pest management

Avoid Painful, Often Dangerous, Encounters with Yellow Jackets

By Marcia Anderson

Last week, a friend’s daughter was repeatedly stung by a yellow jacket during recess on her school playground. It was first thought that the children must have disturbed a nest while playing and that the wasp focused on one girl in particular. The playground monitor tried swatting it, but it kept coming back. She was stung three times. We later found that she was wearing a sweet smelling body lotion that may have drawn the attention of the wasp.

Avoidance: The best way to prevent unpleasant encounters with social wasps, such as yellow jackets, is to avoid them. If there is a chronic problem with yellow jackets around playgrounds, picnic areas, or athletic fields, inspect the area to locate the nests. Once you know where they are, have children avoid their nesting places. Avoid swatting and squashing yellow jackets because it is counterproductive. When a yellow jacket is squashed, a chemical (pheromone) is released that attracts and incites nearby yellow jackets. Avoid wearing bright colors, especially yellow, or floral patterns that may attract some foraging yellow jackets. Lastly, minimize the use of products with perfumes such as sweet smelling shampoos, lotions or soaps, as yellow jackets are attracted to sweet smells.

Yellow jackets become more aggressive in the fall.

Yellow jackets become more aggressive in the fall.

Stings and Symptoms: Yellow jacket stings pose a more serious threat to people than stings of bees. Because a yellow jacket’s stinger is not barbed like a honey bee stinger, it can repeatedly sting its victim, whereas a bee can only sting once. It can be very frightening to be the victim of multiple yellow jacket stings. The first impulse may be to run away, however the best strategy is to back slowly away from the colony until they stop attacking. Some people are more sensitive than others to stings due to allergic reactions. People who experience large numbers of stings at once, may suffer severe reactions to the inflammatory substances in the insect’s venom.

Yellow jackets that are foraging for food will usually not sting unless physically threatened, such as being struck or swatted. Multiple stings from yellow jackets are common because they are sensitive to disturbance and aggressive in defense of their nests. Sometimes merely coming near a nest, especially if it has been disturbed previously, can provoke an attack. Since problems with yellow jackets are most common in the fall, parents, teachers and school staff should be provided with this information soon after school opens.

Reduce Their Food Sources: In early fall, a yellow jacket’s food preference turns to sweets such as sugary drinks, ice cream, and fruit. Their behavior also turns more aggressive and they are more willing to sting. Since garbage is a prime foraging and hunting site for yellow jackets, garbage containers should have tight fitting lids and be regularly cleaned of food waste. Otherwise, the garbage (and the flies around it) becomes a food source for yellow jackets.

Repair windows screens and caulk holes in siding to prevent yellow jackets and other flying insects from entering the building. Playground and building inspections for pests should be conducted monthly to ensure that developing nests are found and removed before they become problematic.

Read more from the University of Florida on yellow jacket and wasp control.  Also check out EPA’s resources on smart, sensible and sustainable pest management in schools.

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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Improving Rodent Control Using Biomonitoring Baits in NYC

DeadRat

A dead rat being cleared from a ceiling.

By Marcia Anderson

In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift in programs aimed at controlling rodents, especially in urban areas. Through the use of non-toxic biomonitoring baits, New York City rodent control specialists are improving their pest management techniques to become more effective at tracking rodents.

Biomonitoring baits are essentially non-toxic food blocks for mice and rats with additives that allow for tracking. The baits contain human food-grade ingredients, making them highly attractive to rodents in both taste and texture.

There are two types of biomonitoring baits – one that incorporates a biofluorescent marker and a second that incorporates a dark pink dye. After they are digested, the marker additives are excreted in the rodent scat (feces). Under black light, even the faintest of scat with the bio fluorescent marker glows brilliantly. In contrast, the pinkish scat from the other bait product is easily detected in normal light.

Biomonitoring baits can assist in controlling rodent infestations, especially in sensitive locations such as in schools, childcare centers, and medical facilities. In these locations where pesticides are not desired or allowed, an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach is critical. IPM is a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to managing pests that focuses on pest prevention and incorporates a diversity of control tactics, including pesticides.

 

Mouse in insulation of a home

Mouse in insulation of a home

In areas where other mammals or birds of prey frequent and rely on rodents as part of their diet, these sensible tracking baits have no impact on non-target animals. They help pest management professionals determine the paths rodents travel between their nests and food sources. By tracking the brightly colored or glowing droppings, a pest management professional can also determine the species of rodent, size of the infestation, range, entry locations, harborages and approximate nest locations.

Biomonitoring baits can be deployed in outdoor bait stations to determine if rodents are living in or entering a building. If entering the building, these baits can the direct pest management professionals to the openings that need to be sealed. When used in indoor stations, the baits show the paths rodents are using as well as their nest site(s).

Both types of monitoring baits are currently being used in New York City. Strategically placed, they can even detect on which floors rodents are harboring. They are a smart addition to any IPM program.

In addition to rodents, the fluorescent biomarker has also been used to detect cockroach movement, their locations of entry, and even their harborages. Are they entering from the basement, sewers, neighboring structures, pipes, or wall voids? The cockroach frass (feces), although much smaller than rodent scat, is still detectable with black light, and glows just as brilliantly, uncovering their travel and harborage secrets.

 

Biomonitoring effectively addresses the pest monitoring step in a successful IPM program. It allows for a focus on the underlying issues that make areas attractive to pests. The baits can also assist community sanitarians in controlling the NYC rodent population while protecting Fordham University’s hawks at the same time. Read a related 2012 blog that highlights the Disappearing Pigeons and Rats from a Bronx High School.

Technical information on rodent biomonitoring was provided to the author by Dr. Bobby Corrigan, RMC Pest Management Consulting. For practical implementation of biomarkers in NYC go to: www.pctonline.com/boimonitoring-rodents-Corrigan.aspx.

 

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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Apples for the Big Apple:  Northeast Growers Manage Pests to Produce Quality Apples

By Marcia Anderson

Apples are susceptible to fungal spores that can blemish the fruit and cause economic harm to the growers.

Apples are susceptible to fungal spores that can blemish the fruit and cause economic harm to the growers.

Apple growers battle pest problems on a continual basis. To pests, such as moths, mites, and fungi, an apple orchard is a place to eat or a place to reproduce. Because the ecology in every orchard is different, pest conditions and circumstances are different for every grower, so controlling pests using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) makes sense.

IPM has become more and more engrained in apple pest management in the northeast over the past 30 years because most northeastern growers live right on their farms. It is in their best interests to keep the land and water as clean as possible. Apple growers have found the most effective way to control their pests is by using scientifically-based IPM practices that have positive long-term effects on their orchards.

Growers monitor their orchards weekly from the beginning of spring through the entire growing season to determine pest pressures. The growers and crop consultants become intimate with their location, learn about past disease and pest pressures, and learn the ecology of their orchards. Admittedly, they learn something new every year.

There is also an economic impact when farmers use IPM. They stand to reduce their two highest bills – chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) and fuel – when they follow the five components of IPM. These components are: 1) prevent pests; 2) identify the specific pests present; 3) set economic thresholds for each pest as a decision making tool; 4) monitor for pests and their damage, and; 5) use a combination of management tools.

Maintenance and sanitation are key parts of preventing pests in apple orchards. Every year, growers follow a rigorous routine in the fall by cleaning the orchard floor, cutting suckers off tree trunks and clearing weeds from under the trees. Fallen leaves, grass clippings, and winter prunings are mulched and returned to the soil. By chopping the leaves into small bits, they will decompose more quickly and neither the pests nor diseases will have anywhere to live over winter. This reduces the pest populations that will be in the orchard in the next spring. The only thing that is removed are the apples.

Just by being particular about maintaining this degree of sanitation, growers have been very successful in reducing the presence of apple scab, one of the most persistent pest problems in orchards. Apple scab comes from a fungal spore that overwinters on the ground. It normally requires a fungicide (anti-fungal pesticide) to be sprayed in order to arrest its development. Those spores go on the fruit and make leathery-brown scabs that blemish the fruit. Blemished fruit is considered to be of lower quality, so its value is reduced leading to an economic loss to the grower.

Apple scab also damages the tree because it creates lesions on the leaves that spread and interfere with photosynthesis. A bad scab infection can shut down a whole tree and spread quickly throughout the orchard. So orchard sanitation is a very important part of scab control.

Other pest prevention methods include planting pest-resistant varieties and nutrient replenishing. Just like people, apple trees need specific nutrients to keep them healthy to produce quality fruit. When hundreds of bushels of apples per acre are removed annually, it means a lot of nutrients are removed from the orchard soil. Monitoring soil nutrient levels and adding nutrients, as needed to maintain tree health, is an essential component of IPM.

Apple trees need a wide range of macro nutrients (those needed in large quantity to provide energy) including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Nutrients are added either directly to the soil or by spraying on the tree leaves. Many soils in the northeast have high phosphorous levels and adequate nitrogen levels. If nitrogen is needed, it is most often applied through foliar application. Potassium is the macro nutrient (those vitamins and minerals needed in small amounts for proper plant health) that needs to be replaced on a regular basis. By running soil tests and recording the number of bushels of apples that were removed, growers can calculate how much potassium must be added back to the soil. Micronutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, boron and manganese, also need to be replenished. These are all added through foliar applications.

You can see northeastern growers discuss using IPM to prevent pests in a series of three videos by the New England Apple Association.

So why should we care about pest prevention and the appropriate use of pesticides on our apples? One reason is that apples are very prevalent in the diets of our children. They’re used to make juice and sauce, as well as eaten raw. They’re good for us! Utilizing the scientifically-based best practices of IPM, northeastern apple growers are able to provide us with high quality apples at reasonable prices.

 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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Pollinator Week Had My Mind Abuzz

By Isabella Bennett

Last month’s pollinator protection week (June 16-22) got my mind buzzing, thinking about popular attitudes toward bees and other pollinators. Sadly, too many people fear, rather than appreciate, our busy little friends. Let me give you an example.

One spring afternoon, my friends and I were sitting outside our campus coffee shop talking about the latest bio exam when a big ol’ bee came buzzing around. When the bee flew just a bit too close to my friend’s nose, she leapt from her chair, grabbed her purse, and began frantically swatting and shrieking.  Needless to say, everyone nearby enjoyed the show. I couldn’t stop giggling as I led her back to her seat, allowing the bee to continue on her way. That day, I witnessed one pollinator in particular need of some protection!

My friend and many others fail to realize that many pollinators are pivotal to our environment and our national economy, and they need our protection.

Each year, pollinator week marks a time when we all should spread awareness and educate friends, family, and ourselves about the importance of pollinators – bees, butterflies, beetles, birds, bats, and others.  For example, they currently pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. Moreover, they’re accountable for 75% of all flowering plants! Recently, there have been declines in pollinator health because of habitat loss, disease, and pesticides. That’s why now is the time to bring as much awareness to the issue as possible.

There are steps you can take right now to help our pollinators. One of their main challenges is habitat loss; by planting native flowering plants, shrubs, and trees in our backyards, gardens and schools, you can create perfect rest stops and pollen refueling stations.  Another step you can take is reducing pesticide use, especially trying integrated pest management. If you do need to use a pesticide, pay particular attention to label directions; they explain how to safely use it and ultimately protect our pollinators and our environment.

Take a moment sometime this week to appreciate what pollinators do for you and consider what you could be doing for them.  I know I will.

About the author: Isabella Bennett is Environmental Business major at Texas A&M University.  She works as a summer intern in the Communications Services Branch in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. 

 

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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Attic Squirrels

By Amy Miller

Honey, come quick, I called.
What, what is it?
Just come listen.

We listened. We waited. They scratched. And scratched. We looked at each other. And we knew. These were no mice, these were squirrels. Or raccoons. Or some animal that would laugh at a mousetrap.

By the next day the scratching had stopped.

Our neighbor was not so lucky. For months she tried traps and barriers to get rid of her squirrels. She paid experts. And in the end she had to chainsaw nine-tenths of the branches off her giant pine trees to eliminate the bridges the squirrels were using to her rooftop.

My friend’s mother also wasn’t so lucky. All the boxes stored in her attic fell apart because squirrels apparently munched on the glue holding the boxes together.

According to one web site, about 15,000 home fires each year are caused by squirrels and other rodents chewing on wiring. (Yes, a squirrel is a rodent).

While it’s not so hard to find a squirrel or its nest on a roof, once they are inside the house they will win the game of hide-and-seek hands down.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is one of the most common pests. At 16 to 18 inches and weighing about a pound, they get in through small holes that they gnaw wider. They bring nesting material with them and make noise scurrying around storing their nuts, seeds, fungi or fruit. They may fall down the chimney or down a wall from the attic and get stuck.

A survey of web sites makes it clear that solving this problem is no picnic. You can try trapping them, locking them out, or quickly sealing up holes if you know they are out to get lunch and water.
I heard one story of a mother squirrel and her babies that camped out in an attic, but when the babies grew up they all left on their own, taking up residence in a new nest in a nearby tree.

Be warned, if someone recommends using mothballs, forget it; it’s illegal. The EPA allows moth balls for moths and caterpillers only. This is because moth balls are toxic to humans and pets.

EPA tells landlords that if squirrels are in a house, the tenants should be told of integrated pest management techniques, and advised to fix screens, remove clutter and eliminate wood piles. In addition, holes should be patched with pest-resistant materials and mesh should be used to cover air intake and exhaust vents.

I wonder what tricks others have used to get rid of their squirrels.

Click for more information

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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