Monday, June 25, 2018

Moving Beyond Mallis: The Veterans' Perspective

If you work in the pest control industry, and are even a little geeky about insects, you would probably like the National Conference of Urban Entomology.  Held May 21-23 this year in Raleigh, NC, the NCUE is the premier gathering for research and industry experts in structural pest control.  This year had more than its share of nerdy bug news.

In my last report I shared research papers presented by students. In this segment I will highlight talks given by “veteran” researchers, some of whom you may know by reputation or from state or national CEU conferences.

One of the most stimulating sessions this year focused on a term that was new to me: “assessment-based pest management.” Dini Miller from Virginia Tech thinks it might be the next big thing to replace (or improve) integrated pest management (IPM), a central philosophy of urban pest control.  Miller argued that because the IPM concept comes originally from agriculture, its logic has never resonated deeply with the public. Few people seem to associate the term “integrated,” for example, with the idea that using multiple pest control tactics (integrated controls) are safer and more effective than the "one spray to kill them all" approach. 

Assessment-based bed bug control will come if class action
lawsuits over failed control continue. Studies continue to show
that complaint-based service contracts do not solve bed bug
infestations. Pitfall traps, like this, can be used to detect bed
bugs early when control is more easily achieved.
Talking about assessment as a basis for pest control, she argues, might be an easier sell.  After all, all big companies assess their success by looking at the bottom line. Athletes assess their success with their batting averages and quarterback ratings. Investors follow financial assessments of their investments through annual reports. Shouldn’t consumers intuitively understand that assessment-based pest management is in their best interests?  Maybe.

But how would an assessment-based pest management program work? Without offering a comprehensive answer, speakers at the “assessment” session highlighted better ways to use monitoring and measurement in pest control.  Miller showed, for example, how by pre-assessing cockroach infestations in an apartment as low, medium or high, she could meter out how much bait a technician would need to get excellent control in that unit.

Rick Cooper, of Bed Bug Central, is successfully controlling bed bugs in low income, high rise housing—one of the toughest accounts for pest control. “Early detection is key,” says Cooper, who finds pitfall monitoring traps the most consistent way to detect bed bug infestations, even better than canines. Cooper assesses the success of his management efforts by looking at two metrics: percent of apartments with detected bed bugs, and severity of infestations based on numbers of bed bugs caught in traps. In one study he used an assessment-based approach, in combination with simple, non-chemical and low-impact control measures, to treat all apartments detected with bed bugs.  Using an in-house pest control company, they were able to reduce infestation rates from 15% to 2% over 12 months, while achieving a 98% reduction in bed bug counts. Given the success of class action suits against apartment management in recent years, it’s hard to see why managers would NOT demand this kind of information from their pest control providers.

Assessment based classes show the value of hands-on training
to teach both novice and experienced pest control professionals.
Faith Oi teaches at the University of Florida's Pest
Management University.
Faith Oi, University of Florida, focused her talk on assessing the effectiveness of continuing education through the Pest Management University (PMU) classes she offers. For any company wanting to recruit and maintain a well-educated workforce, Oi argues that training is key, including training for supervisors. Oi used pre- and post-tests to evaluate learning at PMU. For 330 students tested, she found an average 58% increase in test scores regardless of how long someone had worked in pest control. Surprisingly, supervisor pre-test scores were not significantly higher than technician pre-test scores.  Hands-on training, and training materials that are understandable to today’s technicians and even supervisors are critical. With a jab at EPA labels she observed that although pesticide labels are not infographics, perhaps they should be. What a great idea!

Michael Scharf, Purdue University, took assessment in a different direction. Imagine if, at the time of selling a big cockroach job, your company routinely collected cockroaches from the site, put a few in special, treated vials, and knew the next day precisely what insecticides would and wouldn’t work at that location? That’s what Scharf is pioneering. In a field trial he was able to predict ahead of time which insecticide combinations would work (some of his cockroaches were resistant to neonicotinoids and some were resistant to pyrethroids).  In a few years you might be able to purchase a set of pre-treated vials with instructions telling you how to run a resistance detection test. This could be a game-changer, because resistance can vary from one apartment complex to another—even within the same city or neighborhood.

To be effective, however, assessment must be affordable. Karen Vail, of the University of Tennessee, looked for a fast, cheap and effective inspection protocol for detecting bed bugs. First, she investigated whether residents, management and maintenance staff, and pest control professionals could be trained to work together to take over maintaining and inspecting pitfall traps. But after training these groups to find, report and clean traps, only 10% of apartments had maintained their traps (in place and dust free) after 22 months. She then tried a quick visual inspection of all apartments, followed by placing 2-8 traps only in apartments with a complaint or some evidence of bed bugs.  With as few as 2 traps per apartment (one against the foot of bed and one against a living room chair) she was able to detect 80-90% of the infested apartments in 3-4 weeks. It took only 2-3 minutes to conduct a quick inspection and place monitors in most apartments, and the method detected almost 4X more infested apartments than management was aware of. Her work provides yet more proof that relying on residents and staff to report bed bugs is ineffective, and that building-wide inspections are a must for effective bed bug control in high rise apartments.

The power of genomic testing never ceases to impress me.  Ed Vargo, Texas A&M University, shared the work of his student, Andre Eyer, who took a critical look at the tawny crazy ant genome (DNA fingerprint).  He wanted to know whether previous research was correct that found tawny crazy ants live in super-colonies.  Super-colonies house many queens per nest, may consist of millions to billions of ants and can extend for many miles.  Super-colonies may look like many individual ant colonies with individual nests; however, the ants in these colonies are all closely related and may in fact move freely from one colony to the next.  Previously the only way to test for super-colonies was to put together ants from different nests and record levels of aggression.  Eyer did this, plus looked at the diversity of alleles (different forms of a gene) in U.S. crazy ants vs. crazy ants from the native home in South America. He found low aggression among different TCA colonies and only half of the genetic diversity in introduced vs. native ant populations. His results confirm that TCA ants do form super-colonies, and that all the crazy ants he tested likely came from a one-time introduction (to the US).  This information may not be super-practical in terms of controlling crazy ants, but it puts scientific management of tawny crazy ant on a firmer scientific footing.

Thomas Chouvec, University of Florida, conducted some interesting experiments with Cryptotermes gestroi, a relatively new invasive termite in south Florida. Conventional wisdom suggests that fipronil is “invisible” to termites in the soil, making it possible to eliminate termite colonies through contamination. The idea is that termites travelling through contaminated soil blithely carry insecticide back to the colony, damaging or eliminating it. Using a more realistic lab assay technique with long foraging tunnels (similar to real foraging tubes), Chouvec showed that C. gestroi appears able to detect problems with nest mates returning from fipronil-contaminated tunnels.  In lab experiments the termites were able to maintain their colonies even when part of the colony was visiting so-called fipronil “death zones.” This finding suggests that fipronil may not work as effectively against C. gestroi, a cousin of the Formosan termite. More work, I’m sure, is coming on that idea.

Other worthwhile take-aways from this year’s meetings:
  •  If you battle tawny crazy ant in your community, you might be interested in the new crazy ant videos shown by Kelly Palmer, Alabama Cooperative Extension.  Topics range from an introduction to the ants, their habitat, management and preventing infestations. Each is less than three minutes long and features an expert in ant management.
  •  Johnalyn Gordon reported on what could be the next tawny crazy ant. Plagiolepis alluaudi, the little yellow ant, is a new invasive ant in south Florida.  It lives in leaf litter, and though it doesn’t sting, its large numbers and invasive behavior could make it a major pest in some areas, similar to tawny crazy ant. 
  • Bob Davis, BASF, reported 30-60 days control of striped scorpions with the new microcap insecticide Fedona®.  Microcap products provide control even on tough surfaces like concrete and soil.
  • Venerable, retired entomologist Mike Rust is still cranking out helpful information about flea control.  Using a statistical method developed for testing anti-cancer drugs he looked for synergism (a 2+2=6 effect) between common insecticides and insect growth regulators. He found variable results with some combinations working well and others not (for example, pyriproxyfen synergized fipronil, while methoprene did not; methoprene did synergize imidacloprid, but not vice versa). He concluded that IGR mixtures must be tested; and results cannot be reliably predicted.
  • Dini Miller was one of the few speakers to talk about digital innovations in pest control.  She is field testing a new Delta Five remote insect monitor for insects.  As an insect enters a Delta Five trap a picture of the invader is sent to a phone app. With a technician’s time worth about $1.50 a minute, Miller thinks that remote alerts from traps like this could save a lot of labor cost, especially monitoring bed bugs in large hotels. She did not address efficiency of the units in detecting low level bed bug infestations.
  • Coby Schal looked at behavioral aversion among German cockroaches to baits, and found that pesticide-resistant cockroaches may be at a disadvantage in a pesticide-free environment. For example, he found that glucose-averse, resistant-females have lower mating success.  This could be why bait rotation has been effective so long in keeping glucose-averse cockroaches from taking over the world.
  • Freder Medina, BASF, reported that over 6 million homes have been treated with fipronil since its introduction as a termiticide in 2000. The newest formulation and application system, HP II, has been tested on 81 homes so far, with a 98% elimination rate after 3 months. The new system relies on high pressure injection and a unique waterless formulation to eliminate the need for tank mixing.
  • Finally, if you haven’t seen it, you need to “meet the caste” of the new Tiny Termite House. Professionally produced and expertly photographed, NPMA worked with the City of New Orleans to build and infest an incredible, 1:16 scale house with termites. The purpose is to “raise awareness of the destructive nature of termites.” The videos show the house being consumed by 500,000 hungry Formosan termites.  If your company maintains a newsletter or blog, the videos are definitely post-worthy.  Your customers need to see this.
I overheard one entomologist comment that for her, the NCUE was the most important conference she attends all year. I agree. The smaller size and narrow focus of the meetings, means that NCUE is usually a perfect fit for the geeks among us in the structural pest control industry. This year's meeting was no exception.

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