Friday, June 24, 2011

Grady Glenn

The Texas pest control industry lost a favorite son this week.  Dr. Grady Glenn passed away unexpectedly following what was supposed to be routine surgery on Monday, June 20th.

Grady was one of those people you meet and immediately like.  I met Grady during one of the Texas A&M winter conferences shortly after I started working as an urban entomologist.  At large meetings you meet dozens of people, but Grady stood out for his sense of humor, intelligence and soft-spoken charm.  I've heard many describe him as a real gentleman, and after knowing Grady for almost 20 years I can say that this word describes him perfectly.

Grady was an inspiration in many ways.  He decided about 10 years ago to step away from his long-time pest control business and work toward his Ph.D. in entomology.  [His favorite tongue-in-cheek self-introduction at pest control meetings was, "Hi, I'm Grady and I'm a recovering PMP."]  Even after successfully completing a Ph.D. at an age when many people are planning retirement, Grady was never shy to get down and dirty with pest control projects.  He maintained a vigorous work schedule despite his physical handicap (an artificial leg) and lingering pain from a car accident several years ago.

Grady had a number of challenges in his life, but handled all of them with grace and a wonderful sense of humor. He will be achingly missed by his family and friends.  Grady left behind his beloved wife, JudyAnn, two step-daughters and two sons.

The family has determined to hold a private memorial service tomorrow; however if you want to pay your respects there are a few options.  Cards may be sent JudyAnn and family care of: Klein CyFair NorthWest Funeral Home, 9719 Wortham Blvd., Houston, TX  77065-3420.  You can also share a tribute or remembrance for family and others on Grady's Facebook page or the temporary memorial page set up by the Houston Chronicle.  Finally, according to his family, "In lieu of flowers, please plant a tree in your backyard--Grady would appreciate it!"

Friday, June 3, 2011

Living to see another day: School IPM in Texas

The Texas regular Legislative Session ended peacefully May 31--at least for school integrated pest management (IPM) programs.

The past few months have been filled with more than a little uncertainty about school IPM in Texas.  As I first reported in March, an initial bill was introduced by State Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) that included  a short provision to repeal all school IPM laws and associated rules in Texas.  By late April, after appeals from environmental groups and some parents and school IPM coordinators, school IPM was shown to have its supporters. However, the situation was further complicated when two additional bills were introduced that mirrored school IPM repeal language from Senator Shapiro's bill.

Now that the dust has settled, it appears that all three bills that carried IPM repeals died quiet deaths. Senate Bills 3 and 468 (Shapiro) died in committee with school IPM repeal provisions, HB 3684 (Callegari) was dead in Calendars Committee after removing the school IPM repeal section, and SB. 1252 (Williams) was also left pending in committee with a school IPM repeal provision. 

According to a long tradition, Texas legislative sessions don't always go away quickly or without an extended session.  Governor Perry has called this week for a Special Session to deal with unfinished school finance and political redistricting issues. And as long as legislators are in Austin it's difficult to say with certainty what may or may not get included in the final legislative bill machine.  Nevertheless, most observers seem to think that school IPM repeal is dead for this session.

What did this legislative session teach me about school IPM?  For one thing it's taught me that no program is a sacred cow. All it takes is a determined person with an agenda to repeal or amend a law, regardless of its merits. 

Another thing I observed this session is the importance of having knowledgeable professionals willing to speak up for a program that is making a difference. I'm grateful for everyone who cared enough about childrens health to speak up for a IPM requirements that have reduced unnecessary pesticide use, helped educate and train school professionals about safer pest control practices, and increased the overall effectiveness of pest control programs around the state.  For all of the coordinators, parents, PMPs and environmentalists who spoke up for school IPM, thanks for being part of the process. You are the ones who make the system work.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The life span of bed bugs

One of the most often cited "facts" about bed bugs is that they can live over a year without a blood meal. But is it true?  That's what Andrea Polanco and colleagues at Virginia Tech set out to investigate in their recently published article in the open-access journal insects (open access means articles are free and open to the public).  Their work, as well as a careful reading of the original source of the one-year-survival statistic, suggests that bed bugs (at least starved bed bugs) may not be as long-lived as the legend says.

One of the sources of the original research suggesting extremely long lives for starved bed bugs came from a paper by Japanese scientist named Omori in the early 1940s.  This paper has been cited numerous times, principally because of republication of the data in Usinger's (1966) book on bed bugs, which has been a basic reference for researchers since the bed bug resurgence. If you check the original data from Omori carefully, you will see that adult bed bugs live longest (15 months) at low temperatures (50 degrees F). At more realistic indoor temperatures (65 to 80 degrees F--Omori didn't look at in-between temperatures) the average survivorship of unfed adults was about 160 to 40 days, respectively. Other, less carefully conducted research prior to 1950 suggests maximum bed bug lifespans of 5 to 19 months.

Polanco's work was conducted at a constant 78 degrees F and 69% RH.  Their results for insecticide susceptible strains are not that far from Omori's estimates of 40 days at 81 degrees F.  But the most interesting conclusion of Polanco's work is that insecticide resistant strains of bed bugs (which are increasingly common worldwide) live for a significantly shorter time when starved (39 to 76 days) than their insecticide-susceptible counterparts (73 to 106 days).  The longest life span observed in Polanco's research was an insecticide-susceptible 5th instar nymph, which lived 143 days without a blood meal. Field strains of resistant bed bugs did not live longer than 80 days. These data are still a far cry from the 12 to 15 month longevity figure often cited to amaze people about bed bug resiliency.

One of the most interesting things about Polanco's team's work is the demonstration that insecticide-resistance can make an organism less fit in some ways.  This has been seen in other insects (e.g., cotton bollworm in cotton) when insecticide pressure is removed and insect populations revert (through natural selection) back to susceptible forms--presumably because the susceptible forms are overall more fit for survival.

So when talking to your customers about bed bugs, it's time to drop the 12 month statistic.  It's more realistic to say that today's bed bugs can live 3 to 5 months without a blood meal. 

Don't get me wrong.  Two to four months without food is still impressive.  But bed bugs are not immortal, and like all pests they too have their limits of endurance.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Orkin ranks cities for bed bugs

Orkin Pest Control is one of the largest pest management companies in the U.S. That's why whenever I see Orkin, or other big players, come out with information about trends in pest control around the country, I perk up.  Business data from the big pest control companies can tell a lot about what is happening industry-wide in the U.S.

In a recent release put out by PCT Media Group, Orkin ranked the top 50 cities in the U.S. for bed bug jobs.  At the top of the list is Cincinnati, Ohio (population 296,000).  It's hard not to feel a little sorry for the folks from Cincinnati, whose city ranks 5 places ahead of New York City, despite the Big Apple's reputation as a bed bug haven and its much larger population (8.2 million). 

Dallas (1.2 million) still looks relatively good compared to Ohio and New York  at 29th on the list.  The fourth largest U.S. city, Houston, is ranked 18th on the bed bug list; and Austin, the only other Texas city, is listed as 44th.  Other notable bed bug hot spots include Chicago (2nd place, 2.7 million), Denver (4th place, 600,158) and Detroit (5th place, 713,777). 

What does this all mean?  Without more specific business data from Orkin it's difficult to draw detailed conclusions. For example, we lack data on the actual number of calls by city.  Also, it would be interesting to see a breakdown of bed bug infestations by sector (e.g., public housing, hotels, apartments, single family dwellings, etc.) to see what trends might be going on there. Nevertheless, the report clearly shows that bed bugs are not uniformly distributed throughout the U.S.

The top cities may have some unique geographic and socioeconomic conditions, but are likely not too different from most other large cities.  The biggest message I take from this is that we should all be prepared.  It could get a lot worse.  We could be Cincinnati.