Monday, December 11, 2017

Lessons from Rodent Academy


Dr. Bobby Corrigan delivers his introduction to rodents sharing his favorite Sherlock Holmes quote. Much of the class is
devoted to training students to be better observers of rodent behavior. 

Bobby Corrigan refers to himself professionally as a rodentologist, though he's slow to admit as much to just anyone. He describes the typical conversation with someone next to him on a plane, or at a casual encounter at a party:

"So, what do you do for a living?" 

"I'm a rodentologist."

"Oh, how nice!" [crickets]... End of conversation.

I for one am glad the world has rodentologists. Because we need them. Without a rodentologist we couldn't have offered the three day course held last week at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Dallas. And without rodentologists we wouldn't have a clue about how to manage these intelligent but unwelcome house guests.

When I first met Corrigan at Purdue University in the early 1980s he was the only grad student working on rodents in a department of entomologists, a pattern that seems to have continued throughout his career.  

"Despite their acknowledged importance from a public health perspective," Corrigan said, "I saw there was little in-depth information about how to control rodents for people working on the city, county and school level." While there seemed to be lots of money and resources for insect-related pest problems, Corrigan was always asking "What about the rodents?"

Corrigan's persistence  paid off in 2003 when he was awarded a $5 million grant working with the City of New York to help establish the Rodent Academy course. Since then, the NYC Academy has been offered twice a year, filling up every time it's offered. The classes have become legendary for their intense classroom sessions and nighttime tours of Norway rat-infested streets, parks and alleyways of the big Apple. Since it was first offered the Academy has trained over 2,000 people in rodent management.

In recent years Corrigan has helped put on Academies in other locations including Seattle, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Washington, DC. Last week was the first time the course was offered in Texas.  And if the response of this year's attendants of the first Texas Rodent Academy is any indication, the Academy will be offered again.  

Corrigan seemed pleased with his first Texas class. Very well organized [by Extension program specialist Janet Hurley], excellent faculty, "Almost like an experienced academy," he said.

Although Dallas differs from NYC in the density and intensity of infestations, rodent problems are based on the same template, says Corrigan. "Even though the two cities feel different and look different, from the rodent's perspective both make good homes.  Both produce garbage and have plenty of food in dumpsters, and both cities have people who litter, so the Academy curriculum works [in Texas as well as New York].  

An important part of the class arrives when students break into
groups to develop a rodent management plan for the IPM House.
One way that Texas does differs from New York is in rodent species composition. New York has massive problems with the large, bold Norway rat, as well as the adaptable and highly invasive house mouse.  While both rodent species are present in Texas, the secretive and acrobatic roof rat predominates in most urban communities here. One of the guest speakers for this year's Academy was Mike Swan, of Entex Pest Solutions in Richardson.  Swan showed pictures and described a recent encounter with a massive roof rat colony in a local suburb.  After an intense baiting campaign, the company ended up removing over 700 dead roof rats from several adjoining businesses in an upscale neighborhood.

Emory Matts, of Steritech/Rentokil in Dallas also assisted Corrigan with his talk on protecting our food supply from rodents.  Touting the U.S. Public Health Service Food Code as "a good read," Matts surveyed many of the laws protecting food safety and provided IPM tips for inspection and control programs.  He emphasized the importance of knowing who is auditing your customer's food handling premise, because standards for indoor and outdoor bait placement and service frequently differ depending on the auditing agency.

Application Rates

After establishing that nearly everyone in the class regularly used rodent baits in their business, Corrigan stumped the group with a simple question, "What's the appropriate application rate for rodent bait?" [crickets]...  The number one reason for poor rodent control, he said, is failure to estimate rodent density, and follow label application rates (oz. bait/area treated) based on the estimated rodent population.  Typical rodenticide labels require users to apply 3 oz bait/30 ft (for low infestations), up to 16 oz bait/15 ft (severe infestations). Very few PMPs know these application rates, with the result that few apply sufficient bait when going after an established rodent population.

Dry Ice

One of the biggest developments in rodent management in many years occurred this summer, Corrigan said.  After prolonged discussions with the National Pest Management Association, in late June 2017 the U.S. EPA approved a label for "Rat Ice," dry ice for asphyxiating rodents in burrows. When placed into a rodent burrow and covered with soil, pelleted dry ice is an extremely effective and low-risk treatment for ground-nesting rodents.  Until now, the only barrier to it's use was that dry ice was not registered as a pesticide and technically could not be used in commercial pest control.  

While there is still some confusion about where and how to purchase dry ice legally for rodent control, an EPA-approved label for "Rat Ice" is now available. Bell Labs is sponsoring the new label as a service to the industry and says it is working on state registrations.  Bell Labs will provide a more comprehensive update, including launch details, soon, according to a recent news update in PCT magazine. [Note: According to Texas Department of Agriculture regulator, Michael Kelly, the Rat Ice label has been registered in Texas.]

Biomonitoring

In Corrigan's opinion, another one of the most significant improvements in rodent management in recent years is non-toxic baits for biomonitoring. These non-toxic baits allow PMPs to minimize risk of baits to non-target organisms while identifying when and where rodents are present. Many of the newer baits also include bio-luminescent dyes that become brilliant "glowscats" when captured in the glow of one of the new LED blacklight flashlights.

Jose Dolagaray from Arrow Exterminators
in Georgia displays a dead roof rat discovered
during his outdoor inspection of the IPM
Experience House.
These non-toxic, bio-luminescent baits now act as tracking baits, providing information about three critical items: a) high-activity rodent trails; b) distances traveled, and; c) possible zones where nests are located. Consequently, glowscats provide clues to help you maximize effectiveness of trap and bait stations placements. Another benefit is when bioluminescent baits are placed outdoors only, glowscats found indoors provide evidence of penetrations in the building envelope.

As an added bonus, Corrigan said that in every instance that he's observed rats prefer these toxicant-free baits. They are inevitably the first baits eaten from a bait station. He believes they can help jump-start bait-shy rodents to feed when placed in stations on the outside of rodenticide-containing blocks and soft-baits.

IPM House

The IPM Experience House provided the hands-on setting for excursions on each of the three days. Because the house is situated next to an un-mowed culvert, and bounded by a minimally maintained tree nursery and garden area, rodent life outside was... interesting. Students caught glimpses of cotton rats, Sigmodon hispidis, and saw unmistakable roof rat burrows, runways and rub marks around parts of the building perimeter. A water filled bucket proved deadly for an inquisitive roof rat and provided an opportunity for participants to practice their rodent ID skills. Most agreed that being able to practice their new observation skills around the IPM House was a valuable part of the training.

The class covered much more than can be covered here, exhausting students by the end of the third day. If you want to learn more about rodents before the next academy comes along, consider purchasing a copy of Corrigan's very informative book: Rodent Control: A Practical Guide.

For more information about IPM Experience House and upcoming PMP classes, check out the website and consider signing up for the mailing list. A new listing of 2018 classes is coming soon.








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.