Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bargain reference books for your business

The venerable Mallis Handbook is a great
resource for pest control businesses.
I am frequently asked (especially by prospective ACEs studying for their certification exam) what reference books I recommend.  There are many of course, but one of the essential resources for any pest control company is "Mallis".

Arnold Mallis passed away in 1984, but the book he pioneered and first published in 1945 continues to get updated and republished by the Mallis Handbook Company and GIE publishing.  Many PMPs today don't realize what shaky ground, scientifically speaking, PMPs were on prior to giants like Arnold Mallis and Walter Ebeling and a few university leaders who saw the need for good, science-based information for the industry.  Mallis remains one of the standard sources to go to for scientifially sound information about structural insect pests and pest management.

Don't get me wrong. At 1600 pages, this is not pleasure reading... unless you're looking for a book to help you fall asleep at night.  But as a reference book, the Handbook of Pest Control is excellent. I wish every pest control company had a copy.

The reason I decided to say a few words about the Mallis Handbook is that Pest Control Technology just announced a moving sale. If you don't have a copy of this book, for a limited time you can buy a copy for half the normal $149 price.  If I didn't have a copy of the Tenth Edition already, I would jump on it. In fact many of the books in the PCT bookstore are on sale, and there are some good ones.  Other favorites on sale include Bobby Corrigan's Rodent Control: A Practical Guide for Pest Mgmt Professionals, and any of the PCT Field Guides.

A wise professor of mine once told me that the savviest professionals aren't the ones who know it all; they're the ones who know where to find the answer.  And believe it or not, not all the best information can be found online. Sometimes nothing beats having a good, old-fashioned book at your fingertips.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Extension urban entomologist hired

Last week the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M hired a new extension urban entomologist. After a national search, Dr. Robert Puckett was the successful candidate for what is essentially a new position designed to serve the public and the pest control industry in Texas.

Many of you already know Dr. Puckett through his position as Dr. Roger Gold's Associate Research Scientist, a position he has held since 2012.  Robert got his BA and MS in biology at Sam Houston State University and came to Texas A&M in 2003.  He earned his Ph.D. in Entomology in 2008, studying the biology and ecology of fire ant-attacking phorid flies.  After that he joined the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology in 2008 as an assistant research scientist.

Robert has a great balance of research and extension experience, and a strong desire to work in the extension field. So, what does an extension entomologist do?  Robert will continue to seek funding and design research projects relating to urban insect pests, much as he has done in the past.  But he will also assume some key extension education duties related to the structural pest control industry.  For example, he will largely run the annual Texas A&M winter pest management conference held in College Station.  He will also assume leadership of the Philip J. Hamman Termite Training School, and the Orkin termite correspondence course.  He will also be available to respond to speaking requests from your associations and other continuing education providers around the state.

In many respects, Robert's position is similar to mine, but based in College Station. He will hold an office in the new Center for Urban Entomology labs, and will be expected to work very closely with Dr. Ed Vargo after Dr. Gold's retirement in January 2015. The new position was intended, in part, to take some of the extension-related duties that Dr. Gold shouldered for many years, and free the new Endowed Chair to engage more completely with his research duties.

For those who worry that the Endowed Chair will be less accessible, I think you will find the opposite.  I know Dr. Vargo is very interested in engaging with the industry, perhaps with more use of social networking software like Twitter and Facebook.  But the bottom line is that this new position is more evidence of Texas A&M's commitment to adequately support the urban pest control industry with the best research information and service.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Puckett to his new position.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

IPM Experience House: A training venue for pest control professionals

The structure for the planned IPM Experience
House already exists.  The house is an old
dormitory that will be remodeled as an extension
facility for pest control training.
How many hours have you spent in classrooms trying to improve your professional knowledge? Can you guess how many PowerPoint presentations you have sat through for the sake of CEU credits?  Now ask yourself, how many hours have you spent practicing new skills under the supervision of a knowledgeable teacher--someone who provided immediate feedback on your performance? Most of us would probably say we’ve spent a lot more time sitting than doing.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with a good classroom presentation.  But most of us also need hands-on instruction to help us grow and retain new ideas.  That’s the idea behind the IPM Experience House, a planned training facility at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas.
IPM Experience House will be modeled after similar training facilities at the University of Florida and at the Orkin House in Atlanta, GA.  The idea is to provide a site where PMPs can practice new skills while getting feedback from teachers and fellow students. 

Wall cut-aways in the Orkin House remind
technicians what's behind the walls of a home.  
Features of the House will include wall cutaways to see normally hidden construction features, actual and mock insect damage, and sites to practice pesticide application.  The facility will include both an existing house retrofitted specially for pest control training, and an outdoor pavilion.  The pavilion will provide a year-round site to observe and interact with different construction features, such as crawl spaces, chimneys, and various foundations and walls.  The house will include a residential and commercial kitchen, hospital room, hotel room and possibly a mock daycare room. 

Besides the visible structure of the house, a critical part of Experience House is a behind-the-scenes curriculum.  Each feature of the house will be built with a learning objective and lesson plan in mind. The House will be set up to allow for different lessons to be tailored to each group.  Apprentices and technician trainees will have a set of training exercises for beginners, while advanced technicians and certified applicators will have more advanced courses to choose from.

An outdoor pavilion, similar to this structure at the
University of Florida's Pest Management University, is
planned as part of Phase II of the project.
Some have asked, why Dallas?  Why not build in College Station?  Since at least 1980 Texas A&M has had an urban entomology presence in Dallas. The Dallas Center currently houses two urban entomology staff, including myself and Janet Hurley, with the school IPM program.  In addition, Dallas is a regular training site for the Ag and Environmental Safety Department when training new technicians.  The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex is also a major Texas pest control market.  Of the almost 15,000 certified pesticide applicators, techs and apprentices in Texas, about 28% work within a 1.5 hour drive of the Center.  This means that businesses can minimize training time and travel expenses by having a training site that is convenient and local.

IPM Experience House is further evidence of the Texas A&M University System’s commitment to the pest control industry. Experience House will complement the new Center for Urban and Structural Entomology and the Philip J. Hamman Termite Control Training School at the Texas A&M main and Riverside campuses, respectively, in Bryan/College Station. Together with the hiring of a new endowed chair of urban entomology, these activities reflect a time of tremendous growth for the relationship between the Texas pest control industry and the University.

The IPM Experience House has been, and will be, a team effort.  Since last year a group of 16 local business owners and industry reps have met as an advisory committee to craft a vision and a plan for the project. Out of this committee came a fundraising campaign and draft blueprint for the site.  By taking advantage of an existing building on the AgriLife campus, a currently unused student dormitory, the committee realized that building costs for the project could be kept to a minimum.  We estimate the cost of remodeling the existing dorm and constructing a 50 x 100 foot outdoor pavilion will be $250,000.  So far, through the generous donations of individuals, our local associations, and local pest control businesses and support industry, we have raised approximately $170,000 in external donations toward this cost.  The committee and I hope to start construction within the next six months.

We still need your help to make Experience House happen.  While Texas AgriLife is providing the land and the existing building, and a significant chunk of start-up dollars, it’s up to the pest control industry to help make this new training facility a reality.  If you or your company are interested in giving to IPM Experience House, click here to download a pledge card.  To learn more about the project, and see a blueprint of the building, visit http://citybugs.tamu.edu/experiencehouse

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why Associate?

OK, so I'm not a pest control business owner, technician or pest control salesman. And maybe I don't have a full vote on this issue. But for what it's worth, I wish every honest businessman and technician involved in the pest control industry was involved in a pest control association.

I've always viewed membership in a pest control association as a sign that a company cares about good pest control as much as it cared about making money.  If someone asks me who I recommend to call for a certain pest problem, I steer them to association members.  Belonging to an association, in my mind, is a sign of professionalism.

Maintaining a successful pest control association isn't easy. It means having good volunteers and leaders. Being involved often means extra nights away from home, sitting on a committee or finding time in a busy day to make some extra phone calls or write emails. It may involve rubbing elbows with the competition--even people you may not like that much.  But I believe the payback over the long run can literally be priceless.

Technicians from the Greater Dallas Pest Control Association
setting off  last fall on an annual "Slug A Bug" event to provide
free pest control service to deserving low income families.
I've been especially reminded of the value of local pest control groups recently.  This summer I was privileged to speak at meetings of the Fort Worth, Dallas, east Texas, and Houston area pest control associations. I heard stories of brothers providing support for brothers, parties and bowling events, lobbying efforts, and low income assistance projects.  I saw education taking place through monthly speakers, and I saw good people trying to make their industry something that anyone would be proud to belong to.  And, not least, I saw a bunch of folks who genuinely liked one another and obviously valued their professional friendships.

The Greater Dallas Pest Control Association has struggled with membership some in recent years, but continues to hold their annual Slug-A-Bug event to benefit needy families.  Working with our local People Helping People group, the GDPCA has set a goal to help 60-80 families each year with what is often a sorely needed pest control treatment.  It's an effort to reach out to folks who don't have much, and make the community a better, more caring place.  If you are interested in being involved, they would love if you would "like" their Facebook page and sign up to get involved. The next Slug-A-Bug event is coming soon, September 17, and they are still looking for volunteers.

Members of the Tarrant and Dallas Pest Control Associations
showed their desire to improve technician training with two
generous checks to the Texas A&M Foundation in July.
The Greater Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Pest Control Association blew my socks off last month by making a donation to the IPM Experience House Project, a new venture to develop a hands-on pest control training facility in the Dallas area (more about this in a future post).  In fact, three of the local associations have donated to Experience House, but it's the Tarrant County group that really knows how to party.  They got together with the Dallas group presented Texas A&M Research Foundation with two giant Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes checks.  I've always thought it would be cool to get a giant check like that, and now I have two (I'm still figuring out how to cash them)!  Together the two associations combined for a total of $8,000 donation. This kind of excitement and enthusiasm only happens when a diverse group of folks works together.

I had never attended the Greater Houston Pest Control Association before, but boy are they are organized and well run!  Their board had more active members show up for the pre-meeting meeting than some associations.  Well over 50 people attended the June meeting, and it was a lot of fun. These folks were also the first association to make a donation to the Experience House project, even though most of their business is done a good four hour drive from the future training facility. The only good explanation is that they take an old fashioned pride in their industry.

The East Texas Pest Control Association met at Spring Creek Barbecue (a favorite of mine) in Tyler the night I visited.  President Carl Lane and the leaders of this group are very dedicated to growing their association, and to do so they alternate meeting locations between Tyler and Lufkin, so that their brethren living an hour and a half south feel like a real part of the group. What a nice group of folks; I wish I lived a little closer.

I could talk all day about our local associations, but the picture would be incomplete without mentioning the parent state and national pest management association offices. In Texas our local associations choose to work under the umbrella of our state (TPCA) and national association (NPMA). This gives them political clout in Austin and Washington that they otherwise wouldn't have. And it supports all the good educational and professional services these associations provide. But it all starts at the local level.

I know that some members of NPMA choose not to get involved in their local chapters, but I think they're missing out on the best part of being in an association.  If you haven't yet gotten involved in your local group, I encourage you to try it.  It might not always be easy, but I'm betting it will be mostly good--for you and your community.  You might even figure out you really like some of your competitors after all.

For a list of the 17 local chapters of the Texas Pest Control Association, click here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Brits have mystery bugs too

Mites, like this rodent mite, are often blamed for mysterious
"bites" by sufferers of delusions of parasitosis.  But real mites
are rarely found in such cases.
A British weekly cultural and current affairs magazine, The New Statesman, yesterday published an article by a physician, Phil Whitaker, on his encounter with a delusional parasitosis patient.  I found it interesting because the description of how he handled a sufferer of delusions of parasitosis, a not-uncommon condition encountered by PMPs here "across the water" in the U.S.

Delusions of parasitosis is a mental illness in which the sufferer complains of non-existent insects or mites crawling on their skin, biting, or burrowing into their bodies.  In the past a clinical symptom of the condition was frequently referred to as "the matchbox sign". This came from the observation that sufferers often carried to the pest control professional, or physician, a small matchbox supposedly containing samples of a parasitic insect that was making life miserable.  Today, it's more likely to be a ziploc bag or plastic pill jar, or pieces of tape on a sheet of paper carrying the mystery samples.

The only point in his article on which I would disagree with Dr. Whitaker is the frequency, at least here in the States, of delusional parasitosis. He calls it rare. Based on stories I hear from likely delusional patients, I don't think it is. If I can believe half of the stories, doctors--at least here in the big city, Dallas--seem to be pretty aware, and a little gun shy, of anyone coming into their office complaining of "invisible bugs".  From my perspective it seems like the medical community could better help these patients by being better informed of the illness and of the available treatments.  This is a serious and highly disruptive mental illness, and one that often leaves pest management professionals confused and frustrated.

Our role in the pest management field is, of course, to take all complaints of biting pests seriously.  After all, our expertise is, or should be, to be very familiar with all biting pests likely to be in a home. Bird and rodent mite calls seem to be more common this year than ever before, a situation I blame on some very bad information being promoted on the Internet.  To learn more about biting mites, what they can and can't do, check out my biting mites in homes fact sheet.  And for a more general publication to share with customers who complain of mystery bugs, click here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Expected benefit of treating crape myrtles for new scale

Two ‘Natchez’ crape myrtles demonstrate the potential impact of bark scale on the size and number of blooms in early summer. The tree on the left was treated seven weeks earlier with the insecticide dinotefuran, the one on the right was left untreated. Note the smaller blooms and mold-covered bark on the untreated tree. Click on the image for a closer view. Photo by Jim Robbins, U of Arkansas.
Earlier this year I posted some information about a new scale pest that is attacking crape myrtle trees in Texas and other parts of the south. It is called the crape myrtle bark scale, Eriococcus lagerstroemiae, and its range continues to expand. This year the scale has jumped from north Texas to College Station and, more recently, Sugarland in the Houston area.

We do not see this scale killing crape myrtle; but like many sap-feeding scale insects, these little scales can stress and reduce the appearance of the trees. They also produce large amounts of sticky "honeydew" that can coat the leaves and anything under the tree (including freshly washed cars). Thanks to Drs. John Hopkins and Jim Robbins of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, we can now show you what we believe is likely to be another impact of these scales on trees--namely, smaller flower clusters and reduced blooming.

The above picture was taken of two trees at a church in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The tree on the left was treated with Zylam® Systemic Insecticide on the 28th of  May, and the one on the right was left untreated.  Zylam® (active ingredient dinotefuran) was applied as a drench in 5 gallons of water between the trunk and a circle three feet away from the trunk.  The picture was taken seven weeks after the treatment was made. Note that this picture is not the same as a scientific trial, which would involve more trees to ensure that the differences seen here were not accidental.  Nevertheless, according to Dr. Hopkins, scale numbers and honeydew were noticeably less on the treated tree.  And there was a difference in the average bloom size between the treated and untreated tree, with blooms being noticeably larger on the treated tree.

John estimated that the cost to treat the tree on the left with Zylam would be approximately $39--not cheap, especially with multiple trees to treat.  But at least you, and your customer, can see what the expected benefit from a tree treatment might look like.  For a consumer-oriented discussion of the scale, clip and use this link: http://citybugs.tamu.edu/2014/08/14/crape-myrtle-bark-scale-reduces-bloom/

What about the bees?
To date the most promising treatments for crape myrtle bark scale have been the neonicotinoid insecticides,  Readers of this blog should know about the growing concern about the impact of soil-applied neonicotinoid insecticides on honey bee and pollinator health.  So should we be using these products on a flowering tree like crape myrtle? Although date on pollination rates on crape myrtle seem to be lacking, these trees do not appear to be highly attractive to bees (entomophilic). Currently I don't believe that a properly applied soil insecticide (following label directions) will have any significant impact on foraging bees.  But if anything changes in that formula, I'll be sure to let you know. And be sure to read the labels on these neonicotinoid products carefully.  New, pollinator-friendly labels are coming to the market this year.  In the meantime, Extension will continue to look for less susceptible varieties of crape myrtle and possibly safer, less costly treatments for this scale.