New York State IPM Program

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.

November 7, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on How to Winterize Your Compost Pile

How to Winterize Your Compost Pile

Let’s make compost. It’s an earthy topic. Does it matter? Oh, yes. Bagging up organic matter and setting it out for trash is a pity — the moment it’s dumped in the landfill, it turns quickly to methane, a greenhouse gas 20-plus times more potent than CO2. And trash trucks bring tons of it to landfills every day. In 2013 alone, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash; we recycled or composted about 87 million tons.

Mites are mighty helpful in compost piles. Credit compostjunkie.com

Mites are mighty helpful in compost piles. Credit compostjunkie.com

Which is all well and good, but we can do better. Compost encourages healthy and balanced populations of soil organisms that can suppress plant pathogens by (good IPM!)

  • parasitizing them or
  • out-competing them for food and water.

Bacteria, molds, mites, and more — these good guys are on your side. But what happens to that compost heap when the ground is frozen or the snow is deep?

Like biannual and perennial landscape plants, soil organisms normally go dormant in winter. Yes, you could keep adding your kitchen scraps and recyclables to the pile. But they’ll freeze in place unless you can keep the good guys active through most of the winter. And it’s not that hard.

The lasagna method is hot — even when it's not. Credit organicgardensnetwork.

The lasagna method is hot — even when it’s not outside. Credit organicgardensnetwork

So while it’s still fall, harvest finished compost to make room for winter compost. Then insulate the pile with bags of leaves or bales of straw. Meanwhile, if you want to cut back on trips outside, make a pre-compost bucket.

Think of it as a mini-compost bin for food scraps, old newspaper, and the like. You’ll want to mix browns and greens just like you would outside using the “lasagna method” with its alternating brown and green layers for your outdoor compost. (Think of your pre-compost bucket as the “ravioli method.”)

Best you chop those food scraps first, though. Because the good guys will slow down a tad when they get chilly, you want to make it as easy on them as you can. Smaller particle sizes give them more surface area to do their work and keep them cozier while they do it. Then come spring they’ll really rev up.

 

 

 

Want more info? Check out:

  • ccetompkins.org/resources/compost-winter-composting — our inspiration for this post
  • ccetompkins.org/resources/compost-lasagna-layer-composting

Or browse online for more:

  • compostjunkie.com/Compost-blog
  • compostingcouncil.org
  • pinterest.com/ertf/lasagna-gardening-and-composting

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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