New York State IPM Program

December 15, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Rats! the latest research comes with surprises

Rats! the latest research comes with surprises

Hidden in plain sight: rats own the night.

Consider the rat — the urban sort. Then consider our health, our food, and the damage rats do to our buildings. Yet despite the considerable impact they have, there’s not much science out there. Until recently, most of the research dates back to the mid-1900’s.

Now, though, rodent researchers worldwide are taking a closer look at rats — at their biology, ecology and evolution. Here are some takeaways:

Genomics shift as cities change.
Consider the evolution of life in large cities — and how understanding these changes can help us cope with rats. For instance, an eight-lane highway or even a really busy street are as dangerous for rats to cross as they are for us. Unlike us, however, rats have few opportunities to date (and hence to mate with) other rats from across, say, Broadway. (A side street poses less of a problem). As we learn what gene flow teaches us, we can see that the areas rats occupy — whether a single building or several city blocks — matters. A lot.

After all, ridding rats from a bagel shop or coffee bar doesn’t really help if rats can quickly re-infest the premises from establishments down the street.

Metro New York’s rats arrived in the 1700’s — then closed the doors.
The Big Apple’s rats are evolutionary kin of — believe it — rats from Great Britain and France. Sure, the colonies traded mainly with Britain and France during the 1700’s. But what’s surprising is the lack of evidence for rat introductions from any other part of the globe. This suggests that the rats that took up shop in what was then a small but fast-growing burg killed or repelled every rat that arrived at the Port of New York since then. Ecologists call this biotic resistance.

Plenty of food and soil for nests can lead to high rat populations.

Rat populations are patchy in urban areas.
Several studies showed that rats mainly occupy urban hot spots where food, water and shelter abound. Might rat genomics lead to habitat preferences? Do some prefer to live in high rises, others in parks and still others in warehouses or office buildings — all in the same cluster of blocks? Indeed, rat colonies nearby could differ genetically while those further away but in similar habitats show similarities.

Regardless — just short of a mile is what it takes to separate one colony from another. The occasional rat that crosses that boundary isn’t enough to keep them genetically related. Your Uptown Rat and your Downtown Rat — forget any romance there.

Reflecting above a water source: a pool of sewage in a building crawlspace.

Rodent-borne disease is patchy in urban areas.
Just as rat populations are patchy in urban environments, rodent-borne disease is also found in hot spots. Consider Bartonella. This group of bacterial pathogens has a number of health consequences for people, but the recent research shows that

  • some populations had high percentages of infected rats
  • rats from those sites were host to a greater diversity of pathogens and ectoparasites
  • human health risks are unknown and can be known only with more complete sampling

Rats are sneaky and diabolically clever, making them hard to study. Rats on the day shift are often weaker members of the colony.

In urban areas, rats are really hard to study.
As people who have conducted rodent research, we can tell you that rats are hard to study. They’re secretive, they nest underground, they’re nocturnal, accessing them is difficult — and they’re likely to croak before we can study them. Radio telemetry and Global Positioning System (GPS) rarely work because of interference from buildings and hard surfaces.

Urban rodents have plagued cities around the world throughout recorded history. But with the tools of modern science we can glimpse their complex and secretive lives, exposing some of their mysteries. With more questions than answers, the field of urban rodentology is an open book.

Recent Rodent Research Articles (November 2017)
Angley, LP, MC Combs, C Firth, MJ Frye, I Lipkin, JL Richardson, & J Munshi-South. Spatial variation in the parasite communities and genomic structure of urban rat vectors in New York City. Zoonoses and Public Health DOI10.1111/zph.12418

Byers, KA, MJ Lee, CM Donovan, DM Patrick, & CG Himsworth. 2017. A Novel Method for Affixing Global Positioning System (GPS) Tags to Urban Norway Rats(Rattus norvegicus): Feasibility, Health Impacts and Potential for Tracking Movement. Journal of Urban Econology 3(1): jux010

Combs, M, EE Puckett, J Richardson, D Mims, & J Munshi-South. 2017. Spatial Population Genomics of the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) in New York City. Molecular Ecology

MTJ Johnson & J Munshi-South. 2017. Evolution of Life in Urban Environments. Science 358(6363): eaam8327

Peterson, AC, BM Ghersi, F Alda, C Firth, MJ Frye, Y Bai, LM Osikowicz, C Riegel, WI Lipkin, MY Kosoy, & MJ Blum. Rodent-borne Bartonella infection varies according to host species within and among cities. EcoHealth. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-017-1291-4

December 8, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Wasps in winter? the IPM do-nothing approach

Wasps in winter? the IPM do-nothing approach

You might live in a row house, an apartment house, a single-family dwelling. You might have a carport or outbuildings. You might be buttoning up a concession stand for the winter and moving the picnic benches under cover for the winter.

And then … you see it. Feel it. A wasp or hornet nest, up in the corner of a window jamb or down under a bench. It might even be in a porch light fixture or a parking meter. It might feel like dried mud. Vaguely resemble a chunk of honeycomb, minus the honey. Look like a football (more or less), built of layer upon layer of flaky gray papery stuff.

At least that gray papery stuff didn’t effect reading the meter. Photo Way Out In The Margi

You don’t see any wasps flying in or out. But just to be sure, you get the wasp spray and douse that nest but good. And hope you killed them all, because the last thing you want is wasps knocking at the door this year or next.

But… nobody’s home. It’s not summer anymore. The old queen has died. A newly fertilized queen, replete with eggs, is doing the insect equivalent of hibernation and taken refuge beneath a piece of bark somewhere.

And the rest of the hive? Each member has died a solitary death. Not one is holed up in the nest, waiting to help the new queen clean house, make necessary repairs, and set up shop come spring. Even knowing this, maybe you’re inspired to knock down the hive and stomp on it, just to be sure. Besides, you don’t want wasps nesting under the picnic benches ever again.

Knocking the nest down is all well and good, but it’s rare that a queen would repopulate it anyway. She wants a fresh start. If come spring you see the occasional wasp hanging out on an old hive, know that it’s gathering material for new digs somewhere else. If you’re a paper wasp, for instance, it’s easier to chew that old nest into a mushy pulp for brand new paper than to strip wood from a twig and start from scratch.

A summer home made of mud, off to a good start. Photo Harper College.

Yes, it’s lucky no one handled that nest under the picnic bench or fire-escape railing or any of a hundred other places that nest might have been.

But should you see some wasps next spring and suddenly this story comes to mind, take a look around you. See any signs of tiny new nests taking shape? Are they high under an eave and far from anyplace you could get to with ease? Or is one right next to the entryway to your home? We’ll have a brand-new post for you with brand-new info on wasps, their nests, and what to do about them.

Can’t wait? Go here.

December 2, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

First things first, should you have heard the sudden flurry of news about thousands of bugs infesting your Christmas tree. Not true, not true at all. Stories like this are way overblown.

Here in New York, Christmas tree growers use solid IPM practices to deal with pests — and “most insects aren’t hanging around this time of year anyway,” says Elizabeth Lamb, a Christmas tree expert with NYS IPM. Know also that most Christmas tree farms — whether cut-your-own or wholesale — have shakers, special machines that shake bugs to the ground before the trees are sold.

Whether it’s a cut your own or wholesale Christmas tree farm, growers focus on providing happy, healthy trees.

But now back to our story. Already some of us have begun the quest for the just-right Christmas tree. Are you one? Before you go tree-shopping, keep these seven simple steps in mind:

  1. Measure your space before you shop so your tree will fit nicely in your home. And don’t put it next to a radiator or furnace vent.
  2. Look for a tree with a solid green color — or for some kinds, blue-green. Do you see yellowing needles or slight brown speckles? Be forewarned — its needles might drop early.
  3. Choose a tree that fits your needs. Each kind offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness — important for holding ornaments.
  4. Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. The needles shouldn’t come off in your hands. The shoots should be flexible. If its shoots crack or snap with handling, this is not the tree for you.

    Do the needles stay on the tree? Are they flexible? Are they fragrant? All these point to a healthy tree.

  5. Christmas trees should smell good. Not much fragrance when you flex the needles? The tree might have been cut too long ago.
  6. Resist if you can the impulse to bring your tree inside right away. Keeping it  outside (on a deck, porch, or even a balcony) in the chill air, its base in a bucket of water, will keep it happy and healthy until you and yours just can’t wait any longer. If you have a small bowsaw, make a fresh cut on the bottom to help it take up water.
  7. Trees get thirsty. They can drink  as much as a gallon a day. Once your tree is inside, always keep the water in the tree stand topped off.

At NYS IPM, we put prevention first by promoting healthy plants. But in this case preventing disappointment — your disappointment — is what we’re about.

November 22, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

PUBLISHED ON November 11, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County

“Squirrels have been criticized for hiding nuts in various places for future use and then forgetting the places. Well, squirrels do not bother with minor details like that. They have other things on their mind, such as hiding more nuts where they can’t find them.”

Although those that feed birds think squirrels are there strictly to torment them, squirrels are quite useful in maintaining hardwood forests.

Unfortunately, that succulent passage was penned in 1949 by W. Cuppy in his book “How To Attract A Wombat.” I say unfortunately because I wanted to write it first, but was unable to get born in time. The tradeoff, which is that I got to be quite a bit younger than he, probably worked out for the best anyway.

Before learning stuff like “facts” about squirrels, it made me feel smug to think that their attention span was even worse than mine. Popular wisdom used to hold that the fluffy-tailed rodents spent half their lives burying nuts, only to forget about most of them a few minutes later. I figured that was why they generally seemed frantic, always thinking they hadn’t stored any food yet.

The great thing about the whole affair is that tons of butternuts, oaks, hickories and walnuts get planted each fall, mostly in flower boxes, but some in actual forests where they can grow to maturity. As a kid I would see untold numbers of squirrels in parks, on college campuses and around dumpsters, but few in the woods. The latter, I assumed, were lost, or in transit to a day-old bakery outlet.

So it came as a surprise to learn gray squirrels are native to temperate hardwood forests, at home in large unbroken tracts of woods. In fact, squirrels are critical to the survival of many nut-bearing trees. Walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts, which do not tend to waft on the breeze so well, and which soon dry out and degrade on the ground, need someone to cart them off and plant them in the ground.

Gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests. Photo credit: get down flickr

The irony is that while gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests, they are disappearing from the forests that depend on them for regeneration. The reason is that most woodlands today are patchwork. In a shocking failure of the free market, it seems no one is making large contiguous tracts of forested land any more, even though they’re increasingly rare.

It’s hard to criticize agriculture, especially if you eat on a regular basis, but clearing land to grow food has fragmented our woods. One problem with breaking up forest land is that animals may need more than just a piece of it at a time.

Gray squirrels have large, shared territories with no real borders. Although they are great at things like tree planting and eating the faces off Halloween pumpkins, they’re not so good at running across fields to the next patch of trees. Well the running works OK, but not the looking out for predators. Gray squirrels evolved in a world where hiding places grew on trees. As a result, predation was low. But since the time they have been forced to hike out in the open, hawks, coyotes and foxes have taken a bite out of wild squirrel populations.

Red squirrels, however, are moving into habitats once occupied by gray squirrels. It seems logical to think that an army of red, fluffy nut-planters would be just as good as propagating an oak-hickory forest as the gray, fluffy sort were. Not so. The reds, which evolved among conifers, are accustomed to stashing pine, spruce and fir cones in hollow trees or right out in the open. When they encountered acorns and nuts, they carried on with this tradition. In the open-air caches of the red squirrels, tree nuts desiccate and become non-viable. Nothing gets planted. Also, red squirrels have smaller, discrete territories they do not share, so they’re not as apt as the grays to gallivant over to a nearby block of trees, and thus they avoid those pesky carnivores. In this way they’re better adapted to a fragmented forest than the grays are.

Getting back to forgetfulness, science has polished up the reputation of gray squirrels by observing them. Evidently no one thought of doing this novel procedure until 1990. That’s when Lucia F. Jacobs and Emily R. Lyman of Princeton University’s Biology Department set up a series of nut-caching experiments with gray squirrels. And hopefully a few interns as well. Their impressive article was published in the Journal of Animal Behavior in 1991, and is readily available online in case anyone has an attention span longer than mine.

I should mention that gray squirrels are considered “scatter hoarders,” stashing nuts and acorns all over the place. They tend to dig them up and rebury them as many as five times prior to winter, possibly to confound greedy neighbors or pilfering jays. Each successive re-cache takes them farther and farther from the parent tree, which is good in terms of forest ecology.

Jacob and Lyons concluded that even after waiting 12 days, gray squirrels quickly located about 2/3 of the nuts they buried, but that they also exhumed a few that weren’t theirs. However, each squirrel managed to end with at least 90% of the original number provided by researchers. This shows that memory is the primary means of locating cached tree nuts. And that while they don’t plant as many trees as we once thought, they make up for it by planting each one many times.

The search continues for a squirrel-proof bird feeder. Photo credit: Ken flickr

Many thanks to Paul for letting us share his piece! For more information on what to do to prevent squirrels from planting trees in your flower boxes or, worse yet, nesting in your attic, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s What’s Bugging You – Wayward Wanderers webpage. When it comes to keeping them out of bird feeders, you are on your own.

Paul Hetzler is a forester and a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County

November 16, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Sandbox or Litterbox – You Decide

Sandbox or Litterbox – You Decide

Raccoons are pretty cute, but you really don’t want them pooping on the property. Photo: Nell McIntosh

We don’t have to go to wild places to find wildlife. A surprisingly wide range of species can be found in our sities and towns, from familiar animals like the raccoon to more exotic ones like the mountain lion. – Roger Tory Peterson

When I was younger, raccoons were my favorite animal. It was hard to resist their clever little hands and cute bandit masks. My stuffed raccoon was named Rickie. Even when I was old enough to learn about rabies, my love didn’t wane. But then, when taking a wildlife rehabilitation workshop, I learned about Baylisascaris procyonis (raccoon roundworm), an intestinal parasite passed in raccoon poo.

The speakers at that workshop recommended using a blowtorch to kill the eggs of this intestinal parasite which, terrifyingly, can enter our eyes and nervous systems. The cuddly raccoon lost its place in my heart.

My love-hate relationship with raccoons came to mind when I saw the CDC has released a fact sheet on raccoon latrines and Baylisascaris procyonis. I do work quite a bit with school and child care facilities with their obligatory playgrounds. The CDC notes that “young children or developmentally disabled persons are at highest risk for infection, as they may be more likely to put contaminated fingers, soil, or objects into their mouths.” But they fail to point out that sandboxes can serve as a raccoon latrine. (It’s listed as a possibility here.) Of course, cats, which carry their own suite of parasites, are more likely to use sandboxes as their own personal litter box. It’s good IPM to prevent all types of animals from accessing your sandboxes.

The idea is good, but the implementation is lacking. Without securing the tarp, animals can easily slip under it. Photo: Joellen Lampman

No need to rid your property of sandboxes — indeed, there are sensory and group play opportunities with sandboxes (just Google “sand play activities”). But you must prevent animals from gaining access. Here’s how:

  • Keep sanitation a priority to avoid attracting wildlife – ensure that trash is cleaned up and put in a sealed container at the end of each day. (This will also help with other pests such as rats and yellow jackets.)
  • Have a “no food in the sandbox” rule – there is no need to provide an enticement for local animals to check out the box.
  • Have a solid box bottom — not only will this help prevent sand loss, but it keeps critters from burrowing in from underneath.
  • Have a durable cover on your box and make sure it is only uncovered during playtime.
  • Pest proof your buildings (including outbuildings) to reduce den sites. Raccoons will gladly set up facilities in your attic or garden shed.

    Sandbox with cover rolled back. Photo: Gil Garcia

    Tarp ties on the sandbox hold the tarp securely in place. Photo: Gil Garcia

If you find a latrine, check out the CDC fact sheet that includes information on cleaning it up while protecting your health. (Spoiler alert: they also recommend using a propane torch, since chemicals will not kill the eggs.)

Just a note that raccoon latrines can be found in other areas, including (yikes!) inside buildings. Be sure to pest proof your buildings to prevent raccoons (and squirrels and bats and birds) from making your building their new den. To keep wildlife out of your buildings and discourage them from your grounds, visit the NYS IPM Program web page: What’s Bugging You: Wayward Wanderers.

October 18, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Stink Bugs and Window Weeps

Stink Bugs and Window Weeps

This stink bug would appreciate a free pass into your home (or for that matter, your office). Learn how to keep it out.

After a few splendid years of low stink bug populations, we find ourselves in the midst of an epic invasion. In the past few weeks, I have captured dozens of brown marmorated stink bugs (aka BMSB), which fly from surrounding trees and perform a smack-landing onto my screen windows.

I do my best to capture the BMSB I see with a cup of soapy water. Simply place the cup under the bug and put your other hand over the bug. As a defensive mechanism, stink bugs will drop into the cup, requiring no physical contact on your part. Just toss them out the door or off your balcony. Or you could wrap it in a tissue and squish it; the tissue will keep stinky oils off your hands and out of the air. (As your final coup, you could drop the tissue in your compost bucket.) Both methods save a five-gallon flush down the toilet — really, you don’t ever have to flush stink bugs.

For the stink bugs I don’t catch, I try to keep them out of my house by making sure that my windows screens aren’t torn, there are no gaps around my windows and doors (they fit snugly into the frame), vents are screened or louvered, and window air conditioning units are removed before autumn — all key preventive tactics and core to good IPM. But I recently observed a new entry point on windows that I hadn’t considered before: the window weep hole.

Holes in screens are an invitation to stink bugs and other pests.

This window weep is missing its cover.

Weep holes are design features that allow water to escape from a structure, whether it’s a window, sliding door or a brick building. Weep holes must remain open for water to drain even as they exclude pests. For example, weep holes in brick can be covered with specifically designed screen materials or filled with pest exclusion products such as Xcluder Fill Fabric*. Newer windows have weep hole covers that function like one-way-doors: they open to drain water but are otherwise closed. Sometimes — as in the case of my windows — these break off, leaving an excellent entry point for pests such as BMSB. Once bugs enter the weep hole, they can climb up through gaps into the window track and into the space between the screen and the windowpane. When you open the window, well — you just gave them a free pass into your home.

Weep hole covers are available for purchase at a number of outlets, but you must buy the right cover to fit the dimensions of your window. Because of the variability in window weep hole sizes, pest professionals and maintenance personal who manage offices and apartment buildings might choose to use Xcluder Fill Fabric that can be cut to the proper size, providing both pest exclusion and water drainage.

*NOTE: Trade names used herein or products shown are for convenience only. No endorsement of products in intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied.

Resources:

October 10, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

These days if you live near anything green — a suburban development, however humble or high-class; a neighborhood park where shrubs and meadow flowers grow — best you’d read up on ticks, be they black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks) or lone-star ticks (so named for the silvery white dot on the female’s back). While you’re at it, read up on Lyme disease and its suite of co-infections, some nastier even than Lyme.

And know this: no magic spray or treatment will eliminate ticks.

Researchers are investigating area-wide tick management options (The Tick Project) and working to understand how habitat management (The Tick Management Handbook; Japanese Barberry Control Methods) and host management (mice, deer) affect tick populations. But it’s up to you to protect yourself — knowing that prevention is the best cure.

  1. Wear tick-killing clothing. Buy over-the-counter permethrin spray and spray it on your clothing and gear. Used according to the label, permethrin binds to the material and can kill ticks, mosquitoes and other pests following a lethal exposure. Do-it-yourself treatments can remain effective for up to seven washes. Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments. These can be protected for up to 70 washes.

    Follow label instructions for do-it-yourself clothing treatments.

  2. Use repellants. DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 all repel ticks. The percentage of active ingredient on the label indicates how long that product will be active in the field. For more on choosing the right repellant see our previous post, “Understanding over-the-counter sprays for mosquitoes and ticks” (June 2, 2015) and this guide from Consumers Reports.
  3. Ticks wait for a passing host on vegetation or in leaf litter. Staying on trails can reduce your exposure to ticks.

    Recognize and avoid tick habitat.Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out. The blacklegged tick (transmits Lyme disease) is found at adult knee-height and below in wooded or brushy areas. When hiking, stay on the trail and away from these areas. If you’ll be in tick habitat, take precautions by wearing long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. These steps make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin. If you’ve treated your clothing with permethrin, this can also increase the exposure of the ticks to the acaracide — the tick-killing substance.

  4. Steer clear of hitchhikers. 

    Isolate exposed items in large, zippered plastic bags to avoid bringing ticks indoors.

    Ticks can be carried on clothing or gear that you used outdoors — gear that you haven’t used permethrin or a repellent on. True, ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still — you’re safest if you change your clothes and place exposed items in a large, zippered plastic bag in an entryway. Put them in a clothes dryer and run on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters. [Note: don’t wash clothes first. Even the hottest cycle might not kill ticks, and it increases the drying time needed.]

  5. Check for ticks. Taking all these steps doesn’t mean you will avoid ticks 100% of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the marks on your skin and recognize new ones. New marks that, if you touch them, just happen to have legs.
  6. Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see our post “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.
  7. Protect your pets.

    Grooming after outdoor activity with a fine-toothed brush can remove ticks in pet fur.

    Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. If your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. TickEncounter describes some of the options available for your pets, including oral and spot-on medications as well as collars. Speak to your veterinarian about the best option for protecting your pet against tick bites. Regular grooming with a fine-tooth comb after being outdoors can help to remove ticks that have not attached to your pet’s skin.

Additional Resources:
What’s Bugging You? tick page
Other tick-related posts

July 27, 2017
by Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann
Comments Off on Ants in your house? Throw them a party!

Ants in your house? Throw them a party!

Not fond of ants in the kitchen? You are not alone. And even after you’ve cleaned them up, washed the countertop, swept away the crumbs and taken out the garbage — they just keep coming, looking for more.

It’s this time of year when ants invade homes looking for food, water and shelter. Where are they coming from — and how are they getting there?

At 1/16 to 1/8 inch long, this is one tiny ant. Photo credit Joseph Berger.

A number of ant species seem to specialize in homes. Among the most tenacious: the odorous house ant, Tapinoma sessile. You can tell it by its smell.  Just crush it in your fingers and give it a sniff.

What’s that smell? Some say it’s the smell of rotting coconut, but how many of us know the pleasure of a rotting coconut? Just call it pungent.

Odorous house ants are well adapted to the urban environment. In fact, being around man-made structures allows them to become the dominant ant species with enormous interconnected colonies. They invade homes and apartments through the smallest cracks and gaps, foraging for sweets. So keeping them out may be near impossible.

Pesticides and insecticidal ant baits are the most common forms of ant control. In IPM we almost never recommend spraying over other sound tactics. In the case of odorous house ants, spraying the foundation and soil around a structure can help. But it can also kill non-target insects.

Plus — it rarely kills the queen (an urban supercolony may have scores; even hundreds) and the colony might well live on.

Baiting for odorous house ants with sweet gel baits is an effective way to reduce the whole colony. Adult ants carried them back to the nest and fed to the larvae and queens — the beating heart of the colony.

You might choose to hire a professional who will identify the ant species (very important for baiting correctly) and place bait where ants are active. Or you might decide to use sweet boric acid bait from the hardware store. Either way there’s a critical step here.

…..  LET THE ANTS PARTY!  ….

Whatever the source — spilled food or bait station — ants do like to party. Invite yours with a sweet ant bait. Photo credit M. Potter, UKY.

If the odorous house ants accept the bait, more and more ants will show up for the feast. The more ants, the more bait they will transfer back to the larvae and queens. Let the party rage on! You could see dozens of ants, maybe hundreds.

Ignore them until at least the following day — and never spray an insecticide or cleanser on or near the bait. With professional-use baits, the disappearance of ants is quite dramatic. Boric acid baits will take a bit longer but are no less effective.

As always, before you use a pesticide, read the label and follow instructions. Once the party is over, clean up the remains with soap and water.

And remember, ants are like a sanitation department. They forage on what we leave behind, so keep those counters (and the sink, garbage can, compost bucket, microwave…) clean and free of food spills and crumbs. We best coexist with ants when we don’t invite them inside.

 

July 18, 2017
by Amara Dunn
Comments Off on New biocontrol specialist joins NYS IPM

New biocontrol specialist joins NYS IPM

Amara Dunn, biocontrol specialist with NYS IPM

Amara Dunn joined NYSIPM as a biocontrol specialist in early June.

Hello! My name is Amara Dunn, and I am excited to have joined the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYSIPM) program as the biocontrol specialist. Prior to starting this position, I studied vegetable diseases at Cornell University and taught in the Biology Department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I enjoy finding new ways to manage pests and helping others to manage them more effectively.

What is biocontrol?

Definitions of biological control (biocontrol, for short) vary, but biocontrol is often broadly defined as:

using natural enemies to reduce or maintain populations of pest organisms at sufficiently low levels.

Either the pest or its natural enemy might be a vertebrate (e.g., rodents), an invertebrate (e.g., insects, ticks, slugs), or a microorganism (e.g., fungi or bacteria). Aphids and ladybugs are an example you might be familiar with. Ladybug larvae eat the aphids that might otherwise damage plants.

But biocontrol isn’t limited to releasing beneficial insects like ladybugs. Some bacteria and fungi produce compounds that are toxic to pests, including insects, bacteria and fungi. Others can boost the health of plants and animals. Some nematodes (microscopic worms) invade and kill grubs that live in the soil.

Often natural enemies of a pest are already nearby (e.g., bats that eat insects or birds of prey that eat rodents). By improving their habitat, we can also improve pest control. Finally, many insects use their sense of smell to find mates. By using these scents — “pheromones” — to trap or confuse pest insects, the pest’s biology can be used for its own control.

If you’d like to learn more about biocontrol, a lot of information is available through a website created by Dr. Tony Shelton (Professor of Entomology, Cornell University): Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America.

Delphastus beetle eating whitefly

A small Delphastus beetle has caught and is eating a whitefly. Another whitefly nearby hopes to escape the same fate but may not be so lucky.

Why biocontrol?

Biocontrol can be an important part of an integrated pest management strategy. For example, biocontrol organisms that support plant health can make them less susceptible to the pests that damage them (prevention). If something needs to be applied to reduce pest populations (or keep them low), biocontrol products tend to be less harmful to other critters or people than chemical pesticides (choosing a pest management strategy with low environmental impact).

My goal is to help the people of New York – householders, people who work in schools and businesses, and farmers – understand when and how to use biocontrol as part of a successful integrated pest management strategy. If you have questions, you can email me at arc55@cornell.edu, or you can call my office at (315)787-2206. And soon I’ll launch a blog to provide additional information about biocontrol and its use in New York.

July 11, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week all over the U.S.

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week all over the U.S.

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week — now. Pay it heed. Invasive species, it turns out, are a huge deal in the US, in New York. Everywhere, in fact.

Coping with invasive insects, pathogens and the like have cost, in the US as a whole, upward of … OK, I’m hedging already. Is it $40 billion a year? $120 billion, maybe? The estimates vary widely.

What about global losses?  Ahhhhh. Nailing those, especially vital ecosystem-regulating services, is where “difficult” morphs into “impossible,” for now and perhaps forever. It’s tricky, measuring something when it’s gone.

So what about the price here in New York? Unknown, though not for lack of trying.

Example: My admittedly quick-and-dirty search uncovered a 2005 report which  noted that costs for  eradicating Asian Long-horned beetle from New York City and Long Island had ranged between $13 and $40 million.

Killer beetle has distinctive markings. See something? Say something. Photo credit Kyle Ramirez.

Likewise in of 2005, New York spent about a half million dollars to control sea lampreys in lakes Ontario and Erie — with no end in sight.

More recently, in 2016, I learned that oak wilt — first discovered In New York in 2008 — has cost $500 grand to control. Some midwestern states spend over $1 million a year to control it. Pretty pricey if you ask me.

What helped here? Partly it’s the luck of the draw — oak wilt arrived decades ago, making inroads throughout the Midwest slowly but relentlessly. It can take time to recognize the true nature of  a pathogen — or most any invasive pest. Then it’s a catch-up game to stay on top of it. If you can.

On the loose all over the Midwest — and now here. Photo courtesy Iowa State Plant Disease Clinic.

New York saw what had happened elsewhere and has aggressively surveyed (good IPM!) and eradicated infestations quickly while still small. But that $500 grand price tag? Yow.

Still, the economic costs of losing every (yes, every) oak would far greater.

Yet to come — what to if you find Asian long-horned beetle, oak wilt, and the like.

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