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.
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 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.
February 3, 2015
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on The Difference Between Voles and Moles
Is it mole? A vole? These small mammals are often confused with each other, probably because they’re both associated with tunnels. But they’re really quite different and, depending on the circumstance, could be a pest — or not. Since the first step in IPM is to identify your problem, let’s shed light on these two critters.
We cheated here to give you a good look at a couple of voles. Microtus agrestis is related to the two vole species found in NY, but is found in Europe. Photo Credit: Tomi Tapio K
Since voles are seen above-ground much more often than the elusive mole, let’s take a look at them first. You might see them darting through lawns during the day (or your cat might bring them home). They’re active day and night year-round where the ground cover is thick. These small rodents are herbivores, eating almost exclusively plants.
At a quick glance you might confuse them with mice, but their stocky bodies are more compact and they look like they are missing half their tail. Also, unlike mice, they are adapted for digging; different species have different tunneling behavior, which can help with identification.
Voles often have several litters per year. Their populations can fluctuate a good deal — meaning that sometimes they’re quite abundant while other times it would take a naturalist’s sharp eye to know they’re even around.
That lovely tracery exposed as the snow melts — vole tunnels! Photo credit: Woodsen.
Meadow Voles(Microtus pennsylvanicus) are the most abundant vole species found throughout New York and are common in grassy areas including lawns. They are dark brown with a grayish belly and can be 5 inches long.
How do you know if you have meadow voles? Besides actually seeing them (or receiving one in a display of cat love), signs include:
runways through the turf, most visible after snow melt
girdled woody plants
chewed-off herbaceous vegetation
ground burrow openings
After the snow melts, vole damage becomes obvious. Photo Credit: USDA Forest Service – North Central Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Pine Voles(Microtus pinetorum) probably live throughout New York except for parts of the North Country, although actual distribution is uncertain. Their preferred habitat is forests with thick ground cover; they like orchards too. They are auburn colored and can be four inches long.
Pine voles are harder to detect as they don’t use surface runways. Their extensive underground tunnel systems lead them to their favorite food source, the roots of woody plants.
Once you’ve seen a mole, you’ll have a hard time confusing it with any other animal. Their broad feet, adapted strictly for digging, give them away. Everything about this animal is a clue that it lives underground. Moles have no external ears that can get caught as they move through their tunnels. Their dark, shiny fur has no grain, allowing them to move forwards and backwards with equal ease. And their eyes? You’d practically have to catch a mole to get close enough to see them — they’re that small.
Moles damage is pretty distinct. It involves quite a bit of soil and no entry holes. Photo credit: Kim F
What are they looking for — feeling for — down there? As insectivores, they’re searching mostly for earthworms. But they’re also happy to eat insect larvae, including grubs, and other underground invertebrates. They don’t eat vegetation, although they will line their nests with grass.
Largely solitary, moles are active year-round, day and night. They create grass-lined nests in burrows 1 ½ to 2 feet below the surface often under something solid such as tree roots, sidewalks, and buildings. Litters of 4 or 5 pups are born in the spring. Maturing quickly, the young are independent at about one month old.
What are indications that you have moles? You will find low ridges or mounds of dirt with no entry holes.
An eastern mole’s rare glimpse of daylight. Photo credit: Kenneth Catania
It is up for debate whether Eastern Moles (Scalopus aquaticus) are found in New York, although it’s possible they’re in the lower Hudson River Valley, the metro New York area, and Long Island. We do know they prefer moist sandy loam soils. They can be up to 6 ½ inches long with a naked tail.
Hairy-tailed Moles(Parascalops breweri) are found statewide. They can be up to 5 ½ inches long and have a short, hairy tail.
The star-nosed mole is very aptly named. Those appendages contain over 25,000 sensory receptors designed to help it feel its way around. Photo credit: US NPS
Star-nosed Moles(Condylura cristata) are found throughout much of New York, often occurring in low, wet ground especially near water. They can be up to 5 inches long, and their most striking characteristic is the fingerlike, fleshy projections surrounding their noses. More than their noses separate them from other mole species. They are more sociable than other moles. They tend to have larger litters. And Star-nosed moles swim! Who knew that those large feet are also good for paddling?
All mole and vole species in New York are legally classified as “unprotected”. For more information on both these mammals, including IPM strategies should voles chew the bark off your ornamental shrubs or moles turn parts of your lawn upside down, visit Cornell’s Wildlife Damage Management Program website.
Adapted from Moles and Voles of New York State by Lynn Braband, NYS Community IPM Program at Cornell University
December 5, 2014
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Dealing With Wildlife and the Laws That Protect Them
When we think about pests, bugs and mice are the first things that typically come to mind. But what if larger critters such as squirrels, bats, woodchucks, deer, or pigeons become troublesome? IPM works for them too. You must, however, be aware of laws that apply to nuisance wildlife and how they might affect your IPM plan.
In New York, the regulatory players involved are the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation(all species) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (migratory birds and federally endangered and threatened species). Through these agencies, every wildlife species in the state has a legal classification. What is of upmost concern is determining whether your nuisance is classified as “unprotected” or “protected.”
Legal Classification: Unprotected
Unprotected mammals include shrews, moles, bats (except Indiana bats, which are federally protected), chipmunks, woodchucks, red squirrels, flying squirrels, voles, mice, and Norway rats. Unprotected bird species include rock doves (feral pigeons), house sparrows, and European starlings.
An unprotected species can legally be taken by the property owner at any time of year and by any means as long as other laws (i.e., pesticide regulations, firearm discharge ordinances, trespassing laws, etc.) are not violated. The DEC defines taking as pursuing, shooting, hunting, killing, capturing, trapping, snaring or netting wildlife and game, or performing acts that disturb or worry wildlife.
Some might consider it too cruel to take an animal and decide that capturing your nuisance pest with a live trap is best. Before heading to the hardware store, recognize that you cannot release an animal off your property without a permit. An unprotected animal can be released on the same property where it was captured or must be killed and buried or cremated.
Legal Classification: Protected
Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but there are still things you can do to manage them. Harassing them (such as with dogs or lasers) does not need a permit. Interfering with their nest — such as addling their eggs — does need a permit. When in doubt, contact the DEC. Photo: Joellen Lampman
For some protected species, if an individual animal is causing damage (not merely being a nuisance), it can be taken by the property owner. Mammals that fall under this category include opossums, raccoons, weasels, and gray squirrels. (Skunks may legally be taken if they are only a nuisance, even if they are not causing damage.) But the animal, dead or alive, cannot be transported off the landowner’s property without a nuisance wildlife control permit obtained from the DEC.
A few mammals (including bear, beaver, deer, mink, and muskrat), most birds, and (currently) all reptiles and amphibians are not only protected but cannot be captured or removed from the property without special case-by-case permits.
Animals with a legal hunting or fur trapping season can be taken as long as the proper hunting or trapping license has been obtained.
Nuisance Wildlife Control Permits
Nuisance wildlife control permits are issued to people who have gone through the prescribed application process. These permits allow protected species to be taken in any number, at any time, and from any location — with permission of the landowner — within the state. Permits must be renewed annually. Private nuisance wildlife control operators, pest control operators dealing with nuisance wildlife, municipal animal control officers, and some wildlife rehabilitators must obtain the proper permits.
So you’re thinking of a trip south, camper or boat in tow, or maybe a little winter getaway to your cabin in the North Country. For “no surprises” trip prep, take advantage of every spell of mild weather to make sure you’ve
kept rodents from settling into cozy quarters (or disinvite those that have)
removed those enticing extras that make critters do their best to bust through your defenses
Here’s the IPM approach. Put on your overalls, grab a flashlight, and crawl under
Your cabin is more secure with mesh pushed into critter entry points.
your camper or into the crawl space under your cabin — or climb up a ladder to take a closer look at your eaves and loose siding as well as cable entry points. Plug every likely entry point and with something like copper stuff-it — a fine wire mesh that helps keep critters out — or by caulking those places where propane pipes, internet cables, or phone or electric lines come in.
Be careful. If need be, hire an electrician. Even turning off the breaker box doesn’t mean dangerously high voltage won’t zap you.
This can be tricky work, because rodents can squeeze through what look like impossibly small spaces. Sometimes they’ll pull out your wire mesh, but caulk worked into the mesh — or a spray foam that expands into it — will help keep the mesh in place. So look again. And know that foam alone won’t do the trick — even if the can says it deters mice, chipmunks, and the like.
Besides critter-deterrent foam, here’s what else won’t provide long-term control: ultrasonic devices and boom boxes blasting rap music (yes, it’s been tried!). Sure, you might get short-term control — but critters acclimate to predictable or constant sounds. And forget that persistent rumor that mothballs (or dryer sheets) will deter them. For one, it’s illegal to use mothballs this way. And any seeming deterrence is probably illusory.
If rodents haven’t made your camper or cabin home yet — if you don’t see mouse poop, for instance — count your blessings and roll up your shirtsleeves. Besides the obvious (boxes of crackers, say, or plastic jars of peanut butter), remember that crumbs beneath the couch cushions or inside drawers and hard-to-reach corners attract critters with sensitive noses.
Because rodents appreciate a cozy place to curl up as much as you do (and because prevention is key to good IPM), stash everything from paper napkins to blankets and pillows in tightly sealed containers. If you can, empty the drawers; leaving them open makes the space less of a hidey-hole — and less appealing.
Occasionally you might do such a good job on the outside, you actually trap a critter that was already inside your walls when you began. Though it seems harsh, the best thing is to place snap-traps at those key exit points you discovered during your inspection — and check them as often as you can. (Animals caught in live traps and released elsewhere often end up in some other critter’s territory, and the consequences aren’t all that pretty.)
Traps come in two sizes: mouse and rat; rat traps work also for squirrels and chipmunks. What size to put out? If you hear noise at night it’s probably a mouse or rat. If during the day, it’s probably a chipmunk or squirrel.
October 24, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Critters Can Do — Match the Pest and What It Does
This wasp helps control pests while doing adjunct duty as a pollinator. Photo courtesy Ward Upham, Kansas State University, Bugwood.org.
This chrysanthemum leaf-miner is the larvae of a fly-family pest. Photo courtesy Central Science Laboratory, Harpenden Archive, Bugwood.org.
Where the links will take you:
Some large stinging wasps eat crop pests; others help pollinate them. Some do both.
Yes, different researchers say different things. Just know that cockroaches can survive without food for a couple of weeks and maybe much longer. (At need, “food” could include wallpaper paste, envelope glue, and more.)
“For an aphid, a raindrop is something like what a refrigerator would be like falling on us,” said researcher Jeremy McNeil, an entomologist and chemical ecologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
Fleas can live a long time inside the cocoon they pupated in — until they sense a host nearby.
Follow the link to a fun, one-minute video of a fat mouse scrambling through a tiny hole.
Their name (they dig mines, as it were) gives them away — but you’d be surprised at how many different sorts of insects have larvae that burrow through something as thin as a leaf.
October 22, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on IPM for Wildlife — the Hotline Begins Here
Maybe it’s the chipmunk stashing a winter’s-worth of nuts and seeds in the cellar. Or momma raccoon bringing up baby in the attic (the latrine she made is conveniently nearby). Or any of 20-plus critters that set up shop where we want them least.
Nationwide, Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener volunteers are IPM-trained and equipped to field pest questions of every stripe and hue. Well — nearly. Striped cucumber beetle? No prob. But striped skunk?
Make Prevention Your Mantra: Chipmunks and rats can get through holes the size of a quarter — and mice, a dime. Ask for a roll of galvanized hardware cloth at your local hardware or lumber store, then build a “rat wall” to protect your crawl space or cellar. Illustration by M. S. Heller, from Wildlife Damage Management for Master Gardeners
Wildlife professionals have IPM resources at their fingertips. But none of these resources are geared for nonprofessionals. Now a team of Extension educators based at Cornell and the University of Nebraska have crafted a first-time-ever guide giving master gardeners from coast to coast a wealth of carefully presented, commonsense advice they can share with those who turn to them for help. Please see online the National Wildlife Control Training Program for Master Gardeners.
August 21, 2014
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Baiting for Mice, Rats? Try String!
Peanut butter is a staple in managing mice and rats, especially in residential settings. It’s easy to apply to traps, it stays fresh for several days — and a jar of peanut butter has a long shelf life. But peanut butter isn’t always your best bet. Because sometimes that peanut butter is a magnet for other pests — think cockroaches and ants. Besides, a large rodent population might have a wide range of food preferences. And for some, peanut butter might not be at the top of the list.
For those situations, here’s a trick that could help — bait those traps with string! String? Here’s why:
String tied to the paddle of a snap trap is a baiting technique that doesn’t feed other pests.
Females can give birth to six to eight litters of pups throughout the year, though they breed more often when it’s warm. They work hard at building nests for their young, and among their favorite nesting materials is string. So just tie a short piece string or dental floss tightly to the paddle of a snap trap and there’s your bait. Be sure to loop your string closely around the base of the paddle. And this is one bait that’ll never spoil.
Are subway rats really the size of house cats? Are there American cockroaches or “waterbugs” as big as your hand? Fortunately, neither is true. But a 2012 study offers insight as to why those beliefs exist.
First, some background. Whenever I give a presentation about structural pests, I like to bring some specimens along for show and tell. Invariably, as I open up a box of pinned insect specimens someone says, “I’ve seen cockroaches twice that big!” Outwardly I might act surprised, but that’s because I’m thinking, “Hmm. I’ve been in some sketchy places and seen some nasty things, but the American cockroach is usually about 1.5 inches long, and the average Norway rat is about 16 inches from nose to tail and weighs about 12 ounces.”
Real-world American cockroaches — note their reddish-brown color — measure about 1.5 inches.
Sure, there are exceptions — some can be smaller, others larger, but a three-inch-long cockroach? Surely there’s an explanation.
Then one day I stumbled on a post by ABC News: “Spiders Appear Bigger When You Fear Them” — and it all started to make sense. According to an Ohio State study, being scared can cause an individual to exaggerate the size of the object they fear. A rat racing past you on the subway is sure to induce fear, as is a cockroach in your bathroom. But looking at a dead cockroach, pinned in some entomologist’s specimen box? That’s not so scary.
A challenge: next time you see a critter that would normally make you afraid, take a closer look. You might find that your perception of their size more accurately represents their true size — which in all cases is large enough!
Snout to tail, your average Norway rat is 16 inches long and weighs in at about 12 ounces. Cats? A healthy weight for a small breeds is around 5 pounds; the very largest, 18 pounds.