New York State IPM Program

March 16, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests and pesticides—both can pose problems to our health, our environment, and our economy. At the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM), we help New Yorkers address those problems safely and thoughtfully. How? Through innovative biological, cultural, technological, and educational practices. IPM, in a word.

Community IPM takes place in settings as varied as school buildings and grounds; residential and office buildings; gardens, parks and landscapes; and golf courses and right-of-ways. Now we invite grant proposals from qualified New Yorkers who want to develop, evaluate, or demonstrate feasible IPM methods. Budgets must not exceed $8,500. Our deadline: April 6, 2018. Funds must be spent by February 28, 2019.

The German cockroach needs no introduction. If it can get on your fork, it can get in your food. Credit Clemson University, USDA.

All projects must accomplish one or more of the following:

  • develop, advance, test or refine new IPM strategies;
  • demonstrate a link between IPM practices and reduced risk to human health or pesticide residues;
  • measure the positive change or potential impact of IPM practices or adoption, or survey current IPM knowledge;
  • develop Community IPM resources, such as brochures, websites, fact sheets, manuals, and apps for smartphones and tablets;
  • develop IPM educational programs, such as workshops or curriculum;
  • educate others about IPM through outreach and demonstrations.

Audiences could include school administrators, teachers and students; landscape and structural pest management professionals; vector control specialists; municipal employees; nuisance wildlife control operators; golf course personnel; arborists; right-of-way managers; day care operators—just about anyone, in fact. We encourage projects that reach new audiences or develop new partnerships.

Two years. Yup. Ticks know how to make good use of their time.

Our Community IPM priorities include: develop or demonstrate solid strategies for dealing with rodents or cockroaches; develop, confirm or promote methods to lessen the impact of ticks; research, demonstrate or create outreach projects that promote pollinator health and conservation; and research and demonstrate alternatives to imidacloprid on lawns and athletic fields.

Yes, there are plenty more. But for 2018, these four are our greatest needs.

Got Questions? We encourage you to discuss your ideas with NYS IPM community staff, including:

  • coordinator: Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, Long Island, 631-539-8680, jlg23@cornell.edu (Do you work outside Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension? Get in touch with Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann.)
  • educator: Lynn Braband, Rochester, 585-753-2562, lab45@cornell.edu
  • educator: Amara Dunn, Geneva, 315-787-2206, arc55@cornell.edu
  • educator: Matthew Frye, Westchester, 914-285-4633, mjf267@cornell.edu
  • educator: Joellen Lampman, Albany, 518-441-1303, jkz6@cornell.edu

NYS IPM Ornamentals IPM Staff

  • coordinator: Elizabeth Lamb, Ithaca, 607-254-8800, eml38@cornell.edu
  • educator: Brian Eshenaur, Rochester, 585-753-2561, bce1@cornell.edu

And consider: the most common critiques of past proposals have been that the budget lacked in clarity, explanation or justification—and those seeking grants didn’t discuss projects ahead of time with IPM staff.

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

February 14, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Rat czar Robert (Bobby) Corrigan earns IPM award

Rat czar Robert (Bobby) Corrigan earns IPM award

For Robert Corrigan the moment was pivotal. Enchanted from childhood by the story of iconic oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Corrigan enrolled at the State University of New York at Farmingdale with one dream: to be the next Cousteau. That changed the day biology professor Austin Frishman was a substitute teacher. So riveting was that one class that Corrigan immediately switched majors to Frishman’s specialty — pest management.

Pest management on a par with oceanography? Metaphorically, yes — for pests inhabit unseen worlds of their own. Corrigan had stumbled into a vocation that’s earned him accolades wherever pests and people collide.

Grates aren’t so great at keeping rats out if a hole has rusted through.

Now for his unparalleled integrity and expertise, Corrigan has earned an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM) at Cornell University.

NYS IPM’s Matt Frye says Corrigan was pivotal to his own life. “Bobby inspired me to pursue pest management as a passion, not just a livelihood,” Frye says. “I’m not alone. If you’re in roomful of pest management pros when Bobby speaks, and you see light bulbs blinking on all over the place, you get a feel for the impact he has had — not just in New York, but around the world.”

Corrigan is best known for his work with rats, and it’s no wonder. “Bobby’s Rodent Academy is a golden experience, an epiphany of information,” says Gil Bloom, Director of Public Affairs at the New York Pest Management Association. “That he gives out his email to his students is a risky gambit few would take. But this is the man.”

On the surface, Corrigan’s approach is simplicity itself. Keep parks, building foundations, alleyways and streets (not to mention kitchens) clear of all dropped or discarded food scraps, and you’ll put a serious dent in how many rat complaints you get. Daunting, perhaps, but doable.

In his work with the New York City Department of Health, Corrigan took the time to really listen to people, says Caroline Bragdon, director of Neighborhood Interventions. “His greatest achievement was integrating the people management part. He was so graceful in sewing together the layers of our bureaucracy to create a working, science-based program.”

Now Corrigan, a founding member of the Scientific Coalition On Pest Exclusion (SCOPE 2020), brings decades of field experience and data to the cause. “Bobby’s breadth and depth of knowledge are key to crafting promising new ways to prevent pests from taking refuge in buildings and public places,” says Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, chair of SCOPE and coordinator of Community IPM with the NYS IPM Program. “Once these methods are in place, we can say goodbye to chronic pest infestations.”

“Bobby is young to be a legend, but it’s true,” says Jennifer Grant, director of the NYS IPM Program. “From rats to roaches, he’s an expert at preventing, excluding and removing urban pests. He knows the community is key to success, so he involves everyone along the way—always the consummate teacher.”

Corrigan received his award at the Food Processing Sanitation and Pest Management Workshop on February 7 in Rochester, New York.

 

August 24, 2016
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Fighting Waterbugs — with Water

Fighting Waterbugs — with Water

Plumbing issues lead to pest problems — there’s little doubt about that. Leaks offer standing water to rodents, and clogged, scummy drains are breeding sites for flies. How curious that one of the most common plumbing-related pest problems I see is drains and pipes without water.

Unused, uncapped drains are an open door for cockroaches and more.

Unused, uncapped drains are an open door for cockroaches and more.

Case Study
At a multi-story office building, workers reported the presence of waterbugs, aka American cockroaches, on unconnected floors. Sanitation at the site was great, and no obvious leak created harborage for cockroaches: both excellent IPM practices. But a thorough inspection uncovered an unused bathroom on one floor where the water had been shut off during renovation. Not only could we smell sewer gasses — this bathroom contained several dead American cockroaches, suggesting this was the source for that floor. On another floor a drainpipe in a mop closet was open, and we could see cockroach frass.

A drain trap — and never mind the large gap at the wall. Exclusion is an entirely different topic.

A drain trap — and never mind the large gap at the wall. Exclusion is a whole different matter.

Plumbing Traps 101
If you’ve ever looked under a  sink, you’re familiar with a plumbing trap: that U-shaped pipe that changes the flow of water from vertical to horizontal. Its job: to create a water seal that prevents odors and harmful sewer gasses from escaping into the living or work space. Each time the drain is used, fresh water replaces standing water in the trap to maintain a permanent seal.

Uncapped and unused.

Uncapped, unused — except as a highway for pests.

As side benefit, this design deters pests from using pipes to move within or between buildings. Sure, cockroaches and rodents (especially rats) can overcome plumbing traps by crawling through a small amount of water (see National Geographic video on rats in toilets). But when drains are regularly used, they’re unlikely to harbor pests.

Drain Fails
Problems with trap seals occur when drains are infrequently used and water evaporates over time, or if drains are clogged with debris. Floor drains are susceptible to drying out if

  • no one wet-mops the floors
  • they’re in production areas with lots of small spilled items or
  • they’re near a deep fryer
Water cannot penetrate drain grates clogged with dirt and debris. This drain should be cleaned (drain brush or shop vacuum) and flushed with water.

Water can’t penetrate clogged drains. Clean (drain brush or shop vacuum) and flush with water.

Inspection Tips and Solutions
Another core IPM practice: owners or facilities maintenance personnel need to check drains often to verify that water is present in the trap. Check them each time floors are cleaned. For traps that have dried out the solution is easy – pour water down the drain until the trap is full. While you’re at it, make sure that drains are clear of debris. If the pipe is cut and no longer used, cap the end for a permanent seal.

August 16, 2016
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Ultrasonic Devices? Ultra-Ineffective

Ultrasonic Devices? Ultra-Ineffective

Sometimes I get questions about using ultrasonic devices for coping with pests. “Mrs. Jones uses them and she never sees a mouse!” is often how it goes. I understand the appeal: plug in this thing and my problem is solved. Sure! They also have great marketing campaign: this device will emit a sound you can’t hear that scares or annoys pests — forcing them to leave.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Cute, but ... wrong place, wrong time.

Cute, but … wrong place, wrong time.

History Lesson
The concept of using sound or vibration to deter pests was invented long before electricity. Ancient civilizations might well have used wind and water-powered devices to create vibration, movement or sound to ward off pests. And the concept of ultrasound as deterrent? Well, that might be based on the observation that some insects such as moths and crickets avoid high frequencies that mimic bat predators; similarly, certain sounds could distress rodents.

The Science
This theoretical frameworks aside, there’s no proof that ultrasonic devices really deter pests. In fact, scientific evaluations of ultrasonic devices have found no effect on target pests: German cockroaches, bed bugs and rodents. (See Literature section below.) In some cases, the frequency and intensity manufacturers claim don’t match up with actual output. Not only that, but some devices exceed limits imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) for human tolerance of sound exposure.

Can this really repel all of the above? Think twice before you invest.

Can this really repel all of the above? Think twice before you invest.

What Does Work?
So why doesn’t Mrs. Jones have mice? Well, prevention is cardinal to good IPM, and perhaps her house is well constructed and sealed against outdoor pest invasions. Or perhaps she keeps a clean home with no spilled food or water. Again, prevention is numero uno in IPM.

If a pest did invade her home, her best chance at management would involve eliminating access to food, water and shelter, then reducing the pest population by trapping or baiting. Again, core IPM.

Next time you’re dealing with a pest problem, figure out why they’re there and address that issue. Consult our IPM pest fact sheets to guide your way. And put away those ineffective ultrasonic devices.

Selected Literature

  • Bomford, M, & PH O’Brien. 1990. Sonic Deterrents in Animal Damage Control: A Review of the Device Tests and Effectiveness. Wildlife Society Bulletin 18(4): 411-422.
  • Gold, RE, TN Decker, & AD Vance. 1990. Acoustical Characterization and Efficacy Evaluation of Ultrasonic Pest Control Devices Marketed for Control of German Cockroaches (Orthoptera: Blattellidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 77: 1507-1512.
  • Koehler, PG, RS Patterson, & JC Webb. 1986. Efficacy of Ultrasound for German Cockroach (Orthoptera: Blattellidae) and Oriental Rat Flea (Siphonoptera: Pulicidae) Control. Journal of Economic Entomology 79: 1027-1031.
  • Shumake, SA. 1997. Electronic Rodent Repellent Devices: A Review of Efficacy Test Protocols and Regulatory Actions. In (ed.) JR Mason: Repellents in Wildlife Management (August 8-10, 1995, Denver, CO). USDA, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO.
  • Yturralde, KM, & RW Hofstetter. 2012. Efficacy of Commercially Available Ultrasonic Pest Repellent Devices to Affect Behavior of Bed Bugs (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 105(6): 2107-2114.

 

October 1, 2015
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on If you’re not monitoring, you’re not performing IPM.

If you’re not monitoring, you’re not performing IPM.

Why? To start, let’s consider the distinction between an inspection and monitoring. An inspection is a view of pest activity at that moment in time. But what if pests are only active at night? Or on weekends when the building is quiet? Thus, monitoring is a record of pest activity in the times that you are not present.

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a decision making process that uses information about pest populations to decide how to manage them. Monitoring is a critical step in IPM programs that offers valuable insights:

1. Species Identification: insect monitors intercept pests, allowing a trained professional to identify them. In turn, identification provides information about preferred harborage, food and water sources.

2. Early Detection: monitors can intercept pests that are present at low levels, and can help identify a problem before it gets out of hand.

3. Directionality: monitors can provide information about pest directionality: where are they coming from [harborage] and where they are going [food locations]. Monitors might also provide clues about non-obvious pathways, such as overhead areas (Figure 1).

DSCN1004

Fig. 1. This firebrat likely fell onto the monitor from above.

4. Age of Population: rodent bait stations can contain informative evidence (Figure 2). Are droppings all one size, or are they mixed sizes, suggesting the presence of different age groups? Are droppings black, meaning that they are visiting the station for the first time, or are some droppings the color of the bait, suggesting multiple feedings?

2011.2.23 (2)

Fig. 2. Mixed large and small droppings suggest adult and juvenile feeding; mostly black droppings suggest this is the rodents first feeding.

Parasitoids, predators and secondary pests can also tell you about the age of the infestation (Figure 3). Ensign wasps are egg-case parasitoids of American cockroaches. Their presence suggests that the cockroaches are actively reproducing nearby, whereas secondary pests may indicate the presence of old bait or pest carcasses.

Image 1 copy

Fig. 3. An Ensign wasp (egg-case parasitoid, 1), adult and juvenile (2) American cockroaches, and a spider beetle.

5. Proximity to Harborage: juvenile pests, including rodents and cockroaches, stay close the harborage. Intercepting them on monitors can narrow your search to nearby areas for identifying the harborage (Figure 4).

6. Management Efforts: some monitors might contain evidence about recent control efforts (Figure 4). Finding German cockroaches with crinkled wings is a sign that they have been treated with an insect growth regulator. But what if you didn’t apply this kind of product? Perhaps the cockroaches are coming from a neighboring area.

IMG_3168

Fig. 4. Nymph (1) and adult (2) German cockroaches on an insect monitor. The arrow indicates the location of crinkled wings from treatment with an insect growth regulator.

Effective monitoring programs provide good coverage of pest vulnerable areas. The location of monitoring devices are recorded on a facility map, and a pest catch log records the number of pests caught on each monitor. These specifications allow the pest professional to collect enough information to determine if a treatment is needed, where to focus efforts and what treatment should be applied.

March 17, 2015
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on The squirrels are coming, the squirrels are coming!!

The squirrels are coming, the squirrels are coming!!

“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.” ― John Muir

In other words, birthing season will soon be upon us. And though it’s fun watching animal families grow up in our backyards, it’s best that they don’t give birth within our buildings. Because female squirrels seek safe places to raise their young in late winter and early spring, now is the time to ensure they stay out of your attic.

Photo credit: Carosaurus

Give them an opening and squirrels will happily turn your attic into a nursery. Photo credit: Carosaurus

 

Your first step? Monitoring is key to sound IPM. In this case you want to inspect your building exterior, especially if you’ve had problems in the past. Since squirrels are climbing animals and there’s no way could you see all possible entry sites from the ground, you’ll need a ladder. If you find a likely entry hole, don’t close it without first determining if it’s active. Trapping an animal (or its nest) inside can provoke it to chew its way back out — or in. Monitor an opening by inserting a soft plug (crumpled newspaper works fine) into the hole. If the plug is still there after two days and you see no other signs of activity inside the building, it should be safe to permanently close the hole. What to close it with? Think galvanized sheet metal or galvanized metal mesh, which resist strong teeth.

Do you need to remove squirrels from the building? Trapping is the most common and successful method. By New York law, however, without a state-issued permit squirrels must be released on the property or humanely destroyed. Another method is to install one-way doors (also known as excluders) over entry holes. These devices allow animals to leave — but not re-enter — the structure. To be successful, one-way doors need to be combined with preventive exclusion (such as metal mesh and caulk) on other vulnerable sites on your building, since exclusion and prevention are also key IPM practices.

Photo credit: BillSmith_03303

Openings such as this one provide access for squirrels, raccoons, mice, rats, birds, stinging insects, bats, snakes, … Photo credit: BillSmith_03303

 

No rodenticides or other poisons are legally registered for squirrel control. Although a variety of repellents and devices make marketing claims about driving squirrels from buildings, their efficacy is questionable.

To prevent future problems, reduce squirrel access to the building by keeping trees and tree branches at least 10 feet away from the structure and make sure all vents are made of animal-resistant materials.

For information on IPM for nuisance wildlife, refer to Beasts Begone!: A Practitioner’s Guide to IPM in Buildings  and Best Practices for Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators.

(Adapted from Controlling Squirrel Problems in Buildings by Lynn Braband, NYS Community IPM Program at Cornell University)

March 10, 2015
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Rats, Fleas, the Media … Part II

Rats, Fleas, the Media … Part II

When Cornell’s NYS IPM story — based on IPM entomologist Matt Frye’s research — hit the news a week ago, it made quite a splash. Back then, nearly 20 media outlets told the story: how Frye found over 6,500 lice, mites, and fleas on 113 rats live-trapped in New York City.

And — that among them were over 500 Oriental rat fleas, fleas capable of carrying the infamous bubonic plague. No, none of those 500 fleas harbored the plague. Still — “If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people,” says Frye, “then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle.”

Below, an updated list of the outlets that ran the news. Now the BBC — the British Broadcasting Corporation — also has plans to tell the story. And here, a one-minute video that shows how city rats make a living.

CBS News Cornell Chronicle
Daily Mail (UK) The Dodo
ESA (Entomological Soc. America) Fox News
Gothamist  The Independent (UK)
International Business Times  Jezebel
 Medical Daily  Metro New York
 NBC News  Newsweek
 New York Daily News  Popular Science
 RT (Reuters/Krishnendu Halder)  Science World Report
 University of Delaware  US News and World Report
 The Verge  Wired
 WPIX NY | PIX11  Yahoo Health

 

March 6, 2015
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Rats, Fleas, IPM: How the Media Told It

Rats, Fleas, IPM: How the Media Told It

Since Cornell’s NYSIPM story — based on IPM entomologist Matt Frye’s research — went live earlier this week, here’s which media outlets told the story, and how.

CBS News Cornell Chronicle
Daily Mail (UK) The Dodo
 ESA  Fox News
 International Business Times  Medical Daily
 NBC News  Newsweek
 New York Daily News  Popular Science
 Science World Report  University of Delaware
 US News and World Report  The Verge
 Wired  Yahoo Health

One of our all-time favorite rat pics: Norway rat drops down a grate in the Big Apple, looking for — well, maybe an apple.

One of our all-time favorite rat pics: Norway rat drops down a grate in the Big Apple, looking for — well, maybe an apple.

March 3, 2015
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on News Flash! IPM Research — Rats, Fleas, and the Plague

News Flash! IPM Research — Rats, Fleas, and the Plague

Norway rats are your consummate “where you go, we go also” species, being as well adapted to urban living as we are. Meaning that the diseases we’ve blamed on them are most likely grounded in reality.

Yet widespread instances of the most spectacular of those diseases — the Black Plague that devastated much of the Old World long ago — have virtually disappeared. Is it because this dread disease’s vector, the Oriental rat flea, also disappeared? No. Rats aren’t the only animals that harbor these fleas. In North America the plague lives on in the unlikeliest of places — in the American Southwest among ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and the rat fleas they harbor, infecting roughly 10 people each year.

A Norway rat drops down a grate in New York City, looking for food or shelter. A flea that finds food and shelter on such rats is capable of transmitting the plague pathogen.

A Norway rat drops down a grate in New York City, looking for food or shelter. A flea that finds food and shelter on such a rat is capable of transmitting the plague pathogen.

But what about our cities? If New York City could serve as a model organism, so to speak, then new research published this week from a Cornell and Columbia University collaboration means we’d best keep tabs on city rats and the tiny critters that call them home. NYS IPM’s urban entomologist Matthew Frye and his colleagues in New York live-trapped 133 Norway rats. Using a fine-tooth rat comb, Frye found about 6,000 parasites, including lice, mites — and more than 500 rat fleas.

The good news first: none of the fleas carried the plague. But they did carry other nasty diseases.

It’s unlikely the plague has gotten a toehold in New York. Even so, Frye is alarmed. “If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people,” says Frye, “then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle.”

What to do to help keep it that way? Since avoiding fleas is just as tricky as avoiding rats, core IPM practices are key. They include prevention (caulking and installing snug-fitting door sweeps, for instance) and careful sanitation (cleaning or removing every possible food and water source — indoors and out — be it spilled dog chow and soda pop, or leaky pipes and discarded deli containers).

Once you’ve gotten the rats out — then what? After all, those fleas and the diseases they vector are a troupe of “where you go, we go also” species on the micro level. “It’s not that the parasites that get left behind can infest our bodies,” Frye says. “But they can feed on us while seeking other rats to infest.”

Frye’s research was part of an earlier project looking at the pathogens that rats themselves — not just their fleas — could carry. That study noted a disturbing number of viral and bacterial diseases rats fall prey to — including a handful that could spell grave consequences for us.

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