  Because DDT acts at a similar site in the nervous system as pyrethroids, researchers theorize that the same mutations that conferred resistance to DDT bestowed protection upon the bearers of those mutations from pyrethroids. 

    I remember John Osmun, one of my professors at Purdue University, recounting with excitement one of his early army adventures with bed bugs.  As an entomologist with the military in the early 1940s he had been assigned to use a secret insecticide to treat bed bug infested army barracks.  Almost miraculously, the long-persisting infestation was eradicated.  The insecticide was, of course, DDT.  Since WWII, DDT went on to become a widely used tool to manage many insect populations, including bed bugs.  Unfortunately bed bugs have used their long experience with this insecticide to fight back against more advanced pesticides.

    A recent study by Zhu et al (2010) looked at bed bugs collected from 97 locations in 17 states and found resistance to deltamethrin in 88% of the sites.  Because of the scattered geographical sampling conducted in this study, the status of bed bug resistance in Texas is still tentative.  The only sample from Texas collected and analyzed in this study was from Beaumont, and showed resistance based on one genetic mutation.  Many of the samples revealed populations with another genetic mutation, or even two mutations. Relatively few populations sampled were classified as fully susceptible to deltamethrin.

    This does not mean that resistant bed bugs cannot be killed with deltamethrin or similar products; but it does mean that the dose needed to kill will be greatly increased.

    The research, especially the resistance maps of the U.S., should be considered tentative; but does give us a better idea why bed bugs are so difficult to control with standard pyrethroid insecticides.  Even though the study focused on deltamethrin only, the results should be mostly applicable to all pyrethroids.  Chlorfenapyr is the only other liquid residual insecticide that is widely used at the present time that is not a pyrethroid insecticide and to which bed bugs have no known resistance. 

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Fall Pest Management Seminar 2010

    The annual Fall Pest Management Seminar will be held next month on November 9th at the Texas AgriLife Research & Extension Center at Dallas.  Speakers this year include Janet Hurley (IPM Business Practices), Jim McAfee (Weed Control), Mark Evans (Laws and Regulations Update), Kevin Ong (Tree Disease Control) and myself (Stinging and biting pests).  Cost of the program is $60 for registrations made before November 3, and $75 at the door.  Registrations should be made online  Texas AgriLife's Conference Services (use the registration keyword IPM).  This is a great program for anyone in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who needs TDA or structural pesticide applicator certification CEUs. 

    Hoarding and pest control

    Part of a clutter rating chart in the
    Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring
    Most of us know that one of the biggest obstacles to IPM is a cluttered account.  Clutter interferes with inspecting for pests.  It interferes with access to places needing treatment.  And it provides pests with abundant harborage.  When it comes to IPM and pest control, clutter is everyone's problem.  But what happens when clutter takes over in a home or apartment? You could be dealing with hoarding. 

    Allison Taisey is a project coordinator with the Northeast IPM Center in New York.  She recently wrote about the hoarding problem on her new blog, IPM in Multifamily Housing.  Allison has been working with multifamily housing for several years and assisted with a multifamily housing training that I wrote about last year.  In her work she has encountered hoarding multiple times and has explored the connection between hoarding and IPM more than anyone I know.

    Hoarding, she writes, is a complex disorder that involves problems with disorganization, collecting too many items, and developing an emotional attachment with those items that is hard to break. Hoarders cannot just "clean things up", at least not without help.  Many people have been made aware of the hoarding issue through the A&E television program "Hoarders".
    I encourage you to learn more about this difficult issue by visiting both Allison's and the A&E site.  It's possible you may gain some insight into how to deal with the chronically cluttered apartments and homes you service. Any of you involved in servicing multifamily housing would likely benefit from subscribing to Allison's blog.  And Allison, welcome to the world of pest control blogging!

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Snopes lists new bed bug email misinformation

    I had an email today from a colleague asking me if I had heard about bed bugs being a problem in new, store-bought clothing. He had just received the following email:

    “We have friends here in our community and one of their sons is an entomologist (insect expert), and has been telling them that there is an epidemic of bed bugs now occurring in America. Recently I have heard on the news that several stores in NYC have had to close due to bed bug problems, as well as a complete mall in New Jersey.

    “He says that since much of our clothing, sheets, towels, etc. now comes from companies outside of America, (sad but true), even the most expensive stores sell foreign clothing from China, Indonesia, etc. The bed bugs are coming in on the clothing as these countries do not consider them a problem. He recommends that if you buy any new clothing, even underwear and socks, sheets, towels, etc. that you bring them into the house and put them in your clothes dryer for at least 20 minutes. The heat will kill them and their eggs. DO NOT PURCHASE CLOTHES AND HANG THEM IN THE CLOSET FIRST. It does not matter what the price range is of the clothing, or if the outfit comes from the most expensive store known in the U.S. They still get shipments from these countries and the bugs can come in a box of scarves or anything else for that matter. That is the reason why so many stores, many of them clothing stores have had to shut down in NYC and other places. All you need is to bring one item into the house that has bugs or eggs and you will go to hell and back trying to get rid of them. He travels all over the country as an advisor to many of these stores, as prevention and after they have the problem.

    “Send this information on to those on your e-mail list so that this good prevention information gets around quickly.”
    Any of you in the bed bug business will know that some of this information is correct.  There is a bed bug epidemic growing in the country, with stores and businesses are being affected, as well as hotels, homes and apartments.  In addition, they are difficult to control.  What's fishy about this email is the alarmist tone about finding bed bugs in new clothing from retail clothing stores.   

    I was curious whether this was an isolated email, and whether it had spread widely, so I checked with, the urban myth-debunking site.  I did a quick search on bed bugs and the exact email appeared. Posted on Snopes less than a week ago, this one appears to be just beginning to spread through cyberspace. 

    Snopes rates emails as True, False, or a mixture of truth and falsehood.  This one they rate as a "mixture".  I agree with their analysis that the chance of getting bed bugs from packages of new clothing is extremely remote. I’ve never heard of this happening, and would be surprised to hear about a confirmed case of bed bugs traveling in this way.

    This email follows the pattern of a classic hoax that seems designed to scare people into worrying about things they needn't worry about, or encouraging them to take an unnecessary action (Remember the hoax about the deadly "blush" spider that lives under toilet seats?  It urged everyone to always  check under public toilet seats before sitting down?) I'm not sure what prompts people to concoct these wild tales, unless it just gives someone the jollies to think about the thousands of frightened people checking their toilets.  All of us are prone to fall prey to a practical joke from time to time, but as professionals we can at least be ready to correct nonsense about pest control when it occurs.  So the message here I guess is: "Don’t stop shopping for new clothes; the economy is bad enough as it is."

    The Snopes site, by the way, is chock-full of insect lore, strange fact, and legend.  Try a search on "insect", "rat", "spider" and "ant" and see what you find.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Termidor label expanded for crazy ants

    The Termidor label is expanding under the Texas' Section 18 emergency exemptions program to accommodate the expanding range of the Rasberry crazy ant in south Texas.Termidor has been a useful insecticide to help prevent crazy ant invasion of homes.  Unfortunately, because of the very high numbers of these ants in infested yards, the traditional "one foot up, one foot out" broadcast treatment allowed on standard labels has been inadequate.  The new label allows application "3 feet up and 10 feet out" up to twice a year.  Hildalgo County has been added to the list of counties where the expanded label may be used, and a provision on the label also allows use in unlisted counties if those counties have been listed as infested by Texas A&M University entomologists.

    If you are not sure if your county has been included in the new label, Ed Gage of the Texas Department of Agriculture suggests that you visit their page listing the current known counties of infestation.  Another site to check is the Texas A&M University crazy ant website.  According to Gage, as with any Section 18 label, if the label you have in your hand does not include your county, but the county has been declared infested, simply make a copy of the new label, print it off and carry it to your application site.  For a copy of the latest label, as of October 1, 2010, ask your local pesticide distributor, or click here.  More up-to-date labels may be available on the TDA website.

    The term Section 18 label refers to a section of the federal pesticide law referred to as FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act).  Under Section 18, states may grant exemptions to label provisions if an emergency is determined to exist.  In the case of the new crazy ant, the first exemptions were granted approximately one year ago on October 21, 2009.  The exemption will be allowed until October 21, 2012.

    What do socks and bulletproof vests have in common?

    Last week Notre Dame and University of Wyoming scientists announced a breakthrough in the commercial mass production of spider silk

    For years I have heard speakers talk glowingly of spider silk--about its tensile strength that is greater than steel, its amazing ability to stretch, and its ability to retain its strength at temperatures as low as -40 degrees C. It also is thought to possess antimicrobial properties that might make it useful in medicine. Possible uses of spider silk include making superior surgical suture thread, bullet-proof vests, automobile air bags and other strong, lightweight  fabrics that could be used for clothing like running socks and athletic shirts.

    Unfortunately, spider silk is amazingly difficult to obtain.  Spiders have been milked, or more properly, "silked"; but this impractical for obtaining all but the smallest quantities of silk.  This is what makes the Notre Dame story interesting.  Molecular biologists have attempted in recent years to product silk through the process of genetic engineering.  One apparently failed biotech venture involved insertion of spider silk genes into goats, that produced silk in their milk.  The idea was that the silk could be extracted from the milk.  Lately researchers have focused on inserting spider silk genes into the all-time best producers of silk, the silkworm caterpillar. The result is a caterpillar that spins a combination of silkworm and spider silk, with improved toughness and elasticity.

    All this reminds me of the many times people have asked me, "What good is that bug?"  Spider silk research is just one example of the many amazing products that are possible if we protect, and take the time to learn about our biological heritage.  Who would have guessed that tiny spiders might hold the secret of antibacterial socks, or a better air bag in your car?  And what other useful insects or arthropods are out there, if we just take the time to preserve and study them?  All this becomes especially significant when you consider that hundreds of thousands of insects will likely go extinct over the next 50 years if habitat destruction is not controlled.  The loss to humankind of failing to protect these resources is literally incalculable.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Rasberry crazy ant adds a new home

    According to today's news release from AgNMore, the Rasberry ant, Nylanderia sp. near pubens, has now been found near Weslaco, TX in the lower Rio Grande valley.  This marks another geographical jump probably aided by humans.  The first area of infestation just south of Houston, has spread to approximately 12 adjacent counties.  Last summer the ants were reported from San Antonio area, as well as Jim Hogg county.  The Weslaco sighting, in south Hidalgo county, confirms that the ants have made it successfully to far south Texas. 

    For more information about the Rasberry crazy ant, see the page at the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology's website.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    The great beetle invasion

    It's fall, and for most Texans this means principally and foremost, the beginning of football season.  But while high school males are rejoicing at the end of two-a-days and the beginning of cheerleaders, another species is rejoicing in the change of weather.

    The sugarcane beetle, Euetheola humilis, is found throughout the South.  First reported as a pest of sugarcane in Louisiana in 1880, it is considered an occasional pest of field corn, rice and sweet potato. In recent years it appears to be becoming an increasingly important pest in Louisiana and Mississippi.  In Texas I have received increasing reports of this beetle from unusual urban situations.  Schools have reported damage occurring to running tracks.  Businesses have reported damage to caulking in sidewalks and around doors of buildings and, last year, a car dealership reported beetles digging their way into rubber seals on recreational vehicles in a sales lot.

    Black piles of sugarcane beetles at high school running track, Paris, TX.  September 13, 2010. 
    Photo by Sam Adams, Pogue Construction
    This week I received pictures showing the most impressive infestation I have seen or heard of so far.  The new high school running track in Paris, Texas has been inundated with these beetles attracted, apparently to stadium lights.  

    Such infestations seem to be sporadic, as these beetles are not abundant in all years; but when they are, they are showing themselves to be a formidable pest.  Like crickets and many other occasional pests, sugarcane beetles are attracted to lights at night.  When sun comes up, the beetles' natural instinct is to get out of the light.  What makes this species different is its persistence, ability and strength to dig through rubbers and caulks and other usually tough building materials.  

    Sugarcane beetles lift a rubberized running track off its cement base
    via their digging activities. 
    As with fall cricket invasions, the best and fastest solution is to turn off the lights.  In the Paris, TX high school last night, lights were turned off with a dramatic decrease in numbers.  But turning off lights is not always practical or possible.  In such cases, reducing the time that lights are left on, switching to less attractive sodium vapor light fixtures, or some combination of the two strategies should be pursued.  Pesticides are not likely to provide much relief, though frequent treatment with a residual insecticide may be somewhat useful in emergency situations like the high school where the track is being destroyed.  Early morning sweeping or vacuuming, before the beetles can cause damage, may also be helpful in some cases.  

    The only good news about this situation is that such flights are temporary and will probably decline within a week or two.  Football and track coaches, however, may still not be pleased.

    The Pros debate green golf courses

    A mini-debate has been running recently among the small community of entomologists who work with insect pests of turf and ornamental landscapes. It has to do with the growing emergence of green golf courses and a recent story/video at on the Chambers Bay links golf course on Puget Sound in Washington. The discussion was interesting and reveals some of the subtleties of varying opinions on the green movement.

    Chamber's Bay is a sustainable, all-fescue, Scottish-links-style course that was built on a reclaimed gravel pit. The course uses almost no irrigation, chemical fertilizers, or pesticides. It is a showcase for cultural control and how “brown can become the new green.” This course does not look like most of the lush, immaculate courses you see around Houston, Dallas or San Antonio, or for that matter any of the PGA tournament courses you see on television.

    Not every one is ready to stand up and cheer for these new courses, however. Not that I know anyone who doesn't support a golf course that uses less water, fertilizer and pesticides; but it's the fear that Chamber's Bay and other courses like it, are being set up as examples for the golfing community, with the implication, "See they can do it. Why can't all courses be like that?"

    According to entomologist Dave Shetlar, Ohio State University, "Climate makes all the difference when it comes to having diseases, weeds and insects." Just because a course can be successful using a low-input approach along Puget Sound, it doesn't mean that acceptable course conditions can be maintained in Houston, Texas or Augusta, Georgia, where disease, weed and insect pressure is many times higher.

    Shetlar worries that folks who are eager to jump on the “green wagon” will cause trouble for other courses trying to maintain tournament-grade turf. He points to the eastern Canadian provinces, whose governments have recently banned “cosmetic” pesticide and fertilizer use in urban landscapes. The one exception so far has been golf courses. "Now that a couple of courses have claimed that they don’t need fertilizer and pesticides, the government regulators are looking again at the exemption that they gave golf courses [and consider eliminating the exemption]." If this happens, he said, there will be a lot of unhappy golf players and grief among golf course managers. He cites pressure from the PGA, which has stated that they won’t allow play on “sub-standard” courses.

    Dr. Dan Potter, Professor of Entomology from the University of Kentucky, has a different perspective. While acknowledging that golf course settings vary widely in climate, soils, water requirements, golfer expectations and pest pressure, the idea that golf courses need not approach visual perfection is the significant issue with Chamber's Bay. Quoting professional golfer Bo van Pelt at the British Open, he said: “St. Andrews [arguably, the premier golf links course in the world] shows that every course doesn’t have to be immaculate, green, watered, manicured. There are different ways to play golf. And this way is great.”

    According to Potter, "American golfers have traditionally preferred to play on velvet-green, immaculately-groomed courses. Watching the Masters at Augusta National on a high-definition color TV sure sets the bar high. But socio-cultural perceptions can change... Marketing and consumer education can speed that change."

    Potter also notes that today's turf insecticides are much less toxic than many of the older ones, and that insecticides are necessary to prevent turf destruction in some settings.
    "[Research has shown that] “organic golf” does not work in many, perhaps most settings. Clearly insecticides are needed in many circumstances. But all over the world there is recognition that water use and other golf course inputs can be reduced without compromising quality of play. The USGA has invested $30 million in environmental research. About 2700 US courses have earned Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status. GCSAA’s Environmental Institute for Golf and USGA/PGA/Audubon International’s 'Golf and the Environment' promote sustainable resource management. ...I’m encouraged that USGA has selected a less-than-aesthetically perfect course committed to sustainable management for its signature tournament."
    Potter's point is that if people's perception of what is meant by an attractive golf course can change, then golf course superintendents will feel the freedom to cut back on some of the intensive management practices in use at many courses today. We should cheer, not fear, courses like Chamber's Bay, for leading the PR charge towards a different ideal on the links.

    So why blog here to PMPs about golf courses? It has to do with consumer demand. The golf course experience, whether we realize it or not, affects the way professionals are called to manage urban landscapes. Until there were immaculate greens and emerald fairways in north Texas, many Texans were happy with a basic grass/weeds mix, or even (before that) the traditional raked dirt front lawn. I don't think we'll ever go back to black dirt lawns in my community, but I know from seeing them that urban landscapes designed with native trees and prairie plants can be just as, if not more, attractive than the bermudagrass/crape myrtle/holly formal landscapes so common in north Texas cities. On the other hand legislators should be aware that management practices that work in Canada or Washington state or Maine, may not work or be acceptable in the sun belt, home of the thousand plagues. 

    PMPs will do well to follow this green debate, as this is affecting anyone whose business includes landscape maintenance.  Besides, it seems like a good excuse to get out on the golf course more.  Chalk it up to market research.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Beautiful ant pics

    Brachymyrmex ants from Alex Wild, North American ants.
    If you've got a good microscope and occasionally get unusual ants to identify, you might benefit from this site from Alex Wild, a photographer and biologist from Illinois.  If you've ever tried to photograph ants you should have special appreciation for the beauty and clarity of these images.

    The pictures do not take the place of a good key and identification guide, but never underestimate the power of good pictures in helping identify insects.  If you are from Texas, another excellent ant ID reference is Ant Genera of Texas, available through the Texas AgriLife Bookstore.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    NPDES legislative update

    Earlier this month I sent a long post trying to summarize the latest legal developments concerning the Clean Water Act, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and commercial pesticide applications.  I'm not going to be long-winded today, other than to say that there has been a lot of opposition to the court's decision to consider label-approved pesticide applications to, or over, water as a discharge of pollutants.  As a result, legislation was introduced on August 5th to explicitly exempt pesticides from other permitting requirements when pesticides are applied according to an approved label.  If passed, the bill would essentially side-step the legal ruling that declared certain pesticides as pollutants and requiring them to obtain an NDPES permit.  According to Senator Lincoln (D-AR), the bill's sponsor,
    “Our legislation is very simple: as long as a producer is complying with FIFRA, then no Clean Water Act permit will be required. During the more than 35 years since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has never required a permit for the application of FIFRA-registered crop protection products. Our bill would extend this common-sense approach and avoid duplicative, unnecessary burdens on our farmers, foresters, and ranchers.”

    I've not had time to study response to this legislation, but I thought I would let you know about it before it's old news.  Here's a link to the bill at govtrack.  It's interesting that the drafters decided to amend FIFRA rather than the Clean Water Act.  This strategy is likely due to the hope that the bill will receive a more sympathetic hearing in the Agriculture Committee, and is therefore more likely to be passed out of committee. Stay tuned for more developments in this lively bit of pesticide history.

    Save that skin! Snake sheds can be useful for ID

    The southern copperhead snake, Agkistrodon controtrix, with its
    banded pattern blends in well with the forest floor.  Note the
    triangular-shaped head.
    A client came into our office last week with what was for me an unusual sample.  Snake skins (or sheds, as they are called) are not commonly brought to entomologists, though I suspect that most pest control businesses see snake samples regularly enough.  The shed in this case was discovered under a sofa in a home, and the alarmed homeowner wanted to know (reasonably enough) if it was from a poisonous snake.

    Now it might not immediately occur to most people to worry about worry about what species of snake they have in their home.  A snake skin mysteriously appearing in the living room would be cause enough for total panic for most people, regardless of species.  But wanting to know whether a shed is from a venomous snake or not is a sensible request.  Shed skins can provide excellent clues to the identity of a snake and, if nothing else, can comfort a customer by relieving them of the worry that a fanged, potentially-lethal reptile might be lurking in the laundry basket.

    To recognize venomous snakes, it's first important to know which snakes are venomous.  There are dozens of species of venomous snakes in the U.S., but it's relatively easy to recognize the three major genera and four major kinds of venomous snakes.  If you can recognize these snakes, you can recognize any of the bad players you're likely to encounter in this country.
    • Coral snakes.  The only North American members of the infamous snake family Elapidae, which includes the cobras, mambas, kraits and tiger snakes (found only in the Old World).  Coral snakes are relatively secretive and less likely to be encountered around residential areas.  They are strongly ringed with red, yellow and black; although there are several more common snake species that share this color characteristic.  What distinguishes coral snakes is that the two warning colors, red and yellow, touch each other.  Other, non-venomous mimics (like milk snakes and king snakes), always have a black band separating the yellow and red bands.  Hence the old Boy Scout rhyme really works: "Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack". 
    • Copperheads.  Copperheads, water mocassins and rattlesnakes all belong to the family Viperidae, subfamily Crotalinae.  All pit vipers have triangular-shaped heads that are wider than the neck, and specialized facial pits between the nostril and eye that are used for sensing the body heat of prey.  Copperheads are brownish in color with bell-shaped markings on the sides (see image) and are difficult to see amidst dead leaves on a forest floor.  Copperheads are one of the more commonly encountered snakes around homes near wooded areas in the eastern half of the U.S. 
    • Cottonmouths (water moccasins).  Cottonmouth snakes belong to the same genus as copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon), but are associated with aquatic habitats.  One of the most feared venomous snakes, they are often confused with harmless water snakes.  Their pit viper characteristics, often aggressive behavior and white mouths help distinguish them from water and other dark-colored snakes. These snakes are less likely to be encountered by PMPs, unless the account is close to water and in the southeastern quarter of the U.S.
    • Rattlesnakes.  Two genera of snakes are classified as rattlesnakes, so-named because of a series of loose, horny segments born at the tip of the tail that make a rattling sound when vibrated.  Various species of these snakes are found throughout the contiguous U.S. These may be common around homes, schools and businesses in certain areas, especially in the more arid parts of the western U.S.
    One way to distinguish most venomous from non-venomous snake sheds is to examine the scale pattern on the underside of the tail section.  Most snakes with double rows of scales from the anus to the tip of the tail can be assumed to be non-venomous (except for coral snakes).  Such scales should be visible on a complete shed snake skin.  Illustration taken from Roger Conant, A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America.
    All snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, shed their skins several times a year.  Snake sheds may remain complete and intact, or may frequently come off in sections.  Sheds may show up in a yard, under a home, or even occasionally indoors.  If a customer calls to report finding a snake skin, ask them to keep it until you can visit.  Nathan Haislip of the Fort Worth Zoo's Department of Ectotherms (a fancy term for insects, reptiles, and amphibians) was kind enough to share his advice on how to recognize whether a shed is from a venomous or non-venomous snake. He suggests:
    • If the head section is present and intact, look to see if it's arrow-shaped (triangular) or if you can detect a pit located just below an imaginary line between the eye and nostril.  These two characteristics identify a snake as a pit viper, the most common family of venomous snakes in the U.S. The coral snake is the only other venomous snake in North America without these characteristics.  
    • If the head is missing or damaged, another character to look for is the pattern of scales on the bottom of the tail, behind the anus or ventor.  If the scales form more than one row, the skin is not from a rattlesnake, copperhead, or cottonmouth. 
    • If there is a tip to the tail of your snake skin, then you definitely know you aren't dealing with a rattlesnake because the tip is the rattle and the shed doesn't continue past the rattle. 
    • Looking for color patterns left behind on the skin can also be helpful.  Copperhead sheds, for example, may show the characteristic banding patterns of that species.  Diamondback rattlesnakes should have  the distinctive diamond pattern visible, depending on the quality of the shed. 
    • If you have access to a local herpetologist or zoo with a reptile collection, you may be able to get more precise on the identification from a skin alone.  Put the shed into a protective box and save it for an expert to evaluate. 
     All this illustrates why pest control is such an interesting profession.  You never know what kind of questions, or samples, you will encounter on a given day.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Treating fire ants in electrical equipment

    Fire ants and other ants are attracted to the warmth and electrical fields associated with outdoor electrical equipment.  This electrical insulation has been chewed and wires bared by fire ants.
    Although I blogged about fire ants and electrical equipment over a year ago, it's a subject that deserves repeated attention, especially during these hottest days of the year.  This is the time of year when damage to electrical equipment, and especially air conditioners, is especially troublesome.  One of the less recognized economic impacts of fire ants is the damage they can do to air conditioners, traffic signal controllers, landscape lighting, well pumps, and pad-mounted transformer boxes.  Such damage costs Texans millions of dollars every year

    One of the oft-forgotten benefits of having a professional service controlling fire ant is the protection of such sensitive equipment.  By providing fire ant control in lawns and landscapes, PMPs provide an important first line of defense for electrical equipment. And control of ants in the equipment itself is a useful, and sometimes critical, second line of defense.  Fortunately, there effective products for this second approach.

    Pad-mounted electrical transformers (box in foreground) are
    common in residential areas throughout Texas and the
    southern states.
    Many years ago I was approached by a north Texas utility company to evaluate different products for keeping fire ants out of electrical transformer boxes, you know those ubiquitous green boxes found throughout residential neighborhoods in Texas.  The utility company rarely services these boxes, but when they do they wanted to be able to treat a box quickly and cheaply with a product that would keep fire ants out for a long time (years). 

    Unfortunately, we're still looking for the perfect product or long-term treatment for fire ant control in electrical equipment.  But this doesn't mean that there aren't some helpful products out there.  In my research, we found that granular formulations of bifenthrin, tefluthrin and even chlorpyrifos would keep fire ants out of electrical equipment for a year or more. Depending on the label directions of specific products, you should be able to apply a light layer of these insecticides into the base of many types of electrical equipment to suppress fire ant activity for at least a year.

    More recently, Molly Keck, our extension IPM program specialist in San Antonio, looked at an additional, novel treatment to keep fire ants out of transformers. In her study, she evaluated an easy-to-apply permethrin-impregnated plastic tape strip that could be placed around the concrete openings inside these (locked) transformer boxes, and found that they worked well to exclude fire ants for 16 months.  These tests, I can attest, are difficult to set up and conduct; but despite their relatively small sample sizes, these products do work.

    Keck and extension entomologist Bart Drees also published a fact sheet on the subject of different methods to exclude fire ants from electrical equipment. In it they mention a variety of different products and list manufacturers of these materials if you want to obtain samples for your own use or testing. 

    I encourage you to be aware of the different fire ant control options for protecting electrical equipment.  I suspect that this is a service that few of you are offering right now; but it seems to me that treatment of electrical equipment would be a great way to distinguish yourselves from your competition while saving your customers significant money.  It may also save you a customer. 

    If you want to bring out the revolutionary fiery spirit of a Texan, let the air conditioner break down in hundred-degree weather due to fire ants.  And I for one wouldn't want to be in that line of fire.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Armed Forces Technical Guides for pest control

    A number of years ago I saw a training video on pest proofing kitchens put out by the Armed Forces Pest Management Board.  It wasn't very polished, but it was very practical and did a good job of teaching the viewer how to seal the cracks and crevices in a real life kitchen. In addition, I happen to know that there are a bunch of Aggie entomologists that work under the AFPMB, so it has to be a crack unit.

    All this to say that PMPs should jump at the chance to take advantage of training materials and information put out by the AFPMB.  One of the ways to do that is by checking out the Technical Guides they publish.  These guides cover a variety of topics ranging from IPM, to how to monitor for stored product pests, to Africanized bees, to how to store and display retail pesticides.  All these topics are pursued with military efficiency and enthusiasm.  Of particular interest today may be the guide to bed bug control written by my BCE colleague, Dr. Harold Harlan.  Dr. Harlan has personally fed his own colony of bed bugs for years and has provided bed bugs used in many of the current research studies being conducted on these pests. 

    I hope you will check out some of this information.  You never know when a soldier's perspective can come in handy.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    A primer on the NPDES and its potential impact on pest control

    Clean water is in everyone's best interest. 
    Guadalupe River State Park.
    Last week the Advisory Committee for the Texas Department of Agriculture's Structural Pest Control Service met in Austin. The advisory committee meets quarterly to offer suggestions and feedback to TDA on rules and regulations pertaining to pest control in Texas. Much of the time in last week's meeting was spent learning about the upcoming EPA rules governing pesticide applications around waterways. If you haven't yet heard about this issue, it is a topic of hot debate right now among PMPs around the country.

    At stake is whether PMPs will be subject to notification and permitting rules required under the Clean Water Act. To understand the issue, you must first understand something about the Clean Water Act itself and the recent court decisions affecting how the EPA administers the law.

    The Clean Water Act
    The Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed in 1972 (with significant amendments in 1977 and 1987) as the nation's premier law protecting the quality of water in navigable streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands. In Section 301(a), the Act  prohibits discharging any pollutant unless the discharge is in compliance with permitting provisions of the Act (the CWA specifically exempted agricultural stormwater and irrigation discharges). According to the law, pollutants includes, among other things, “garbage… chemical wastes, biological materials …and industrial, municipal, and agricultural waste discharged into water.” 

    One way a person may discharge a pollutant legally is by obtaining a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Under section 402(a) of the law, EPA may issue permits to discharge pollutants if certain conditions are met. Two types of permits are available: individual and general. Permits are generally granted for a set period, no greater than five years. General permits are granted (usually by the state) when multiple facilities/sites/activities will generate pollution. To establish a general permit, the EPA or a state develops and issues the permit in advance. Permits generally cover certain types of activities and set the guidelines for what levels of discharge are covered by the permit. Anyone wishing to make a discharge into a waterway must request coverage under the permit through submission of a Notice of Intent (NOI).

    Pesticides and the CWA 
    Nearly everyone agrees that the CWA has been a significant factor in improvements seen in the nation's riverways and coastal waters.  However, pesticides have been a burr under the saddle of some environmentalists, as pesticide applications have remained largely unaffected and unregulated by the CWA. During the past 38 years, EPA has never issued a permit to apply a pesticide to a waterway. This is because the agency has considered all such applications come under the authority of the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), an EPA-regulated law that most of us in pest control are very familiar with. Among other things, FIFRA sets use guidelines for the use of every pesticide.  Only label uses that do not pose an unreasonable adverse effect on the environment will be approved by the EPA.  Such decisions are made following a comprehensive and expensive label approval process; hence it has historically been EPA's opinion that FIFRA adequately protected waterways from pesticides.

    This position has been challenged in court numerous times over the years, leading EPA in November, 2006 to issue a final rule clarifying the two specific circumstances in which an NPDES permit was not required to apply pesticides to or around water. The rule said a permit was not required for: 1) the application of pesticides directly to water to control pests; and 2) the application of pesticides to control pests that are present over, including near, water where a portion of the pesticides will unavoidably be deposited to the water to target the pests. The rule became effective on January 26, 2007.

    All this changed on January 9, 2009. In the case, National Cotton Council of America v. EPA, the Sixth Circuit Court nullified (vacated) EPA’s Pesticides Rule. The Court held that whenever there is a residue that is left in water after a pesticide targets a pest (which is essentially always), that pesticide should be considered a pollutant under the CWA. The court went on to say that the CWA should, in fact, require that any applicator who applies pesticides into a waterway must first be required to obtain an NPDES permit.

    The EPA responded to this decision by requesting a two-year stay of the mandate to provide the Agency and NPDES-authorized states time to develop general permits and to provide outreach and education to the regulated community. In June, 2009, the Sixth Circuit Court agreed and granted EPA the two-year stay.  According to this ruling, the final plan must be implemented no later than April 10, 2011.

    The National Pesticide Permit Plan
    On June 2, 2010, the EPA revealed its plan to address the Sixth Circuit Court ruling. The plan includes a draft of a permit system for point source discharges for the application of pesticides to water. Called the Pesticides General Permit (PGP), the plan EPA revealed this spring will serve as a model for NPDES-authorized states (like Texas) to develop their own PGPs.

    Perhaps the most significant part of the EPA national PGP is that it outlines what sort of pesticide applications will be required to get a permit. The plan identifies four types of pesticide applications that will require an NPDES permit:
    • applications of pesticides to water for control of aquatic weeds
    • applications of pesticides to forest canopies over streams and rivers
    • community mosquito control
    • aquatic nuisance animal pest control (e.g., piscicides for trash fish, zebra mussel, lamprey, etc.)
    In addition to defining these categories, the PGP set annual thresholds, above which applicators will be required to file an NOI.
    • Aquatic herbicide (or nuisance animal pesticide) applications in waters exceeding 20 acres of open water or 20 linear miles of shoreline application
    • Forestry canopy applications greater than 640 acres
    • Mosquito control applications to areas greater than 640 acres
    As an example, if you apply mosquito adulticides to less than 640 acres (one square mile) a year, you will be covered by the state's general permit and will not have to file any paperwork.

    On the surface, it appears to me that the NPDES permitting system, if similar to the EPA's general permitting plan now, probably will have little impact on the day-to-day operations of most pest control companies.

    In Texas the agency that is developing our state's permit is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  According to Jimmy Bush, TCEQ is anxious to involve stakeholders in the process to develop a state permitting plan.  The agency has set up a website about the issue, and, in fact, held its first stakeholder meeting today to discuss concerns.  The Texas Pest Control Association was in attendance and will certainly report the issues discussed.  The TCEQ is under a deadline to submit its final plan by December, 2010.

    How will the new regulations affect you?
    This is a complex law, and few people seem to understand it in all its complexities.  From what I learned at TDA last week, however, the NPDES permitting system does not seem to be directly targeting the pest control industry.  Nevertheless, there will be changes in the way pesticides are regulated in the state; and, as always, with change comes uncertainty.  Some potential unanswered questions about the permitting process come to mind:
    • Will terrestrial applications of pesticides eventually (perhaps through court action) come under the permitting process?  This has not been the intent of rulings to date, and seems unlikely, but some urban pesticides have been showing up in urban stormwater runoff and it's possible that someone could argue in court that such applications should be construed as pollutants under the CWA.
    • How will acreages of coverage be calculated for mosquito control?  Will every yard fogged in community mosquito control programs be counted toward the acreage threshold, or will there be criteria for calculating acreage next to waterways?  Currently the EPA PGP states that acreage will include "acreage over water or conveyances with a hydrologic surface connection to waters of the U.S. at the time of pesticide application."  This is still a vague definition, in my opinion.
    • How will mosquito mister systems be handled?  
    • What kind of additional paperwork, if any, will companies be required to keep?  Right now it appears that everyone will be on the honor system to report whether or not your company exceeds the annual thresholds for water applications.  What responsibilities will companies be required to bear in order to show they have NOT met the thresholds required for an NOI?
    • What will the Notice of Intent look like and what requirements will it carry?  This will be of greatest concern to forest managers and mosquito control districts; but it could affect larger companies who annually treat larger communities.
    • Will large companies be allowed to consider individual franchises as independent entities, or will the Orkin and Terminix franchises around the state be required to pool their acres treated?  If the latter, then larger companies will run increased risk of having to file an NOI.
    • Should the pest control industry be happy that terrestrial pesticide applications seem to be outside the realm of these CWA rules, or should the industry prefer to be included in individual state permits so that the rules can be clearly known and thresholds set at reasonable levels?  
    If you want to learn more about the CWA changes regarding pesticides, go to the EPA site for NPDES.  If you have opinions that you want to share with TCEQ, the few months will be critical.  Under the impending court order this is one time government will move quickly.