Slime Mold – Pest or Not?

“A word is worth a thousand pictures, if it is the right word. Risk is the right word.” – Michael Hoff, PhD

When a problem presents itself, the first step should often be to determine whether it really is a problem. In other words, does it create a risk? At times, something may look scary, but may actually be eating other insects that are pests (house centipedes are a great example of this). Slime mold, a fungus-like organism, showing up in a school playground recently brought up the question of risk and how to react to it.

No one wants to walk out of their building and see this. Photo: Doug Beckers flickr

From the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic fact sheet:  “Slime molds are frequently observed when they form large colonies on mulch around trees or shrubs. They may initially appear as a slimy mound or mass, come in a variety of colors, and are often unsightly.”

Unsightly indeed. It is often called dog vomit mold.

So a school was very concerned when it started popping up throughout the playground mulch. They began making phone calls which led to us. We were able to reassure them that slime mold feeds only on bacteria in the mulch and there are no known health risks associated with them.

Slime mold crusts over after it finishes with its mobile stage. Still unattractive.

Human health risk usually reaches the highest tier of concern for risk assessment. Given the low risk, the school could just wait it out until the weather changes. Slime mold thrives under hot and humid conditions. Cool, dry weather would take care of the issue. It’s a good reminder that many pests (or, in this case, non-pests) are weather related and checking the forecast can help us determine how long the issue might last.

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves. – Marcel Proust

It’s worth noting that there are no pesticides registered in New York to manage slime mold on mulch. Any use of a pesticide would not only be illegal, but would also cause its own unnecessary risk.

There is another concern that falls lower down on the list, but is still important – perception of risk. In this case, there was a concern about how parents of young children would react to the unsightly mounds. To address this concern, we recommended shoveling out the visible slime mold and hosing down the area to disperse residual materials. And reminded them that as long as the weather remained hot and humid, slime mold would continue to pop up, so keep the shovel at hand.

A unrealistic perception of risk can also be addressed through education. So we found this nifty video about these fascinating organisms and how they move. Check out this Deep Look video from PBS. Talk about a teachable moment!

Have a question on managing pests in your school or childcare facility? Visit our Schools and Daycare Centers webpage.

Managing traffic is IPM

Are you interested in turfgrass management? Especially as it relates to sports fields? Then the ShortCUTT (Cornell University Turfgrass Times) newsletter, written by Associate Professor and Extension Turfgrass Specialist, Dr. Frank Rossi, is for you! Check out a segment of this week’s offerings.
To receive a copy of the weekly newsletter, e-mail program manager, Carl Schimenti at css223@cornell.edu. Prefer your information verbally? Subscribe to the weekly Turf Talk podcast.

Frequently Asked Questions:

In the simplest of terms, the more use a field receives, the more preparation it will need prior to the initiation of use, maintenance during the traffic period, and recovery maintenance following the traffic. Photo: Bob Portmess

My fields are showing wear stress already after three weeks of use as a result of rainy and now very warm conditions. I’m trying to speak with coaches and parents about field use under these conditions. They keep asking the same question of me, “how many hours of use CAN the field handle”? Can you help?

First big kudos for recognizing the need to communicate with your clients regarding the conditions and safety of the fields. Effective communication is the consistent characteristic of successful professional sports turf managers. We have provided some useful tools to assist with the general information for players, parents, coaches and athletic directors at http://safesportsfields.cals.cornell.edu/coaches.

Additionally, there will not be any hard fast answer to the question without some qualification and understanding of the root zone, type of use, maintenance inputs, and visual quality expectations.

Our first responsibility is to ensure player safety as measured by field hardness, evenness and traction; other field issues become subjective as to what constitutes an “acceptable playing surface”. Again, there are gray areas when discussing amount of use, as poor weather experienced over the last 30 days has led to significantly more wear stress and field decline than expected under average weather patterns. Finally, larger amounts of managed field area that allows for dispersal of focused traffic and the availability of synthetic surfaces both significantly increase overall amount of natural grass playing field use.

Rootzones:

Soil properties impact traffic tolerance.

Loamy soil root zones with some drainage and some irrigation can withstand more than the average amount of use. Sand-based fields with excellent drainage can withstand significantly more than the average amount of use.

Type of Use:

Any type of field use that results in repetitive focused traffic, i.e., between the hash marks, goal mouths, sidelines, will reduce the amount of field use. Larger male athletes create more traffic stress than lighter female athletes. Youth sports with smaller athletes and smaller field dimensions that can be rotated, allow for much more use than average. Again rotation allows for dispersal of the traffic.

Schools and community parks are able to provide different levels of field maintenance based on their budget and the resources on hand that include labor (knowledge and experience), equipment and products. Other factors play into shifting resources, such as desired quality, type of field and use (practice vs game fields).

Maintenance Inputs:

Reasonable care of fields is expected as outlined in ASTM F2060 for cool season natural grass fields – this will include some amount of field rest and recovery as outlined in these important maintenance schedules. In the simplest of terms, the more use a field receives, the more preparation it will need prior to the initiation of use, maintenance during the traffic period, and recovery maintenance following the traffic. No maintenance program will compensate for overuse that leads to decline in field quality below acceptable levels and will need a routine turf replacement program as seen in most professional sporting venues.

Visual Quality Expectations:

A soft, bright green field with poor traction is less safe than a slightly brown, firm, even surface. Photo: Joellen Lampman

Players, coaches, parents and Athletic Directors have the right expect to safe playing fields. Sports turf managers must have field safety measurements to effectively determine when field use leads to decline in safety. The visual quality of the field often is correlated to field safety but not always, as a soft bright green field with poor traction is less safe than a slightly brown firm even surface.

In the end, general guidelines suggest good field conditions can be maintained with reasonable care at between 400-600 hours of use per year per field. Beyond 600 hours of use expect a loss in field quality and significant thinning and wear areas even under ideal conditions.

 

Many thanks to Frank Rossi for providing permission to share this information. For more information on sports field management, visit the Cornell Turfgrass page on Sports Turf and the New York State Integrated Pest Management page on Landscapes, Parks, and Golf Courses.

Bed bugs in schools aren’t going away

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

Bed bugs in schools are an issue that is not going to disappear. We have many resources available to help people deal with the issue, but, as is often the case, these resources are not looked for until there is a crisis.

Finding a bed bug in any situation can be distressing, but should not be a cause for panic.

This became clear, once again, as a distraught school official called to ensure that the pesticide application they were planning was legal. When asked if the pesticide applicator had found an infestation, the answer was “We know there isn’t one”. The strategy had been to spot treat when a bed bus is found. But the problem has escalated. Parents are pulling their kids from school. The union is involved. Finger pointing is rampant. The pesticide application was planned to show that SOMETHING is being done.

But we know that it isn’t going to help. Eliminate every bed bug in a building and the very next day a student or staff member can bring in another hitchhiker from an infested home.

So what is the solution?

Bed bugs are, simply, a community problem. It is nearly impossible to determine who is at fault and laying blame is pointless. The old saying states that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to deal with a bed bug problem.

First, know that it is nearly impossible to prevent bed bugs from entering any public facility. They will hitchhike on personal items from infested homes. These introductions are common in schools, office buildings, movie theaters, retail stores, libraries, taxis, buses, trains, diners,…

Bed bug infestations are rare in schools, but introductions from infested homes, usually on personal items that travel from home to school and back again, are quite common.

Second, infestations do not happen unless bed bugs have the opportunity to feed. They hate disturbance, prefer darkness when feeding, and need a body to be still, usually for two hours or more – not conditions typically found in schools.

Third, especially in apartment units, a family might be doing their best to control bedbugs, but a neighbor’s untreated apartment can lead to constant reinfestations. And there are multiple reasons for residents to not report bed bug infestations within their apartments, including:

  • Bed bugs might not have been noticed. Not everybody reacts to bites.
  • Residents are ashamed or embarrassed. Despite the fact that anyone can get bed bugs, there is the false stigma that bed bugs are associated with poverty and unsanitary conditions.
  • There is a risk of being charged for treatment or being evicted, even when the landlord is responsible.
  • Treatment is expensive and the resident might not have the resources to hire a pest management professional.

A national organization called eXtension has developed an IPM Action Plan for Bed Bugs that addresses the responsibilities of the school community and parents (and, in extreme cases, local government). Both lists include education. The NYS IPM Program can help with educational resources (below) and workshop opportunities.

The Action Plan goes on to discuss procedures that should be followed if a suspected bed bug is found and what to do if children repeatedly come in with bed bugs. It even provides recommendations for further intervention when children continue to come in with bed bugs despite interventions. A small sample of listed procedures include:

  • If a confirmed bed bug was found on a child then the school nurse should inform the child’s parents. [A letter and] inspection report should be sent home with the student. (See Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know fact sheet for a good sample letter). Educational materials should accompany the letter.
  • In most instances students should not be excluded from school due to bed bugs. Schools should not be closed due to the discovery of bed bugs unless there is a widespread infestation [which is rare].
  • In an infested home, parents should store their child’s freshly laundered clothing in sealed plastic bags until they are put on in the morning. This prevents bed bugs from hiding in the clothing and being carried to school.
  • Backpacks, lunchboxes and other items that travel back and forth to school can also be inspected daily and stored in sealed plastic containers at home to prevent bed bugs from getting into them. [Backpacks can also be treated in a hot dryer.]
  • At school a “hot box” might be used to heat treat belongings possibly infested. A hot box is an insulated container with a heating element that raises the temperature above 115 degrees, killing bedbugs. They can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Dryers that contains shelves will also serve the same purpose.

Action plans can then be formatted as a flowchart, making decision making simple to understand and follow. The Michigan Bed Bug Working Group put together the Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know fact sheet with a sample flowchart.

This flowchart is part of Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know. The fact sheet also includes a sample parent letter.

We recommend that every school develop a bed bug policy based on the recommendations within the IPM Action Plan for Bed Bugs and use NYS IPM Program resources to help educate the school community and beyond regarding bed bugs and how to deal with them.


NYS IPM Bed Bug Resources

And be sure to check out a potential grant opportunity to help the school community purchase the airtight containers and heating units needed to help prevent bed bug transportation. The Walmart Foundation Community Grant Program offers grants ranging from a minimum of $250 to the maximum grant of $5,000. We do not know if they have ever funded this type of project, but let us know if you are successful!

Pests and pupils don’t mix

Year in and out, outreach to schools has our community IPM staff going back to school. Literally. We work with maintenance staff, nurses, groundskeepers, teachers, and parents. We provide the insight and know-how it takes to keep kids safe from pests and pesticides both. But schools are tricky to manage because—well, think of them as a village. You’ve got your cafeterias, laboratories, auditoriums, theaters, classrooms, athletic fields, playgrounds. Add in vacation and after-hours use for public meetings, community sports teams, summer schools and camps. Plus, New York’s laws restrict when, where and how pesticides can be used at school.

Which means you’ve got work. Because chances are, you’ve got pests.

Worried about ticks? By rights you should be. The hazards can hardly be overstated. We help teachers, school nurses, and entire communities learn how to stay tick-free regardless the season—and warn them that old-time remedies could increase the likelihood of disease.

Next up—unsafe playing fields. Is there goose poo on athletic fields and playgrounds? It’s not just unsanitary—it makes for slick footing and falls. And take it from us: weedy, compacted soil is a “slick footing and falls” risk too. How to manage turf, pesticide-free? We teach repetitive overseeding as a thoughtful alternative to repetitive herbicides. We’ll get to that in another post.

And then you’ve got your ants, bed bugs, cockroaches, drain flies, drugstore beetles, fleas, grubs, lice, mice, mosquitoes, pigeons, rats, termites and wasps. Did we say we get calls? Each year we field several hundred. Then, of course, there’s the workshops we lead, the conferences we speak at, the media interviews we give. Work, yes, but also deeply rewarding.

 

Stop School Pests Launches Free Online Courses

We have been asked to share this press release with links to free trainings for K-12 school staff. It is worth taking a look!

A Safer Way to Keep Schools Pest Free; Stop School Pests Launches Free Online Courses

New Online Courses Help K12 School Employees Make Schools Healthier Places to Learn

MADISON, Wis., December 14, 2017 – Stop School Pests, a new online training program, is now available to school employees across the United States and beyond at www.StopSchoolPests.com. The training will help schools reduce pest complaints, pesticide use, and pest-related costs, and improve food and fire safety by teaching staff how to prevent pest problems before they occur.

Students spend a major part of each day in school – on average 30 hours each week. Exposure to pests and pesticides can create an unhealthy school environment. Mice and cockroaches can cause or trigger asthma attacks and allergies. Similarly, an over-reliance on pesticides can lead school employees and children to be exposed unnecessarily to dangerous chemicals.

“Schools must be safe, healthy spaces for students and staff. It’s important to manage pests with smart, common-sense approaches that minimize exposure to pests and chemicals,” said Dr. Dawn Gouge who was involved in the project from its beginning and is a Professor and Public Health IPM Specialist at University of Arizona’s Entomology Department. “These training modules will make that possible for any school district, no matter the size or budget.”

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a long-term approach to preventing pests utilizing the least-hazardous, most effective, sustainable and cost-effective methods. Stop School Pests new online training program will provide important tools to help school staff implement more effective pest-control programs.

Teachers, school nurses, administrators, food service personnel, facility managers, landscape and ground managers, maintenance and custodial staff – every staff member plays a role in making sure food sources for pests are minimized and making sure that surfaces and outdoor areas are safe for children to touch.

The Stop School Pests portal offers specific training modules for each role that address the basics of smart pest management, identifies common pests found in schools, and the health risks associated with pesticides and pests. The training is free and open to anyone and is administered by the non-profit organization IPM Institute of North America. Presentation files can be requested at no cost.

The training content was developed by the School IPM Working Group and through a multi-year, nationwide project with funding by the US EPA, the USDA, the North Central IPM Center, and the National Education Association.

Stop School Pests aims to make affordable, accessible training available to all involved in making sure schools are healthy spaces for every child and employee in every community.

All training courses are available at no cost at www.StopSchoolPests.com. After a short quiz, users can download a certificate.


Media Contact:

Alina Eva Freund, Project Manager

IPM Institute of North America

afreund@ipminstitute.org

608 232 1410 x 1007