Friday, December 20, 2013

Conclusions from the Oregon Bee-tastrophe of 2013

A pesticide applicator's worst nightmare. Trees in Wilsonville,
Oregon swathed in protective netting following a large
and highly publicized bee kill due to pesticide misapplication.
Photo: Molly J. Smith/Oregonian.
The year 2013 was eventful for a group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. Recent research showing the potential for these insecticides to negatively affect honey bee and bumble bee behavior (and implying that they might be responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees), led to the cancellation of some of these insecticides in Europe. Many in the U.S. are likewise calling for the cancellation or severe restriction of the use of these insecticides here.

One of the events of 2013 that galvanized opposition to these insecticides was a massive bee kill in Wilsonville, OR last June. Immediately after the kill, Oregon officials announced that an application of the insecticide dinotefuran was the cause of death.  Yesterday the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) sent out a news release announcing the outcome of its investigations.  The investigation concluded that the applicator involved in the incident had applied the insecticide in direct violation of the label.

The application in question occurred when the pesticide applicator was requested to treat numerous linden (Tilia) trees in the parking lot surrounding a Target store in Wilsonville.  The trees were infested with numerous aphids that were dripping sap on customers' cars. The company treated the trees during the day with Safari (an insecticide containing the neonicotinoid insecticide dinotefuran), while the trees were in full bloom and attracting numerous bumble bees.  Shortly after the application, large bumble bees started to drop from the trees, eventually littering the parking lot with an estimated 50,000 dead bees.

Under the heading of Environmental Hazards, the Safari label clearly states:
This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area.
As a result of the incident, the ODA is requiring a special label amendment for Oregon labels of dinotefuran and imidacloprid (a second neonicotinoid). Beginning January 1, 2014 applications of these insecticides will be prohibited on linden and basswood trees. After its investigation the ODA concluded that it was these trees's natural toxicity to bees (linden tree nectar is known to be somewhat toxic to bees) in combination with the pesticide, that contributed to the massive bee die off.

In one sense, this announcement is vindication for the pesticide manufacturers who contended all along that it wasn't an inherent fault of the product, but a misapplication, that caused the "Oregon Bee-tastrophe of 2013".  But it is also true that the subtleties of who was at fault are not likely to resonate with the majority of the public and with most regulators.  The lasting memory of Oregonians, and others who read about the event at the time, will be that insecticides killed a bunch of bees. And this will lend strength to the arguments of those who say that neonicotinoid insecticides cannot be used safely, and should be banned.

What those of us in the pest control industry should remember, however, is that one failure to read and follow insecticide label directions can have notable and far-reaching consequences. This should be one of those critical moments that get memorialized in pest control textbooks (if they existed). The textbook message? Fail to follow the label at your own peril...especially as new pollinator protection alerts appear on labels over the next year.

To read more about the incident and the ongoing ODA response, click here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ACE Prep Class and Updated ACE Exam to be offered at A&M Workshop

The newly updated Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) exam, along with a Prep Class for prospective ACEs, will be offered next month in College Station at the Texas A&M University Urban Pest Management Conference and Workshop.

With over 700 ACEs nationwide, the Certification program of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) is the fastest growing certification program for PMPs.  This year, in addition to seeing record growth, the ESA has partnered with the National Pest Management Association to make prep courses, to prepare for the ACE exam, more widely available.

In Texas, however, you need go no further than our own Texas A&M University Conference to take the Prep Class. Dr. Bob Davis and I will be reviewing fundamental knowledge requirements for the exam. The training is intended as a last minute review and confidence building class, but does not really substitute for your comprehensive studying.  Four CEUs will be awarded for attending the six-hour class.

Registration is required for the Conference to attend the Prep Class.  According to Laura Nelson, Conference administrator, this is the last week to take advantage of the pre-registration price of $200 ($225 after this week, or at the door).  If you want to take the ACE exam at the Conference you will also need to apply for the ACE program and pay the fees ahead of time.

On the second day of the Conference, January 9, the [optional] ACE exam is offered for anyone who wants to take it.

How Do I Get Certified?

So what's involved with getting certified?  First you have to qualify. To become an ACE, you must:
  • Have seven years experience in pest control (three years for those with an entomology degree);
  • hold a current U.S. pesticide applicator's license; and 
  • agree to sign the ACE code of ethics.
If you think you qualify, you can apply through the ESA/ACE website. The application fee is $125 for ESA members and $150 for non-ESA members.  

Next you will need to study to take the ACE exam.  Information about how to study for the exam, and what study materials are recommended can be found on the ESA website.  Note that if you plan to take the exam at the Conference, prior study is highly recommended.  The Prep Class is not a prerequisite for taking the exam.

Big Changes in the ACE program

There are some big changes in the ACE program that will be inaugurated at our own A&M workshop.  Beginning Jan 1, there will be a newly updated and improved ACE exam.  In addition, all new and existing ACEs will begin to be required to document proof of continuing education every three years. This step was deemed necessary by the Board to ensure that ACEs maintain their training and keep up with advances in the field.  Everything you want to know about these changes and more can be found on the Certified Entomologist blog.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Forget the rats...fix the problem

Sometimes pest problems can be so daunting that it's easy to overlook the obvious solution. This was the case for many private and governmental PMPs in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, the obvious didn't escape the attention of Claudia Reigel, with the New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board.

Reigel was recently featured in a National Public Radio (NPR) piece on the huge city rat problems after the hurricane.  While the city and many PMPs were scrambling to dump enough rodent bait in bait stations and sewers to plug the Mississippi levees, the problem wasn't getting better.

Reigel's solution was simple in concept.  "Forget the rats; fix the problems!"

By problems, of course, she meant the overgrown vegetation, poorly sealed buildings, overflowing trash dumpsters other sanitation lapses. In other words, integrated pest management (IPM).

As the story correctly points out, consistently successful pest control has to start with making the environment less hospitable to pests. And for some pest problems, until we do this, all the pesticide in the world isn't going to make a big difference.  This is not to say that rodenticides (or any pesticides for given pests) shouldn't be used; but they should be used in the context of changing the pest's environment.

New Orleans' rodent problems, I'm sure, haven't gone away. And they didn't improve overnight either. But the improvements are tangible, according to Reigel.  Maybe there's a daunting pest problem you're facing right now. The answer could be to "forget the pest for a moment, and fix the problem".

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Just for CEU providers

Pesticide re-certification classes, like the 2013 Fall IPM Seminar held at
the AgriLife Center in Dallas, serve over 15,000 urban pesticide
applicators each year in Texas.

The Texas Department of Agriculture is changing the way pesticide applicator training providers must operate.  The recently published Texas Pesticide Re-certification Course Accreditation Guide provides step by step instructions on how to put on a re-certification course, and get course approval.  It also outlines the new process of completing and submitting course rosters to verify attendance at the meeting.  

After studying the requirements, it looks to me like the new system is not a major change overall, but the reporting requirements will increase the administrative burden on some CEU course providers. My office puts on two large CEU training courses every year, with hundreds of participants; but I've concluded that the new system shouldn't affect our office's administrative time significantly.  This is because (1) we already have all participant names and license numbers in electronic format, and (2) the courses we provide consist of one big all-day meeting (without concurrent sessions).  But for some providers, substantially more time will be needed to document attendance and credits awarded.

Under the new rules, now in effect, TDA requires CEU providers to send an electronic roster of all participants in a CEU course within 14 days of course completion (previously we only had to supply copies of the sign in sheets filled out by participants). Presumably this system wasn't working well for TDA. Paper records are notoriously slow to access and deciphering hand written rosters could be a problem. To address the issue, TDA now has two electronic forms depending on the type of CEUs being rewarded: form PA-411E for agricultural licenses (including 3A licenses) and form PA-418E for structural pest control license holders.  

Under the new reporting system, if a person holding both a structural pesticide applicator's and an agricultural pesticide applicator's license wants to receive both kinds of CEUs for attending a meeting, that person's name must appear on both rosters.  Each roster must list all the appropriate CEU credits earned by those on the roster. 

So far, so good.  The only big difference between the current and former system is that attendance records must be submitted electronically.  For many providers this shouldn't be too difficult, as the names, addresses, and license numbers can be cut and pasted from an existing electronic roster and placed on the appropriate TDA roster(s).

Unfortunately, things get tricky when real life hits.  Suppose 100 people attend a training in which five CEUs are offered, and 2 people leave early, missing the last CEU.  You will now need to supply TDA with two rosters.  One roster will list the 98 people who sat through the whole training and received credit for five CEUs, and one roster will contain only the two early-departers.  The second roster will show that they only earned (the first) four CEUs for the day.  

Consider a parallel situation where 98 attend the full day's training and two people miss one CEU each--however one person comes in too late for the first CEU and the other leaves early, missing the last CEU. Now the course provider has to supply three forms: one with 98 names on it (showing they earned all five CEUs), one (showing the last four CEUs) for the late-arriver, and one for the early-departer (showing that he earned only the first four CEUs).  Conceivably this could get complicated with a large program and lots of people not staying for the whole program.   

Another tricky situation occurs when concurrent sessions are offered at a training.  Suppose you offer two concurrent sessions at your meeting.  For the first concurrent session people can choose between a talk on, say, (A) Lawn and Ornamentals or (B) Termite.  At the second concurrent session they choose between a talk on (C) IPM or one on (D) General Pest Control.  For this scenario the provider will need at least four rosters including one for people who attended each of the following combinations of talks: AD, AC, BD, and BC.  If there are three sessions, eight rosters will be required; for four concurrent sessions there will be 16 possible roster combinations.  Most providers will conclude that it is easier to just have a separate roster for each concurrent session.  It will also take a very patient administrative assistant to retype the name, address and license number of each session attender.

I strongly recommend all CEU providers maintain session sign-in sheets, or use some other paper means of documenting attendance at each session.  This will help tremendously in ensuring accuracy of the computer rosters, and will serve as a backup for the spreadsheets.  Remind all course attenders that they must have their license number if they want TDA to verify their attendance.  If you're a sponsor, you must keep course roster and attendance records for a minimum of two years (six years for private applicators). And lastly, remember that certificates of completion must still be supplied for all attenders as their proof of CEU completion.  

Advising Austin

The Stephen F. Austin State Office Building in Austin is
home to the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Last Thursday, 21 November, was the first meeting of the new Structural Pest Control Advisory Committe (SPCAC), which provides input to the Texas Department of Agriculture's Structural Pest Control Service.  I say "new committee" because the size and composition of the committee has been significantly revamped since it last met in April. Only four of last year's committee members remain, and seven members are new.

By way of review, the SPCAC has an advisory role only and does not make or enforce rules governing pest control in the state.  The committee meetings are, however, one of the few venues where PMPs (and consumers) can formally offer input into the way the their industry is regulated (it is common, for example, for visitors to the SPCAC to sign up to present public testimony on subjects related to pest control).  The SPCAC is also a way for anyone who is interested in the sometimes mundane details of pest control in Texas to learn what is going on inside the halls of the Stephen F. Austin Building, home to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The changes to the committee this year are the result of a bill passed during the 2013 Legislative session that expanded the committee to 11 from the original 9 set by the 2007 Legislature. The committee seemed even larger this time, however, since one position (a consumer advocate position) had remained unfilled since the original committee was founded.

I found the expanded committee excited and ready to assume its new tasks.  Much of the meeting was devoted to learning the requirements for Open Meetings, and how to handle Public Information Requests; however I thought it would be good to introduce the new committee and share a couple of the more significant new business items discussed.  

New Membership List

  • Peggy Caruso, IPM Coordinator from Katy ISD, is an original committee member and represents the seat for a school district employee associated with school IPM.
  • Dauphin Ewart, of the Austin company "The Bug Master" remains from last year's committee and is one of three members representing the interests of structural pest control operators.
  • Warren Remmey, Jr. also represents the interests of structural pest control operators and is owner of Spider Man Pest Control in San Antonio.
  • Scott Dickens is the third structural pest control operator member, Past President of TPCA, and owner of Champions Pest Control in Spring, TX.
  • Some of you may remember Roger Borgelt as a former attorney for the Structural Pest Control Board. Roger was appointed as one of three members representing the public interest, and was elected to be the new committee chair at this meeting.
  • Dr. Nancy Crider is a faculty member for the University of Texas Southwest Medical School and a registered nurse.  She represents the public interest.
  • Nancy Zaiontz, of GSM Insurors of San Antonio, is the new member representing interests of consumers.
  • Jay Jorns, of JNJ Pest Control in Katy represents pest management professionals with experience in natural, organic or holistic pest control.
  • Dr. Thandi Ziqubu-Page is an original committee member and represents the Commissioner of the Department of State Health Services.
  • I also serve on the committee representing an institution of higher education with experience in the science of pests and pest control.
  • There remains one vacant, public member position on the committee.
I was impressed with the credentials and enthusiasm of the reformed committee, and I think it will work well together. I think the expanded size will also benefit all parties as more points of view are expressed.  Any of us who serve are always willing to answer questions and discuss issues with you.  For a current listing of the committee and its meeting dates, click here.

Revamped Web Search Tool

The new license search tool on the TDA website
provides a more user-friendly way to find
pest control licensees or businesses in Texas.
Mike Kelly, SPCS Coordinator, and Leslie Smith, Director for Consumer Service Protection at TDA, demonstrated and answered questions about the new web search tool for Texas Pest Control businesses.  Currently the TDA website allows consumers, or any interested party, to search for any license holder or business online.  Up until now the only way to search was to go to the SPCS page and click on Current Licenses.  There you see a set of files in CSV format (which can be opened in MicroSoft Excel).  One has to save the file and open it in a spreadsheet and search for the information. Not extremely user friendly.

The new search tool allows you to search by zip code and refine your search while looking on a zoom-able map. Choose by license category or search directly by a business name or license number.  This tool should be useful for anyone wishing to confirm a legal license holder, or to search for an official address and phone number.  Since its launch October 8th, 1245 people have accessed the map view feature. 

Compliant Advertising

A big issue for many pest control businesses is making sure that their advertising is compliant with state law governing deceptive advertising.  Texas Department of Agriculture staffer Michael Kelly asked the committee for input on some new wording for Rule 7.152, governing pest control ads.  The changes would mainly require all ads to include the business name as indicated on the business license, and the business license number.  It's interesting how many different issues must be addressed, even with such a simple improvement to the rules. For example, the committee pointed out that font size requirements (critical in Yellow Page or newspaper ads) might not apply to a website.  And the proposed wording didn't define clearly what constitutes advertising.  Would a Facebook page for a company, or a Craigslist or Angie's List ad, be subject to these new requirements? Keep your eyes open for a more refined version of the draft rules to come out soon for public comment.

New Testing System

In April the TDA rolled out its new examination system, implemented to allow anyone who has applied and pre-qualified to take their applicators' or technicians' or category exams.  Now applicants can test on any day of the week, and at any of 22 PSI Online testing sites throughout the state.  By all accounts the roll out has been successful with the new sites administering 582 certified applicator exams, 1 fumigator exam and 683 technician exams between 15 April and 13 November.  Statistics show that 44% of certified applicator candidates for pest control passed on their first try and 60% passed on their second try.  Pest control technicians passed 88% of the time on their first try.  

In addition to these topics, the committee discussed ways to better educate consumers on how to recognize and deal with unlicensed applicators, regulatory review of rules regarding license applicants with criminal backgrounds or arrests, and rules being written (in response to SB 162, recently passed) allowing military personnel to count relevant military experience in pest control toward their certified applicator and technician licensing requirements.  We also learned that the extensive rule clarifications, including CEU requirements for school IPM Coordinators, discussed in April have not yet been published in the Texas Register due to an unexpected staff shortage due to illness.  

Future Meetings

If you have any interest in attending future meetings of the SPCAC, they are normally held the third Thursday of the months of January, April, July and October.  Next year's scheduled meetings are on 23 January, 24 April, 24 July, and 23 October.  The meetings are always held at 9 am at the Stephen F. Austin Building at 1700 North Congress, in Austin, TX  78701. Because schedules do change, should a quorum not be available, it's a good idea to check with the agency or one of the committee members before showing up at the door.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Entomologists and their license plates

I've always appreciated the creativity that goes into vanity plates--even if they are sometimes, well, a little vain. But you have to love the entomologists' license plates submitted to the first-ever BugMobile contest sponsored by the Entomological Society of America.

Members of the ESA were asked to submit photos of creative, insect-themed cars or license plates.  Most sent in insect-related license plates that they own or see around town.  People visiting the site were then invited to "Like" their favorites, and the plate with the most "likes" wins.

The winner was a cool-looking, University of Arizona themed license plate with the no-so-original (in my opinion) text, DRBUG.  Much more original, in my opinion was the plate, shown here, that must have belonged to a pest management professional, DBUG4U.  Also way cool was the yellow-with-black-racing-stripes Chevy Camaro, with the Iowa plates reading BMBULBE.

One entomologist advertised his or her enthusiasm about entomology with the plate N2BUGS. I liked that.

Some plates only an entomologist would love, or understand, such as the Colorado plate reading SCARAB2, suggesting an enthusiasm for beetles in the family Scarabeidae (and implying that she is not alone, assuming SCARAB1 had already been taken).  Even more of an insider plate read BUP DR, which I might not have recognized as an entomologist's plate in another context--BUP referring to the beetle family Buprestidae.  And BTLEMAN.  And HISTERS and SCARABS (Beetle families Histeridae and Scarabeidae) in the same driveway no less.  I'll bet I can guess what dinner table talk is like at that home is like.  What is it about beetle guys and their vanity plates?

Some of the references were too obscure for me.  CANTHON turns out to be another dung beetle.  CY BUGS... cyborg bugs?  SP NOV is entomologist code for "new species" in Latin... representing a dream of every entomologist to name a new bug species.

I got BUG DOOD, and TSETSE (for the African Tsetse fly--carrier of sleeping sickness), and BUG ACE (which I suppose is proudly displayed by an Associate Certified Entomologist).

As for my car, I do have two bumper stickers that I've never displayed publicly.  They read "Have You Hugged Your ExterminatorToday?" And, "Entomologists are Good for What Bugs You"...  Maybe some day I'll be bold enough, or vain enough, to advertise my inner bug nerd.

If any of you have a BugMobile photo that you're especially proud of, I'd like to see it. Just email me a copy at m-merchant at tamu dot edu, or post a link to your picture in the comments to this post.  If I get enough, I'll post them on this site for all to see and enjoy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hackberry nipplewhat?

This week has been the week of the hackberry nipplegall maker, Pachypsylla celtidismamma. I should have known when, during the Entomological Society of America's annual conference in Austin last week, I opened my 23rd floor hotel room blinds and saw the outside window covered with these insects.

Pachypsylla adults (about 1/8-inch long) are
commonly found at this time of year indoors, around windows
Sure enough upon return to my office, calls and messages were awaiting me about little "gnats"  covering window screens, outside walls, and cars. The small size of these insects allows them to enter buildings with ease, even squeezing through window screens.  Though these insects are present annually, the invasion seems to be unusually heavy and widespread this year with complaints from Austin to east Texas and the Dallas area.

Pachypsylla is a genus of tiny insects that grow up inside galls that form on hackberry leaves. Also called psyllids (SILL ids), they are not gnats or flies, but belong to the same order as the leafhoppers and cicadas. Like other gall making insects, Pachypsylla adults lay their eggs on leaves, which then start to swell around the egg or developing larva, forming a gall. After feeding on the gall tissue all summer, Pachypsylla adults emerge in the fall. Unfortunately for your customers, these adults commonly enter structures at this time in their search for a warm place to hang out and, perhaps, catch some football or prime time TV during the winter.

The nipple-like swellings on hackberry leaves give this little
insect its name.
Despite being a nuisance, hackberry nipple-gall insects are pretty harmless.  They do not bite, do not eat clothes and do not hog the remote. Apart from needing to be vacuumed up from windowsills occasionally, there is little you can do about these insects. In most cases, poor seals around windows and doors provide entry points, but truth is they can get indoors through any crack or gap in the building envelope.

Those who have tried spraying window screens with an insecticide noted that the main result is smeared windows.  If you do offer to spray, keep your sprays limited to window and door frames, and obvious gaps and cracks in outdoor siding.  I do not advise treating indoors, as these insects should die relatively quickly anyway. And no, you can't treat the trees. A vacuum is the best control tool, in my estimation.

For customers who find the invasion to be an annual occurrence, removing nearby hackberry trees and replacing them with another well-adapted tree is one possible solution.  Keep in mind, however, that these little guys can fly.  They were, after all on my 23rd floor windows  last week. So if other hackberries are nearby, cutting down the tree may not help a lot,  especially during a banner year like this.

I have no explanation for the great numbers of nipplegall makers this year.  This obscure group of insects has not been as well scrutinized as other, more important pests.  However we do know there was something they liked about 2013, rain at the right times, the temperature, or few natural enemies.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

When customers' delusions affect their pets

Long-time readers of this blog, or you who hear me talk at pest control conferences, know that I occasionally address the subject of delusions of parasitosis.  This is one of the trickier "pest" problems to solve, especially since there is no pest involved.  In my office I receive 2-3 suspected delusional samples per month, many as referrals from some of you.  The problem seems worse this year, as I have had many people convinced that they have intractable biting mite problems after reading misleading and harmful information online.

A recent article published in the Veterinary Information Network News Services addressed the issue of pet owners bringing their pets in for treatment of non-existent bugs. Apparently PMPs and vets both have to deal with this issue, and I found the article informative and helpful. One story, highlighted in the accompanying photo, had a happy ending when the client accepted psychiatric treatment. Sadly, it is very difficult to get most delusional clientele to pursue such therapy.

Some of these folks perceive normal grooming behavior of their pets as proof that the pet is infested and suffering. I guess the lesson here is that in cases where you cannot detect a valid pest, and the pest description doesn't match reality, take everything a customer claims with a grain of salt.  For more information on diagnosing mysterious bug bite cases see my factsheet.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween costumes for PMPs

Sorry, too late for this year, but this
maggot mask is available
on EBay for next year's office party.
Someone today sent a picture of a coworker who dressed up as a sticky card for Halloween. Granted, her sticky card was more of the greenhouse variety, and the bugs she wore were plant-oriented (thrips, whiteflies, fungus gnats and the like); but the creative costume got me thinking about what sorts of scary costumes a pest management professional might come up with.  I'm sure that many of you are more creative in this area, but here are a few thoughts on what might make appropriately scary dress for the evening's party or for greeting young trick-or-treaters:
  • A sticky card covered with German or American cockroaches.  Cockroaches, of course, are appropriately yucky for Halloween; but in case the kids aren't sufficiently grossed out, you could pass out brochures about the dangers of insect allergens. Who knows, you might even drum up business at the same time?
  • A swarm of Africanized (killer) bees. Everyone loves bees, until you put in the word "killer".  And in case one bee isn't scary enough, get the whole office involved and go as a swarm.
  • A mosquito. By all accounts, the most dangerous insect in the world with more than half a million deaths each year due to malaria alone, not to mention West Nile virus.
  • A spider.  Turns out that the general public aren't the only ones afraid of spiders.  According to a recent article by entomologist Rick Vetter, more than a few entomologists are arachnophobic. I wonder how many PMPs or their staff fall into this category?  And if you don't have time for a costume party tonight, consider renting the classic Spielberg produced movie, Arachnophobia, in between answering the doorbell.
  • What could be more insomnia inducing  than a bed bug? Turns out, recent research shows that more and more people are reported as suffering from suicide, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more, as a result of bed bug problems. Not funny, I know, but certainly scary.
  • Not a costume, but a Halloween decoration that no PMP's home should be without.  I suspect that the Birds Away Attack Spider was first designed as a Halloween decoration, but it has since been appropriated for the pest control industry as a woodpecker deterrent. Activated by sound (like someone knocking at the door), this spider drops from its hiding place making a whirring sound. Besides frightening children and adults, it comes in handy for the rest of the year as a control tool for woodpeckers.  Featured in the 2006 Dave Barry Annual Gift Guide, this baby's been around a while.  So it must work good.
If you have a great idea for a PMP costume, or pictures of your pest-control related costume from this year, I'd like to know.  Submit a comment on this post and share your warped ideas with the rest of us.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Who's Who of WDIs

Recently I received an inquiry from a Texas pest control company wanting to know if there was a list of official wood destroying insects (WDIs) in Texas. Since there are some specific instructions in state regulations governing WDI inspections, you would be excused for thinking that there might be an official list. But if there is, I can't find it.  If you go to the relevant section of the Texas Administrative Code, the rules say "The purpose of the [WDI] inspection is to provide a report regarding the absence or presence of wood destroying insects and conditions conducive to wood destroying insect infestation."  However, the rules don't specifically define what consists of a WDI.

So in lieu of any official list, here is my list of the important WDIs in Texas.  If you're from another state, the list is likely to be similar, although the relative importance of each of these pests varies from region to region.
Termite wings provide good diagnostic clues to the type of
termites infesting a home. Reticulitermes wings are smooth,
without hairs, and have two heavier veins along the leading
edge of the forewing.
  • Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes species. Note: when the word "species" is written after the genus name, it refers to multiple different species within the genus). Knowing the exact species is not important for a professional doing an inspection, but keep in mind that there may be some differences (e.g., swarming times or potential for destruction) among the different termite species.  The most economically important termite species in Texas, and the U.S., is Reticulitermes flavipes, the eastern subterranean termite. These termites are called "subterranean" because they need contact with the soil, and almost always maintain their nest underground while foraging on both underground and above-ground wood.  Inspections should focus on looking for alates (swarmers) and the presence of mud tubes extending from the soil into the structure.  Alates can be confirmed as Reticulitermes by their forewings, which bear two strong, dark veins along the leading edge.  Wood damage from this and other Reticulitermes species consists of galleries chewed into the spring wood, following the growth rings. Also, because they are subterranean, gallery walls will be covered with specks of "mud", a combination of feces, saliva and soil.  
  • Formosan alate wings are covered with fine hairs, visible
    under magnification.
    Drywood termite wings are often dusky and have at least
    three strong veins along the leading edge of the forewing.
  • Formosan subterranean termites Coptotermes formosanus. This is an exotic termite species that has established in parts of Texas, but is also found in other parts of the South and in parts of California. One of the principal means of its spread appears to be via recycled railroad ties.  The Formosan termite belongs to the same family as Reticulitermes termites, and shares some of the same characteristics, including subterranean nests and mud spattered galleries; hence, it is also technically a "subterranean" termite. Identify Coptotermes by its nighttime swarming habits and its large, yellowish-colored alate.  The wing veination is similar to Reticulitermes, but the wing membranes are covered with fine hairs.  Workers are not easily distinguished from our other subterranean species, but soldiers have a teardrop-shaped head, contrasted with the rectangular head of Reticulitermes workers.  Galleries are similar to other subterranean termites, but Formosan termites produce "carton", a dense, honeycombed structure made from mud and wood pulp cemented together with saliva and feces.  
  • Drywood termites (Cryptotermes and Incistitermes species) The so-called drywood termites are distinguished from subterranean termites by their above-ground nests and lack of contact with the soil. Because they live in wood, which usually has lower moisture content than soil, drywood termites are very efficient conservers of water. The most obvious sign of this skill are the fecal pellets they produce. Unlike the wet, smeared feces of subterranean termites, drywood feces are hard, dry pellets.  In the drywood termite rectum all water is squeezed from the feces by six rectal pads, leaving small (1/32 inch-long), six-sided pellets. Finding these pellets is hard proof of a drywood termite infestation. In addition, drywood termite galleries do not follow the grain of the wood, but may extend across multiple annual rings. Alates fly at night and have three strong, dark veins at the leading edge of the forewing. Drywood termites are most common in warm, high-humidity regions, such as the Gulf coastal areas, and parts of southern California.  They may be found in other parts of the country, however, when brought in on furniture or infested lumber. 
    Lyctid powderpost beetle adults (left) are distinguished from
    the common pantry pest, red flour beetle (right), by their
    round eyes and two-segmented antennae.  
  • Lyctid powderpost beetles (family Bostrichidae, subfamily Lyctinae). These small, cylindrical beetles are usually brought into homes in infested hardwood trim or flooring, or in infested furniture. They are one of the most important WDIs in Texas. If you're not in the habit of looking carefully for signs of these beetles during a WDI inspection, you're opening your business up to a potential legal mess. The presence of these beetles in new homes has become highly litigious, as the owners look for someone to blame for their new, beetle-infested home. It's critical to look carefully at all hardwood trim, including wainscoting, baseboards, windowsills, cabinetry and wood flooring.  On horizontal floors or trim, sawdust usually accumulates in volcano-like piles surrounding the adult beetle emergence hole.  On vertical wood, small piles of very fine, almost silky, frass will accumulate on cabinets, edges or floors underneath the emergence hole. Adults can be distinguished from the similar-appearing red flour beetle by their darker color; globular, protruding eyes; 2-segmented antennal club and enlarged hind coxae.   
  • Carpenter ants are easily identified by their large size, single
    node between abdomen and thorax, and smoothly rounded
    thoracic profile.  Many Texas species are bi-colored, like this
    specimen; but color alone can be misleading.
  • Carpenter ants (Campanotus species). This insect is usually listed as a WDI; however in Texas carpenter ants are not very likely to do structural damage. They are more likely to occur in small colonies in wall voids and in insulation, but rarely as destroyers of sound wood. Some species of carpenter ant, like C. modoc and C. pennsylvanicus, are well-known wood destroyers, especially in the Pacific Northwest and in the northeastern states. They have given all carpenter ants a reputation as wood destroyers. For this reason, and because they are not difficult to report, I would recommend including carpenter ant evidence on a WDI inspection report.  The similarly-colored (but physically very different) acrobat ant, is not reported to eat or damage wood, therefore I would not report it as a WDI.  Carpenter ants are relatively easily identified by their large size, polymorphism (different sized workers in the same colony), single node and smooth curved thoracic profile. Inspectors should also be on the lookout for carpenter ant frass, which is the colony's trash dump.  Frass piles may include wood, insulation, dead insects, and sometimes pupal cases.  Any unusual debris piles that contain insect fragments are likely carpenter ants.
  • The old house borer is a medium-sized beetle (0.6 to 1 inch)
    with two raised bumps and a mustache-shaped ridge on
    the pronotum (shield behind head).
  • Old House borer (Hylotrupes bajulus). The round-headed borer family, to which the old house borer (OHB) belongs, consists mostly of larger beetles with long antennae.  Most infest only dying or recently killed trees, so pose little long-term threat to a structure (although they may emerge from infested wood in the first year or so of a new home).  The OHB is an exception to the low-threat rule because of its ability to re-infest homes after its first emergence. Most infestations occur in homes up to 10 years old, but they can also infest and re-infest older homes.  According to Dr. Harry Moore, retired WDI expert from North Carolina State University, the OHB prefers wood with moisture content between 15 and 25%.  This moisture level is higher than normal in all but the more humid parts of the country.  Adult beetles are distinctive, emergence holes are oval in shape and 1/4 to 1/3 inch maximum diameter. Frass consists of very fine powder and tiny, elongate, blunt-ended pellets.  Infestations of OHB are most common in the humid Piedmont areas of the mid-Atlantic seaboard; however they can be found in homes throughout the eastern U.S.  Infestations are relatively rare in Texas.
  • Bostrichid beetles are mostly a minor WDI pest.  The rasp-like
    pronotum and cylindrical body with abruptly angled wing
    tips are characteristic of this family.
  • Anobiid and other Bostrichid beetles.  Any emergence holes in structural wood or trim, of course, should be reported on a WDI report.  However, when the other pests listed above are ruled out, most of the remaining culprits will belong to miscellaneous species of anobiid (ANN oh BEE id) and bostrichid (boss STRICK id) beetles. Nationwide, anobiid beetles are the more important group.  These beetles feed on sapwood of both hard- and soft-woods.  They leave circular exit holes 1/16 to 1/8 inch in diameter, and produce a fine powdery frass with conspicuous pellets.  Adults of these beetles are relatives of the cigarette beetle and have a similar with a oval to cylindrical shape and downward pointing head, hidden from above.  Anobiid beetles thrive in wood with higher moisture content (15-30%) and probably for this reason, infestations in Texas are uncommon except in damp crawl spaces.  Some of the smaller holes bored by anobiid beetles may be confused with Lyctid powderpost beetles, but the frass is distinguished by the presence of rough pellets.
         Bostrichid beetles (with the exception of the Lyctid powderpost beetles) are generally incapable of re-infesting wood. Holes made by emerging adults are round and 3/32 to 9/32 inch in diameter.  Frass is tightly packed inside tunnels and tends to stick together.  Most bostrichid beetles have several rasp-like teeth on the front of the pronotum, presumably to aid in collecting and packing frass in the galleries.  One of the most common ways bostrichid beetles are introduced into homes is via wicker baskets and furniture.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Venerable IPM Practitioner

The IPM Practitioner is one of those almost venerable institutions of pest control. I just checked their website and it says they've been publishing for 33 years, which I guess is why they seem venerable--they've been publishing as long I've been associated with pest control. And I've followed their writing and their natural take on pest control for at least the last 24 years.

The magazine and its associated publications are from a group called the Bio-Integral Resource Center out of Berkeley, California. So yes, they're from the place Texans wryly refer to as the "Left Coast". BIRC does have a point of view, but I've always appreciated their science-based, if alternative, approach to pest management.

Some of you may have been introduced to the group through the book Common Sense Pest Control, a product of former BIRC staff. While I don't always agree with the practicality of some of the least toxic pest control solutions offered, there's a lot of good information in the book. I recommend it as a reference, especially for PMPs looking for non-chemical or low-risk alternatives for pest problems. And it provides a source of interesting notes on the biology and behavior of pests that are sometimes missed by other references.

The reason for mentioning BIRC today is that IPM Practitioner just published their 2013 Directory of Least-Toxic Pest Control Products.  As usual, they generously make available free a pdf copy of this catalog online. While not all of the products and information that the Directory deals with relates to structural pest control--much of it is agriculture-oriented--there is quite a bit of household and commercial pest control-related stuff to be found.

There's something almost anachronistic about a printed catalog these days when just about everything can be Bing'ed or Google'ed. But by taking a bunch of stuff that the Internet would have a hard time finding, and putting it in one odd place, this publication somehow finds its niche.  Basically what the directory does is list alternative pest control products and tells you where they can be purchased.

Like any good catalog there's a lot of interesting stuff to discover, like lists of beneficial insects for pests and where to find them. Did you know you can purchase a parasitoid for the brown-banded cockroach called Anastatus tenuipes?  How cool is that? The Directory does not necessarily comment on the effectiveness of these products.  And it's definitely buyer-beware.  But if you have a customer looking for a source of green lacewings for the garden, you can be "THE Man" (or THE Woman) if you use your Directory to locate a seller of green lacewings. You might even find sources for fancy tech toys, like borescopes for termite inspections, that you didn't know existed.

So let gardeners pour over their seed catalogs this winter. We PMPs have the Directory of Least-Toxic Pest Control Products.  Take it from a venerable entomologist, gardeners' got nothing on us.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Austin Event Reminder

Austin is this year's site of the largest gathering of
insect geeks in the world. 
Got the pesticide applicator CEU blahs?  Are you looking for training that keeps you awake, and introduces you to new people and perspectives?  An upcoming A&M AgriLife Extension-sponsored event, "Under the Lens" may be just the thing. The day-long program runs from 7 am to 5 pm at the Austin Convention Center on November 13.  Cost is $100 and includes a continental breakfast, and lunch.  More importantly, it features national speakers talking about some diverse topics including delusory parasitosis, bed bugs, pest control in public housing, rodent control, mosquitoes and changes in pyrethroid label requirements.  Each of the speakers are experts in their field and sure to provide new and useful information.

For full information and links to the conference, see the AgriLife Today Press Release.  
Under the Lens will also features the annual business meeting of the Texas Integrated Pest Management Association for Public Schools (TIPMAPS) during the lunch break.  This event is the association’s annual meeting, but anyone with an interest in schools will have the chance to share ideas and issues and catch up on the latest developments within our field of school-related pest control.

The entire program is being held in association with the Entomological Society of America's 2013 Annual Meeting.  It's the largest gathering of entomologists in the world, if that excites you.  To learn more, check out my May blog post.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Registration for Fall IPM Seminar now open

Environmental issues are a frequent
topic at Fall IPM Seminar events.
If you're a structural pest management professional (PMP) or carry a pesticide applicator's license for landscape pest management, the Fall IPM Seminar is an excellent opportunity to get your annual continuing education credits.  This is approximately the 24th year that I've been involved with the program and it's always a good day for learning.

This year's seminar will be held at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas on Tuesday, November 26.  We have an excellent lineup of speakers covering some useful and timely topics. Besides myself (speaking on Neonicotinoid insecticides and the environment), the lineup includes Dr. Don Renchie (Pesticide Regulatory Updates), Mike Swan (Honey bee biology and control), Sam Hill (Tree Pest Control), and Dr. Casey Reynolds (Sprayer calibration to maximize your weed control).  Talks will provide CEUs for both Structural and TDA in General (Pest, L&O, Weed), Laws and Regs, and General (IPM).

Early registration, before November 22 is $70, which includes lunch.  Registration at the door is $85.  For a brochure, click here.  Early registration is available online only, by clicking here. Payment can be made via check, money order, credit card or invoice (must have a purchase order number).  Questions should be directed to Sharon Harris at the number listed on the brochure.

We work very hard to make these programs relevant and interesting, always with something new and delivered by people who know their subjects. So join us in November.  It will be worth your time.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bats and disease

Wild bats, like this one hanging from a doorway,
should never be touched or handled without leather
gloves. There is a significant risk that any bat acting
unnaturally may be rabid.
Surely bats are one of the most interesting and important wildlife pests we encounter in pest control.  Bats become pests when they roost in or around human buildings.  They can create a major odor problem with their guano, but even more importantly, can carry and transmit human disease. Bat carried diseases are known as zoonoses.

A zoonosis is a disease that is normally harbored within an animal host, but given the right conditions can jump from animal to human. Rabies is a zoonosis, as is West Nile virus. Like all true zoonoses, both diseases normally infect and complete their development within a non-human, animal host.  Some zoonoses depend on a vector, a carrier species that transmits a disease between hosts.  This is the case with West Nile virus, which is normally transmitted by mosquitoes from bird to bird, but occasionally to humans.  It's estimated that about 60% of all known human pathogens are zoonoses.

Sometimes zoonoses are spread directly from the animal host to human without a vector. Rabies is an example of a zoonosis without a vector. Humans get rabies from certain animals, including bats, when the virus is transmitted via a bite or through direct contact with the infected animal's saliva or blood.

Last week six Albuquerque middle school boys learned about zoonoses the hard way.  The boys were on the playground when they found a sick bat and carried it to their biology teacher.  The teacher immediately put the bat in a box and reported it.  The New Mexico Department of Health tested the bat immediately and confirmed that it had rabies.

Even though none of the boys reported being bitten they will all have to undergo four rabies vaccinations over a two week period. Bat bites are not always evident as bat teeth are very fine and may not leave noticeable wounds.  Also should even small amounts of saliva from the bat contact the skin, virus particles may be taken into the body through a small cut or by rubbed into the eyes or mouth.

All this should serve as a reminder for anyone who encounters rabies susceptible wildlife (bats, skunks, coyotes and foxes are the most important carriers) to take precautions and avoid handling live or dead animals.  Rats and mice, by the way, are not known rabies carriers.

For National Geographic fans, I found an exceptionally interesting article on zoonotic diseases by David Quammen in the October 2007 issue. Also, Quammen has written a recent book (part basic infectious disease, part history, part travelogue) on the subject called Spillover, the term used for the phenomenon when a disease agent undergoes a change, or series of changes, that causes it to jump from a reservoir host into an other species for the first time.

For more information on bats in schools or any other site, see the Bats in Schools webpage hosted by Janet Hurley.  For information about rabies and its treatment see the Texas Department of State Health Services webpage on rabies.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Resources for fire ant control

Because fire ants have been such an economically important pest in this country, it's not surprising that a lot of research and extension resources have been developed to help manage these insects. In light of last month's tragic fire ant death, I thought it might be of interest to survey some of the different research-based information resources that are out there.

One of the best places to go for fire ant management information is's (pronounced EE-extension) fire ant management page.  Most states with fire ant experts now contribute to the resources on this site, making it a one-stop source for fire ant fighters.  If you prefer video training to lots of reading, eXtension has recorded webinars presented by fire ant experts from all over the country.  Subjects include fire ant control made easy, how to kill fire ants in sensitive locations, evaluations of different home remedies for fire ants, and protecting loved ones from fire ants.

In addition, the website serves as a collecting point for research proceedings from all the Annual Imported Fire Ant Conferences since 1984.  While this information is certainly for the dedicated reader, it's very interesting to see the original research on which most of today's fire ant control recommendations are based.

For many years one of the premier sites for fire ant control information has been the Texas A&M fire ant website. This site was developed largely under the leadership of now retired extension entomologist, Dr. Bart Drees, and has more information about fire ants than you ever thought to ask.

This site has been a repository for information from Texas' Red Imported Fire Ant Management Program, and has progress reports from this project dating back to 1998 as well as result demonstration reports from Extension researchers since 1986.  There is information about fire ant control for specific sites like organic gardens, homes and buildings, compost piles and health care facilities.

One of the most useful and comprehensive guides to fire ant control is the multistate publication on Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas.  Or if you like it simple, one of the most popular Extension publications ever is the Texas Two Step Method: Do-it-Yourself Fire Ant Control.  Need an hour of verified training for one of your technicians who needs to know about fire ant control?  Check out the Fire Ant Control Made Easy video series. Or have them sit down and learn all they need to know about fire ant baits--one of the most useful and cost-effective tactics for fire ant management--from the AgriLife Bookstore. And school districts needing to polish up their fire ant management plans might want to check out the Action Plan for Fire Ants.

Maybe you have your own favorite online fire ant control resource.  If so, tell us about it with the comment feature on this page.  There's really no excuse for not knowing a lot about fire ants with all the information out there.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

When it comes to fire ants, pay attention to detail

Because they are so common throughout the South, fire ant
risks are often underestimated.
Copyrighted photo courtesy Alex Wild.
In case you missed it, last month a 13-year old middle school student died  as a result of fire ant stings he suffered during half-time on a Corpus Christi, Texas football field.  The student, Cameron Espinosa, was on the sidelines when he complained of difficulty breathing after receiving fire ant stings on the field.  He collapsed and died several days later from complications due to an apparent anaphylactic reaction to fire ant venom.

The incident reminds me of how important good pest control is to everyone's health and well-being. It also gets me thinking about all the things necessary to doing a good job when it comes to fire ants.

I know this school district considered fire ant control important and took steps to control them, but a lot of factors go into controlling fire ants effectively on a football field, or in any sensitive site.  So I thought I would share some things that come to mind when I think about good fire ant control:

  • Know your fire ant insecticides.  Fire ant control insecticides include slow-acting baits (IGRs), faster-acting baits (spinosad, indoxacarb, hydramethylnon), slow-acting residual granulars (fipronil), faster-acting residual granulars (bifenthrin).  You also have a wide variety of products for mound treatments, most requiring water for activation. Each of these products has advantages and disadvantages.  Do you know them? If not, check with your state extension entomologist or a knowledgeable pesticide distributor.
  • Plan ahead.  Baits are less costly than most other treatments and fit in well with goal of using safer materials, especially at a school district.  But baits are slow, most requiring 1-2 months for peak control. Even non-bait, residual granular insecticides require time for control.  The popular Top Choice® granular insecticide (fipronil), requires 1-2 months to eliminate fire ant mounds in the treatment zone. These products are not designed to give good control two days before the first Friday night football game.
  • Know when and how to inspect a field for fire ants.  Fire ants are present in fields all year round, but they are most visible during cool weather, or just after a rain or heavy irrigation.  Inspecting the field at the wrong time could lead to a false sense of security regarding fire ant activity.  In some cases, especially during hot, dry weather, use of hot dog slices (possibly at night) can be the best way to measure fire ant activity.  Also, in the case of athletic fields it's a good idea to do a final inspection just before a game or practice. Fire ant mounds can appear within just a few hours, especially after a rain.
  • Know how to apply insecticides accurately.  Fire ant baits require specialized equipment designed to put product out at very low rates (generally 1- 1.5 lbs/acre). For large areas a Herd GT-77 spreader is a standard application tool.  Spyker rotary spreaders, or handheld seed spreaders are good for smaller areas. All spreaders should be carefully calibrated to make sure the correct amount is going over the field.  Too much bait and you will overspend on product, too little and you might not get the desired control.  The same is even more true for the more expensive granular residual products.
  • Know when to apply.  Fire ant baits are most effective if applied when ants are actively foraging. When soil temperatures are above 95 degrees F, fire ants stop foraging and retreat deep in the soil.  Baits applied during midday will degrade and lose their attraction before the ants return to the surface at night, when temperatures have dropped.  This means that in the heat of summer fire ant baits should be applied later in the day, just before evening.  Baits are also not effective during the cooler season, so baits applied between October and April, say, may not give you satisfactory control.
  • With baits it's also important to know the age of the product.  Fire ant baits don't have an especially long shelf life. So buying fire ant bait when its on sale late in the season for the following year may not be the bargain you think it is.  Buy your bait just before you need it, and only as much as you need.  Saving bait, especially opened containers, from one season to the next, is not recommended. If you are unsure of the quality of a bait, find an active nest and sprinkle some around the base of the mound.  If the bait is fresh the ants should quickly (within 5-15 minutes) pick it up and carry it underground.  
  • Don't rely on just treating mounds to manage fire ant problems.  Mound treatments can effectively kill fire ant colonies, but they do a terrible job of managing fire ant populations in an account.  That's because it is so difficult to find and treat fire ant mounds. A new fire ant colony may take 6 months to even produce a visible mound.  Broadcast residual treatments or broadcast applications of baits are much more effective because they treat all mounds, visible and invisible.  And they are generally less expensive than mound treatments.
  • Water, water, water. Water is a necessary part of treating individual mounds.  Without it you cannot effectively reach the lower parts of a fire ant nest.  One to two gallons of mixed insecticide, or 1-2 gallons of water to wash in a granular application, are mandatory for good control.  And don't expect immediate control with all mound treatments.  Aerosols and liquid drenches are fastest, but allow at least an hour with these treatments to ensure that ants in a nest are neutralized.
These are just a few of the details necessary to ensure that you've done the best you can to keep your accounts mostly fire ant free.  And remember that schools with athletic fields aren't the only sensitive sites. Playgrounds, nursing homes and other medical facilities, parks, event grounds servicing thousands of concert goers--all are places where fire ant control needs to be done right.

If you're a PMP servicing a school or park or a residential lawn, you can't do this all on your own. Communicate and enlist the help of your customers: coaches, park maintenance staff, or homeowners. Let them know about how to report problems and to know what to do in case of need for an emergency treatment.  And let your customer know about the importance of taking stings--any arthropod sting--seriously.  Anyone who experiences difficulty breathing, tightness in chest or throat, hives or rashes after a sting should seek medical assistance immediately.  

Fire ants, like all pests, are an inevitable part of life in Texas.  But that doesn't mean we have to live with them. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Squirrelly advice for PMPs

Fox and gray squirrels are important pests in urban areas
through much of the U.S.  Fox squirrels, like this one, can
cause significant damage to shade trees as well as homes.
There's a new resource on squirrel management that you might be interested in if you do wildlife control.  Dr. Steven Vantassel, wildlife specialist with the University of Nebraska, held a webinar last week on the subject of tree squirrels. It runs about 60 minutes long and addresses the biology and behavior of several species of tree squirrels, as well as techniques for squirrel-proofing your home (and bird feeders), hazing, repelling and trapping nuisance squirrels.

Besides entering homes, squirrels can do significant damage to trees, as I've learned recently at my house.  A few weeks ago, after returning home from an out of town trip, I noticed something wasn’t quite right with the cedar elm tree in my backyard.  An entire branch of the tree appeared to be dead.  Inspection close to the trunk revealed that the bark had been peeled off, chewed off actually, girdling the entire branch.  The reason squirrels do this isn't fully clear, but is one of the topics covered in Vantassel's informative presentation.

View of squirrel damage to large branches on
a cedar elm tree in the winter, when damage is
most obvious.
Most squirrels are cavity nesters and prefer to shelter in a structure over their usual  breezy nest sites in trees. Squirrels are continually testing the corners and weak spots in my own home.

Wildlife damage management is an increasing important niche market for pest control professionals.  Trapping, excluding and extracting squirrels is not very difficult technically, but does requires a proficiency with ladders, attention to detail, and knowledge about squirrel biology and behavior.  This webinar will help you with the biology and control part.  The rest is up to you.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

ACE program considers certification for turf and ornamental professionals

Since 2004 the Entomological Society of America has offered a certification program for professionals in the pest control industry.  The Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) - Pest Control program currently has 623 ACEs-Pest Control and is offering new services and growing every month.

Insects that feed on trees, like this cottonwood borer, are among
 the pests that an ACE-Turf & Ornamentals would be expert in.
Now ESA is announcing its interest in starting a new certification for turf and ornamental professionals. The effort is just getting underway, according to a letter from the current Certification Board Director-Elect, Pat Copps, with Orkin. According to Copps, the "ESA is in the process of gathering market information to possibly expand the ACE-Pest Control program."

If the Board determines that there is sufficient interest, "a similar certification and set of requirements would be developed for Turf and Ornamental professionals. The program would build on the foundation of the existing ACE certification and when complete would be managed by the ESA Director of Certification with the assistance of the ACE oversight committee."

Insects are important pests of turfgrass and ornamental plants, and insect control is an essential component of landscape maintenance.  Having certified professionals, well trained and knowledgeable about these pests and about safe management practices, could go a long way toward making outdoor pest management safer for people and the environment.

If you think this sounds like a good idea, ESA would like to hear from you. Interested persons should contact Chris Stelzig, ESA Director of Certification,  Ideas and comments are welcome at this time.

This is a busy summer for the Certification Program under Stelzig's guidance. Canadian readers may be interested to know that ESA is developing an ACE pest control certification for Canadian entomologists.  And the ACE-Pest Control exam is undergoing review and updating this summer.  A new exam, with many new questions, should be ready in a couple of months.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cedar oil or Snake oil? Control claims disputed.

Manufacturers who claim to control insects
affecting human health, like this head louse,
must be properly registered and have data
 that shows efficacy against the target pest.
The company claimed that their bed bug and head lice insecticide was invented by the U.S. Army, and acknowledged by the USDA as the number one choice of "bio-based" pesticides. The company also claimed that the U.S. EPA was warning consumers to avoid "chemical solutions" for treating bed bugs. The problem was that the company's claims weren't true.

As a result of false claims and illegal marketing of untested products for bed bugs and head lice, yesterday the Federal Trade Commission issued a judgment and settlement with a Texas-based manufacturer of cedar oil based insecticides. This action was a follow-up to charges filed last fall against another manufacturer of an unproven bed bug treatment containing cedar, cinnamon, lemon grass, peppermint and clove oils.

So what's so bad about making dubious insect control  claims for a supposedly "safe" product like cedar oil? After all, the U.S. EPA has frequently let the market determine which products really are effective against many pests.  And if the product really is "safe", what's the harm of promoting it and letting consumers figure out whether it works or not? We know that cedar oil does have effectiveness against some pests, like many other essential oils.

Historically regulators have drawn a line in the sand, and rightly so, for products that claim to control bed bugs, mosquitoes, head lice or other pests affecting human health. If you think you are protecting your or your children's health by using a product, the federal government has long taken the stance that you have a right to be reasonably sure that the product should work as advertised.

While the FTC cautions consumers about advertisements that offer quick solutions to bed bug infestations, this is a problem that affects professionals as well. Even professionals are prone to be duped by false or overblown marketing claims.  Consider this: if it were easy to control bed bugs with a do-it-yourself product why would people continue to need your professional services?  And look around.  Are your competitors finding bed bug control easy? There is still no "silver bullet" for bed bugs.

What's missing from many marketing claims is scientific research involving replication and untreated controls. And it makes sense that a company selling a product for such uses should be able to produce research results that justify their sales claims. So if you're considering investing in a new bed bug insecticide for your home or business, here are some questions to ask:

  • Is the product registered with the U.S. EPA as a bed bug (or head louse or mosquito, etc.) insecticide?  
  • If a manufacturer claims their product to be exempt from EPA registration, is the company also making claims that their product protects humans from pests that can harm human health?  If so, they may not be qualified to be exempted from label requirements. For the rules concerning exempt pesticides, and a list of active ingredients that really are exempt under the 25(b) provision of FIFRA, go to 
  • What is the toxicology profile of the product?  Just because a product is natural doesn't mean it's safe. Ask to see the Safety Data Sheet and find out whether the product has been tested by the EPA.
  • Can the manufacture produce data from an unbiased testing laboratory to show the efficacy of their product?  Do the data include comparisons with untreated controls, and were tests replicated and shown to be statistically significant?
  • Does this data show that both susceptible and pesticide-resistant strains are killed?  This is especially important for bed bugs.  I've seen some products tested only against bed bug strains that are known to be highly susceptible to most insecticides (e.g., the bed bug 'Harlan strain'). Such products may not perform as well against tough field strains that your technicians are most likely to encounter.
  • Does the product have to be sprayed directly on the pest, or is there data to show that exposure to dried residues will also kill the pest?  If residual testing was conducted, how long was the pest exposed to the residue?  Is this exposure time realistic for the bed bug populations you are treating?
  • Does the data show that the product kills eggs as well as nymphs and adults?  Again, this is especially important for bed bugs.
  • How well does the product perform compared to other standard pesticides being used for the pest?
And if your customer asks you about why they need your services when they can buy "Kilz Em Safe" online or at the local garden store, it might pay to point them to the FTC's warning against products that promise a quick solution.  Remind them that when they hire you, they're paying for more than insecticide.  Every good pesticide applicator knows that it's not just a natural insecticide that will get the job done safely.  It's the knowledge of where and how to safely apply a good insecticide that's important.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kissing bugs get some love

Rachel Curtis at Texas A&M University studies
Chagas disease eco-epidemiology.
One of the odder, and a little scary, pests that occasionally enter homes in Texas is the kissing bug, Triatoma species.  Kissing bugs aren't very good kissers, but they get their name from their habit of biting sleeping humans on the face at night.  Even worse, the "kiss" of the kissing bug can sometimes bring with it a parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, that causes Chagas' disease.

If you are a blood donor you may have heard of Chagas' disease.  It's one of those mysterious illnesses you get asked about before you give blood. Thankfully, it's not thought to be common in the U.S., but is a very prevalent in some parts of Central and South America.  Recently there has been growing concern that Chagas' disease may be becoming more common in the U.S., and that it's occurrence might be underestimated.

A research team at Texas A&M University is beginning to study the different kissing bugs in Texas.  They hope to learn more about where kissing bugs are active, where different species are found, what hosts they prefer, and how often the parasite infects the bugs.

 Triatoma kissing bug are 1/2 to one inch-long.
If you come across a kissing bug, the Hamer Labs team would be interested in getting samples. It's important not to touch the kissing bug (they could be carrying germs and they can bite), but scoop it up in a small container or plastic bag.  If the bug is collected in a client's home, advise them to clean any surfaces that the bug may have crawled on with a disinfectant cleaner. If you find a kissing bug and want to donate it to the project, they ask that you first contact them via the email address They will provide you with specifics on how and where to send.

For a brochure about the project, go to