Monday, November 20, 2017

Entomologists Ignite in Denver: Part II.

In the first of my two posts about the annual conference of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), I covered some of the non-urban entomology sessions.  In today's post, I'll review some things that are a little more relevant to the business of pest control.

Technology and urban pests

While sitting through some papers at ESA that went way over my head, it occurred to me that entomology has changed a lot since I went to school. One of the biggest changes is in technology. Today's technology is much more sophisticated, and enables us to study insects in ways we could only dream of a few years ago. For example, our ability to amplify minute amounts of DNA from an insect's stomach lets us know what kind of bacteria live there, or what the insect's last meal was. Amazing.

Wooden stake with Formosan termites. Unlike drywood termites,
which get their nitrogen from the air, subterranean termites
appear to get their nitrogen from ingesting soil. 
In one sense, this growing sophistication is a good thing.  It means that researchers now have better tools to understand the basic biology of insects.  On the other hand, there appears to be a trend in many universities to shy away from practical applied research and focus more on shiny new techniques and tools. In hallway conversations with industry reps, I'm told it's easy for hiring companies to find a young entomologist who knows her way around a genetics lab, but increasingly hard to find one who knows their way around a cockroach-infested apartment or a PMP's tool box.

One of my favorite student papers, with a balance of good basic science and applied biology, was also one of the shortest.  Aaron Mullins, University of Florida, explained in his three minute (!) paper that biologists have long known that drywood termites get much of the nitrogen (N) they need from the air (N is an essential element for protein building and reproduction). This makes sense because drywood termites live entirely in relatively low N-containing wood. Mullins wondered if the same was true for subterranean termites. He found that Formosan termites housed in organic (N) rich soil grew their colonies 10X as fast as similar colonies living in clean sand. He concluded from this and other evidence that subterranean termites get their N from the soil rather than air.  I'm not sure of the long-term impacts of this new discovery, but it will likely affect how we rear termites in the lab for experiments.

Jose Pietri with Apex Bait Technologies gave an interesting paper with potentially big implications. Testing the hypothesis that symbiotic gut microbes might play a role in cockroach resistance to insecticides, Pietri and colleague Dangshang Liang fed insecticide-resistant cockroaches a bait mixed with an antibiotic, doxycycline. They found a significant  increase in mortality from the bait with doxycycline compared to bait without the antibiotic. When the antibiotic bait was fed to insecticide-susceptible strains, however, it was no more effective than the bait without antibiotic. If confirmed, this might prolong the usefulness of some insecticide active ingredients for resistant cockroaches.

Ed Vargo, of Texas A&M University, reported that tawny crazy ant, Nylanderia fulva, infested five new Texas counties in 2017, bringing the current total to 39. He found that ants from different crazy ant colonies were not aggressive to one another, and he used sophisticated genetic tools to discover that there were no significant genetic differences among nests in a site or between states. These data suggest that TCA has extended colonies that might range over many miles.  This diffuse nest structure, similar to Argentine ant, at least partly explains why TCA is so difficult to control.

Bed bugs

Are even entomologists getting weary of bed bugs? Maybe. Bed bugs were the subject of 31 papers and posters this year, down from last year's 46 (and a record 56 papers in 2011).  Most of this year's talks were given during a symposium called Advances in the Biology and Management of Modern Bed Bugs. The session featured authors of a new book of the same name to come out in 2018.  If you dig scholarly work on bed bugs, this might be a nice addition to your library--if you can afford it (listed at $200, not unusual for academic books). According to the publisher, it will be the first comprehensive academic review of bed bugs since 1966. NPMA attendees will recognize the names of many U.S. authors like Rick Cooper, Changlu Wang, Dini Miller, and Jim Fredericks.  And there will be a number of international authors as well.

I'm saving up for my copy, but the title got me wondering, "What's a modern bed bug?" So I asked Dini Miller, of Virginia Tech and one of the editors of the book.  She replied that "these are not your grandmother's bed bugs." These are the "incredibly resistant" bed bugs that have made their comeback over the past 20 years. Modern bed bugs have thicker cuticles to resist insecticide penetration, tougher nerves, and better enzymes to detoxify these insecticides. Given that the tropical and the common species of bed bug both have developed these characters, the book theorizes that malaria control programs in Africa, where both species live together and are regularly exposed to DDT and pyrethroids, may have been the breeding ground for these new "super bugs."  Anyway, there is obviously a need for an updated book on on bed bugs.

Research Highlights

Today's bed bugs are more difficult to kill with insecticides. All
the more reason to use a variety of control tactics.
The Highlights of Urban Entomology session is one of my favorites for catching up on papers I may not have had time to read this year. This year's presenter was Chow-Yang Lee, Professor at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, and soon to be with the University of California at Riverside. He and colleagues recently reviewed the literature and found that resistance to chlorfenapyr (Phantom) is "brewing" among modern bed bug populations. Also, bed bugs tested recently from Cincinnati and Michigan show moderate to high resistance to neonicotinoids used in products like Temprid and Transport, Mikron and Tandem. If you had hope that baits might be the answer, a study by Yvonne Matos and coauthors found that secondary kill of bed bugs is much lower than for cockroaches. Even if a suitable way to bait for bed bugs was found, current evidence suggests that baits would likely not be as effective as cockroach baits.

Finding better formulations is a productive field for improving pest control. Vander Meer and Milne reported improved control of fire ants with a waterproof formulation of Distance fire ant bait. Made from dried distillers' grain with solubles and shrimp shells, it outperformed standard corn grit baits. This formulation will likely be more effective as a control for red imported fire ant and little fire ants, especially in wetter locales.

Literature reviews are papers that synthesize lots of scattered research into something that makes sense of the topic. A good literature review is invaluable, especially if you're not an expert. So, I was glad to learn of a new (and free via this link) literature review on fleas, recently completed by the venerable urban entomologist, Mike Rust. Rust looked at some of the more recent advancements in flea borne diseases, new control products, and resistance to insecticides. Contrary to what you might hear from pet owners, there is little evidence that fleas have developed resistance to the very powerful on-animal treatments like fipronil, imidacloprid or lufenuron. On the other hand, pyrethroid resistance by fleas is becoming more widespread. While on-animal treatments solve most problems, pyrethroid resistance poses a dilemma for PMPs needing to treat flea infestations that arise from non-pets, such as feral animals (in a crawl space, say, or in backyards). Not many non-pyrethroid broadcast spray alternatives are available for this task.


Lastly, I had the opportunity to attend a committee meeting on the ACE (Associate Certified Entomologist) program. This is a program for anyone in pest control who wishes to identify themselves as a certified entomologist. Since last year, Willet Hossfeld has taken over administrative duties for the Certification program.  He reported that there are currently 1025 active ACEs nationwide, with 267 in the application process. If you ever have a question about the certification application, he's the one to contact.

The main topic of discussion by the support committee this year concerned the difficulty of the certification exam (40% pass rate on first try), and how that has discouraged many highly qualified folks from taking it. Several at the meeting noted how useful the study guide that I and Richard Levine co-authored a few years ago, has been.  But there still seems to be a need for group prep classes to better prepare ACE candidates for the exam.  The committee took steps to begin updating the practice exam for those preparing for the test, and discussed how to make more prep classes available.  A prep class PowerPoint set has long been available to anyone who wants to conduct a prep class. This PowerPoint set will be revised and updated in 2018.  Any BCE or ACE who wants to sponsor a prep class, should contact Willet at ESA and he can tell you how it's done and how to get a copy of the prep materials.

You're Invited

Pest management professionals also attend these national meetings. If you haven't yet attended, I encourage you to give it a try (the next two meetings are in Vancouver BC in 2018, and St. Louis MO in 2019). The meeting is a great time to make new friends and professional contacts; and while it's not all pest management oriented, there are always good urban entomology sessions featuring cutting edge research. If you decide to attend, don't be shy--introduce yourself to speakers and others in hallways. Consider attending the Certification Board meetings; visitors are welcome. And bring a few extra bucks for a t-shirt or pet tarantula. Your coworkers will look at you strangely, and you'll know what it's like to call yourself an entomologist.

Entomologists Ignite in Denver: Part I.

One of the hottest exhibits at ESA was the BioQuip booth.
At what other meeting could you see people lined up to
buy pinned insects or live tarantulas and scorpions?
Ignite. Inspire. Innovate. Three motivational words greeted entomologists swarming to the 2017 annual conference of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in Denver, Colorado. Between November 5th and 8th, the mile high city welcomed 3,700 insect scientists to present over 1,000 scientific papers and 800 poster displays.

It's hard to describe the typical entomologist you see at these meetings. Some are old, many are young (some very young). Some are geeky, some cool. Some seem more comfortable working in a quiet museum surrounded by dried insects, and some happiest with beer in hand and at the center of a crowd. But all share an unusual enthusiasm for insects. After all, at what other meeting can you find long lines waiting to purchase live scorpions, pet tarantulas, pinned insects, insect t-shirts, and insect jewelry?

There is something for nearly everyone at these meetings. To that end, this year I determined to sample a variety of papers and meetings and speakers. My schedule started off with a Lunch and Learn event entitled "How to talk to a Nine-year-old about climate change (And other tough subjects)." Hosts for this session were employees of the Butterfly Pavilion, an "invertebrate museum" located 15 minutes from downtown Denver.

The Butterfly Pavilion uses an informal education approach, which means "a wise, respectful and spontaneous [learning] process... through conversation, exploration and enlargement of experience." In other words, informal education is learning outside a formal classroom.

Instead of lecturing with graphs and statistics to teach about climate change, Butterfly Pavilion staff show people live corals and follow up with questions: Did you know coral is a living animal? And even though coral reefs make up a tiny portion of the ocean floor they provide food shelter and breeding grounds to more than a quarter of all ocean life?

This approach is fruitful because we humans will only protect the things we love. By creating a connection with, and love for, corals (or insects), kids are open to caring about these organisms. All of a sudden scientific data showing that pollution, climate change, and disease are killing off many corals, becomes important. Using events like "Bugs and Beer" and "Tarantulas and Tequila" the museum also reaches out to adults to raise pollinator awareness and understanding of other environmental issues affecting the invertebrate tree of life.


Industrial hemp is an outdoor crop grown for fiber
and the medicinal compound cannabidiol. Suggested
benefits of cannibidiol are controversial, but include
pain relief for multiple sclerosis, reduction of
certain epileptic seizures, and addiction
treatment. Photo by ShareAlike, Wikipedia
Since we were in Colorado, I wanted to check out the "buzz" over the symposium "Industrial Hemp and Entomology." Even with recreational marijuana now legal in Colorado and seven other states, it's still illegal federally. Hence, the EPA will not register pesticides for the purpose of protecting this plant. This is a big problem because lots of insects, I learned, like to eat marijuana (have you heard of the cannabis aphid?).  Given that a single marijuana plant can be valued at $700 or more, and two plants can be worth as much as an acre of corn, it should come as no surprise that growers will use insecticides (legal or illegal) to protect their plants. And without labeled insecticides that have been tasted for safety, purchasers of legal marijuana literally don't know what they're smoking...

In an interesting twist, the 2014 Farm Bill gave authority to state legislatures to decide how to regulate "industrial hemp," a variety of Cannabis sativa, the same plant species as marijuana, but without the buzz.  However, to be classified as industrial hemp the plant must contain less than 0.3% THC (marijuana's psychoactive ingredient).  Industrial hemp has been illegal in the U.S. since 1937; but as a result of the Farm Bill, many states have or are considering making outdoor culture of industrial hemp legal, as it is in Colorado.  The bill also allowed Colorado State University to develop guidelines for research and extension activities for the low THC crop. Hence now we have the first extension website on insect management in hemp. Check it out.

The Environment

Even though entomologists are, by and large, a happy group, we worry. We worry about the environment and the effects of climate change and pollution and invasive species and lots of things. One of the big concerns circulating the paper sessions this year was new data suggesting an international, general decline in the numbers of insects. Now people (perhaps many of your customers) might say, "I don't see a problem here." But think about it. Without insects there would be few birds, no frogs and toads, no trout to fish, and no "lot of things." You get the picture. Insects help hold the world together.

David Wagner, from the University of Connecticut, is a well-respected moth expert. He presented his own data, and data from Britain, Iceland, and Germany that seem to indicate a slow, but alarming decline in many insects over the past 60 years. In one German study, the overall weight of collected flying insects in parks went down 80% since 1989. In Britain, 54% of studied butterflies have declined in the past 10 years. No one really knows what this is doing to the health of the planet, but the consensus is that it's not good.

Other environmental papers focused on pollinator insects, especially bees. Because they pollinate crops and native plants alike, honey bees and the 4,000+ species of native bees in North America provide irreplaceable services to our ecosystem. Yet many species appear to be in decline. Katie Lamke, of the University of Nebraska reported on her work with the USGS to manage a pollinator library, a collection of information about what plants different pollinator bees are found on. This information can be used to help farmers and gardeners know how to select plants to help these important insects.

In tomorrow's post I'll cover some of the ESA sessions that relate more directly to urban pest control.