Mallis and Beyond

Features - Industry Events

In this second in a series of articles about the 2018 National Conference on Urban Entomology, veteran industry researchers’ talks are reviewed and discussed.

September 7, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series that Merchant wrote for PCT. See the August issue for more about the conference.

If you’re even a little geeky about insects, and work in the pest control industry, you probably would like the National Conference of Urban Entomology (NCUE). Held May 21-23 this year in Raleigh, N.C., 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 report in last month’s issue of PCT 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.

By any other name...

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 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 a silver bullet approach.

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 interest? Maybe.

But how would an assessment-based pest management program work? Without offering a comprehensive answer, speakers at the “assessment” session tried to show 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.



Noted researcher Rick Cooper is successfully controlling bed bugs in low-income, high-rise housing — one of the toughest customer accounts. “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 firm, the team was able to reduce infestation rates from 15 percent to 2 percent over 12 months, while achieving a 98 percent 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.



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 percent 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 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 pretreated 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 fast and not too labor intensive. 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 percent of apartments had maintained their traps (dust free) after 22 months. She then tried a quick visual inspection of all apartments, followed by placing two to eight traps only in apartments with a complaint or some evidence of bed bugs. With as few as two traps per apartment (one against the foot of the bed and one against a living room chair) she was able to detect 80 to 90 percent of the infested apartments in three to four weeks. It took only two to three minutes to conduct a quick inspection and place monitors in most apartments, and the method detected almost four times more infested apartments than management was aware of. Her work provides more proof that relying on residents/staff to report bed bugs is ineffective, and that building-wide inspections are a must for effective 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 and may consist of millions to billions of ants that can extend for many miles. While super-colonies may look like normal ant colonies with individual nests, 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 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 their 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, confirming that TCA ants do form super-colonies. This data also suggests that all crazy ants in tested areas likely came from a one-time introduction to the U.S. 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 Chouvenc, 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), Chouvenc showed that C. gestroi appears able to detect problems with nestmates 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.

RESEARCH ROUND-UP. Other worthwhile takeaways from the meetings:

  • If you battle tawny crazy ants in your community, you might be interested in the new crazy ant videos shown by Kelly Palmer, Alabama Cooperative Extension. (See the videos at 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 although it doesn’t sting, its large numbers and invasive behavior could make it a major pest where it is found.
  • Bob Davis, BASF, reported 30 to 60 days control of striped scorpions with the new microcap insecticide Fendona. Microcap products provide control even on tough surfaces like concrete and soil.
  • Venerable, retired entomologist Mike Rust is still pumping 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; but methoprene did not synergize fipronil — though it did synergize imidacloprid). He concluded IGR mixtures must be tested and results cannot be reliably predicted.
  • Dini Miller was one of the few speakers to talk about digital innovations. 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 more than 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 percent elimination rate after three 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, the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA) 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. (PCT note: Look for coverage of PPMA’s Tiny Termite House in next month’s issue of PCT.)

I overheard one entomologist say that NCUE is the most important conference she attends all year. I agree. The smaller size and narrow focus of the meetings means that NCUE is usually perfect for those of us in the structural pest control industry. This year’s meeting was no exception.

The author is an entomology specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension.