From pests to pollutants, keeping schools healthy and clean is no simple task

Schools have more to manage than just their educational strategies

Parents send their children to school to learn, and they don’t want to worry about whether the air is clean, whether there are insect problems or whether the school’s cleaning supplies could cause an asthma attack.

But a research collaborative, of which I’m a member, has found that schools might not be ready to protect students from environmental contaminants.

I’m an extension specialist focused on pest management. I’m working with a cross-disciplinary team to improve compliance with environmental health standards, and we’ve found that schools across the nation need updates in order to meet minimum code requirements.

Everything from a school’s air and water quality to the safety of the pesticides and cleaning chemicals used there determine the safety of the learning environment. Environmental health standards can help a school community ensure each potential hazard is accounted for.

Air, water and food quality

So, what aspects of the school environment and student health need attention? For one, the air students and teachers breathe every day.

Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can improve the indoor air quality and reduce the risk of health concerns. Even small things like dust and dander, dead insects and artificial scents used to cover up smells like mold and mildew can trigger asthma and allergies.

Improving ventilation, as well as a school’s air flow and filtration, can help protect building occupants from respiratory infections and maintain a healthy indoor environment. Ventilation systems bring fresh, outdoor air into rooms, filter or disinfect the air in the room and improve how often air flows in and out of a room.

Proper ventilation in schools can reduce pathogen spread and common allergy triggers

Upgrading ventilation in school buildings can improve air quality and reduce potential contaminants, including viral particles, in indoor spaces.

It may seem like maintaining proper food safety and drinking-water quality would be common practices. But many schools do have some level of lead contamination in their food and water.

In 1991, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a regulation, known as the lead and copper rule, to minimize lead and copper in drinking water. The EPA’s 2021 revised lead and copper rule aims to reduce the risks of childhood lead exposure by focusing on schools and child care facilities and conducting outreach.

But in December 2022, a team of scientists published a report on lead and copper levels in drinking water, and they found evidence that lead is still showing up in drinking water in Massachusetts schools. No amount of lead is safe to have in the water.

To combat contamination and ensure safe food and water, the Food and Drug Administration overhauled the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2016. This act has transformed the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them. It gives local health officials more authority to oversee and enforce supply chain safety.

Per these new regulations, every school cafeteria must be inspected by the local registered sanitarian at least twice a year to meet the minimum standards for their state and federal guidelines.

These inspections now include looking for entry points that might allow mice or rats to come in, finding areas with moisture buildup where flies, roaches or other insects can breed, and determining whether storage rooms are properly sanitized.

Integrated pest management

Even if a school has clean air, water and food, it still may not meet all the required health standards. Many schools have insect infestations, and many combat these pest problems with harsh chemicals when there’s a simpler solution.

Integrated pest management is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management. Known as IPM, it combines commonsense practices like keeping doors and windows closed and making sure no food is left in classrooms overnight with other ways to help prevent pests from coming in.

american cockroach

Cockroaches can lurk in custodial closets and near drains at schools.

IPM programs consider the pests’ life cycles and their larger environment, as well as all the available pest control methods, to manage pest infestations economically and scientifically.

Common pests in schools include ants, cockroaches and bedbugs. Ants enter looking for food, and cockroaches can travel in with backpacks or enter through small openings under doors or cracks in the seals around a window. Mice, cockroaches and ants can come into a kitchen or bathroom from plumbing pipes that aren’t properly sealed.

In the fall, cockroaches reside in custodial closets, kitchens and other areas where floor drains might be. These bugs use the sewer drains to move about, so an IPM approach might include making sure the drains have plenty of water flooding through them and clearing out organic matter that the cockroaches might feed on.

Green cleaning

School administrators also determine what products to use for pest control and cleaning. With the intent to prioritize the safety of both the people inside the building and the environment, some schools have adopted a “green cleaning” approach.

Green cleaning uses safer – or less harsh – chemical and pesticide products, since studies have found that the repeated use of harsh chemicals indoors can lead to chronic health effects later in life for anyone directly exposed.

Products that contain ingredients like hydrogen peroxidecitric acid and isopropyl alcohol are generally safer than products that contain chlorine or ammonia.

man cleaning a surface with glovesBut the school’s job isn’t done, even after the infestation has been dealt with. Schools need a plan to manage their pollutants long term – these pollutants might be cleaning chemicals and pesticides or chemicals used in science classes. Preserving the school’s air quality requires a plan for storage and disposal of these materials. But finding the funds to correctly dispose of legacy chemicals can challenge already thin budgets.

Over the past decade, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has worked with a variety of groups to develop the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child initiative. This approach pulls together professionals, community leaders, parents and others to support evidence-based policies and practices.

The initiative has also led some states to develop school health advisory councils that work with state departments of education and health to assist their local school districts with managing the indoor environment and student health.

When the school building is safe, students and educators are more able to get down to the business of learning, undistracted.

Originally published on September 28, 2023

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SPN: Warm-Season Turfgrass Fall/Winter Preparation

chart of warm season trufgrass growing chart

For many Texans, September typically means cooler temperatures, rain showers, and the end of the long hot summer. This change of seasons has an effect on the growth of warm-season grasses like St. Augustinegrass, zoysiagrass, and bermudagrass. Three management practices to focus on this fall and winter are watering, mowing, and fertilizing. Adjusting these to match the seasonal change can create a strong healthy lawn throughout the fall and into winter dormancy.


As the days get shorter and temperatures become cooler, the growth rate of grass slows down, therefore less water is necessary to maintain plant health. This drop in water need can be ½ or ¾ of what is required in summer. Overwatering during this time of year can have a devastating effect on turfgrass. Common warm-season turfgrass diseases are large patch (caused by Rhizoctonia solani) and take-all root rot (caused by Gaeumannomyces graminis). Both are fungal diseases brought on by cool, moist conditions. When temperatures drop below 70°F, automatic irrigation should be stopped and done only as necessary under dry weather conditions. Follow local watering recommendations to prevent overwatering. Websites like Water My Yard,  Texas ET Network; and Water Is Awesome provide weekly watering advice based on local weather information so you know whether to water or not. Some of these services are app-based as well. Check for availability in your local area.

chart of warm season trufgrass growing chart


The slowdown in turfgrass growth naturally comes with a slowdown in mowing frequency. However, the mowing done during this period can have an impact on the turfgrass leading up to winter dormancy. Consider raising the mower height a bit, but don’t exceed the recommended height of cut for your turfgrass. Raising the cut height will encourage deeper root growth below ground, aiding in overwintering. The taller grass also shades to soil, helping with moisture retention and preventing the germination of winter weeds. Finally, a sharp cut is best for your lawn any time of year, so take advantage of the season and sharpen your mower blades.


Fall lawn fertilization can be tricky due to the varied weather we see in Texas. It is highly recommended that a soil test be done in late summer or early fall to confirm the existing nutrient status before adding fertilizer. Low plant nitrogen levels can have adverse effects on turfgrass emergence from winter dormancy. However, applying additional nitrogen when current levels are elevated can result in increased disease pressure (especially in St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass), winter weed growth, and potential localized water pollution. Our recommendation is to apply your final nitrogen fertilization no later than 6 weeks prior to the historical first frost date for your region. If a soil test is not possible, simple observations of the growth of your lawn in the weeks prior to the recommended fertilizer application date can be used as an indicator. If growth levels are still high, additional nitrogen may not be needed at all.


Remember, observing your local weather conditions and adjusting the lawn care management practices above to match can provide a beautiful lawn that’s ready for a nice winter rest without all the guesswork. For additional information on turfgrass care and maintenance visit or contact your County Extension Agent for local advice.

Check out the fact sheet you can print and share. Water, fall 2023

Written By: Dean Minchillo: Extension Program Specialist – Urban Water;  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Dallas, TX 

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Uninvited vultures draw community ire: AgriLife provides solutions to human-vulture conflict

Two recent AgriLife Extension publications provide citizens with knowledge and tools to address potential conflicts between humans and vultures. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)

What can Texans do when their neighbors are unsightly, smelly and have the habit of relieving themselves wherever they like?

If those neighbors happen to be one of the state’s two vulture species, they can call on the expertise of wildlife specialists with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Wildlife Services.

“The range and population of turkey vultures and black vultures has expanded over the past decade, leading to increased interactions with humans in both urban and rural settings,” said Mikayla Killam, AgriLife Extension wildlife program specialist with the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management in Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While vultures don’t pose a direct threat to humans, some circumstances require intervention.

Killam said this increase in potential conflict was the driving force behind the development of two recent AgriLife Extension publications available at The resources educate Texans on how to address and resolve potential clashes with vultures while also adhering to federal law protecting vultures and other migratory bird species.

Conflicts unique to urban and rural environments

Killam said one way to address encroachment by vultures is to reduce attractants.

“As with other wildlife species, vultures are seeking resources,” Killam said. “In many cases, this is food.”

While vultures rely on carrion as a primary food source, urban environments can provide abundant sustenance in the form of food waste.

“Take, for example, dumpsters located outside of restaurants or school cafeterias,” Killam said. “If these aren’t properly secured, they can become a huge attractant for vultures.”

Killam said refuse is such an attractant that there are regulations in place limiting the proximity of garbage dumps to airports in an effort to prevent airplane and avian collisions.

Buildings and transmission towers also provide valuable roosting spaces that can support large gatherings of vultures—oftentimes numbering in the hundreds. The sheer amount of excrement that can collect at these roosting sites is a health concern when located in areas of human activity.

In addition to their roosting habits, preferences for nesting sites during spring months can lead to conflict.  

“I’ve seen vultures lay eggs right outside the doors of an urban office building or in a child’s playhouse in a suburban backyard,” said Linda Tschirhart-Hejl, district supervisor with Texas Wildlife Services.

Housed within AgriLife Extension, Texas Wildlife Services is a state- and federally-funded agency dedicated to resolving wildlife conflict to protect agriculture, property and natural resources while also safeguarding human health and safety.

“Like any parent, vultures are protective of their young—they may not fly in your face, but they can show aggression,” Tschirhart-Hejl said.

Vultures are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the killing, possession, import, export, sale or purchase of any migratory bird or its parts. This also includes the nests, eggs or chicks of protected birds.

In rural areas, vultures have been known to predate young or vulnerable livestock, which is of great concern during calving, lambing and kidding season.

“Black vultures are typically the main culprit in this,” Tschirhart-Hejl said. “This behavior can even result in indirect livestock death as a result of a cow accidentally trampling its calf while trying to protect it.”

Implementing solutions

Although they are protected by the Migratory Bird Act, there are numerous non-damaging actions residents and landowners can take to prevent conflict from escalating.

“The first action is just taking steps to make an area less desirable,” Killam said.

This includes removing or securing potential food sources, such as dumpsters. Or, in the case of roadkill or livestock mortality, proper disposal of carcasses.

“Ranchers can be proactive prior to calving, lambing or kidding season by making sure the area does not have any vulture attractants,” Tschirhart-Hejl said. “Remove any dead trees or brush piles that can act as roosting or loafing sites, and if there is any type of food attractant in the birthing area, make sure it is also removed.”

In the event a vulture conflict involves roosting on a structure, exclusion devices such as bird spikes, electric perch deterrents or other obstructions can be effective. 

If the conflict continues once attractants are removed, Killam said aversive conditioning can be implemented. This can include the placement of artificial dead vulture effigies, laser lights or pyrotechnics.  

“The point of harassment is that you can take action to deter the vulture, but you’re not harming the animal,” Killam said.

Only in special circumstances is lethal removal an option, and this may only be done after receiving a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“If someone is encountering an issue, we encourage them to contact Wildlife Services,” Tschirhart-Hejl said. “We’re the agency that deals with nuisance wildlife and can assist landowners in developing a damage management plan.”

Although vulture conflicts can arise, Killam said it’s important to not forget the beneficial role vultures and other native wildlife play in the ecosystem.

“One thing we try to emphasize is that this is a wildlife damage management plan—not a pest management plan,” she said. “While they may be annoying at times, they’re a part of our ecosystem and are doing valuable work. Our goal is to manage conflict, which ultimately is managing coexistence.”

Written By: Sarah Fuller 
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Statewide pest management trainings for school coordinators start in March New laws went in effect that school districts, coordinators need to be aware of

2 people looking at chairs

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has announced the schedule of integrated pest management, IPM, trainings for school coordinators for 2023.

2 people looking at chairs

AgriLife Extension school IPM specialist Janet Hurley and Wylie Independent School District IPM coordinator Tony Jacinto inspect a storage space of stacked chairs for pest issues at Wylie High School.

AgriLife Extension offers two-day in-depth regional trainings and one-day six-hour required trainings at many regional educational service centers to assist individuals who cannot travel but want to learn about the rules from the experts.

The in-person trainings will be held across the state. March 2 will be the first one-day training and March 29 will be the first two-day. Registration cost is $240 for two-day trainings or $155 for one day.

The cost includes lunch, a spiral-bound book with training materials and continuing education units for those with a Texas Department of Agriculture applicator license.

Class time is 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with an hour break for lunch.

Changes in rules, regulations

On Jan. 16, the adoption of the rule changes related to the Structural Pest Control Service, SPCS, proposed on Sept. 30 took effect.

“This year it is more important than ever that IPM coordinators for their schools are aware of new rules and law changes they must adhere to,” said Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist, Dallas, and school IPM training instructor.

All public schools in Texas are required under Texas Administrative Code to adopt, implement and maintain a school IPM program, but Hurley said many school districts are still not implementing their IPM programs to the letter of the law.

The Texas law requires each school board adopt an IPM policy that follows all legal requirements for pesticide use. The schools must make their policy available for the public to review. Importantly, each district must designate an IPM coordinator who ensures compliance with the IPM policy.

The state rules require that each district IPM coordinator attend a six-hour training class within six months of appointment. After initial training, the school IPM rules require that coordinators receive an additional six hours of training in school IPM every three years.

Hurley said one of the new rules has to do with the position of IPM coordinator and school districts are now required to notify the SPCS when an IPM coordinator leaves within 10 days of their leaving. This must be done in writing, and a new IPM coordinator must be appointed within 30 days of losing the current coordinator.

2023 trainings schedule

The dates of the two-day trainings, region and meeting addresses are as follows:

  • April 12-13, DFW area, Lewisville ISD facilities management office – multipurpose room, 1597 S. Edmunds Lane, Lewisville. Register at:

The one-day trainings are as follows:

  • March 2, East Texas, Region 8 Educational Service Center, Pittsburg. This event is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the cost is $100. Registration is required by Feb. 23. Register at:

Vendors and those interested in event sponsorship can learn more on the School IPM website.

Online trainings also available

“In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer a six-hour school IPM course or the one-hour school IPM refresher course online,” Hurley said.

Participants may register for online trainings at The cost is $25 for the refresher course and $45 for the six-hour course. There is also a free course available for those wanting to learn about integrated pest management in school gardens.

IPM coordinator responsibilities

These trainings are designed to give the IPM coordinator, who often wears more than one “hat” at the school district, a foundation to oversee their role in the IPM program.

“It’s important to understand that the school IPM coordinator for a school district has a lot to oversee; it’s more than just teachers complaining about ants in their classrooms,” Hurley said.

School IPM rules require that the district IPM coordinator oversee and be responsible for:

  • Work with pest management personnel.
  • Ensure all who perform pest control are licensed and trained.
  • Maintain all IPM records.
  • Ensure district administrators adhere to IPM guidelines with pest contracts.
  • All pesticides used on school district follow school district’s IPM program and current pesticide labels and safety data sheets are maintained.
  • Educate school administrators and relevant school district personnel about their roles in the IPM program, reporting and notification procedures.
  • Maintain a current copy of the school district’s IPM policy.

Written By Susan Himes, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension 

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Open House November 4, 2022 to Welcome our new Entomologist

Howdy IPM Experience House and School IPM readers!

bryant mcdowell Janet hurley

Bryant McDowell ’19 and Janet Hurley, ACE

It is with much please to announce that we have hired a new entomologist for the Dallas Center.  Mr. Bryant McDowell graduated with his Master of Science in Entomology in 2019 from Texas A&M University.  His thesis: Population genetics and the colony breeding structure of the invasive tawny crazy ant, Nylanderia fulva, in Texas will allow him to help Texans with identifying ants.

McDowell’s role as the Extension Program Specialist for Urban IPM will be to support the IPM Experience House by providing training classes for pest management professionals.  In addition to the IPM House, Bryant will also be supporting Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s County Agents with insect identification, master volunteer training and supporting county programs.

McDowell will also support the school IPM program by helping with the educational events that are conducted with Dr. Don Renchie at the four regional events.

Join us on Friday, November 4th from 3:00 – 6:00 PM at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center Water and Land Resources Building for light refreshments and a chance to talk to the entomologist.  Tours of the IPM Experience House will also be available.  Follow this link to register

There is no charge to attend; however, we are asking that everyone register so that we can have an accurate head count for the food and beverages.  Even this planner knows it’s a Friday afternoon during football season, so we do suggest wearing your favorite sports team gear as well.

To our past and present donors, our registration website has a place for you to sign up to donate to the IPM Experience House.  Bryant and I are hoping to use this event, our fall IPM seminar Nov. 15th and rodent academy to ‘pick’ your brains on what classes you would like to see us hold in 2023.

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SPN: Licensing, monitoring, and deep cleaning- tips for you.

Howdy Readers,

Before I embark on a much-needed vacation I wanted to share a few items with you so you will have some answers while I’m away.

The most common question I get is “how do I get a license”. This newsletter article has all the information you need plus a YouTube video with detailed steps.

But here is the basic information: Step 1 – Contact TDA to register online – don’t send information to Austin, as it might get lost, but if you apply online they will get that information within 24 hours.  Step 2) sign up and take the 8-hour technician training course – this is good information to help you pass the general exam for the AG or SPCS, purchase the category manuals you need and study, study, and study.  Step 3) Once you receive your letter from TDA informing you are now eligible to take your exam from PSI. PSI is a testing site that is open long hours, weekends and are found across the state. You must have the letter from TDA before you can take an exam.

Next question I receive is on how do I keep my IPM program up to date and do I have all the right information? This link will take you to an article on how to keep your program organized. 

Using these small sticky cards in classrooms, kitchens and other areas helps alert the coordinator and PMP what insect pests are in the area.

What confuses many IPM coordinators is what does TDA mean by monitoring and thresholds? Monitoring and thresholds are commonly associated with indoor insect pests but can also be used outdoors to decide specific grounds maintenance routines like fire ant baiting and the use of pre-emergent versus post emergent herbicide treatments. For any integrated pest management program to be effective you must know what you and where it lives. Once that has been determined then it’s the use of the scientific knowledge of the pest’s behavior that will lend itself to an action plan that uses metrics to control or prevent this pest. Thresholds are not meant to be rigid they are designed to be guides to help the coordinator, pest management professional and district administrators understand the steps needed to control pests. Check out this article from 2016 on using glue boards to monitor in your IPM program for more details on this topic. 

Finally, as your campuses close for the summer check out this article from December 2020 for things to look for as you schedule your deep cleaning program.  Remember exclusion is the best way to keep insects, rodents, bats, and birds out of your buildings.

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SPN Spring Updates

AgriLife Logo

Hello everyone,

I realize that it has been a quiet late winter and early spring from the school IPM team; however, this newsletter is designed to catch you up.

For those of you who are looking for school IPM coordinator training, AgriLife Extension has three two-day events coming this year. Our prices are still the same since 2007, $210 for both days, $135 for one day only. If you attend the first day you will receive a certificate that indicates, you have taken the 6-hour required course. In addition to those 6 hours if you are licensed in the 3A category you will receive 3 CEU credits. If you are licensed in SPCS you will receive 5 hours.

On day two we will cover ants, mosquitoes, weeds, IPM and laws & rules. This will allow participants to obtain 6 hours SPCS CEU credits or school IPM refresher course. If you hold a TDA AG license (3A, 3B, 12) you will receive 5 CEU credits from TDA. If you hold a registered sanitarian license you can also receive credit for each day attended. To see the full agenda, visit our website here

Location                                               Training Date

San Antonio region                         May 11 & 12, 2022                                          

San Antonio ISD Central Office, 514 W. Quincy Street, San Antonio, Texas 78205

Registration direct link  School IPM Coordinator Training (registration)

Houston Area                                    September 14 & 15, 2022                             

Fort Bend County AgriLife Extension, 4332 Highway 36 S, Rosenberg, TX 77471

Registration direct link School IPM Coordinator Training

Central TX Area                                October 12 & 13, 2022                                  

Round Rock ISD: Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex, 10211 W Parmer Ln, Austin, TX 78717

Registration direct link  School IPM Coordinator Training

If you wish to be invoiced for event registration, please fill out this AgriLife Events Invoice Request or call 979-321-5005 for assistance.

Class time is 8:30 am to 5:00 pm with lunch typically provider by one of many sponsors. Participants will receive a notebook, packet of IPM posters and additional handouts depending on the topic and supplies.

Applicator Licensing

Many of you have asked about obtaining a license for yourself or an employee. Remember this is a three-step process 1) contacting TDA to sign up a person to receive the license (AG or SPCS); 2) take the 8 hour technician training (this helps with passing the general exam); 3) upon receipt of the letter from TDA to the license applicant (who is getting the license not the district) sign up with PSI to take the exams.  When you take the exams be sure to select the correct license category ag versus structural, then making sure you select the appropriate exams for you license. Everyone must take and pass the general standards exam ($64) and then depending on your license desire you will at least one more category exam ($64). This past newsletter article and YouTube video is designed to assist you get through all these steps  Still not sure then please contact the staff in Dr. Renchie’s office at 979-845-1099 or 979-845-3849, they are there to help get you licensed. 

News From Department State Health Services 

Funding Opportunities
Urban Schools Agricultural Grant Program

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has opened the Urban Schools Agricultural Grant Program. The grant will fund agricultural-related programs for urban elementary and middle public-school pupils enrolled in districts with populations of 49,000 or more. The program helps improve students’ understanding of agriculture through projects such as school vegetable gardens. These projects can provide lessons not only in horticulture, but also in water conservation and nutrition. The program provides up to $2,500 each for the funded elementary and middle schools’ agricultural demonstration projects. Applications must be submitted by May 5, 2022. View the TDA Urban Schools Agricultural Grant description and application.

Nutrition Environment and Services
Grow Your Own Salad Lesson Plan

Kids Gardening offers a free lesson plan to support young people growing their own salad during any season. The lesson plan includes a materials list, description, and specific instructions. The lesson can be used with a wide age range of young people. Download the full lesson plan from Kids Gardening.

Health Education 
Celebrate Every Kid Healthy Week: April 25-29, 2022

Action for Healthy Kids created a wellness themed week to celebrate and encourage kids’ health. Celebrate Every Kid Healthy week at school and at home by planning activities, events, and lessons to promote health and wellness among students and families. Action for Healthy Kids resources and event ideas are free and available for download.

Something a little outside the IPM toolbox.

In a recent edition of the California School & Child Care IPM Program newsletter they posted these resources of using birds of prey as a way to oversee a variety of pest problems. Biological control doesn’t always mean lady beetles feeding on aphids. Using birds of prey to help manage rabbits, rodents, voles, and sparrows is a natural way to keep nature in balance and a way to educate students and staff about the cycle of life. To learn more about raptors for biological IPM? Check out these Department of Pesticide Regulation resources!





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Texas bats to emerge soon: Learn more about the risks, benefits of bats.

freetail bats in flight

Mexican Free tail bats emerging from Frio Cave

Bats are beginning to become active in some southern parts of the state, and while cold fronts could reduce activity, it is a good time for the public to be aware of the benefits and risks associated with Texas species.

Janet Hurley, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service integrated pest management specialist, Dallas, said Texas residents should expect bat activity to increase as temperatures climb.

Hurley said bats are typically more prevalent in areas with agricultural fields in proximity, but cities like Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Waco, Temple and College Station and the surrounding suburbs have higher bat populations.

Bats will soon be exiting torpor as temperatures allow them to activate and seek food and water, Hurley said.

“Activity will be on the increase over the coming weeks and months. Once evening temperatures are consistently 70 degrees, it will be game on,” she said. “That tells them it is time to be out there feeding on insects.”

Billion-dollar bats


The tri-colored bat is among the 33 species found in Texas. They historically ranged in the eastern half of the state but have been reported as far west as Lubbock County. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research)

Bats consume large amounts of insects, including crop-damaging pests, and are considered a beneficial species, she said. But they can also be a nuisance and pose a public health risk. It is important for people to be mindful of their presence and role in the environment and cautious during encounters.

There are 33 bat species in Texas, representing one of the most diverse bat populations in the U.S. — a population that is growing.

Bats roost in various habitats, including caves, trees and bridges, but they are increasingly found in buildings. They typically roost near food or water sources, but some bats travel miles each night to eat their favored foods.

Texas bats consume some mosquitoes, Hurley said, but their diets consist primarily of moths, including corn earworm and armyworm moths, and beetles. This diet plays a large role in controlling insect pests in agriculture. It is estimated Texas bats eat enough insects to save producers over $1.4 billion annually in pest control costs alone.

“They literally are billion-dollar bats,” she said. “We have resident bats that never leave, but many species migrate into Texas from Mexico, and some migrate from Mexico up to Wisconsin. Many times, their migration will coincide with the migration of the various moths. They can’t consume enough, but they try.”

Take precautions, avoid contact

Roosting sites in buildings can increase the chance of interactions with humans and the annoyances of noise, odor, piles of droppings and the potential danger of rabies.

Only a tiny percentage of bats in colonies carry rabies, but any bat found on the ground is more likely to be sick or injured. Signs of possible rabies infection are flying in the daytime, dirt in the bat’s mouth or teeth, abnormal sounds, cloudy eyes, dehydration, mucous in the nostrils, breathing difficulties and spastic movements or paralysis.

“It’s best to avoid handling bats under any circumstance,” she said. “They may seem cute, but a grounded bat during daylight hours, as with any nocturnal animal out during daylight, there is a greater chance they have rabies or some other zoonotic disease.”

Hurley said a bite, scratch or even saliva transmission could be problematic.

If there is any chance a person may have been bitten or had direct contact with a bat, the animal should be captured and submitted to the local health department for rabies testing. For more information about rabies, visit the Texas Department of State Health Services Infectious Disease Control website.

Bat in the house?

Typically, bats that enter a home do so by accident. If they do not find their way out, they can be safely captured by waiting until the bat lands on the wall or ceiling.

man collecting a bat with a bucket

Use what is handy to gently collect the bat. If no one has touched the bat you can release, if human or pet comes in contact with a bat call your local animal control for more information.

Carefully place a box or coffee can over the bat and slide a piece of cardboard between so that the bat remains inside the container. If there is a reason to believe the bat could be sick and tested for rabies, call your local law enforcement or animal control to have it picked up. If no one comes in contact with the bat, it can be turned over to a wildlife rescue organization or released outside away from people and pets, preferably after sundown.

“Be calm because the more you get excited, the more they will get excited,” she said. “Put on some good leather gloves, let them land somewhere and then use anything like a shoebox or small trashcan and cardboard or something to scoop them into it. If they just flew in accidentally and seem fine, you can take them outside, but make sure to place them somewhere they can launch from like onto a tree. Bats cannot take off from the ground like birds.”

If a bat is found in a room with an unattended child or someone sleeping or there is a reasonable possibility the person came in contact with the bat, the bat should be captured and submitted to the designated local public health agency for testing. Pets should not be allowed to interact with bats.

Bat colonies that take up residence in attics, in wall spaces or under eaves of occupied buildings can be safely evicted. Using pesticides against bats is illegal and using traps can drive bats to other areas of a structure. The best method is exclusion techniques that allow bats to exit but prevent reentry.

A free online AgriLife Extension “Bats 101” course describes practices related to integrated pest management, IPM, practices and bats as pests, how to perform bat removal and exclusion techniques, and how to solve bat problems by applying IPM techniques.

School IPM Coordinators check out the IPM Management plan for bats

Written by Adam Russell, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife

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SPN: Pesticides: Proper use key to produce food, protect human health

Before you use any pesticide product read the label first.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, recognizes February as National Pesticide Safety Education Month.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Pesticide Safety Education and Extension faculty encourage the public to take the time this month to better understand the role pesticides play in our daily life and how to properly use them, since pesticides can present potential dangers when misused, mishandled, or incorrectly stored.

“During National Pesticide Safety Education Month, we should reflect upon the vital role that pesticides play in protecting our health and ensuring a stable food supply while also acknowledging that if not used correctly, pesticides can cause harm to people and the environment”, said Mark Matocha, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agricultural and environmental unit pesticide safety education specialist, Bryan-College Station.

To aid in that effort, the EPA has expanded the scope of information available including new resources and videos in Spanish, said Matocha.

Pesticides are regulated by the EPA and represent a broad category that applies to far more products than the average consumer might imagine. Everything from cleaning products and antimicrobials to herbicides and bug repellents are pesticides.

Pesticides and public perception

“Most often, the public has the perception that pesticides are dangerous with few benefits to society”, said Don Renchie, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension pesticide safety education specialist and program leader and coordinator, Bryan-College Station.

“The truth of the matter is that without the judicious use of pesticides, things we take for granted in daily life would be vastly different”, he said. “The public water supply in the U.S. relies on pesticides to remove biological contaminants; mosquito control programs rely on pesticides to prevent the spread of disease; and pesticides are instrumental in preventing food pest depredation”.

Land-grant university driven pesticide education

The National Stakeholder Team for Pesticide Safety Education Program Funding was formed in 2012 to strengthen and support the land-grant university Pesticide Safety Education Program, PSEP.

“That effort began from the tireless work of the pesticide stakeholder team, which was spearheaded by Dr. Carol Somody”, Renchie said. “She and the team envisioned the need to bring attention to the role pesticides play in everyday life, from protecting the food crops we eat to mitigating viruses such as COVID-19”.

The EPA supports land-grant university programs for the education and training of certified pesticide applicators in all 50 states and U.S. territories. PSEPs provide pesticide applicator training on the safe use of restricted-use pesticides by applicators in agricultural, commercial, and residential setting.

As a land-grant university, Texas A&M plays a key role in educating, informing, and serving all Texans. The PSEP part of that service is achieved through AgriLife Extension faculty’s pesticide safety education outreach activities statewide.

Pesticides: Not just for ‘pests’

Remember to read the label, washing hands after use should be exercised by anyone using these products without gloves.

When many people think of pesticides, they think of their utilization to eliminate unwanted insects and pests. But it’s not just about bugs, said Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist, Dallas.

“Most people don’t think pesticide safety is something they need to be concerned with”, she said. “But they don’t realize a lot of the chemicals they use day in and day out for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting — especially since the emergence of COVID-19 — are all pesticides.”

Read the label, then read it again

Consumers have been encouraged to read food labels for years, but pesticide labels haven’t received the same focus on education, Hurley said.

“The label is there to be read”, she stressed. “It will tell you everything you need to know—the active ingredients, if protective gear is needed, how much and how to use it, and potential dangers”.

She also said that it is necessary to read the label every time, as different brands and formulations can have different active ingredients and application instructions. Following directions ensures the product is being used in the safest and most effective manner possible. It also means that you are utilizing it in the most cost-effective manner and not wasting product.

“Take disinfecting wipes for an example, it doesn’t matter who makes them or what brand, you must read the label”, Hurley said. “If you’re going to use one to wipe off a countertop that may be okay, but if you’re going to wipe down a large area you need to wear gloves. People need to read the directions and follow them. They don’t all have the same active ingredient”.

Pesticides: More doesn’t equal better

Using more of a product than its labeled usage isn’t going to make it work more effectively and can even be dangerous to people and pets, she said.

Remember when using insecticides and herbicides you should always protect yourself from exposure.

Some common home-cleaning mistakes are using products in a closed room with poor ventilation. Some products used together can even cause a deadly chemical reaction.

“Most of these things people just store under their kitchen or bathroom sink and don’t really think about having these things in the reach of children or pets either”, Hurley said.

She said that just as we want to be aware of what we expose our bodies to when it comes to the food we ingest and the water we drink, the same is true for the chemicals we are exposing ourselves to when using pesticides for cleaning, addressing pest issues, or working in the garden.

“This isn’t a case where more is better”, Hurley said. “In order to protect ourselves and our environment, we have to be aware, and that requires some level of self-education to know what you are using and how to use it”.

A helpful educational website both Hurley and the EPA recommend is the National Pesticide Information Center.

Safety indoors and out

As the weather warms and people start looking forward to being outdoors more, Hurley said it is important to keep best practices in mind inside and outside.

EPA assesses the risks and benefits of all pesticides sold and distributed in the U.S. and requires instructions on each pesticide label for safe use.

The EPA’s best pesticide awareness practices include:

  • Storing pesticides in their original containers with proper labels.
  • Storing pesticides out of the reach of children and pets, preferably locked up.
  • Using the amount specified on the label.
  • Washing hands with soap and water after using a pesticide.
  • Keeping children and pets from entering sprayed areas until they dry.
  • Keeping pesticides away from food and dishes.
  • Washing clothes that have been in contact with pesticides immediately and separately from other items.

Renchie said he wanted to remind the public to remember that it “is important that pesticides be used in strict accordance with their label directions, but it is equally important that the public realize that when used properly, pesticides enhance both the quality and quantity of life”.

Written By Susan Himes, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife

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Rabies Awareness & Prevention Poster Contest for K-12th Grade

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Mark your calendars! The Texas DSHS Zoonosis Control Branch annual Rabies Awareness & Prevention Poster Contest is accepting submissions until April 8, 2022. Parents and teachers of children in grades K-12, this is a fun way for them to learn about the risks of rabies and much more.

Students will learn:

🦇The importance of rabies vaccinations for pets

🦇Respecting wildlife from a distance

🦇Notifying adults of exposure to an infected animal

A sample of a past submission

The Zach Jones Memorial Fund provides generous prizes for winners in each age group (K, 1-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12). Deadline for poster submissions is April 8, 2022. Contest information and instructions for teachers, students and parents can be found on the DSHS Zoonosis Control website.

Rabies is a viral disease that kills over 59,000 people every year around the world. Fortunately, human deaths from rabies in the United States are very rare (approximately one to three deaths per year, almost exclusively due to rabies associated with bats). This is due to strict animal control laws, widespread pet vaccinations, and public health intervention in identified rabies-exposure cases. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis is 100% effective when administered properly. However, the treatment is very expensive and requires multiple shots over a period of time.

Skunks and bats are the most commonly affected species in Texas. Private residences and school grounds are the most common locations in Texas for exposure to rabid bats. Bat bites are not always noticeable and many people are unaware that exposure to bats poses a risk. Most of these rabies exposures are preventable through education.

For the last twelve years, the TX Department of State Health Services Zoonosis Control Branch has facilitated an educational “Rabies Awareness & Prevention Poster Contest” for school kids. Students throughout Texas can participate by designing posters that promote rabies awareness and the respect of bats and other wildlife from a distance. Winners of the contest are awarded prizes provided by the Zach Jones Memorial Fund (ZJMF) The fund was founded in remembrance of Zachary Ross Jones after he died of rabies at the age of sixteen. The ZJMF strives to raise funds in order to assist with educational awareness, early detection, and ultimately the cure for rabies.

Please help us spread the word about this fun, educational outreach project. Share this information with school administrators, teachers and nurses! The link to contest documents and winners can be found here

This poster was designed by a student almost a decade ago.

Rabies Awareness Full color poster 11 x 17 in PDF so you can print now.

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