Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bracing for Zika

Will Zika be the next mosquito-borne disease to capture headlines in 2016?  Or will it be the little disease that few (at least in the U.S.) have heard of?  That's the question being debated by public health officials this year.

Current (2015) worldwide range of zika virus. Central and South
American countries were first reported with the disease in
2015 (U.S. Centers for Disease Control).
For many years it seemed like new things happened relatively slowly in public health in Texas. In the mid-1980s entomologists reported the Asian tiger mosquito in Texas for the first time--a daytime-flying mosquito from Japan that is not shy about biting humans. Then in 2002 the first cases of west Nile virus hit our state.  Carried by the southern house mosquito, WNV affected a couple of hundred people or less each year. This was the case until the blazing hot summer of 2012 when over 1800 cases were reported, including 83 deaths. Health departments throughout the state are still reeling, in some ways, from the impact.

Now health officials are bracing for another mosquito-borne disease caused by Zika virus (abbreviated ZIKV by epidemiologists).  A cousin of west Nile virus and dengue fever, ZIKV has been thought of as a less severe form of these flavivirus.  Most people who get ZIKV show no, or very mild symptoms.  Others exhibit a rash, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye), and flu-like symptoms.  Most people do not get as sick with ZIKV as with dengue fever or chikungunya, and recover relatively quickly.

For this reason, since its discovery in 1947 until 2007, it was not on the radar of many public health experts. But in 2007 ZIKV cases started to spread throughout Micronesia French Polynesia, and eventually Easter Island. There it was thought to possibly be the cause of a twenty-fold increase in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome--an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that can be highly disabling, at least temporarily.

In 2015 the disease made its appearance in Brazil and has since spread to at least nine other member states of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), and prompting that organization this month to issue an alert to all of member public health agencies.

So here's where things get a little scary.  Since the arrival of ZIKV to Brazil, the virus has been detected in babies born with a condition known as microcephaly.  Microcephaly is a relatively rare condition where the brain fails to develop normally. It may result in miscarriage or in babies being born with under-sized brains.  There is no cure for the condition.  The PAHO/WHO alert noted that the number of diagnosed cases of microcephaly has increased to 2700, a 10-fold increase, in Brazil this year.  Health officials there are worried that there might be a connection between this unprecedented increase in microcephaly and the arrival of ZIKV.  And last month, unusual nervous system birth defects were also reported in Polynesian mothers who tested positive for flavivirus antibodies.

Public health officials guess that these cases may result when a pregnant woman who is bitten by an infected mosquito contracts the virus.  The virus then infects the developing fetus, resulting in this serious condition.

So far there is no hard proof of a connection between ZIKV and microcephaly or Guillain-Barre syndrome, but medical researchers are rushing to learn more about the virus and its possible effects on human health.  According to one expert, quoted in the New York Times, it could be that the risk of microcephaly is increased among people who have previously contracted dengue fever or chikungunya, neither of which diseases are common to Texas or the U.S. If this hypothesis proves correct, the risks to the unborn in this country would likely be negligible.

Currently, ZIKV is thought to be transmitted by the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti.  This mosquito, along with its close relative, Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, are both very common throughout Texas and the southern U.S.  Unlike west Nile virus, which is primarily a disease of birds, ZIKV is solely a disease of primates.  To be spread among people, it must be picked up from another infected human.

Dengue and chikungunya are similar, human-only, viruses that have not been quick to spread in Texas or other U.S. locations.  This may be the result of lower rates of mosquito biting in the U.S., perhaps due to our more indoor lifestyles, or more common use of repellents.  Some experts argue that for similar reasons ZIKV is likely to be slow to establish in the U.S.  Nevertheless, Brazil shows that given the right conditions, this virus is capable of establishing itself very rapidly, with 85,000 known infections in its first year of spread.

A few U.S. cases of ZIKV have been reported in 2015, but all from travelers who contracted the virus elsewhere.  Mexico has also seen a few cases this year.  There are still no known cases of ZIKV, however, contracted within the U.S.

So be prepared to hear more about the zika virus this year.  It may turn out to be a big event, or it may not.  Even if we didn't need more reasons to dislike biting mosquitoes, now we have one more reminder of the importance of residential mosquito control, and putting on the insect repellent when venturing outdoors.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Managing bed bugs in multifamily housing--insights from ESA

The Minneapolis, MN Convention Center hosted this year's
annual conference of the Entomological Society of America
It's been almost 15 years since bed bugs started as a hot symposium topic at the annual conference of the Entomological Society of America. And following this year's meeting in Minneapolis, it seems like solutions are still elusive, especially when it comes to multifamily housing.

As usual for me during these marathon meetings, I attended as many talks about bed bugs as I could.  But this year I was especially attracted to discussions about bed bug management in multifamily housing, a.k.a. apartment complexes.  There were several interesting papers related to the topic, but three of them seemed to do an exceptional job of illuminating the issue and possible solutions.

Virginia Tech and Apartment Managers

I know of no one who exhibits more passion about bed bug management in multifamily housing than Dini Miller of Virginia Tech University.  In fact, to keep up with the overwhelming education demands in this area, her group recently established a Bed Bug and Urban Pest Information Center to better educate Virginians (and especially apartment managers) about bed bug control.

According to Miller, a big part of the reason that bed bugs are such a problem in apartment complexes is that they are not just a pest problem. Bed bugs are also a social problem with a unique human dimension. In her ESA talk Miller observed that in her experience the worst bed bug infestations seem to occur with individuals who have problems that are much worse than bed bugs (e.g., health issues, finances, safety and security).  Such tenants, for a variety of reasons, are less likely to complain to management about bed bugs.  On the other hand, the most vocal complaints often come from those with relatively small-scale bed bug problems. Therefore, when an apartment complex bed bug control program is primarily complaint-driven, the program is doomed to miss what should be the highest priority units.

Miller believes that good apartment management is key to an effective bed bug program. To be successful, she argues, (1) managers must be committed to solving the problem, (2) the response needs to be proportionate to the problem (less money and time on small infestations and more effort on finding a eliminating heavy infestations), (3) apartment preparation requirements must be reasonable (with assistance provided for the elderly), and (4) managers must be better informed and involved with the pest control company in the IPM process.

For managers who don't feel that bed bugs are that big an issue, Miller notes that one 4,000 unit complex she works with spends $500,000 annually on bed bug control.  And liability is also a big issue. In Iowa in 2014, residents of a public housing complex successfully sued management for $2.45 million for an uncontrolled bed bug infestation.

Rutgers and Bed Bug IPM

Climbup interceptor cups were effective at detecting bed bug
infestations 95% of the time in the Cooper study. Pitfall traps
like the Climbup detect 3X as many low level infestations
than would otherwise be reported by tenants.  
Another leading bed bug researcher, Changlu Wang from Rutgers University, offered his own perspective on reasons for the ongoing bed bug crisis in multifamily housing.  He said that the biggest challenges come from (1) heavy infestations associated with clutter, (2) widespread resistance to insecticides among bed bugs, (3) the small size and difficulty in finding bed bugs (thus determining whether an infestation is eliminated), and (4) the need for cooperation from residents.

As background, Wang and his laboratory have undertaken some ambitious field trials in the past few years.  I say ambitious because it is extraordinarily difficult to do large scale control studies in apartments.  Not only do researchers have to work with the same unpredictable clients you work with daily, they also have to get approval from a group called the Institutional Review Board (IRB).  Each University has an IRB that oversees any research done with humans or animals, ensuring that the research is done ethically and without harm to its subjects. Getting through the process requires lots of paperwork and is enough to make you crazy.

In a study just published by Wang's recent Ph.D. student, Rick Cooper, an IPM program was pilot tested at a four building complex with 358 units housing elderly and disabled residents.  The IPM program consisted of resident education, initial monitoring with ClimbUp® interceptors to determine which units were infested, encasements, vacuuming, steam, laundering assistance, and insecticide applications with diatomaceous earth and chlorfenapyr.  Units with less than 5 bed bugs received non-chemical treatment only.  Units that continued to be infested with more than 5 bed bugs after the first treatment received spot treatments with Transport GHP.  Followup treatments in all originally infested units were continued every two weeks until no bed bugs were captured in interceptors, seen, or reported by the residents for three consecutive visits.

Relationship between the initial number of bed bugs in a treated
apartment and the number of treatment visits needed to eliminate
the problem.  An initial infestation of 100 bed bugs required  ca.
10 visits to verify elimination. From Cooper et al. Jan. 2015.
Pest Management Sci.
Cooper's experiment is the first research to document the success of a bed bug IPM protocol in an entire apartment complex. Key findings of the study were:

  • Management was aware of only 29% of the infestations before Climbup interceptors were used.
  • It took an average of 2 to 4 minutes (they got faster throughout the study) to install approximately 10 interceptors per apartment.
  • It took less than 4 minutes to inspect Climbups compared to over 15 minutes to conduct a visual inspection of an apartment.
  • Because of the difficulty in detecting low levels of bed bugs, the authors defined "elimination" as three consecutive visits with no live bed bugs detected by Climbup counts, visual inspections and resident reports. The authors considered the stringent elimination protocol an essential part of the IPM program.
  • Researchers estimated the overall infestation rate of the apartment complex was reduced from 15% to 2.8% at 6-months and to 2.2% at 12-months, an 85% improvement. 
  • In infested apartments the mean number of bed bugs trapped was reduced by 96% and 98% after 6- and 12-months, respectively. 
  • Heavily infested apartments at the beginning of the study required the most visits to achieve control, hence costing the complex more. 
  • 62% of residents with bed bugs were not aware that they had bed bugs, including one oblivious resident whose apartment had over 4,000 bed bugs, many of which were openly crawling on the bed during inspection.
  • 76% of residents who thought their bed bug problem was solved through treatment still had bed bugs detectable with Climbups, supporting the idea that customer satisfaction should not be the sole criterion for determining when treatments can be stopped.
  • Average labor and chemical costs for the 12 month treatment for 66 apartments was $456 per apartment, a figure in line with other programs and which the authors believe can be reduced in subsequent years of a contract.
A full copy of Cooper's excellent study can be accessed here.

University of California Survey

In contrast to what ought to be done about bed bugs, Andrew Sutherland of the University of California's Statewide IPM Program, reported on what is being done for bed bugs in the western region of the U.S.  He surveyed 114 PMPs in California and other western states and provided some useful insights into current industry bed bug practices.  His study confirmed Miller's observation that compared to hotels and single-family homes, multifamily housing was rated by respondents as having the worst infestations, the most-difficult to control infestations, and being the most often treated kind of account.  When asked about monitoring methods used for bed bugs, 98% of respondents employed visual inspections "most of the time".  Pitfall traps were used at least once by about 75% of respondents; but only 20% said they used this tool "most of the time".  About 40% of respondents used canine detection at least once.  Surprisingly, glue boards had been used by about 75% of respondents, at about the same frequency as the far superior pitfall traps.  

Regarding control methods, insecticides were used "most of the time" by 94% of respondents. Desiccants were used to some extent by 85% of respondents, but only by 57% "most of the time". Encasements were used "most of the time" by 50% of respondents.  And 53% of respondents never used volumetric heat treatment--not surprising given the relatively high initial cost of the equipment. 

Among liquid sprays, the insecticides used "most often" by respondents were neonicotinoid+pyrethroid combination products (53%), followed by chlorfenapyr (20%), followed by pyrethroids (17%). Among dusts, pyrethrins (surprise to me) were most commonly used, and least used were the highly promising silica aerogels.  A copy of the PMP portion of his survey results has been published in PCT magazine.

In addition to PMPs, Sutherland surveyed 167 housing management professionals, and the results were also revealing. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said that bed bug service in their facilities was complaint-based, just what the Rutger's and Virginia Tech entomologists said doesn't work. Also, 72% of respondents make their tenants responsible for preparing for a bed bug treatment--not a good idea for elderly and disabled who are often unable to perform prep tasks.  And 69% of respondents said they used a bed bug addendum as part of their lease agreement.  Such addenda generally put responsibility for bed bugs back on the tenant, discouraging many from reporting infestations when they are small and easily treated. These latter results, especially, suggest that the pest control industry, and we in Extension, have some work to do.

These three talks for me illustrated why bed bug management, especially in multifamily housing, remains a challenge.  Within the industry better IPM protocols are needed, especially protocols that rely on proactive monitoring and early intervention, sanitation, physical and mechanical controls, and conservative, targeted use of carefully chosen pesticides. I think we also need to take a closer look at desiccant dusts, perhaps an underused, low toxicity tool in the bed bug tool kit.  Within the apartment industry, managers and tenants need to be educated about the importance of monitoring-based protocols, minimum prep models, and reversing the "blame the tenant" mindset. All research shows that the sooner a bed bug infestation is detected, the better the prognosis for a quick and less-costly response.

Given that approximately 26 million households reside in multifamily rental housing (2014 data from National Multifamily Housing Council), there is hardly any pest control issue in the U.S. today that affects more people in a more personal way. The way that pest management and multifamily housing businesses respond to the challenges of bed bugs in the coming years will say a lot about the character of these two industries.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Changes in the rules of the game for Texas PMPs

New rules start as laws passed by the Legislature under
the Texas Capitol dome.  Laws become enforceable only
after rules are drafted and published for public comment by
the lead agency, like Texas Department of Agriculture.
New rules governing the pest control industry in Texas were published last week and are now in effect.  While none of the changes in the "rules of the game" are major, there may be a few things that affect your business or school district.

The rules governing pesticide use in Texas can be complicated, and are passed down to us through two sets of documents.  First, the Texas Occupations Code (TOC) contains  the official list of laws as passed by the legislature pertaining to different occupations, including structural pest control. If you go to this code online, the chapter having to do with pest control is Chapter 1951. Chapter 1951 lists all the state law as passed over the decades that relate to the business of structural pest control.
The second, and probably most relevant set of rules to our industry is the Texas Administrative Code (TAC).  The TAC records how the various state agencies choose to interpret and administer the laws. For example, Section 1951.212 of the TOC directs the Texas Department of Agriculture to establish standards for an IPM program for public school districts.  The TAC Sections 7.201-7.205 spell out what the standards are, including requirements for IPM coordinators, pesticide categories, posting requirements, etc.

But wait a minute. How can non-elected bureaucrats in a state agency write rules outside the legislative process?  The answer is that legislators don't have the time or the expertise to write detailed regulations, so they pass their rule-making authority on to Executive branch agencies like the Department of Agriculture.  Of course the rules have to fairly interpret the law, and they must be published ahead of time in the Texas Register so that all of us can review and comment.

Publication of several new or revised sections of Subchapter H of the TAC (Texas Department of Agriculture) marks the end of this process for pest control rules this year.  On December 18 the Texas Register published the results of public comment and listed the final versions of proposed rules originally published on September 18. With this final version, the rules are now considered to be in effect.

Most of the changes were made simply to clarify wording of the old rules.  There was also some reorganization of section numbering, so that old rule citations may no longer apply.  Here are the essential changes:

  • Sec. 7.122 Changes in wording that include giving power to the Department to deny a license to anyone who holds a similar license that has been revoked, suspended, probated or denied within the last five years by another state or by the federal government.
  • Sec. 17.127 There are no more fees for providing a continuing education course.
  • Sec. 7.141  Rewording of rules pertaining to ID that must be carried at all times by license holders.  Basically, if you have a license you must carry it on your person at all times and show it to any customer or relevant government employee who asks. If it's not legible, then its not a legal ID.  Also, language on vehicle signage has slightly changed to require all marked or unmarked vehicles being used for customer contact or service must have the business license number prominently displayed (magnetic signs are not OK).
  • New Sec. 7.150 requires all pesticides be used consistent with the pesticide labeling, and prohibits use of any pesticide missing a complete label when the identity of that pesticide is unknown.
  • New Sec. 7.151 prohibits anyone from hurting people or the environment, and making the pesticide owner, the applicator and/or the mixer equally responsible for proper storage and disposal of pesticide containers and contents. It also requires all pesticide containers to be labeled with the name of the pesticide.  And it specifies that hard copies of all pesticides being stored shall be available for inspectors visiting the storage site.
  • Sec. 7.152 states that no one may advertise to perform structural pest control services without a license, and that all advertising must include the same business name as is on the license.  This rule was rewritten to ensure that companies not use multiple business names under the same business license, and to clarify that pest control advertising includes online ads such as might appear on sites like Facebook, Craigslist and Angie's List.  
  • Sec. 7.193 is a new section number which clarifies who may qualify as a member of the Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee from an institution of higher learning (the position I formerly held, and now is being held by Dr. Robert Puckett).  
  • Sections rules for the IPM program for public school districts have been moved to a new Division (7) and renumbered from Sec. 7.150-7.154 to 7.201-7.205.  The biggest changes in this section relate to CEU requirements for IPM Coordinators.  
  • Sec. 7.202  School IPM coordinators no longer are specifically required by rule to personally conduct periodic inspections of their school district.  While this remains desirable, taking away this rule frees the coordinator to rely on other trained inspectors to provide inspection reports.
  • Sec. 7.204 includes slight wording changes to clarify that outdoor areas treated with a pesticide may be posted at all entry points with a sign in lieu of a lock, fence or barrier tape until the reentry time is over.  This section also allows IPM Coordinators, or their supervised employees, to use non-pesticide containing monitoring devices like sticky traps, to monitor pests without a license.
Perhaps the most significant change heralded by these rules is that expanded CEU requirements for school IPM Coordinators (IPMCs) are now officially in place.  Over four years ago, as a result of Sunset Commission recommendations, the legislature decided that ongoing CEUs would be required for school IPMCs.  Until now, the only CEU requirement was that IPMCs have six hours of department-approved training at the beginning of their appointment.  Under the new rule IPMCs must have six hours of verified, approved training every three years.  While most of these CEU requirements can come from any approved, relevant pesticide CEU class, at least one of the hours must be related to school IPM rules and regulations.  The countdown for existing IPMC's three years will start this January, or for new IPMCs at the date whenever their initial training is completed. Pesticide CEUs obtained in support of a pesticide applicator's license can be double-counted toward the CEU requirements for IPMCs.

After seeing how long it can take the TDA to publish its rules, I don't feel nearly as bad about the stacks on my desk.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Earthworms gone wild

Nearly everyone loves earthworms. I don't remember my first childhood encounter with earthworms, but I imagine it had something to do with wet sidewalks after a rain, and rescuing "wormies" from the hot sun. As I grew older I learned to respect earthworms less for their delightful slimy "squirmy-ness" and more for their practical roles in helping gardeners and farmers, and providing food for wildlife... and other good things like fishing.

No one denies that earthworms provide hefty environmental services in the form of improved soil aeration and water penetration, and composting.  But it turns out that there are some bad guys in the earthworm community. And sometimes earthworms just show up in the wrong places at the wrong time.

Extreme earthworm excavation can lead to boggy soil and weak
turfgrass stands. 
Let me explain. Some types of earthworms are notorious for leaving excessive amounts of castings on the soil surface. The spongy soil and excess castings produced by these worms can make it difficult to mow, or even walk across an infested lawn. Earthworm tunneling can also disrupt grass roots and reduce turf quality. And don't talk to golf course superintendents about earthworm castings on putting greens. Besides disrupting play, earthworm activity dulls mower blades used to keep greens short and fast.

Also, it turns out that earthworms are not very welcome at airports. With the number of reported bird strikes increasing over six-fold between 1990 and 2013, airport managers are eager to look for ways to reduce bird activity around airport runways. Therefore, high earthworm populations, which attract birds, are not desirable close to airplane landing and takeoff sites.

Of course the overall benefits from earthworms on turf is great, but there are places and times where earthworms are pests.  Until now, there has been little to be done about earthworms.  A few insecticides and fungicides are known to be highly toxic to earthworms; but there are currently no pesticides (vermicides) registered for earthworm control in the U.S. And by all accounts the U.S. EPA, which regulates such things, does not appear eager to register worm-killing pesticides.

Research reported in 2010 from the University of Kentucky documented that an organic, plant-produced mixture of natural soaps called saponins could effectively be used to control earthworms for at least five weeks. The best commercial source of saponins turns out to be a byproduct of tea manufacturing called tea meal.  While the research has not resulted in anyone registering tea meal as an insecticide, a company called Ocean Organics has started importing tea meal from China and using it as a base for a new organic fertilizer.

Early-bird 3-0-1 organic fertilizer, described by some as "a fertilizer with benefits", uses a tea seed base.  Though not sold as a pesticide, it happens to be toxic to some earthworms. It is labeled for application at 6 lbs/1000 ft sq or 5 bags per acre. A 50 lb bag retails for around $55, and cost of application is around $275/Acre (it can be found at Winfield Solutions--Land O Lakes in Texas, and possibly other suppliers).

I know that any suggestions on ways to kill earthworms will be viewed with alarm by many, but there will be situations when at least short term control is desirable. On the other hand, as one researcher thoughtfully concluded, earthworms are highly adaptable creatures that are difficult to manage, and to some extent we will have to learn to take their bad along with the good.  Think about that the next time you go fishing.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Biting mite makes a fall appearance

Gravid female (left) and two more oak leaf itch mites (top and
lower center) feeding on the (brownish) larvae of a gall-making fly,
Macrodiplosis erubescens. The balloon-like structure on the female
is the swollen abdomen full of eggs. Photo by Rick Grantham,
OK State University.
It's a wise PMP who can diagnose what's biting himself and his customers. But given that some biting pests are obscure this is no easy skill to develop.  In the latest issue of Pest Alerts from the Entomology Department at Oklahoma State University, entomologist Justin Talley reports finding evidence of a biting pest that has not been seen in Oklahoma or Texas for over ten years.

The oak leaf itch mite, Pyemotes herfsi, is cousin to the straw itch mite--a predatory mite often associated with stored grain and stored grain insects, and known to bite people who come in contact with infested grain (if you've never heard of this or straw itch mite, check out the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control). It was first reported in the U.S. from Kansas in 2004, a year when the mite was unusually abundant and resulted in thousands of biting complaints from people working and playing outdoors. That same year the mite was found in Nebraska, Missouri and here in Texas.

The mite's normal home is inside of leaf galls found on trees, and it is best known from marginal leaf curl galls caused by a midge (Macrodiplosis erubescens) on oaks. It may be equally at home in other types of galls on different trees.  The problem with this mite seems to occur mostly in late summer and fall, when mites are prone to dropping from trees.  Although the mites are principally predators on insects, if they come in contact with skin they will bite, leaving a painful, itchy welt. For more information on the mites click here for a Nebraska fact sheet.

Bites from the oak leaf itch mite are typically seen on the neck
or shoulder region of people who have been outdoors under
trees with galls.
This little mite has a history in Texas too.  In October, 2004 the Dallas area had what was believed to be a mini-outbreak of these mites, when Dallas County Health and Human Services received a number of complaints from schools concerning "bug bites" among students and staff--apparently from playgrounds.  At that time DCHHS staff and I sampled leaves from a number of school campus trees and isolated a single oak leaf itch mite, confirming at least the presence of these mites in north Texas. The rash of bite cases was assumed due to this mite by DCHHS in its December 2004 monthly report of epidemiology activity.  No remarkable incidents of these bite complaints have recurred since 2004, although a few suspect calls have been received this year.

These mites are very small (0.2 mm-long) and difficult to find.  Bites, when they occur, tend to be around necks and shoulders, implying that the mites bite when they land, and do not crawl much on the skin before biting, like ticks or chiggers.

Complaints about mystery bites are one of the most common and frustrating calls for PMPs.  But if the complaints come from a client who has been spending time outdoors, and especially under trees that are shedding their leaves, this is one critter to keep in mind.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Training site has big ambitions

I just had the opportunity to check out the new distance learning website sponsored by PCT magazine.  I think it offers a good training option for PMPs, and has tremendous potential as a way to ensure your technicians are familiar with labels of products used by your company.

Under the Find A Course pulldown window you have
the option to take any of over 25 different label modules.
According to the site's author, Stoy Hedges, the site became active last August and will be free to anyone for the first two years.  After that time, the site should have a good mix of vetted training courses, and PCT will begin charging a modest monthly fee in exchange for offering courses for CEU credit in your state.

Right now lessons simply consist of label review courses.  So for example, if you want to ensure that your technicians are familiar with the Bayer Suspend® Polyzone label, have them take the review course and exam.  A certificate they print out after completing the course provides proof that they have read the label (possibly several times) and have passed an exam to show comprehension over the label contents.

Eventually the course will expand to include most of the popular pesticide labels and other subject matter including the contents of the PCT field guide series.  Hedges envisions 40 courses alone based on the PCT Field Guide to Ants.

"We have 400 current subscribers; but there are 100,000 pest professionals out there that we want to reach," he said. Hedges designed the site for training new and experienced technicians, but the current label modules are a great way for any pesticide user to learn a new label or get a refresher course for an older product.  The reviews are so thorough that one user reported that after taking the class he better understood his own company's insecticide...for which he wrote the label!

Wave of the future?

It's yet to be seen whether this type of training format will come to dominate the way we do continuing education in the future.  Online courses are certainly not the same as having a human instructor. But it does offer rigor that is sometimes missing from a one-hour continuing education class.

In Texas the Structural Pest Control Service does not yet allow online training classes to substitute for face-to-face CEUs.  But this may slowly be changing.  The Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee last year gave favorable input to the idea of allowing online CEUs for PMPs at least every other year; however I notice the new regulations filed in the Texas Register on September 4 (and open for comment until October 18) did not address any rule changes in this regard.

No one has a bigger stake in face-to-face training than me and my colleagues. Our entomology department faculty offer CEU classes to thousands of applicators every year.  These classes provide us with a personal connection to the industry, not to mention some financial support for our programs. But we support online training, and don't see it as a threat to the many conferences and face-to-face classes we offer. I don't think any online course can fully replace sitting with trained experts sharing knowledge and personal experiences and answering questions in real time.  But I like the idea of allowing applicators to get CEUs online every other year as a nice compromise.  It would make getting CEUs quicker and more convenient for many who choose that technology, but would preserve face-to-face training.

For better or worse, the wheels of change can move very slowly in our state. Perhaps in two years, by the time the PCT site is up and fully running, Texas will catch up with the rest of the world.  Meantime, sites like the PCT Distance Learning Classroom provide a great way to hone your skills and make sure your technicians know pesticide labels as well as if they had helped write them.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Integrated Pest Management Seminar Nov 5

This year's Fall Integrated Pest Management Seminar will be held November 5 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center on Coit Road in north Dallas.  Registration is online and can be accessed by clicking here.

This year we are especially pleased to have two guest speakers coming from College Station: Dr. Kevin Ong and Mr. Mark Dyks.  In his role as director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, Dr. Ong is at the center of the maelstorm involving new and emerging plant disease problems.  He'll bring us up to date on what to look for and available treatment options.

This may be the last Fall Pest Management Seminar held in the
venerable Pavilion building (Building C).  Construction is
expected to begin on a new Research and Extension building in
2016.  Goodbye to those good old yellow chairs!
Mark Dyks is the new(ish) Chief Apiary Inspector for the Texas Apiary Inspection Service housed outside the main campus at Texas A&M University.  He will be talking honey bees and what steps we can take to protect them from pesticides and other risk factors in the urban landscape.

In addition, our own Janet Hurley will bring updates about changes to pesticide rules in Texas and on the national scene; Dr. Matt Elmore will share exciting news about new turf varieties and how they might influence weed management in the future; and I will speak about aspects of ant management and the prospects for new ant pests on the horizon.

If you haven't been to one of our workshops before, we offer 5 CEUs for both TDA and Structural Pest Control Service license holders. We tend to focus on pest management in turf and ornamental plantings, though structural pest control professionals can get their Pest, L&O, and Weed CEUs here as well.

All of our attendees have grown used to the Pavilion facilities at the Dallas Center.  And every fall and spring we get asked when we will replace the hard yellow fiberglass chairs for something more comfortable.  I can't really answer that question, but this may be our last big event in the concrete-floored building with the uncomfortable seating.  A new Research and extension facility is in the works, and with it possibly more comfortable seating options.  Personally, I've grown to love the old building and will be a little sad to see it go.

This is the first workshop we've had since our spring 2015 event that was preceded by bad weather.  If you were among those who registered but were unable to attend, we've got something for you!  Conference Services has arranged to have your registration fees applied to the Fall Seminar.  You should be receiving an email shortly from that office asking you to confirm your attendance this fall.

We look forward to seeing you, our fall friends, in a few weeks.  Because of the short notice, we ask that you register quickly.  We want to save you a yellow chair.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bee removal workshop Oct 9

Honey bee hive removal is an essential part of eliminating
bees from a structure.  
Honey bee removal from structures has proven to be a valuable niche market for many pest control companies. But this type of work involves more than putting on a bee suit and squirting a spray can.  Professional honey bee removal requires knowledge of bee behavior, knowing how to efficiently locate and open walls and floors, and how to remove and/or relocate nests. In addition there are important legal requirements that affect persons doing bee removal.

If you're interested in adding honey bee removal services to your business, you might be interested in a hands-on class being offered next month at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas.  We are now accepting applicants for the class being held at the IPM Experience House on October 9.  Instructors include Charles Adams, of Adams Bee Removal in Sherman, TX, and Lauren Ward of the Honey Bee Lab at Texas A&M University.

Charles Adams serves as school IPM Coordinator for Sherman ISD.  He has extensive experience in pest control, wildlife control and bee removal, and will be conducting a live bee removal from the walls of our very own IPM Experience House.  If the removal goes as planned, bees will be removed alive and set up in a new hive box. Bee preservation and extermination options will be discussed.

Lauren Ward is a Texas A&M University student working under the supervision of Dr. Juliana Rangel of the Department of Entomology and the Honey Bee Lab at Bryan, Texas.  Lauren is a frequent teacher of bee-related topics, and will provide information on bee biology and behavior and legal and practical issues surrounding the protection of bees.

Participants in the class will watch a honey bee hive extraction indoors and are asked to bring a bee suit or an extra long-sleeved shirt and gloves (optional).  We will provide you with a head veil, if you do not have one.

Topics to be covered:
  • Introduction to the Honey Bee – Lauren Ward 
    • History and background of honey bees 
    • Basic honey bee biology and behavior 
    • Are honey bees endangered? 
    • Licensing and legal issues honey bee removal and insecticide use  
  • Lunch (box lunch provided)
  • Suit up and honey bee removal from IPM Experience House -- Charles Adams
    • Safety equipment for working around bees
    • Locating the hidden hive
    • Hive removal options
    • Moving bees to a hive box
    • Cleanup
    • The importance of bee proofing
The class runs from 10 am to approximately 3 pm, Friday, October 9.  Cost for the class is $75 before Oct 8 and includes a box lunch. Late registration is $90 after October 7.  Register for the class online at https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/index.cfm/productDetails/ProductID/1844/   Class size is limited, so don't delay.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

One less pest to worry about...the hobo spider

This news is not something you are going to find anywhere else on the Internet. Rather it concerns something you will no longer find on the Internet.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control quietly removed hobo spider from its website on venomous spiders.  This goes back to a story previously blogged about on Insects in the City, namely that there appears to be no verified scientific evidence that hobo spider as a cause of necrotic bites in humans. Nevertheless, until now, the CDC continued to list hobo spider as a cause of venomous bites on its website.

The hobo spider (Eratigena agrestis) is a common house
spider in Europe, where there is no history of
human envenomization.
According to Colorado State University Extension entomologist, Whitney Cranshaw, "This is a... long overdue, but very welcome change. A large amount of scientific evidence had accumulated over the past 15 years that utterly refutes the claims of the original 1991 study that purported to make a link between slow healing wounds and the bites of this spider."

According to Cranshaw, over the past year the American Arachnological Society and others have petitioned the CDC to remove hobo spider from its web page.

Sometimes referred to as the aggressive house spider, the hobo spider is a European import that has established itself over the past century in the Pacific Northwest, from Washington to Colorado. Following a flurry of publicity in the early 1990s, it was thought to be an explanation for brown recluse like symptoms sometimes reported from this part of the country, where brown recluse is not found. This information even found its way into some pest control guide books.

Despite fears in the U.S. the spider has no history of association with necrotic bites in Europe, and repeated experimentation in recent years could not replicate skin lesions supposedly associated with its bite.

Cranshaw bemoans the fact that it will still be a long time before all the hobo spider misinformation on the Internet fades, but in the meantime you and your customers can sleep a little easier. There is one less pest to worry about.

For more information

Anyone who wishes to look into this issue in more depth may be interested in this bibliography compiled by Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, of articles concerning Eratigena agrestis as a medically important spider.

Original articles suggesting Eratigena (formerly known as Tegenaria) agrestis is a medically important species 
  • Akre, R. D., and E. A. Myhre. 1991. Biology and medical importance of the aggressive house spider,Tegenaria agrestis, in the Pacific Northwest (Arachinida: Araneae: Agelenidae). Melanderia 47: 1–30. 
  • Vest, D. K. 1987a. Necrotic arachnidism in the northwest United States and its probable relationship toTegenaria agrestis (Walckenaer) spiders. Toxicon 25: 175–184. 
  • Vest, D. K. 1987b. Short communications envenomation by Tegenaria agrestis (Walckenaer) spiders in rabbits. Toxicon 25: 221–224. 
  • Vest, D. K. 1993. Differential diagnoses of necrotic arachnidism in the northwestern United States. Am. Arachnol. Soc. 48: 10 (Abstr.). 
  • Vest, D. K. 1996. Necrotic arachnidism-Pacific Northwest, 1988–1996. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 275:1870–1871. 
Articles refuting the purported association of Eratigena (=Tegenaria) agrestis as a source of necrotic arachnidism (skin disfiguring spider bites)
  • Binford G.J. 2001. An analysis of geographic and intersexual chemical variation in venoms of the spider Tegenaria agrestis (Agelenidae). Toxicon, 39:955-968. 
  • Vetter R.S., Roe A.H., Bennett R.G., et al. 2003. Distribution of the medically-implicated hobo spider (Araneae: Agelenidae) and a benign congener, Tegenaria duellica, in the United States and Canada. Journal of Medical Entomology, 40:159-164. 
  • Vetter R.S. 2004. Causes of Necrotic Wounds other than Brown Recluse Spider Bites. University of California Riverside. http://spiders.ucr.edu/necrotic.html. Last accessed August 19, 2011. 
  • Vetter R.S. and Isbister G.K. 2004. Do Hobo Spider Bites Cause Dermonecrotic Injuries? Annals of Emergency Medicine. December, 44:6. 
  • Melissa M. Gaver-Wainwright, Richard S. Zack, Matthew J. Foradori,3and Laura Corley Lavine. 2011. Misdiagnosis of Spider Bites: Bacterial Associates, Mechanical Pathogen Transfer, and Hemolytic Potential of Venom from the Hobo Spider,Tegenaria agrestis (Araneae: Agelenidae) . Journal of Medical Entomology 48(2):382-388. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/ME09224 
  • Bennett, R. G. 2002. Hyperbole and hysteria on the path to enlightenment: a review of current Tegenaria projects of relevance to Canadian arachnologists. Can. Arachnol. Newsl. 4–10. 
  • Bennett, R. G. 2004. An approach to spider bites: erroneous attribution of dermonecrotic lesions to brown recluse or hobo spider bites in Canada. Can. Fain. Physician 50: 1098–1101. 
  • Benoit, R., and J. R. Suchard. 2006. Necrotic skin lesions: spider bite—or something else? Consultant 46: 1386–1394. 
  • Bettini, S., and P. M. Brignnoli. 1978. Review of the spider families, with notes on the lesser known poisonous forms. In S. Bettinik (ed.), Arthropod Venoms, Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology. Springer-Verlang,Berlin, Germany. 
  • Isbister, G. K. 2004. Necrotic arachnidism: the mythology of a modern plague. J. Lancet 364: 549–553. 
  • Vetter, R. S., and G. K. Isbister. 2004. Do hobo spider bites cause dermonecrotic injuries? Ann. Emerg. Med. 44: 605– 607. 
  • Vetter, R. S., and G. K. Isbister. 2008. Medical aspects of spider bites. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 53: 409–429.

Friday, September 4, 2015

New Study Guide for ACE Exam

A little over a year ago, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) asked if I would be interested in helping assemble a study guide for PMPs preparing to take the Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) exam.  The idea for a formal study guide had been kicked around for several years because of the frequent requests by PMPs for help knowing how to prepare for the test.  I think at that time we all envisioned a brief outline of some of the key points one would have to study to successfully pass the ACE exam.  After discussions with my future co-author, the energetic and highly competent Richard Levine, we began to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.  It turns out that there is a lot of stuff to know if you are going to be an ACE.  As a result, the book kept growing to its final size of over 200 pages.

This week ESA began accepting orders for the new study guide. IPM for the Urban Professional: A Study Guide for the Associate Certified Entomologist is available at an introductory price of $69 for ACEs or ESA members through the ESA website. Cost for ACE applicants is $49 with the introductory price.

If you are already a BCE or ACE and would like to put on a prep class for employees or fellow PMPs in your area ESA is offering a deal.  You get a free copy of the book with a purchase of 10 or more study guides for your prep class. I know this sounds a little like a late night TV ad, but WHILE SUPPLIES LAST early orders will receive a free copy of the Handbook of Household and Structural Pests, edited by Roger Gold and Susan Jones. I value this book on my shelf not just because of the detailed pest information, but also because of the useful cross references it provides for deeper study.

We knew from the beginning that the ACE study guide was no substitute for a good field guide like Smith and Whitman's NPMA Field Guide to Structural Pests.  And it doesn't carry the detail and documentation you find in the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control.  But I think we did a pretty good job of reviewing key concepts of IPM and the science of entomology, and how they apply to pest control. After having read most of the handbooks for PMPs, I think this one covers some new ground and provides just enough detail to help you face the ACE exam with confidence.

The study guide went to press yesterday, and will be officially available at PestWorld 2015 in Nashville.

Friday, August 21, 2015

School time and that means L.I.C.E.

Head lice are not your typical pests.  For one thing, they largely afflict children. For another, they have very short lives off their host, so are not considered structural pests. Yet PMPs and school IPM coordinators are frequently asked questions or asked to help with head louse infestations.  So I think it's important for the pest control community to know something about these insects, and the latest treatment options.

When my daughter was in second grade she came home from school with head lice. My wife was horrified, but I have to admit I was a little excited.  "My chance to get experience killing head lice," I thought.  But after the third shampoo treatment, and head lice still showing up, it wasn't fun anymore. Perseverance, and lots of time with the louse comb finally got rid of the problem; but it left me with a greater respect for the head louse as a worthy opponent.

With the new school year, we expect new cases of head lice. And according to a new paper delivered at the American Chemical Society and reported this week in Smithsonian.com, this year's head lice are running with a tougher crowd. In the paper by Kyong Sup Yoon, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Texas is among 25 states tested so far and shown to have head louse populations that are resistant to the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) head louse shampoo treatments: pyrethrins and permethrin.  In fact, most of the samples tested by Yoon and colleagues (104 out of 109 samples) showed resistance to OTC louse treatments.

If you work with school nurses at a school district, or are asked by customers about lice treatment, or are simply a parent yourself, it pays to be familiar with the latest treatment options for head lice.  After all, these aren't your mother's lice.

First, many lice problems can still be handled with OTC products. Keeping IPM in mind, however, multiple methods (insecticide plus mechanical control in this instance) are always better than one. Louse combs are a great second tool in the parents' tool box.  These fine toothed combs allow hair to pass between the tines, but not lice. Combing should always be done in combination with use of a louse shampoo.

In addition, new treatment options for lice are now available through your doctor.  These products include ivermectin (Sklice®), spinosad (Natroba™), and benzyl alcohol (Ulesfia®).  These products will likely be more expensive, you you might want to try the OTC route + combing first.  But it's always good to have options.  A recent review article by Drs. Cynthia Devore and Gordon Schutze in the journal Pediatrics does a nice job of reviewing these as well as other options for treating children for head lice.

Devore and Gordon also address the current recommendations for how schools should handle control including whether children should be screened, how to manage a child on the day lice are detected, and whether children should be restricted from school (they argue no).  This paper could be an especially useful resource pass on to your school nurse if you work for a school district.

To spray or not to spray

So are environmental sprays needed to help control head lice infestations in a school or home?  One can certainly find pesticides labeled for environmental louse control. Most professionals say no, sprays are not necessary.

Transfer of lice on furniture from one person to another can certainly occur.  I remember a day when my daughter had head lice.  She was reading a book in our living room chair when she got up to go outside.  I started to take her place when I noticed a live and hungry-looking head louse on the chair back where her head had been pressed.

Despite the occasional transfer of lice via furniture or bedding in this way, spraying of such items is not recommended.  Head to head contact, sharing of combs, scarves and hats during play, are far more important means of transmission; and spraying will not help stop these activities. Simple washing of hats, pillowcases and clothing is a safer and more effective means of dis-infesting these items than pesticide sprays.

Keep in mind that these tiny insects have a very short life span once they are off the human head. Head lice are highly sensitive to desiccation, and according to the CDC live no more than 1-2 days off of a host. Any head lice lurking on a bean bag chairs or coat rack in a classroom, therefore, will not survive a weekend in an empty classroom.

So let's leave treatment of head lice to doctors and parents. But let's be ready to offer advice and provide resources for customers and colleagues battling these adaptable pests.  For more information on head lice see our Extension publication on head lice.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Inaugural IPM Experience House Class

Tim Madere, Janet Hurley and I (center, front) taught the very first course
to be offered at the IPM Experience House.  The house (background) is
in the process of being remodeled as a pest control training facility.
Yesterday marked a milestone for the development of IPM Experience House. Fourteen pest management professionals attended the very first hands-on class to be held at the facility. The class focused on rodent and pest exclusion.

Principal trainer for this week's class was Tim Madere with the City of New Orleans Mosquito, Rodent and Termite Control Board.

Have you ever met someone who lives and breathes pest control? Who when traveling to a strange town spends their free evenings scouting rodent activity?  Who doesn't complain to the hotel manager about cockroaches in the room because, well, it's another chance to observe cockroaches?  Well, Tim's that kind of guy.

Tim is heavily involved in the New Orleans Rat Project.  The Rat Project is a National Science Foundation-funded, multi-disciplinary project looking at ongoing impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the New Orleans human and rodent community.  Based on the stories and lessons Tim taught this week, there is no shortage of furry subjects to study in The Big Easy and other places in Louisiana. If you don't believe me, check out this video.

Tim Madere discusses rodent-proofing options in the
field. Can you spot the roof rat rub mark in this picture?
(Hint: Follow the wires from the meter to the soffit)
The course was designed to provide 8 hours of verifiable training for pest control apprentices and technicians, but many of the participants this time were pest control veterans.  According to Jackie Thornton and his technician Ryan Reichert, the reason they traveled all the way from Alvin, Texas was to share what they called a "unique opportunity to experience both classroom and hands-on field training" in one class.

In addition to some classroom time, the class went on two field trips.  First stop was the home of Janet Hurley, instructor for the class and lead school IPM educator for Texas.  Janet recently acquired a home with multiple pest control challenges, including roof rats.  Class members diagnosed the problem(s) and provided Janet with both lots of advice and free pest proofing with Xcluder stuffing material.  Later the class visited the IPM Experience House to learn about best ways to solarize household items for bed bugs as well as selecting the best insecticides for outdoor ant control.  If it hadn't been 100 degrees in the sun we might have stayed out even longer.

As I taught and learned from the group I was struck by how hands-on training easily becomes a two way process.  Not only do students learn from instructors, but teachers learn a lot too.  I never fail to pick up valuable information when I get to spend quality time with each of you. The business of pest control is complex, and each of our experiences are unique--so we all have something to teach.  As I listened to students share information and tips with each other I'm reminded that that's what IPM Experience House is all about, and what we want it to be in the future.

Thanks to all of you who attended the pest proofing class, and for being willing guinea pigs for our hands-on efforts.  There will be lots more about future training opportunities in this blog and on the Experience House website.  Let's keep in touch.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Loss for entomology in Texas

The entomology department at Texas A&M University lost a good friend and colleague this week.  Dr. Jim Olson, long-time entomology faculty member and former faculty serving with the Center for Urban and Public Health Entomology (now the Urban and Structural Entomology Program), passed away Thursday, July 2, 2015 in St. Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan.   

Dr. Olson was for many years the department's professor for medical entomology, with a special emphasis on mosquito biology and control.  He was actively engaged with the Texas Mosquito Control Association, and a mentor to many mosquito control professionals around the state.  While perhaps less known to PMPs, Olson was nevertheless influential in the pest control industry through his many graduate students and the knowledge he so readily passed on to the rest of us extension entomologists.  

If you had known Jim, you would immediately recognize someone who was highly intelligent, but the opposite of stuffy.  On the contrary, he was completely approachable and friendly.  Everyone who knew him would tell you that he was quick to share his opinion on many subjects. Even if you disagreed, you loved him for his passion and entertaining way of expressing ideas. Perhaps the strongest testimony to Dr. Olson's impact is the loyalty and devotion of former students and those who came under his wings--there are many examples.  

Dr. Olson was instrumental in tutoring me about Texas mosquitoes, and had an entertaining way of getting his points across.  One I especially remember was his pronouncement that "prime time television" (because it kept people indoors at dusk) had done as much to combat mosquito-borne disease in Texas as all our other public health efforts combined (probably true).  He did not hold a high opinion of those who fought the use of effective pesticides, having long seen the benefits of insecticides to human health in mosquito control.

A memorial service for Dr. Olson will be held at 10am, Wednesday, July 8, 2015 at Lone Oak Baptist Church, located four miles West of Snook, Texas on Highway FM 60. Memorial services are in the care of Callaway-Jones and Crematory.  His obituary and remembrances/condolences can be passed on to the family through this link at Callaway-Jones Funeral Home

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

All hands-on deck training

Entomology faculty at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas will be conducting hands-on rodent and pest exclusion training July 30.  If you or your technicians need an introduction to residential exclusion work, this workshop is for you.

The day-long training will begin at 8 am in Building C at the Center at 17360 Coit Road, Dallas, TX 75252.  It will include both classroom and field visits to two sites to discuss pest exclusion. 

“This is the first time the center will be hosting such a program that includes demonstrations of residential exclusion practices,” said Janet Hurley, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service urban IPM specialist. “Hands-on instruction will include showing how to seal a house to keep pests from moving in.”

Presentations and instruction will be provided by AgriLife Extension experts from the Dallas center and from guest trainer Timmy Madere, of the City of New Orleans Mosquito, Rodent and Termite Control Board. See a copy of the program by clicking here.  According to Hurley, "Timmy has trained with the best, and has a unique understanding of rodents.  He has worked on exclusion related activities for ten years with the City of New Orleans." 

Six continuing education credits will be offered for commercial applicators. For apprentices and technicians, a course certificate for six hours of attendance will be provided.

After a quick review of IPM principles behind exclusion work, the morning agenda will include a field trip to residence for instruction on best ways to seal a home, including how to pest proof siding, gutters, soffits and flashing.  

Afternoon presentations will address how to evict and keep out rats, bats, birds and squirrels, and a brief overview of home inspections for termites and ants.  The afternoon will include a walking tour of the IPM Experience House training facility.  

The cost of the program is $75, lunch not included. Space is limited, so attendees are encouraged to register as soon as possible.  To register and for payment information, go to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Conference Services at https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/index.cfm/productDetails/productid/1799/ or call 979-845-2604.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bookworms, insects and the teeth of time

Today the term bookworm has come primarily to mean a person with their nose always in a book. So I was a little surprised to learn something new about the more literal form of the word.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word bookworm has two meanings: (1) A person who enjoys or is devoted to reading (a "candle waster" as one 1601 writer complained); or (2)  Any of various insects that damage books; specifically a maggot that is said to burrow through paper and boards.

Surprisingly, there seems to be little agreement by non-entomologists on what kind of insects bore through books and consume the pages of history.  The larvae of wood boring beetles (anobiids) are mentioned (I've never seen this myself), as are moths, mites and booklice. Rarely does one hear about termites, though here in the U.S. our Reticulitermes flavipes has been known to partake in a good book when given the opportunity.  Indeed paper could and does make a very good bait for termites in the soil.

According to historian Stephen Greenblatt, bookworms as eaters of books have been the great fear of librarians and writers since before the Christian era. The
Illustration from Robert Hooke's 1665
book Micrographia shows a silverfish,
orabatid mite and pseudoscorpion.
Micrographia is available online for free.
silverfish is one.  In 1665 the British scientist Robert Hooke, working with one of the earliest and finest compound microscopes of his time penned the following description of a silverfish:
It is a small white Silver-shining Worm or Moth, which I found much conversant among Books and Papers, and is suppos'd to be that which corrodes and eats holes through the leaves and covers; it appears to the naked eye, a small glittering Pearl-colour'd Moth, which upon the removing of Books and Papers in the Summer, is often observ'd very nimbly to scud, and pack away to some lurking cranney, where it may the better protect itself from any appearing dangers.
If Hooke's charming anatomical description does not adhere to today's more precise terms, it still describes the silverfish reasonably well [some spellings corrected]:
Its head appears big and blunt, and its body tapers from it towards the tail, smaller and smaller, being shap'd almost like a Carrot....It had two long horns before, which were straight, and tapering towards the top, curiously ring'd or knobb'd, and bristled...the hinder part of the creature was terminated with three tails, in every particular resembling the two longer horns that grew out of the head
Later, he refers to silverfish (and other paper chewers) as representing the "teeth of Time", appropriate considering how much of history has been literally swallowed up by the silverfish and its ilk.

Silverfish are among the most primitive of the hexapods. Belonging to the insect order Thysanura, springtails and their cousins the firebrats are probably less known to most PMPs than, say cockroaches or ants.  Yet they are among the most common structural pests, especially in older structures. Unlike true insects, they do not go through metamorphosis and never seem to stop molting, even after reaching the adult stage. Instead, the nymphs look like miniature versions of the adults. Silverfish are roamers, and will travel throughout a structure to find food.  Once found though, they tend to stay close to their food source.

So on what do silverfish feed?  They seem to especially like paper that has been treated or coated with edible substances like starch, dextrin, casein, gum, and glue. Many of these materials are added to paper to influence its ability to absorb water or ink.  Glues used in books are also often natural in origin, and apparently tasty to silverfish.  But silverfish also digest cellulose, as shown experimentally by their preference for onion skin and cellophane (almost pure cellulose).  The well-known (to PMPs) entomologist Arnold Mallis showed that newsprint and cardboard and brown wrapping paper is almost never eaten by silverfish. They will feed on plant textiles like linens, cotton and lisle, however silk or wool is rarely eaten.

The Mallis Handbook notes that silverfish can be one of the more difficult pests to control, and elimination from a structure is not likely, short of fumigation.  This is largely because silverfish are able to hide throughout a structure in all its nooks and "cranneys"--as Hooke described them. It is certainly difficult, if not impossible, to treat all the hiding places of silverfish in a house. Desiccants applied to cracks and crevices where silverfish hide can be effective.  According to Frank Meek in the Mallis Handbook, silverfish are difficult to control using baits, though there may be limited value in applying some of the fine granular baits labeled for silverfish control.  Reducing humidity, vacuuming, sealing up valuable items, removing known food sources, and use of sticky traps are also listed as non-chemical controls for silverfish.

I have to admit that I have little practical experience with silverfish, except perhaps the few in my own office where they seem to relish small amounts of spilled cricket bait around my tarantula cage (crickets feed the tarantula). But now that I think of it, perhaps I had better spend more time considering how to discourage these critters before they devour some of my favorite books.

As Greenblatt noted, the ancients realized the battle against bookworms would be never-ending, and the best solution was to read the books (or parchments) regularly, and plan on replacing them when they inevitably decay. Of course your customers may not be happy with that, so its up to you to solve the puzzle of the bookworm 350 years after Robert Hooke first trained his microscope on the "silver-shining worms".

Acknowledgement to Stephen Greenblatt and his book: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, for the inspiration for this post.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wild for insect photography

Alex Wild face-to-face shot of a bed bug.  This image and
many more are available at www.alexanderwild.com 
Last week renowned insect photographer Alex Wild gave a webinar (web delivered speech) on insect photography for Entomological Society of America members.  Many of you in pest control land have likely seen some of Alex's ubiquitous pictures in industry brochures and magazines.  He especially seems to get lots of use out of the many pictures he's taken of insects on bright white backgrounds.

If you have any interest in insect or macrophotography you will probably get a lot out of this hour-long video. If you're thinking you don't have a good enough camera to get into insect photography, the talk focuses on five principles that will help anyone with any digital camera, including a cell phone.  The principles include:
  • Keep it simple
  • Consider the light
  • The Center's not the Center
  • Tell a Story with your lens position
  • Patience is a virtue
And lastly, something I really appreciate, he talks about dealing with insects as uncooperative subjects.  I've often envied my horticulture and weed specialist colleagues whose subjects don't run when the camera emerges. Alex shares a few tips that will help you tame those frisky insects prior to taking the shot.

All in all, a worthwhile way to spend an hour.

Just a plug for Alexander Wild Photography, by the way. Alex does sell his images for commercial use, so if you are looking for a particular insect picture for an ad or web page, go to http://www.alexanderwild.com

Monday, May 11, 2015

Talking about pesticide risk

How many times have you been asked some variation of the question, "How toxic is that pesticide?" Maybe it's been in the form of a statement from a new customer: "I'm expecting," or "I'm chemically sensitive."  Or perhaps you've heard, "Will your spray hurt my puppy?"

How we answer that question says a lot about our credibility and our professionalism.  So it might just pay to think about some of the better ways to talk about pesticide risk. I'm not an expert in risk communication, but I've had the opportunity to talk with lots of people about pesticides.  And I find that most people are a lot more accepting of pesticides as tools if they are approached properly and with an olive branch rather than a stick.

Of course, if people made decisions about risk based on logic and reasoning, we could answer questions about pesticide risk with facts and figures.  But experts in the field of risk perception tell us that when it comes to assessing risk none of us are very rational. Hence we fret over the threat of catching Ebola in America (1: 13.3 million), but don't worry daily about being in a car accident (1: 9,100 chance this year).  For this reason, I know we won't convince everyone to hire a pest control company tomorrow, but I believe with the right approach, we can offer consumers a little peace of mind about their pest control service.

Here are a few suggestions for talking with potential customers about pesticide risk:

  • Show your customer you care. Let them know you are concerned about their safety and make every effort to keep indoor pesticide use to a minimum through the use of IPM (assuming this is true!). Assure your customer that you use only those pesticides that are necessary to do the job you're being asked to do. 
  • Avoid use of the word “safe”. There is no guarantee of absolute safety for any pesticide, or drug--or any activity we do, for that matter. Instead use the concept of risk. We can guarantee a level of risk, if we can never guarantee absolute safety (a one in a million risk is not absolutely “safe”). Although the EPA does not “approve” pesticides, it will not register a pesticide unless it's persuaded that there is no unreasonable risk of adverse effects associated with its label uses. 
  • Pet peeve: Avoid comparing the toxicity of pesticides to food items like table salt. While it's true that table salt has toxicity, and some insecticide LD50 values show less toxicity than table salt, most people don’t buy it. After all, we produce salt to be ingested. Insecticides are produced to kill stuff. Its apples and oranges--not a fair comparison. When comparing toxicity, compare your products to another pesticide or consumer product that the customer already uses. For example, many pets are treated by vets for fleas with the same active ingredients used in household pest control. If they have already accepted the risk in applying a product to their pets, then it’s not unreasonable to propose use of the same product outdoors or in protected crevices of the home with even less exposure. 
  • Let your customer know that you are concerned about the risk of working with pesticides, because your exposure risk is so much higher than theirs. This sort of explanation is especially helpful because we base many personal decisions on the experiences of friends and acquaintances. Your confidence in your ability to work safely with pesticides is a powerful witness to those you meet.

For potential customers who believe they are sensitive to chemicals, especially pesticides, you may need a slightly different approach. Ironically, these folks often need to be talked out of using pesticides. What I mean is that even chemically sensitive clients think they need an "organic" pesticide or repellent, to get rid of their pests. Even though they are chemical averse, they are still of the idea that there is a chemical (albeit natural) out there to control their pest problem.

Often these callers haven't considered the possibility that there might be a non-chemical solution to their pest problem. This is where knowing your pests comes in. You might be able to offer some environmental modifications, pest proofing or biological control options that can moderate or lessen the pest problem sufficiently.  Or you might be able to confine treatments to outdoor areas.  Or they might consider baits (termites, ants, some other crawling insects) as non-volatile, hypoallergenic alternatives to sprays, dusts or aerosols.

This month it might be worth a little time talking with your staff about how to better talk about pesticide risks. Your sincerity, along with that olive branch, can go a long way toward making that customer with pesticide concerns a customer for life.