Integrated Pest Management

The Fear of Traveling with Bed Bugs

Bed bugs up close

Bed bugs up close

By Marcia Anderson

Last week, I received several emails from Marion, a traveler in panic over the possibility that she was in contact with bed bugs. She went so far as to send me photographs of her legs covered in bug bites.

First, no one can diagnose the presence of bed bugs from bites alone. Second, everyone reacts differently to their bites – from no reaction to huge welts. The only way to identify bed bugs is by physical evidence – actual bugs, shed skins, blood spots, and droppings.

I asked if she had actually seen any bed bugs. She answered no. There was, however, no assuring her that she probably was not attacked by a multitude of bed bugs without having seen even one or their tell-tale signs. I happened to know the hotel she stayed at and let her know that it had a rigorous cleaning protocol. So, an infestation of bed bugs necessary to create the number of bites she had was unlikely. Not impossible for a few to escape detection, but such a large an infestation would surely not go unnoticed by hotel cleaning staff.

She went on to ask me how to remove bed bugs and their eggs off hard-to-clean, expensive items like her suitcase, leather purse, leather shoes, running shoes, and, worst of all, smartphone. “I hope there is a solution other than throwing all these items away and being forced to buy brand new,” she said. She said she was asking about the smartphone because she read that bed bugs get into openings in electronic devices such as the small portholes for earplug insertion, AC connector, etc.

If indeed they were bed bugs, I recommend heat or steam treatment of the items that can tolerate it. Get a magnifying glass at the local drug store and look carefully. You can also use an alcohol-based cleaning wipe all around the outside and edges of the other items and electronics. Then, with a cotton swab and alcohol solution, go into hard to reach places. Do not immerse! Be sure to reach any inner holes/crevices. It is very unlikely that you would have an infestation in your electronics, especially after a one-night stay and cleaning and looking into the ports.

 

When traveling, pack all of your items in tightly sealed, clear plastic bags.

EPA’s Travel Tips card

EPA’s Travel Tips card

Large zip-top bags are fine – just make sure they are sealed. If you are worried about bed bugs in your books, put them in zip-top plastic bags and freeze them for at least 4 days after you return.

There are very few things that need to be discarded even if they carry bed bugs. When you get home, isolate your suitcase in a garage or bathtub and place it in a large plastic bag. Tape tightly shut. Then clean or heat treat it when you have a chance. The longer you keep the case in plastic, the fewer young bed bugs will survive. Even if eggs hatch, the young must feed within a few weeks or they will die.

I can understand your fear. Every time I travel, I check my room carefully, worry and check a second time. A lot of the fear of bed bugs has been accentuated by media and industry hype. Here are some informational fliers. One from the University of Minnesota describes how to inspect your hotel room for bed bugs. A second from EPA tells you how to prevent, detect, and control bed bugs.

Many people have a fear of bringing bed bugs home because of the social stigma. Yes, bed bugs, once established, are very difficult to eliminate. One reason is that they have developed resistance to many common pesticides. Therefore, a multifaceted integrated approach, called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is the most effective way to control these pests. The focus of IPM is to find the best strategy for a pest problem and not necessarily the simplest. IPM is not a one-size-fits-all method, but rather a combination of biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools that minimize health and environmental risks.

Be assured that bed bugs have been extensively studied do not cause or spread disease. Getting a mosquito bite is epidemiologically far more dangerous than a bed bug bite.

They have been around for thousands of years and were even been laid to rest with their Egyptian hosts, over 4 millennia ago.

EPA offers bed bug awareness cards for travelers. Print a few to keep and to share with friends before they travel.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Prevent Stink Bugs from Overwintering in Your School and Home

By Marcia Anderson

 

Stink bug adult

Adult brown marmorated stink bug Photo: Steven Valley, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

 

As cooler weather approaches, pests try to find their way into warmer habitats, like schools, homes and barns. Stink bugs, including the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), are no exception.

Late last autumn, BMSBs invaded my home, and for the next four months my house was overrun with the most putrid smelling bugs that I have ever encountered. Since nobody wants their classroom, kitchen or home to smell like rotting food, it’s very important to have a pest management plan in place before you begin noticing stink bugs.

Accidently imported from Asia into the United States, the BMSB was first observed in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s. With few natural predators in North America, they have since caused catastrophic damage to fruit trees, vegetable crops, ornamental plants and forest trees in the mid-Atlantic. They are now widely seen in forests, farms, and suburban landscapes in at least 42 states (see map below).

Stink bugs originally got their name from the rotting smell they give off when threatened or crushed. If you, or a student, steps on one or otherwise crushes it, you will quickly learn how they got their name.

Stink bugs are shield shaped. If you confuse the BMSB with the native brown stink bug you aren’t alone. They look very similar. The underside of the brown stink bug looks yellowish while the BMSB underside appears brown-gray. The BMSB can also be distinguished from other stink bugs by its speckled appearance.

The brown marmorated stink bug isn’t a picky eater. They will feed on ornamental plants close to buildings, and can easily find cracks and crevices in foundations, window frames, and soffits. The bugs flatten their bodies and squeeze through windows, cracks or other openings within the walls. Once inside a warm building, they look for a water source and meal. They target bathrooms and kitchens, which have ready water sources, and rooms with plants. They will even fall into pet water dishes and fish bowls.

Want to avoid a winter long battle? Be pest wise. Follow an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. Inspection, detection, exclusion and maintenance are a few of the key components of IPM, a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control. Often, it takes detective work and ingenuity to discover where pests are coming from. When you spot pests, try to find where they are entering the building. On your inspection bring a strong flashlight and take good notes, recording problem areas, entry locations, and areas needing repair.

Make sure all of your window screens fit securely and tightly, vents are screened, and door and window frames have no gaps. Sealing around baseboards and areas where pipes and wires enter your building will help keep stink bugs out. Expandable foam can be used for larger gaps. Check under doors to ensure door sweeps are in good condition and do not leave any gaps. In homes, other major points of entry are fireplaces, chimneys, and firewood. Close your flu when the fireplace is not in use to keep bugs out.

StinkBugMap

As of June 2015, BMSB had been detected in 42 states and two Canadian provinces. Source: T. Leskey, USDA ARS; Stopbmsb.org

If small numbers of stink bugs find their way indoors, remove them by hand or vacuum them up. Be warned – it may permanently infuse their stink into your vacuum. Remove the dead bugs as the smell of them rotting will attract even more stink bugs and other insects. I quickly found the easiest way to get rid of them was to give them the eternal swim (flush) down the porcelain whirlpool.

Diatomaceous earth can be used for limited stink bug control outdoors, in basements, and around foundations. Fumigation doesn’t work, and if you try to squash them…well, just say I warned you. I found that dish washing liquid mixed in a 50/50 concentration with water will kill the bugs. Pour some of this mixture into a container and let it sit out. The bugs will be attracted to the moisture, fall in, and drown.

The good news is that this pest poses no substantial risk to structures or people. However, they can be a horrid nuisance. The bad news is that there are no viable chemical strategies for brown marmorated stink bug control in agricultural settings. Insecticides are of limited use and resistance to some may even be developing.

So, what is currently being done about the BMSB? With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a team of more than 50 researchers from several universities, including Rutgers, Cornell, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Washington, and Oregon, along with the Northeast IPM Center, are looking to identify, monitor, and find management solutions that will protect our food, farms, homes, and schools from this pest.

For more on the BMSB, visit the Stop BMSB website.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Dog Has Fleas: Why Flea Control can be More Difficult in the City

By Marcia Anderson

The author’s little Shetland Sheepdog , Delilah.

The author’s little Shetland Sheepdog , Delilah.

I never had a problem with fleas in the suburbs. But after a few months of living in a city apartment, the little pests plagued both myself and my dog with a vengeance. Why? What was the difference?

Outdoors in the suburbs, flea prevention was always the key. This generally involved eliminating the habitat in the yard where fleas were most likely to occur. I made my yard unwelcoming to fleas and ticks by keeping the lawn mowed, shrubs trimmed, and leaves raked. Wild animals such as opossums, raccoons, and small rodents can carry fleas so we tried to discourage all animals from entering our yard. We fenced the yard to keep other dogs out, and kept garbage covered so it wouldn’t attract rodents or other pests.

Inside both my home and apartment, we vacuumed carpets often, mopped bare floors weekly and washed the dog bed regularly.

Delilah visits the pumpkin patch.

Delilah visits the pumpkin patch.

When I moved to the city, I found only a few nearby places to walk the dog before I headed for work. Although I still kept my home clean, I was no longer able to control the outside areas where my dog was allowed to go. Being accustomed to going under trees and shrubs, our dog visited the same places visited by hundreds of other dogs. Fleas tended to like those places also because they were moist, warm, shady, and there was organic debris. Although fleas cannot fly, they do have powerful back legs and can jump great distances. I soon found out that what jumps off one dog eventually jumped onto our dog.

I was faced with having to come up with a new plan for controlling these fleas. I ruled out flea collars because my dog regularly comes into close contact with the neighbor’s little girls. Sometimes they dog sit, which leads to hugging, brushing, and sleeping together.

Next, I considered flea shampoos. Every weekend our dog would get a bath. The flea shampoos worked well and killed about 95% of the fleas and made her fur ever-so-soft for my neighbor’s little girls. However, I soon realized that the shampoos don’t work to prevent new fleas. The city fleas were just too persistent and hardy.

Embarrassed, I discussed the issue with other city apartment dog owners, whom, I found, had the same problem. I requested that the landlord treat my apartment with an insect growth regulator, a type of pesticide that prevents the flea eggs and larvae from growing and hatching. Because they mimic insect hormones, it would only affect the fleas. This leads to a steady drop in the number of new fleas indoors. However, mature fleas are not affected so it can take 30 to 60 days for the adult fleas to die of old age before you’ll notice the dog scratching less.

What else could I do? There is a lot of talk about an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to other pest problems. What is IPM? An approach to pest control that creates a safer and healthier environment by reducing exposure to pests and pesticides. An effective IPM program uses common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water, and shelter for pests in buildings and grounds. But will it work for fleas?

I realized that I already was using an IPM approach for my flea problem. Sanitation and maintenance first, including cleaning, combing, bathing, outdoor barriers, followed by least toxic means, such as the insect growth regulator. But because I was unable to fully control the problem I knew that the judicious use of another pesticide was next step. So off we went to the vet.

Close-up view of the common flea.

Close-up view of the common flea.

I found that my dog had ordinary cat fleas, the leading cause of itching in dogs and cats. Itching was most pronounced on her back, groin, tail, and hindquarters. This is where we found black, pepper-like grains in her coat. These were flea feces made up of digested blood. Now we only found a few fleas because they moved so rapidly through her hair and were difficult to catch.

We settled a monthly application of a topical product that not only controls fleas by direct contact, but also protects against heartworms and other worms. Fleas don’t have to bite the dog for the pesticide to work. Like other topical treatments, it came in a tube and was applied to the dog’s back.

Are topical flea treatments safe? Yes, if they are used correctly. The EPA says that using the wrong dosage or product is a major cause of negative reactions. Common mistakes include treating a cat with a product meant for dogs, or using a large dog dose on a small dog. Check with your vet first. More is not always better, more can be dangerous.

Keep in mind that you will probably still see some fleas, even on a treated pet, until all of the fleas in your home have died. Persistence is the key. Keep following your flea control program to get rid of all life stages of the fleas, which may take up to six months.

Prevention is the best method of flea control. After prevention, the other IPM steps may ultimately lead you to use an EPA-registered insecticide products to help keep those pesky fleas away.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Wildlife Weekend: Raptors, Roadrunners, Vultures and Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

Bed Bug Travel Card

Bed Bug Travel Card

A few weeks ago I visited a popular state park to view wildlife in its natural setting. The park had a beautiful rustic lodge and conference center with antique, rough-sawn beams that gave a real western ambiance. The chairs, benches, tables, and bed headboards were made of peeled tree branches that were roughly fitted together.

After checking in, I conducted a precursory search for pests in the room, as I do whenever I enter any overnight lodging. No bugs showed up on my radar. It was not until about 9 pm, when I was about to prop up some pillows, that I saw a little brown spot on one of the white pillowcases. Then, the spot moved! OH, it couldn’t be… but it was.

I caught and placed it in a clear plastic bag for a better look. It was a healthy bed bug. I caught two more on other pillows. Two more on the wall near the headboard scurried down into the crack behind the floor molding before I could grab them.

I then decided to check out the box spring where I noticed two more near the plastic corner guard. I caught one, but the other got away, deep into the box spring innards. I noticed another coming out a joint in the headboard. Missed him also. He crawled in so deep it was impossible to get ahold of him. At this point, I had captured four of the eight bed bugs sighted. All were very healthy. I took lots of photos then called the front desk.

The receptionist alerted the staff and sent one to investigate. The person who came insisted that she had never seen a bed bug before. She asked if she could keep the four I had caught. No problem, but I warned her not to open the bag — don’t want any escapees.

When she returned to help me move to another room, I explained the importance of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, when confronted with a bed bug infestation. I talked about exclusion and monitoring being two key IPM practices for managing bed bugs. I described how sealing cracks, such as in the head board and behind the floor moldings, and eliminating hiding places for the bed bugs were essential.

Placing encasements on the mattress and box springs would prevent having to replace these expensive items. They would block access for new bed bugs and, in time, kill the any trapped inside. Bed bug inspection dogs might be cost effective in checking the entire lodge and guest cabins for other infestations. Bed bug dogs are trained to sniff out bed bugs, even just one, in the same way that drug-sniffing dogs identify drugs and alert customs agents at border crossings of positive findings.

Specimens from the lodge

Specimens from the lodge

I explained that they should enlist a pest management professional with experience in dealing with bed bugs. Heat treatment for spaces is effective when conducted properly. Spraying pesticides is not the silver bullet that it was many years ago for multiple reasons. Some bed bugs have become resistant to some pesticides, rendering them ineffective. Another reason is bed bug behavior.

Bed bugs hide in all sorts of tiny cracks and crevices for at least four days between meals. Therefore, they may not be out to be exposed to a pesticide being applied. Remember that they were nowhere to be seen when I conducted a precursory check the afternoon I arrived. If the bugs are hidden in the moldings, furniture or box spring crevices, the pesticide may never reach them.

This was my first personal bed bug encounter and hopefully the last. My husband asked me to please not bring home any souvenirs. No problem. However, I do hope the lodge took my advice on IPM and checked out the bed bug prevention, detection and control flier on EPA’s bed bug website. The site provides numerous bed bug control resources, one of which is the bed bug traveler card, pictured here. They are the size of a credit card, so print one and take it with you the next time you travel.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Head Lice and Bike Helmets

By Marcia Anderson

Head lice have specialized feet for holding onto hair.

Head lice have specialized feet for holding onto hair.

When I visited a local school, I was asked by the nurse about strategies for dealing with head lice – tiny parasites that attach to human head hair and feed on blood through the skin. She said there was a problem in preschool and kindergarten classes where she suspected the children were passing lice through the school’s common bike helmets. The children shared the helmets when taking turns riding tricycles.

The nurse asked three important questions. How should they treat the helmets? Is there something they could spray in the helmets between uses? How should they deal with head lice in the school?

Head lice are very contagious and are transferred by sharing clothes, hairbrushes, combs, pillows, hair decorations, and hats with somebody who has lice. Applying a pesticide to the helmets, in the classrooms, on children’s hats or their clothes isn’t recommended.

To control lice in helmets, the National Pediculosis Association recommends vacuuming and wiping out the helmets between uses. They note that a louse can survive less than 24 hours away from a human host, but the nits (eggs) on a hair left in the helmet could survive up to 10 days. Detachable foam fitting pads and the nylon straps can also be washed.

Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control.

Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control.

The Centers for Disease Control’s head lice guidance states that lice are spread most commonly by direct contact with the hair of an infected person. Spread by contact with inanimate objects and personal belongings may occur but is very uncommon. The feet of lice are specially adapted for holding onto human hair. They would have difficulty attaching to smooth or slippery surfaces like plastic, metal, polished synthetic leathers, and other similar materials. However, hairs left in sports helmets may have lice attached to them so they must be cleaned between uses. It is best to have helmets specific to each child to avoid sharing.

Treatment on clothes, hats and other head gear. There are many ways to treat head lice. The EPA provides information on lice and their control and recommends an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, especially in schools and childcare centers. IPM is a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control that focuses on prevention.

Once a louse has been identified, the first step is to begin sanitation efforts by washing and heat drying all of the belongings that may have been exposed. This will kill all the head lice and eggs that may be on hairs that are attached to the clothing, pillow cases or other items. Next monitor – check the hair and scalp frequently by combing with a nit comb to see if there are any other lice or eggs.

Prevention. There are different ways to prevent exposure to head lice. Tell your children not to share combs, brushes, hats or clothing with anyone. Vacuum frequently and wash and heat dry anything they may have shared.

School Head Lice Policies. When children return to school in the fall, who is responsible when it comes to head lice? According to Dr. Richard Pollack of the Harvard School of Public Health, “School policies are outdated and written during a time when body lice was a growing concern among residents….However, times have changed and head lice is not the epidemic that it is thought to be. Common misconception of head lice can lead to over diagnosis and unnecessary action.” An effective head lice policy should be included in each school district’s IPM plan. The American Association of Pediatrics guidance on treating head lice states that “No healthy child should be excluded from, or miss school because of head lice and no-nit policies should be abandoned.”

IdentifyUS, LLC, provides a helpful flow chart on managing presumed head lice infestations in schools and a similar chart for home use. Harvard University also provides an informative head lice question and answer page. For even more information on head lice read the Spokane (WA) Regional Health District’s Guidelines for Controlling Head Lice. To learn why lice may be harder to control today than 20 years ago read the 2012 EPA blog Persistent and Possibly Resistant Head Lice.

Having a well-conceived head lice policy, a current IPM-based plan for dealing with head lice, and useful reference materials will enable schools everywhere to deal with the problem if it pops up.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Classroom Clutter and Pests Go Hand-in-Hand

By Marcia Anderson

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Schools and childcare centers, by their nature, are prone to the accumulation of boxes, papers, posters and books that are utilized by teachers. Unfortunately, some of the nation’s finest school teachers have reputations for being pack rats. The use of multiple materials for learning is to be applauded, not discouraged. However, materials in classrooms and storage areas left undisturbed for long periods of time may lead to pest issues.

Pests gravitate toward cluttered areas because they provide a safe environment for them to eat, hide and reproduce undisturbed from predators and people. Some cockroaches, rodents, spiders and silverfish prefer layered clutter, such as stacks of paper. These pests carry with them the potential for bites, or are potential allergens or asthma triggers. If a pest infestation occurs, all of the items may have to go anyway. The best way to save the most precious items for the future is to eliminate potential pest harborages today.

Clutter can be dangerous: The brown recluse spider prefers to hide among layered papers and within forgotten boxes in cluttered corners and similar areas. Spiders and other pests have bitten children and teachers reaching into piles to retrieve papers or other items.

Consequences of Clutter: A cluttered space can be overwhelming and waste precious time for both teachers and students. There just comes a time when you simply can’t be efficient anymore because chaos has overtaken the classroom when you can’t find things where they’re supposed to be. Searching and hunting wastes time. Alternately, an organized area helps to promote quick work starts and facilitates an efficient use of time. And once an area is organized, it is easier to keep it this way. Clutter also creates a disturbance in student focus. It is distracting and doesn’t maintain a conducive learning environment.

Keeping a school classroom pest-free is challenging, but utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can reduce the number of pests and the use of pesticides in the school. IPM is a smart approach to prevent and get rid of pests by using what we know to make classrooms, kitchens and cafeterias less attractive to them. Pests come inside because they’ve found the things they need to survive – food, water, and shelter.

Classroom Storage Tips:

  1. Reduce clutter in bite-size pieces. Allocating 30 minutes twice a week to clearing cluttered areas will allow you to get cleaned up and organized in just a few weeks.
  2. Store materials in clear, plastic boxes to better organize, eliminate clutter and prevent pest infestations. Such boxes exist in nearly every size, shape and color for storage needs.
  3. Don’t use cardboard boxes. Cockroaches love to hide in their corrugations and will hitchhike into and set up house in your classroom!
  4. Store boxes on shelves instead of the floor whenever possible. Shelves should be a minimum of six inches and preferably 12 inches off of the floor to allow for access for sweeping and mopping. This space will also discourage any insects and rodents from hiding beneath the first shelf. Leaving space helps the custodial staff to see and clean behind and under stored items. Mice and roaches love to travel right next to the walls, so if you have clutter next to the walls, they can run to and fro undetected during the day.
  5. Clear out clutter to improve pest inspections and treatment effectiveness. Clutter makes pest management almost impossible – pest inspections are difficult when the pest control technician’s access is limited and pests have no reason to venture into treated areas.
  6. Encourage children to help clean up after activities. These clean-up chores can be placed on a Classroom Helper Chart, especially in the younger grades where the help is needed the most.
  7. Keep food items used as math manipulatives, such as dried beans or toasted oat cereal, in tightly sealed containers. Likewise, store animal feed in tightly sealed containers, clean up spills immediately, and clean cages regularly.

Reducing unused items, eliminating clutter, and following IPM practices will improve the air quality in your school, reduce pest problems, and improve the learning environment. It’s time to clean house!

To read more on de-cluttering the classroom, review Purdue University’s recommendations on reducing pest problems by reducing clutter and the University of Arizona’s articles on clearing up and cleaning out for summer and clutter control.

 About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Improperly Stored Tires Lead to Big Mosquito Problems

By Marcia Anderson

Make sure tires on playgrounds have drainage holes to prevent rainwater from accumulating and causing a mosquito breeding problem.

Make sure tires on playgrounds have drainage holes to prevent rainwater from accumulating and causing a mosquito breeding problem.

I have a vivid memory of visiting a childcare center on Staten Island, NY. When I approached a corner of the backyard, a swarm of mosquitoes must have sensed me and dive-bombed onto every exposed part of my body. I was bitten repeatedly from my head down to my shoes. When I peered over the fence into the neighboring yard, I saw thousands of mosquitoes congregating around a pile of discarded tires.

Although many scrap tires are brought to state approved disposal sites, many also wind up in illegal dump sites. Untold more are thrown along roadways or stored in yards. Tire stockpiles present a threat to human health and the environment for several reasons.

Why are improperly stored tires hazardous to your health?

Each tire in a yard, if improperly stored, can become a breeding ground for thousands of mosquitoes which can carry life-threatening diseases such as dengue fever, West Nile virus and various forms of encephalitis.

The design of tires provides an ideal nursery for mosquito larvae. Tires fill with water after a rainstorm and retain the water as some of the inside areas of the tires are shaded continuously, preventing evaporation of the trapped water. Tires are somewhat insulated and retain heat for long periods of time that speeds up mosquito egg hatching and larval growth. They also collect leaf litter and debris that provides nutrition for the larvae.

Despite over 30 years of efforts to address scrap tires, stockpiles continue to be a problem across the U.S. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, over 290 million more tires are scrapped every year, and over 653 million tons of these are land-disposed. Tires in dumps are difficult to clean up due to the sheer numbers and because trees grow through them and trash, leaves, garbage, and water collect in them.

Tires on playgrounds as part of climbing or swinging structures are another potential breeding site. Ensure that the tires, and other children’s outdoor play structures have drainage holes and that the holes are kept unblocked by debris, such as leaves, to maintain water flow.

Mosquito Control: The most effective mosquito control is to keep tires dry. Pesticides applied to tire piles to control larval or adult mosquitoes may not be fully effective. Shredding tires, or otherwise rendering them incapable of holding water, is usually more effective than pesticides. If you must keep tires, store them indoors or stack and cover them with a tarp to prevent them from collecting water. Drill holes in tires in play equipment or other tire sculptures to allow water drainage and prevent future water accumulation. Keep vegetation and grasses around tires short, reducing resting sites for adult mosquitoes.

Tire Recycling:  Over 1.3 million pounds of tires are recycled each year by chopping them into high grade rubber nuggets. Some are reincorporated in the manufacture of new tires while others are converted into a urethane binder to make sidewalks, playground surfaces, and basketball courts. Roads in some areas are resurfaced using tire chips for backfill and insulation, giving asphalt both springiness and longer life. In New Hampshire, Timberland is putting tires back on the road in boots and shoes with soles made of recycled rubber. And as of 2009, 40% of scrap tires are used in energy generation due to their high BTU content.

When Buying New Tires, Recycle Your Old Tires: Businesses that sell or install tires must take back tires of approximately the same size that they sell. The fee for the collection of old tires is included in the cost of new tires.

In New York City, the Department of Sanitation will accept up to four tires from passenger cars at any of its garages or at one of the department’s household special waste drop-off sites. For more information go to New York City Department of Sanitation’s website or dial 3-1-1.  There are similar programs across the country; contact your local Department of Public Works for drop sites.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Enjoy Summer Camp Free of Head Lice

By Marcia Anderson

Head lice magnified.

Head lice magnified.

Summer camp season always reminds me of swimming, camp fires, s’mores and head lice. Head lice? Yes, my daughter was 8 years old that memorable year and attending a day camp. One evening she was furiously scratching her head and behind her ears. After bathing, I helped comb her hair and, to my horror, discovered head lice. I ran to the pharmacy that evening and picked up an over-the-counter head lice kit. My next few days were filled with washing everything in the bedroom, intense vacuuming and a frenzy of cleaning every corner in the bedroom. Within a few days, the problem was over.

A repeat performance occurred eight years later. My daughter was 16 and attending a series of week-long overnight sports camps. At this age, all girls play with their hair, imitate each other’s hair dos, and regrettably, share hair ornaments. That’s just what girls do. She should have known better! We had a repeat of washing all of her clothing and bedding and vacuuming. I helped her comb the nits (lice eggs) out of her hair. I notified the camp director and her teammates’ moms. Some of the other moms had found their daughters had the same problem.

Head lice are very contagious. You can get them by sharing clothes, hairbrushes, combs, pillows, hair decorations and hats with somebody who has them, or even being near someone who has lice.

The early symptoms of head lice are little red bumps appearing on the scalp, neck, shoulders and behind the ears. A scratchy head is also a symptom, as well as little white eggs found within the hair and scalp.

There are many ways to treat head lice. The EPA recommends a multi-faceted Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. IPM is a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer environment by managing pests and reducing human exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an advantageous approach.

The first step is identification – determine whether the problem is with lice or some other pest. Second, focus on sanitation by washing and drying (on high heat) all of your belongings that may have been exposed to kill all the lice and their eggs. Third, monitor for remaining lice and their eggs by frequently checking the scalp and combing the hair with a nit comb.

And please, forget the old home remedy of turning your children’s heads into salad by slathering them with mayonnaise, lime, garlic lotion, or olive oil to kill the lice. These little critters are not easily suffocated. These remedies, along with dishwashing detergent, however, may be useful in softening up the nits to make it easier for the nit combs to remove them.

Pesticidal head lice shampoo may be a necessary treatment.

Pesticidal head lice shampoo may be a necessary treatment.

Finally, the use of pesticidal head lice shampoos may be necessary. The bad news is that today’s lice are tougher to kill than they were 20 years ago when I had to treat my daughter’s head lice. This is because some have developed resistance to permethrin and pyrethrum, the active ingredients in many of the over-the-counter lice products. Read the National Institute of Health publication on resistance in head lice to the over-the-counter pediculocides and the blog on persistent and possibly resistant head lice.

Learn more about head lice management from the BioIntegral Resource Center’s IPM manual and the National Pediculosis Association.

If you continue to be infested with live lice after treatment, discontinue use of the products and consult with your pediatrician. If you are diligent and comb out the nits on a daily basis (such as every night during bath time) you should be able to remove most of the nits.

There are ways to reduce your exposure to head lice. Tell your children not to share combs, brushes, hats or clothing with anyone. Vacuum frequently. Finally, wash and dry (on high heat) any clothing they may have shared.

These tips can help you better enjoy the summer camp season!

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Excavation Experts: Are Moles or Voles Ruining your Lawn? (Part 2)

By Marcia Anderson

These paddle-like paws can do serious damage to your landscaping.  Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

These paddle-like paws can do serious damage to your landscaping.
Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

We hoped you learned about the differences between moles and voles in Part 1. Now that you know how to tell them apart, how do you discourage them from living in your yard and convince them to take up residence elsewhere?

To deter these landscape pests, be prepared to alter their environment. Preventing pest problems through foresight, is the #1 rule of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is beneficial to both your health and the environment. IPM is smart, sensible and sustainable – addressing the root causes of pest problems to provide a sustainable solution.

Mole Control

Regulating some of a mole’s food supply may help. Since moles are fond of beetle grubs in the lawn, you can begin by controlling the grubs. The three primary natural solutions are milky spore, beneficial nematodes and neem oil products. An annual lawn-grub treatment application of bacterial-based milky spore disease granules can definitely help, but it takes two-three years to become established in the soil and it doesn’t work in cold climates (colder than Zone 5).

Beneficial nematodes can be applied and will move through the soil to infect and kill the grubs. Neem has been used as an insecticide for centuries and acts as a repellent for grubs. However, as long as there are plenty of worms or ants in your lawn, you may still have a mole problem and may wish to resort to “Plan B.”

“Plan B” for moles utilizes their keen sense of smell that finds some plants offensive. You can use this knowledge as a natural way to control moles. Several bulb plants are known to repel moles such as daffodils, Siberian squill, and crown imperial, whose flowers give off a fox-like scent. Garlic, onions, leeks, chives, shallots and giant allium are living mole repellents as are the mole plant, or caper spurge and Mexican marigold.

Vole Controls

 Here are some helpful cultural controls you can use to prevent voles.

  • Do not apply mulch too close to trees and shrubs. It provides voles with an easily tunneled, insulated pathway under snow, ice and frozen ground in the winter.
  • Get rid of autumn leaves, twigs and debris that can make inviting pathways and remove ground cover that can hide voles. Bare soil makes them more vulnerable to predators.
  • Place wire cages around individual plants: While impractical on a large-scale it is very effective for your favorite plants.
  • Use ¼-inch hardware cloth or plastic cylinders to protect individual young trees and shrubs. Bury them slightly and extend at least two feet plus 18 inches above the snow depth to deter other gnawing pests
  • Keep your garden weeded and avoid planting dense ground covers.
  • Keep your lawn mowed short.

Repellents

Castor oil is the most widely used mole and gopher repellent. Whether homemade treatment or a commercial product, it is made from ground-up corn cobs and castor oil. Other commercial vole repellents, are formulated with capsacian (the ingredient that makes peppers hot), repulsive smelling predator (coyote, fox or wolf) urine, or bitter testing chemicals. While these repellants are effective at keeping voles from eating live plants and bulbs, they need to be re-applied frequently because most dissipate with the rain. Voles may also become acclimated. Therefore, a varied approach works best with repellants. Fumigants, ultrasonic devices, and noise or vibration makers are not effective in repelling voles or moles.

Final Actions

Trapping moles or voles is an effective long-term control. Snap traps manufactured for mice are also effective at catching voles. Several EPA registered pesticides are also available for mole and vole control. Remember to read and follow the label directions on all pesticides carefully.

Visit the University of Nebraska website for more information on moles and voles. 

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Excavation Experts: Are Moles or Voles Ruining your Lawn? (Part 1)

By Marcia Anderson

It’s Summertime! Time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.

Imagine you are strolling across your lawn on a beautiful day assessing your maintenance routines, when you notice something amiss. It appears as if someone – something! – has created a maze of tunnels under your once-beautiful turf. Voles and moles are the most common culprits. But which is which and how do you tell the difference?

Moles are not the only animal pests responsible for tunneling lawn and garden areas. In reality, it’s really voles causing much of the damage chalked up to moles. Other than names that rhyme, voles and moles are entirely different pests with little in common. Once you understand their differences, it becomes rather easy to tell them apart and to develop a control strategy. The biggest differences between moles and voles is their diet and the damage they cause.

Voles are also known as the meadow or field mouse. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark (www.ipm.ucdavis.edu)

Voles are also known as the meadow or field mouse. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark (www.ipm.ucdavis.edu)

Voles

Voles are rodents, as are mice, rats, gophers and squirrels. They look much like mice, only with shorter tails. Voles, of which there are 23 species, usually do not invade homes and should not be confused with the common house mouse. Voles are plant-eaters, feeding on the stems and blades of grass, and the roots, seeds and bulbs of flowering and garden crops. If that is not enough, in winter when other foods are scarce, they’ll even chew the bark off trees and shrubs.

When voles make tunnels while searching for roots to eat, they do not create raised ridges. Voles create golf-ball-sized entry holes into their tunnels along walls and in mulched beds. Their above ground grassy runways connect to multiple, clustered burrow openings. Their surface tunnels are most noticeable in early spring, just after the snow melts.

Moles

Moles are built for tunneling with paddle-like paws. Photo: Stanislaw Szyalo (a-z-animals.com)

Moles are built for tunneling with paddle-like paws. Photo: Stanislaw Szyalo
(a-z-animals.com)

Unlike voles, moles are not rodents, and they don’t eat plants. Their primary diet is earthworms with a few insects – beetle larvae and adults, ants, wasps, and flies tossed in as appetizers. According to Ohio State University, a five-ounce mole will consume 45-50 pounds of worms and insects each year.

Landscape demolition from moles comes in the form of tunnels, runways and raised burrows in your lawn, ground cover, and shrub areas while on their never-ending search for food. Moles, are built for tunneling, with paddle-like paws that make quick work of moving even the most dense clay soils. Moles can dig surface tunnels at a rate of 18 feet/hour.  The word “mole” is from the Middle English molle which is derived from mold-warpe, meaning “earth-thrower.”

Moles prefer well-drained, loose, sandy soil, and they avoid heavy clay, gravelly soils, and very dry or very wet soils. Because moles prefer moist soil, human environs such as manicured suburban lawns, parks and golf courses often provide beneficial habitat due to higher quality soils and adequate moisture.

Moles are constantly tunneling in search of meals, pushing up mini mountain ranges all over lawns, and creating volcanoes of soil in random spots. Moles produce two types of elaborate tunnels. The tunnels just beneath the surface, are feeding tunnels and appear as raised ridges running across your lawn. The second type of runway runs deeper and enables the moles to unite the feeding tunnels in a network. As the weather cools, moles will retreat into their deeper tunnels, often up to five feet beneath the surface. It is the soil excavated from the deep tunnels that resemble little volcanoes.

Management

Pest identification is a fundamental step in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan. IPM is a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to controlling pests. IPM is smart because it addresses the root causes of pest problems. It is sensible because it provides a healthier environment, and it is a sustainable approach that provides effective, long-term pest control. Specific knowledge about your pest will give you key clues for their management.

Preventing pest problems through foresight, is the first rule of IPM. Taking preventive steps to preclude a pest problem is preferable to waiting for pests to arrive, then having to eradicate them. To deter these landscape pests, be prepared to alter their environment.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Excavation Experts to learn how to prevent and control moles and voles. In the meantime visit the University of Nebraska website for more information on moles and voles.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.