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.

Certification

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.

Hemp

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.







Monday, October 30, 2017

A few spots left for Rodent Academy in Dallas

The following announcement is from Janet Hurley, IPM Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  The course is being offered as part of our IPM Experience House educational events and will be held December 5-7 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Dallas. 

The primary trainer for the event is Dr. Bobby Corrigan, rodent consultant and author of the very useful book: Rodent Control: A Practical Guide for Pest Management Professionals.  I've known Bobby since our days as grad students in entomology at Purdue University, and he is well worth hearing. He is a rare expert on rodents and pest control, and an engaging teacher. 

Class size is limited to 50 and there are just a few spaces left, so you will have to move quickly to get in. To learn more about the class, cost and how to register, click here

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fall Pest Management Seminar in Dallas

Everyone needs a day of training to keep sharp. Why not have
fun at the same time, and join us on November 2?
Registration is now open for the Fall Pest Management Seminar, sponsored by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. This is one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to get your pesticide applicator CEUs in the Dallas area.  To register, go to our AgriLife Conference Registration site.  Early registration is still only $70, and includes lunch.

One big change this year is our location. This meeting, and all training meetings in the foreseeable future will be held at a new address, the Richardson Civic Center. It's a very nice facility and no more hard yellow chairs!  We hope you'll join us and check it out.

The class is designed for commercial and non-commercial applicators with turf and ornamental-oriented licences. Continuing education credits will count for both Structural and Agricultural license holders.  This year's course and speakers includes:

  • Review of the latest Ag and Structural Pesticide Laws and Regulations by Allison Cuellar. Yes, not the most interesting subject, but Allison knows her stuff and will keep you on your toes.
  • Rodent Management by Janet Hurley. Many of you know Janet from her many talks on school IPM and Laws and regs; but she is a rat catcher on the side.  
  • Gary Brooks with Bayer Crop Sciences will present an update on common turfgrass pests. Gary is an entomologist by training and loves sharing pictures and stories about the pest problems he encounters.
  • Raymond Miller with Dow Agrosciences will cover "Best Management Practices for Weeds". Raymond brings years of experience with weeds to help you do a better job managing tough weeds.
  • Dr. Frank Wong, also with Bayer Crop Sciences is a plant pathologist, but has recently been involved with Bayer's pollinator protections efforts.  He will offer suggestions on designing your IPM program to better protect honey bees and other pollinators.  
Brochures with maps and detailed registration and program information are available at the registration website, or by clicking here

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Texas sized mosquito event

Mosquito covered shirt in Port LaVaca, TX. Photo
by Richard Murray on Facebook.
Remember last week when I warned that mosquitoes would be hurricane Harvey's final gift?  Well, mosquitoes are here as seen in this Facebook image, taken in Port Lavaca, TX this weekend.

The giant mosquitoes in this picture are probably in the genus Psorophora, (sore ROFF oh ruh) one of our largest, most painful and aggressive biters.  Psorophora mosquitoes have some impressive chops when it comes to survival.  One of the so-called floodwater mosquito species, they lay their eggs on land rather than water like most mosquitoes.  But not just on any land--eggs are laid at the edges of receding floodwaters, where they will re-hydrate and hatch during the next large rain event.

Because Psorophora are opportunists, taking advantage of brief rainstorms, they must have a quick lifespan.  The larvae of floodwater species like Psorophora are the speediest growers of all mosquitoes.  They need as little as 3 to 3.5 days of standing water to pass through the four molts common to mosquitoes. The pupal stage has even adapted to survive and complete its development on the mud surface of drying puddles.

What we see in this picture is evidence that floodwater mosquitoes were primed at the pump when Harvey hit the upper Gulf coast two weeks ago.  When the rains came, mosquito eggs hatched across thousands of square miles of coastal prairie and marsh, and billions of Psorophora larvae raced through childhood. Add to this that Harvey's rainfall impacted over 400 miles of Gulf shoreline, dumping an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water. The rainfall was epic and completely unprecedented. The city of Houston doubled it's previous all time monthly rainfall record with 39.11 inches (and Houston gets lots of rain). That's 400 miles of Gulf coast prairies producing mosquitoes, also unprecedented, I suspect.

So don't be surprised to read and hear lots of mosquito stories over the next couple of weeks.  If you have to be out and about in this part of Texas, there is protection you can carry. For extreme conditions a mosquito head net will be necessary. Wear light colored, tight knit, long-sleeved fabrics. T-shirts or short-sleeved shirts will not be enough.  Permethrin-impregnated shirts and pants may be worth their weight in gold.  And don't forget to bring DEET repellent. Lots of it.

Thanks a lot, Harvey!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Insects and floodwaters

Fire ant floating colony in Houston floodwaters.
Photo by NBC DFW  @OmarVillafranca
Many in the pest control industry find themselves in the midst of the devastating floods hitting much of south and east Texas this week.  If so, it may be a good time to remind ourselves of some unique pest challenges associated with high water.

Flooding brings all sorts of wildlife into unusually close contact with people, but few critters are more dangerous than fire ants. When floods occur, fire ants exit the ground and float, instinctively linking their legs and forming a floating mat which is nearly impossible to sink. When they inevitably bump into a dry object like a tree, a boat or a person, the ant mass "explodes" with ants quickly exiting the mass and swarming the object.

Diving underwater, or splashing water on the ants, will not help.  The best option is soapy water, which is pretty good at killing the ants and helping drown a floating ant island.  According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension publication, "Flooding and Fire Ants:Protecting Yourself and Your Family", two tablespoons of soap in a gallon of water, sprayed on a floating mat is effective at drowning ants.  If any of you are engaged in water rescue this week, carrying a supply of soap along with a squirt bottle would be a good idea.

You might not have thought of it, but bed bugs can also become an issue after a public emergency like a tornado or flood.  When lots of people are brought together in an emergency shelter situation, the risk of bed bug encounters goes up.  The University of Minnesota has put together a nice publication on the subject. If you are in a community hosting an emergency shelter consider offering your services to inspect shelters and treat for bed bugs as necessary.  Don't forget the diatomaceous earth and silica aerogel dusts as a means of providing significant control for shelter bedding at minimal risk.

Lastly, after the storm is long gone be prepared for mosquitoes.  The primary mosquito species in the Texas Coastal Bend area are the salt marsh and pasture-land breeding mosquitoes. These are difficult to control at their breeding sites, short of aerial mosquito control campaigns.  But to some extent, these mosquitoes can be controlled in backyards with residual mosquito adulticides. If your company does residential pest control, but hasn't yet gotten into the adult mosquito control business, this may be a good time to start. One good way to educate your customers about the mosquito threat is the Mosquito Safari website.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Murine typhus on rise in Texas

Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Department of State Health Services recently reported an increase in the number of reported cases of typhus in Texas. Texas historically has had more cases of typhus than other states, but this new study published in the CDC's Emerging Infectious Disease journal  shows that numbers of cases have increased ten-fold in the past 14 years.

When rodents are present in a house, there may also be rat fleas.
The oriental rat flea is thought to be the principal vector of
murine typhus, a disease on the rise in Texas. (Image courtesy
Pest and Diseases Image Library, Bugwood.org)
In addition to a general increase in cases statewide, the data shows that what used to be solely a south Texas problem is creeping into more northerly parts of the state. Houston, for example, which had no cases of typhus as recently as 2007, reported 32 cases last year.  Nueces County, home to the city of Corpus Christi, had the highest case rate in Texas, reporting about 140 cases/100,000 population.

The causative agent for murine typhus (the term "murine" is a scientific term referring to rodents) is a rickettsial parasite called Rickettsia typhi. This parasite is always present in rodent populations, both Norway and roof rats, and to a lesser extent mice and opossums.  The primary vector that transmits the parasite from rodent to rodent, and occasionally to humans, is the oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, though other fleas, including the cat flea are suspected to be occasional vectors.

Symptoms of murine typhus include fever, headache and rash. Left untreated, the disease can be fatal in about 2% of cases; but once diagnosed, typhus is easily treated. Numbers of cases peak during the summer months of June and July, but in south Texas there is a secondary peak in cases during the winter.

The typhus pathogen is thought to infect people when they scratch an itchy flea bite. It is present in the flea's feces, which may be rubbed into the site of the bite during scratching.

While the exact cause for the increase in typhus cases is unknown, pest control will play an important role in any solution. Experience with murine typhus in the past has shown that cases peak when flea numbers are highest, and that case frequency declines when rats are controlled, and insecticides applied for fleas.

In 54% of the cases reported in this study, fleas were reported to be present in the home, and 34% of patients recalled a flea bite.  Rodents were known to be present by the victims in about 29% of the cases, and some form of other wildlife was present in 42% of cases.

Good flea control, rodent exclusion and rodent control are among the most important public health services our industry provides. So if you didn't have enough reasons to explain to customers why they need you, you now have one more.