SPN: Understanding the pest control contract

Monitoring is part of an IPM program. Be sure that your company is giving you the best service you can afford.

Do you find your IPM program lacking? Frustrated that you are getting the services you think you are paying for? Then it’s time to look at pest control bid specifications and make some adjustments. When it comes to pest control program there are three basic goals. First, the program needs to be as safe as possible. The program reduces the risk from both pesticides and pests. Second, the program should be effective in eliminating pests as a potential health threat. Finally, the program should be affordable. The program should be simple and as easy to implement as possible. It should not also rely only on spraying insecticides, the company you hire should be able to determine where the pests are coming from so they can be eliminated, not tolerated.

In Texas, schools have had to abide by state guidelines that require adoption and implementation of IPM practices. Unfortunately, not every school district and pest control contractor understands these concepts. In my experience, too often schools use a standard contract developed by the purchasing department and don’t require additional reporting and monitoring by the pest control contractor without considering price and time. Many of the state mandated IPM programs require the contractor to excessively monitor, seek permission prior to making pesticide applications, and require excessive and elaborate systems for evaluating all the pest management systems. As a result, this often frustrates the customer and pest management professional. Therefore, one of the most important factors in having a successful IPM Program in schools is defining the role the pest management professional in your IPM program.

The biggest mistake I have observed in working with the different school districts has been the bid process. School districts have not updated bid specifications* ten and sometimes, 20 years. Schools are still requesting that their contractor to make routine pesticide applications in their kitchens and other sensitive areas. Whether your pest management professional is applying a residual insecticide or uses baits and gels, if they are making applications every time they visit your campuses, the contractor is not practicing integrated pest management. (*Note at the end of this article are a few examples of bid specs)

Too often pest control companies are not equipped to service schools in the way they are requested or expected to do so. This results in ill feelings from both parties. However, we recommend that schools and companies work together to assure that IPM principles and pest control needs are being met. An IPM program is a team effort between the pest management professional and ALL the school employees, it’s not just one person out there spraying.

Here are some tips that are important in writing a bid specification and pest control contracts.

  1. Program Management – who’s going to run the contract? Who will be responsible for the oversight of this contract? For Texas schools, if the IPM Coordinator is responsible for the IPM program, do they also have the reasonability for overseeing the pest control contract? It has been my experience this doesn’t often happen. The IPM Coordinator should have input into the decision making related to the pest control contract, this means working with the purchasing department for the district and have a chance to interview the potential companies to see how they will respond
  2. Type of Contract – how will you pay the contractor? Will it be a firm-fixed price or indefinite delivery (as needed basis)? A firm-fixed price generally refers to a set price on a monthly or quarterly basis. The indefinite delivery method in general runs counter to an IPM program. It requires pesticide applications without considering IPM principles. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, which will require discussion between the IPM coordinator, purchasing manager, and other school administrators to develop a package that is right for your program.
  3. Estimating Cost – what is the going rate for pest control? According to the pest control companies I have talked with is this: the bad news is not paying enough is the single most important reason for receiving mediocre pest control service. The good news is pest control is probably the least expensive service of all the building services a school district needs. School administrators need to understand what they are requesting and pay accordingly, rather than relying on what was acceptable ten and twenty years ago. Do you consider the type of structures you have and their age? Does the structure have conditions that lend themselves to constant pest problems? What about accessibility? In many cases the only person who has keys to dry food storage is the kitchen manager – is he/she present when the pest management person is there? If they are not, will it cost your district more to have someone present, or will that area be neglected during routine inspections? Moreover, if is not being inspected, what happens when you have an infestation of cockroaches or rodents?
  4. Method of Award – how will you select the contractor? Generally, there are two methods used by schools. Sealed bidding means an award based solely on price, it’s considered the quickest and simplest, most efficient award. The problem with this method is it often draws from the more undesirable companies. The more revolutionary type of award method is Source Selection. This method allows for detailed, comprehensive evaluation of the pest control companies ability to deliver quality service. This method can be cumbersome and time intensive. It requires the IPM Coordinator to work prior to sending out the request for proposal, which is also required per the Texas School IPM rules.
  5. Statement of Work – exactly what is the contractor expected to do. Too often this is where schools make their biggest mistake. They start their bid process with this step rather than the first four steps. While it is important to understand, what services will be covered, it is equally important to understand the school’s role versus the pest control contactors role. For example, for rodent control who is responsible for exclusion? Since it’s the school building, does your district utilize a preventative maintenance program to seal up any openings the size of a dime or larger? Or do you expect your pest control company to do this? If you answered yes, then how much are you willing to pay? This is not the time for IPM ideology and remember that in order for structural pest control to be effective, pesticides must be considered and you have a role in the program as well, if you don’t fix the conducive conditions you can’t expect the pest problem to go away.
  6. Quality assurance – how will the contractor’s work be evaluated? This final step is often overlooked. In my experience, many pest control contracts do not offer an “out clause” that allows the IPM coordinator an option to get out of contract for poor performance. The true sign of a good pest control company is the reduction of pest complaints, along with a reduction of pesticide applications. Since IPM is about pest prevention, the contractor and the school should be working in tandem to deliver a safe environment for students and staff.

In addition to the six steps above, remember that IPM is more than just pest control. While the pest management professional has oversight of inspections and corrective actions, the overall pest control effort includes improvements in sanitation and exclusion throughout the facility where conditions for pest infestation have been identified. This requires a commitment from the school district, as well as the pest control contractor.

Finally, here are some important tips for schools who are struggling with their contractor. At the minimum, ask yourself and your staff the following questions. If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, it’s time to review your bid specifications and contract and seek help from a qualified specialist.

  • Are pests or evidence of pest frequently encountered?
  • Are there obvious conducive conditions for pests?
  • Are insecticides being routinely sprayed indoors? Are there obvious indoor rodenticide placements? (Review those service tickets every month)
  • Is pest control service limited to pesticide application, with little or no inspection of potential trouble spots? (Does the technician list problem areas on the service ticket?)
  • Are many occupants dissatisfied with the pest control service?

If you answered “no” to all the above questions, your pest control program is successful and conforms to the intent of the school IPM mandates. If you answered yes, then it’s time to review your IPM program and work to solving those issues. Remember Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has experts that can help you with your program so don’t hesitate to contact us.

Here are a couple of documents to help guide you.

Sample Bid Contract Request for Proposal using IPM

Sample RFP

Monitoring for Insect Pests


SPN: Bed bugs happen: Even in school

Written by: Dr. Mike Merchant, Professor and Urban Entomologist

A message to all parents with kids in school:  Bed bugs happen.

Image of a fed bed bug, by Gary Alpert Harvard

Bed bugs happen even in your children’s school, and like it or not we’re all going to have to deal with it. That will mean fighting the inclination to go into hyper-protective parent mode. Instead we all need to relax.  Deep breaths.  Eyes closed. Find your center.  Breeeathe… it will be all right.

It doesn’t matter what kind of school our kids attend, there’s a good chance that sooner or later you’ll hear rumors of bed bugs on campus.  I say this with some confidence because, in case you haven’t heard, these tiny, bloodsucking pests have become something of an epidemic over the past 15 years.  It’s inevitable that sooner or later children who live in infested homes will bring bed bugs to school.  While statistics are few, the numbers of public and private schools reporting problems appear to be on the rise.

Even so, the number of schools with bed bug infestations remain few and far between.  Notice the difference between a report of an introduction (one or a few bed bugs being brought somewhere) and an infestation (an entrenched, actively feeding, reproducing and sustainable community).

Schools get introductions, but almost never get infestations of bed bugs.  Why? Because schools are dynamic environments.  Our kids don’t usually sleep at school (at least not long enough to become a bug snack). On top of that, school children rarely slow down long enough to interest a shy, retiring blood-feeding parasite.  And that’s a good thing.

  Schools get introductions, but almost never get infestations of bed bugs.

In fact, until this week, I had not heard of a documented case of a public or private school with a bed bug infestation.  Dr. Marcia Anderson, of the Environmental Protection Agency, enlightened me this week about a few of the schools she has investigated over the years with actual, if isolated, infestations of bed bugs.  In my opinion, however, the stories seems to be a case where the exceptions serve to prove the rule.  And such stories are rare in my experience.

Classroom reading area with bed bug infested sofa. Photo courtesy M. Anderson

The cases Marcia reported involved donated sofas. In some of the cases, love seats and couches were brought into classrooms for reading areas.  Children thought the furniture was a good place to toss their backpacks, and eventually bed bugs found their way from backpack to sofa. In these situations, bed bugs were able to survive for a time thanks to students and teachers who would sit for extended times, or even nap, on the comfiest furniture in school.  At least long enough to embolden a bed bug to sneak out for a meal.

In another school, discarded, but decent-looking sofas and love seat were donated to deck out the teacher’s lounge.  Turns out all of the aforementioned upholstered furniture was discarded for a reason.  It had bed bugs.  In a couple of these cases the district had the furniture steam-treated, in one case, repeatedly.  In most of the cases, the problem went away when the furniture was removed… no pesticides needed.

And that’s my point.  Even though bed bugs are easily carried from home to school, we shouldn’t assume that our schools will necessarily get overrun with bed bugs. The chance of a stray bed bug being able to safely take the blood meals required to establish a long-term new home in a school is low.  And infestations are so rare because individual bed bugs don’t commonly survive long when moved to a relatively hostile environment, like a school.

So what should schools be doing about bed bugs?  First, every school should have a policy about bed bugs.  It should involve the following:

  • Kids should not be singled out for notice, or stigmatized, for bringing bed bugs to school.  Kids have a difficult enough time without being labeled as bed bug smugglers.  Instead, the parents of kids with bed bugs should be discreetly advised about the problem, and assisted with information about how to make their home bed bug free.
  • Backpacks of kids from bed bug infested homes should be isolated, or treated with heat, and the child encouraged not to put their belongings on, under or next to beds, sofas, or stuffed chairs overnight.
  • Pest control should be asked to inspect trouble spots and vacuum or steam furniture within 5-10 feet of a bed bug sighting.  Pesticides should almost never be needed.
  • Baited interceptor monitors should be placed around trouble spots and left overnight, or better yet, over the weekend.  After a week or two of this kind of sampling (and trapping), the classroom can be declared clear.
  • In the meantime, students, staff and teachers should be educated about bed bugs and what they look like.  When and whether to inform parents about an introduction should be part of the policy.
  • School nurses should be involved in the process.  A nurses office can be a safe place for a child to have their belongings thoroughly inspected or heat treated, or stored for the day.  Items with suspected infestations can usually be safely stored in a large garbage bag or smooth, vertical sided tote box that bed bugs find difficult to exit.

The good news in all this is that bed bugs are not known to carry any disease, and the chance that your child will bring home a bed bug is low.

It’s possible to both overreact, and underreact, to bed bugs.  Overreaction might result in unnecessary disruption and expense for the school, or unnecessary pesticides being used. And you don’t want that.  Under-reaction is usually due to not knowing what to do.  Inquire if your school has a policy for dealing with bed bugs.  If not, suggest that they look at our model protocol for schools (and don’t allow used sofas to be brought to campus).

And now, relax.  Deep breaths.  Eyes closed. Find your center.  Breathe… it will be all right.

SPN: Fleas and Ticks

By: Dr. Mike Merchant, Professor and Urban Entomologist

Image of a cat flea up close

Fleas and ticks are not the kind of pests one normally expects to find in schools, but then what’s normal about school IPM?  Several recent calls to our office have concerned flea and tick problems, some of which are apparently being brought from home, and some which may be originating on school grounds.  So let’s learn some basics about these two pest types.

Fleas are insect pests of warm blooded animals.  About 95% of flea species specialize in feeding on certain mammals, and only about 5% feed on birds.  The most common flea encountered on people, dogs and cats is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis.  Though cat fleas readily bite humans, they cannot survive and reproduce on human blood alone.  Therefore, apart from the occasional flea that might be transported from a home, the presence of fleas in a school classroom indicates a furry host is nearby.

Most chronic flea problems in schools can be traced to feral dogs or cats, or the occasional opossum or raccoon that have taken up residence in a building crawl space or attic.  In such cases, look critically at the structure to determine possible entry points, and the location of possible den sites.  Live traps are usually the best way to remove unwanted boarders.  Potential entry points should be closed up as soon as the suspected animals are removed.  Rats and other rodents can also harbor fleas, but rat fleas are less likely to be a biting problem for people.

This American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabillis) is found on a grass blade. Most commonly referred as questing. Image from Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org

Ticks are most often picked up outdoors.  Ticks can hitchhike for several days in the hair or on hard-to-see parts of the body, so finding a tick on a teacher or student is not certain proof that the tick was picked up at school.  Playgrounds that border on natural prairies, un-mowed fields or the edges of forests may be a source of ticks.

Ticks typically hitch rides on the shoes, socks, or pants legs of people when they walk through suitable tick habitat.  Ticks may wander and climb over the body of their potential host for several hours before attaching.  The idea that ticks climb into trees to drop on unsuspecting children or adults underneath is not true, though ticks are frequently found attached to the head amidst the hair.  These ticks simply climbed, unnoticed, from the lower body to the head before attaching.

Numerous ticks in a classroom is rare, but if they occurred, it would signal the presence of a nearby tick-infested dog.  The brown dog tick is the only tick species that is normally found indoors and its sole hosts are dogs.  If the infested dog is a pet, it should be removed from the school and treated immediately by a qualified vet.  If the infestation appears to be coming from a crawl space or den under a portable classroom, the insecticide permethrin, or similar registered Yellow-Category product, can provide control. Be sure to spray vertical as well as horizontal surfaces, since ticks typically climb a vertical walls to rest after a blood meal.

Outdoor tick infestations can be suppressed to some extent by mowing grass where it is suspected that children might be picking up the ticks—say along edges of sidewalks or playgrounds.  If further actions are needed, permethrin can provide extended suppression of ticks along the edges of grassy or brushy sites.

For more information on fleas and ticks, see online publications E-433 Controlling Fleas or E-150 Control Those Ticks and in Spanish E-150S: El Control de Garrapatas

IPM Action Plan for Fleas

We have the best mobile website on ticks http://tickapp.tamu.edu/ 

Insect growth regulators, such as Precor® or NyGard®, are effective Green-category products for flea control indoors, particularly in carpets and along floor edges and under buildings.  Sprays should be directed to sites where animals are suspected to hide or rest during the day.  Keep in mind that most IGRs kill flea larvae, but not adult fleas.  Sprays containing limonene or pyrethrins are effective Green-category products that can knock down and kill adult fleas, but they may need repeated applications over 1-2 weeks for a well-established flea problem.  Underneath a building, a longer-residual product, like permethrin, may be needed.

Insect growth regulators in today’s pesticide market are man-made versions of compounds that are very similar to insect hormones.  The concept of using insect hormones was first discovered by researchers studying insect metamorphosis in the late 1950s.  The first insect hormone to be discovered was referred to as “juvenile hormone” (JH) because of its action in keeping insects in the immature state.  It was noticed that when JH was applied to some immature insects, like Cecropia moth caterpillars, they could be kept almost indefinitely in the caterpillar stage.  Here was the fountain of youth, or as one researcher put it, a “Peter Pan hormone”.

It was quickly discovered that even small amounts of some juvenile hormone mimics applied to the cuticle of developing insects could also disrupt normal metamorphosis, causing them to die without completing development.  Surely this would be “a truly perfect insecticide, for the insects could hardly evolve a resistance to their own hormones,” reasoned one early JH researcher.

Several commercially successful hormone-mimicking insecticides have been developed over the years.  Though perhaps not the perfect, all-around insecticides originally envisioned, they have proven to be successful tools for the management of certain pests.  In addition, these “IGRs”, as they came to be known, proved to be generally very low in acute toxicity to mammals and birds, groups that share no similar hormone systems with insects.

Under the current Texas school IPM regulations, IGR products may be applied to schools without needing to file a use-Justification form with the IPM Coordinator.  This means that an applicator or licensed technician can apply an IGR during an inspection, whenever he or she deems it appropriate, providing they follow the 48-hour indoor posting rule.  Effective IGR products include fire ant baits, flea and cockroach sprays, termite baits, some ant baits, and mosquito Larvicides.  There are also excellent IGRs for the control of whiteflies, aphids, scales, and fungus gnats infesting outdoor and indoor plants.

Juvenile hormone-mimics work by disrupting the metamorphosis process.  JH-compounds work principally on immature stages and are generally slow to produce a pest control effect.  They are generally non-toxic to adult stages, but can be quite effective in killing immature insects and sterilizing adults.  Examples:

  • methoprene
    • Extinguish® (fire ants)
    • Precor®, Archer® (fleas)
    • Pharorid™ (ants)
    • Altosid®, PreStrike™ (mosquitoes)
    • Award ® (fire ants)
    • Apex® (fungus gnats)
  • hydroprene
    • Gencor®, Point Source™ (cockroaches)
  • pyriproxifen
    • Nylar®, Nygard® (fleas, cockroaches)

Product names do indicate endorsement of a certain product but are included for educational purposes.  

SPN: Fire Ant Control: The Two-Step Method and Other Approaches

By: Dr. Paul Nester, Extension Program Specialist – IPM, Houston/Metro area

Fire ant mounds can appear anywhere

When it comes to insect pests, fire ants would probably top everyone’s list! Red and black imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis richteri) are invasive species and their painful bites can injure or kill livestock, wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. Their large mounds (as many as 300 per acre) are unsightly and often damage mowers and other equipment. Fire ants also infest buildings and can damage electrical equipment by chewing on wire insulation.

Fire ants cost Americans $6 billion a year, including the cost of insecticides. The Two-Step Method and other approaches described here can lower that cost while reducing environmental damage and improving fire ant control. Knowing your options will allow you to make better choices to protect your family, pets, and property.

Identifying Fire Ants

There are hundreds of ant species in the southern United States, including some native fire ant species, and most of them are considered beneficial insects. Collectively, ants till more earth than earthworms and some prey on other insect pests to help to reduce their numbers.

Fire ants will build their mounds almost anywhere—in the open or next to a building, tree, sidewalk, or electrical box. A fire ant mound does not have a central opening. Fire ants emerge quickly and begin biting and stinging when the mound is disturbed. They will even run up vertical surfaces.

Worker fire ants are dark reddish-brown with shiny black abdomens, and are about 1/16- to about 1/4-inch long. Fire ants are similar in appearance to many other ants, so make sure you have correctly identified the species before attempting to solve your ant problem. If you are uncertain about the species, call your local extension office for assistance in identifying your ants.

Controlling Fire Ants

Fire ants carrying bait back into the nest to feed the queen and brood.

Most people and school districts (about 80 percent according to one survey) try to control fire ants by treating individual mounds. Mound treatments are expensive, up to $2 or more per mound, and require lots of time and labor if you have much land to treat. You can easily use too much insecticide, which may lead to environmental contamination if rain-washes the insecticide into lakes and streams. To be effective, the mound treatment must kill the queen(s). Otherwise, the colony will survive. Some nests may go undetected. Even an area where every mound has been treated can soon be re-infested by fire ant colonies migrating from untreated areas or floating there on floodwater. In addition, deep-dwelling colonies that escaped mound treatment can quickly form mounds after a soaking rain. It is usually more effective and less expensive for School Districts to treat the entire yard with a product designed for broadcast application.

Fire ants cannot be eliminated because it is not possible to treat all infested areas. There may not be one best method for fire ant control, especially in large areas. Your objective should be to find the method or methods that are most cost-effective, environmentally sound, and fit your tolerance level for fire ants. In areas where these ants do not present problems, doing nothing is one option. For Texas Schools your best option is to implement an integrated pest management program (IPM) that gives everyone an idea about how fire ants will be controlled on district property.

Remember fire ant strings have been associated with student deaths, so designing an effective fire ant management program utilizing broadcast baits or long residual granules may be in the best interest of the school district. 

Types of Control

Organic products: A few products are certified as organic. These include ingredients such as d-limonene, an extract from citrus oil, or spinosad, a chemical complex produced by a soil microbe. This could be your only option for your campus school garden or other areas where you need to be sensitive to the type of insecticide you are using.

Chemical control: The use of insecticides for fire ant control is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Department of Agriculture. Approved products must be used according to label directions. Read the label carefully! An approved product is one that has directions for fire ant control on the label. Be sure it is appropriate for where you intend to use it, particularly if you will be treating a vegetable garden or other food production site. Products for use in electrical utility boxes and indoors are for use only by pest management professionals who are licensed by the TDA.

Control Products

Most active ingredients are marketed under more than one brand or trade name. This article refers to the generic names of the active ingredients in insecticides, which you should see on the product labels. Some sample trade names are given as well.

Products are formulated as dusts, granules, liquid drenches, or baits. They are applied either to individual ant mounds or across the surface of the ground (broadcast). The various active ingredients affect ants in different ways.

Most active ingredients are contact insecticides that affect the nervous system of ants. Contact insecticides include acephate (Orthene®), carbaryl (Sevin®), fipronil (TopChoice®, Taurus® G, Quali-Pro® Fipronil 0.0143G or Taurus® Trio G) broadcast granules, which are restricted use professional products, pyrethrins, pyrethroids (bifenthrin, beta-cyfluthin, cyfluthrin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, gamma-cyhalothrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, permethrin, esfenvalerate, tefluthrin, tralomethrin, or zeta-cypermethrin), and liquid spinosad formulations. These ingredients vary in how quickly they kill ants and how long they remain in the environment. Natural pyrethrins and synthetic pyrethroid ingredients kill ants in minutes. Acephate and carbaryl take about one day, while granular fipronil may take four to six weeks to eliminate colonies. Hot water, pyrethrins, and d-limonene treatments have little or no lasting effect. Carbaryl, spinosad, and acephate break down in a matter of days to weeks. Pyrethroids can remain in the environment for weeks to months, while fipronil can persist as long as a year.

Baits contain active ingredients dissolved in a substance ants eat or drink. Some bait ingredients affect the nervous system. These include abamectin (Ascend®, Award® II, or Clinch®), indoxacarb (Advion® or Ortho® Fire Ant Killer Mound Bait), metaflumizone (Altrevin®, or Siesta®), spinosad (Fertilome Come and Get It! or Payback), and fipronil (MaxForce FC). Some affect the digestive system (boric acid) or metabolism (hydramethylnon or Amdro® or Probait®). Other bait ingredients interfere with reproduction or growth. These include methoprene (Extinguish®), and pyriproxyfen (Distance® or Esteem®). A relatively new type of bait combines two active ingredients, hydramethylnon and methoprene (Amdro® Yard Treatment or Extinguish® Plus).

To be effective, baits must be fresh and applied when ants are actively foraging. To determine if the time is right for treatment, place a small amount of bait in the area to be treated and see if foraging ants remove it within an hour. Because ants collect, bait and return it to the colony, very little insecticide is needed. Baits are ruined by water, so do not water baits after application, or apply them when rain is expected.

Control Approaches – The Two-Step Method

Step 1. Broadcast fire ant bait once or twice a year (fall and spring) to reduce fire ant colonies by 80 to 90 percent.

Step 2. Treat nuisance mounds or colonies that move into the bait-treated areas. Step 2 may not be needed.

To control fire ants on school campuses it is recommended that you broadcast bait using an appropriate spreader.

Baiting is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound approach to treating medium to large landscape areas. The bait you apply determines how quickly ants will be controlled and how long the effect will last. Faster acting bait products include indoxacarb (works in 3-7 days), metaflumizone (works in 7-10 days), hydramethylnon (works in 7-14 days for mound treatments and in 2-3 weeks when broadcast), and spinosad (works quickly on foraging ants but may take several weeks for reduction in mound activity).  These baits may need to be reapplied more often than slower acting and longer lasting products such as abamectin, methoprene or pyriproxyfen, which work in 1-2 months when applied in spring and six months when applied in fall. Products that combine fast- and slow-acting ingredients, such as hydramethylnon plus methoprene (Extinguish® Plus or Amdro® Yard Treatment), may control ants better because they act quickly and has a longer effect on the colony. Certified organic products that contain spinosad such as Fertilome® Come and Get It! or Payback® Fire Ant Bait can be used for broadcast bait and mound treatments. Use products such as Amdro® Pro, Esteem®, Extinguish®, or Extinguish® Plus for livestock pastures and hay fields.

Always read and follow the application instructions on the label of the product you are using. Use a hand-held spreader/seeder or a standard push spreader to correctly broadcast bait products. Use the hand-held spreader/seeder for baits that are applied at very low rates such as one to five pounds of product per acre. Use the push-type lawn for baits that are applied at higher volumes per acre (two to five pounds per 5000 – 10,000 square feet for example, Amdro® Yard Treatment).

Use a vehicle-mounted spreader such as the Herd® GT-77 to cover large areas. For home lawns, calculate the area to be treated and use the smallest spreader setting that allows bait to flow. Apply the bait in swaths, crisscrossing swaths if needed, until the specified amount is applied. For larger areas, see How to Calibrate a Fire Ant Bait Spreader located at http://articles.extension.org/pages/12228/how-to-calibrate-a-fire-ant-bait-spreader. The agitators in some spreaders may cause bait to cake up so that it does not flow properly.

Individual Mound Treatments

Although treating ant mounds individually is more labor-intensive and may use more insecticide than other methods, it is a suitable approach for small areas with few fire ant mounds (fewer than 10 per acre) or where you want to preserve native ants. Bait products (hydramethylnon, indoxacarb, metaflumizone, or spinosad) can be used to treat individual ant mounds and are ideal for treating inaccessible colonies like those nesting under sidewalks, in plant beds, and at the bases of tree trunks.  Remember when using single mound treatments you will only treat the mounds you see not the mounds you don’t see.  So using only single mound treatments may allow a population of active foraging fire ants to remain in an area, resulting in frequent re-treats to an area.

Some mound treatment products are available as liquid drenches, injectable aerosols, dusts, or granules that are watered in to the mound. Ants are killed only if the insecticide contacts them, so proper application is essential. These treatments are most effective when ants are nesting close to the mound surface (as they do when the temperature is mild). Colonies should not be disturbed during treatment. If you use a watering can to apply insecticide, do not use the can later for other purposes.

Long-residual Broadcast Contact Insecticide Treatments

Herd Spreader to use with ant baiting

With this approach, a contact insecticide is applied to the lawn and landscape surface. This is more expensive than other control methods but it may be more effective in smaller areas because ants that move into treated areas will be eliminated if the chemical is active. Granular products are best applied with a push-type fertilizer spreader and must be watered in after treatment. Granular fipronil products (TopChoice®, Taurus® G, Quali-Pro® Fipronil 0.0143G) are slower acting but longer lasting and only one treatment is permitted per year. Faster-acting contact insecticides, such as the pyrethroids (listed above), eliminate ants on the surface for months but may not eliminate colonies nesting deeper in the soil.  The product Taurus® Trio G is a fipronil granule with added pyrethroids so you not only get quick knockdown of foraging fire ants with the pyrethroids but the longer lasting control due to the firpronil active ingredient.

(Note: For Texas School IPM Programs, TopChoice®, Taurus® G, Quali-Pro® Fipronil 0.0143G or Taurus® Trio G, are considered Yellow Category per TDA rules for school IPM.)

Make a Management Plan

Chemical control lasts only as long as the effects of the insecticide used, or until new ant colonies move in from untreated areas. You can expect an ant infestation to return to its original level eventually. Thus, keeping fire ants in check requires a commitment of time and money. To reduce the cost and make control easier, consider making a map of your property. Divide the property into treatment areas and designate the most appropriate treatment approach for each area. Make and maintain a schedule for first treatment and any necessary re-treatments.

For example, you might use a long-residual broadcast contact insecticide at regular intervals in high-value or high-traffic areas (near buildings or in play or recreation areas) where maximum control is needed. In other areas, where 80 to 90 percent control of ants is acceptable, you might use the Two-Step Method. Because control lasts longer when large areas are treated, consider participating in a community- or neighborhood-wide treatment program. These have been shown to improve control and reduce cost. If everyone participates by making coordinated treatments, ant colonies will not be able to migrate from property to property.

Fire Ants and the Texas IPM in Schools Program

Broadcast bait basics


Funding School Garden Programs for long term success.

By Jeffery Raska, Program Assistant, 4-H Youth Development, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Dallas County

Many times, I am asked by school groups at the initial planning meeting, “Can I do this or can we build that’’ and my answer is always the same, sure we can ‘’ it only takes money and knowhow!!”

Jeff working with kids from DISD on building their raised beds.

I am amazed that some of the best initially funded schools obtain funding to start a garden, but do not have an ongoing budget planned to sustain the garden. Gardens do COST money to build and they TAKE money to sustain long term. Initial startup cost obviously varies with the ambition of the school’s Garden Committee but usually annual maintenance budgets do not vary a great deal once a program is in place and the garden is flourishing. This means you can cost out the startup build within your grant or funding sources and then you must plan a funding stream from a variety of sources to maintain yearly maintenance and plantings.

The garden program can only grow and evolve if funding can be secured year to year. Remember the fluidity of a school environment and the garden program may have to be passed to other hands as teachers change, kids and parents move on and Administers are transferred. Nothing will doom a garden transition faster than one set of committee members passing the program to a new set without established sustainable funding. You will need to think about water cost, soil amendments, transplants and seeds and any improvements or fix its(broken stuff due to over excited kiddos) and don’t forget the school garden curriculum (such as Learn Grow Eat Go) and the new lesson enrichments you might want to purchase as the program grows . I know an individual’s ‘well’ can run a little dry at times so I always suggest multiple sources so the garden program won’t wilt out, or you as the individual don’t burn out as well.

Sustainable funding sources can include the Parent Associations, local garden retailers, your local big box stores, anyone that sells a plant or plant supplies and food venders (grocery or markets). I have even had a school I helped build their garden, go to one of their neighborhood restaurants and worked out a deal that the school would provide a little produce and the restaurant would give the school 10% of their Wednesday sales. The restaurant gets advertising for supporting the school and the school has one of their funding partners in place for the future. Funding sources are only limited to the imaginations of the garden committee members and the saying it true “You don’t get if you don’t ask’’.

Schools can cut annual costs by establishing a composting program, rainwater collection systems, seed saving to grow their own transplants and raise funds by selling their excess produce but these take several seasons to establish as the garden grows and matures. The first couple of years are critical to lay down the foundation for a sustainable garden program and the constant burden of always being short of money can frustrate everyone involved to just give up on what could have been a wonderful outdoor classroom for learning.

If you haven’t checked any of these groups out, here are a few funding sources.

The Good Seed: Grow a Youth Garden with a Grant From Home Depot

Community Garden Grant Opportunities

Garden Grants from GardenABCs

Grants | growing safer gardens

SPN: Bat Management – What everyone should know.

The Mexican Free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is one of the most common bats in Texas. It’s proper name is Brazilian Free-tail,but as all things in Texas we have our own name for this species of bats.

Bats, which consume huge quantities of insects, including many that damage crops, are important to our local economies and Texans protect them as valuable allies. However, bats sometimes create a nuisance when they roost in buildings in large numbers. Why do bats roost in buildings anyway? Are they dangerous? Moreover, what is the best way to handle bat nuisance problems?

There are approximately 1,100 bat species in the world. Texas is home to 33 species, with 10 species that most are familiar with.

“Texas has one of the most diverse bat populations in the United States,” said Dianne Odegard, Education & Public Outreach Manager at Bat Conservation International.

Texas’ most common species is the Mexican Free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), probably followed by the Cave myotis (Myotis velifer), both of which often occupy buildings, Odegard explains. Texas bats occupy a variety of habitats including caves, trees, bridges and, increasingly, buildings. They prefer to roost close to an abundant food source, but Mexican Free-tailed bats have been known to travel many miles in a night to feed on their favorite foods. Texas bats consume some mosquitoes, but their diets consist primarily of moths, including corn earworm and armyworm moths, and beetles. This diet plays a large role in controlling pests for the agricultural community.

Most of us become concerned about bats when they come in close contact with humans. Bats are creatures of habit and will frequently return to the same roosting area year after year. Some bats move into buildings because they have lost their natural habitats in caves and trees. They usually cause no problems, but when large colonies roost in buildings, they can become an annoyance because of noise, odor, or piles of droppings. Like other wild mammals, some bats contract rabies. Although only very small percentage is infected, a bat that is found on the ground is more likely than other bats to be sick or injured. Therefore, the first thing to remember is that neither adults nor children should handle bats, or for that matter, any other wild animal they can approach. If there is any possibility that a child or other individual 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 (see Rabies Prevention and Bat Precaution Tips article at Dept. of State Health Services website).

Most bats that end up in living quarters get there by accident, and then cannot find their way out. These bats can be safely captured by simply waiting until the bat lands on a wall or ceiling, then carefully placing a box or coffee can over it. Slide a piece of cardboard between the box (or can) and the wall (or ceiling) so the bat is scooted inside. YouTube has several videos on how to capture a bat, but this one by the New York Dept of Health is good. If it is determined that the bat should be tested for rabies, call animal control or your local law enforcement agency to have it picked up. If no one has had direct contact with the bat, it can be turned over to a wildlife-rescue organization in your area or simply released outside away from people and pets, preferably after sundown

Texas state law requires that a school district take specific actions after bats are found in a school facility: The bat and colony (if present) must be excluded; repairs must be made so that any future bats are excluded; and the areas where bats roosted must be disinfected.

If a bat is found in a room with an unattended child, a sleeping person, an intoxicated or mentally impaired person, or if there is a reasonable possibility that a person has had direct contact with a bat, the bat must be captured (if possible) and submitted to the laboratory designated by the Texas Department of State Health Services that is closest to your community.

Bats in buildings occupied by people can be legally removed or evicted, and a person may transport a bat to have it tested by a laboratory if rabies is suspected.

Entry point where bats were entering this school campus.

Bat colonies may roost in attics, under eaves, under shingles or siding or in the wall spaces of buildings. These bats can be safely evicted. First, identify areas in and around buildings where bats can enter. This step is vital for effective placement of bat-eviction tubes and nets.

To witness bats entering or exiting the building, monitor it during early evening (dusk) and just before dawn. Note all locations where bats leave and enter the building. During cooler months, you may need to inspect several nights in a row to establish exit/entry points, because bats may not leave the roost on nights that are cooler than 50 degrees F.

When inspecting the exterior of the building, look along rooflines and behind gutter placement for rub marks, which are stains left by the oils and dirt rubbing off the bats’ hair. Like rodents, bats will leave some evidence of staining; however, bat stains are harder to see. In addition, look at ground level for guano—in most cases, the bat-entry points will have some guano buildup if the colony is large enough.

Inside, identify all parts of the building where they may have established roosts. These areas can include chimneys, attic spaces, wall spaces, ceiling spaces, expansion joints, and roof overhangs. Bats also roost behind gutters, in sports stadiums, and beneath or behind signs and fixtures.

Without disturbing active access areas, seal all potential but inactive entry points using caulk, weather-stripping, flashing, or hardware cloth (heavy-duty, 1/6-inch polyethylene mesh). This is called “bat exclusion.” Bats fly out on their own and are unable to reenter. It is the only safe and effective method for permanently evicting bats from buildings. It is not legal to use pesticides against bats, which often results in sick bats, which then end up on the ground or inside buildings where they are more likely to be found by children or pets. Bat traps are also inappropriate, since they usually result in exits blocked by trapped bats, again causing bats to find their way into places where they could have contact with people.

Only proper bat exclusion techniques help to ensure the health and safety of people, while ridding buildings of nuisance bat colonies. Help protect both human and environmental health and use proper bat exclusion methods.

  1. Install bat eviction devices.

    Sample of a bat eviction tube that can be made from clean caulk tubes

    1. Buy one-way chutes or make them from 2-inch-diameter PVC pipe, clear sheets of plastic, and empty, clean caulking tubes with the ends cut off. Netting also may be used, if it is smaller than 1/6” mesh and is made of flexible plastic. Specific directions on how to make or where to buy bat eviction devices are posted at Bat Conservation International
    2. If using tubes, place the tubes over the holes in the roof or soffit used by the bats. These tubes will allow them to leave but not reenter the building. If bats are roosting in a long horizontal crevice, place a tube roughly every 4 to 6 feet along the entire distance to make sure all the bats can get out. Be sure the tubes are angled down at a steep angle to ensure that bats cannot climb back inside.
    3. To ensure that all the bats exit the building, leave these one-way devices in place for at least 1 week during warm weather and 2 weeks in cool weather (less than 50 degrees F).
  1. Remove the one-way devices and permanently seal the entry points.
    1. Make sure that there are no new signs of bats leaving the building. If you remove the one-way devices too early, you could permanently seal bats inside, killing them and causing odor and sanitation problems for the school.
  1. Clean up.
    1. Once the bats have left the building, begin remediation procedures. Remove the guano from interior structures to avoid attracting other pests such as cockroaches or flies.Guano can pose two risks: excessive weight on structures, and disease transmission from contaminated materials. A naturally occurring soil fungus, Histoplasma capsulatum, is sometimes found in bird and bat droppings. A person inhaling the fungal spores can develop histoplasmosis, a flulike respiratory disease http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-146/

To prevent illness, employees should take precautions when cleaning up guano in a confined area:

  1. Wear personal protective equipment, including leather gloves, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, approved eye protection, and a respirator that can filter particles smaller than 2 microns in diameter.
  2. Before removing the guano, lightly dampen it with a disinfectant to minimize the amount of dust and spores dispersing into the air. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommend using a 10 percent bleach solution (9-part water to 1-parts of bleach) as a wetting agent.
  3. If the guano buildup is more than 2 inches deep, follow CDC procedures http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-109/ to remove it from the building.
  4. Bag the affected material or use a professional vacuum (high-efficiency particulate absorbing, or HEPA) that exhausts to the outside.
  5. Check with the local landfill or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for the appropriate place to send this material, and send it there.

Like other mammals, bats can attract pests such as mites, ticks, and fleas.  Depending on the roosting location, you may need to apply a desiccant or insecticide dust after eviction to kill any ectoparasites that may have entered the structure.

Check out our Bats in Schools website  http://agrilife.org/batsinschools/  

Need a handout to educate staff about this topic  Bat Control In Schools_English  and  ENTO-038S_Bats_schools_Spanish


SPN: Rodenticides How do they fit into your IPM program?

By Janet Hurley, Extension Program Specialist III

Rodent control is a multi-layer process and baiting for rats is just one part of the IPM process. However, using rodent baits is a question most School IPM Coordinators have concern over since they do work around children, food handling areas and non-target animal populations. The information below is some general information on rodenticides for use with the house mouse, roof rat, and Norway rats.

Pelletized bait should never be used around children or pets, even in a bait station as these pellets could be dropped in transit to the nest and could be picked up by human or pet.

Pelletized bait should never be used around children or pets, even in a bait station as these pellets could be dropped in transit to the nest and could be picked up by human or pet.

So what’s the difference between a rodenticide and rodent bait? A rodenticide is a pesticide or other agent used to kill rats and other rodents or to prevent them from damaging food, crops, or forage. The term ‘rodent bait’ is something pest management technicians refer to as the product they place into the rodent bait stations. However for further clarification, this bait can be toxic (rodenticide) or non-toxic in which it is bait that tells the PMP if the rodents are in the area and should be fed toxic bait.

Both U.S. EPA and U.S. FDA both have regulations that require the use of tamper-resistant containers when using rodenticides around food handling areas, children, pets, and other non-target wildlife.  Specifically EPA requires that rodent baits must be in block, paste, or pelleted forms and require use of tamper-resistant bait stations:

  • If bait is to be placed in any indoor or outdoor location to which children under six years-of-age, pets or non-target wildlife have access.
  • For all applications made outdoors and above ground. (citation)
  • Baiting of burrows outdoors is permitted only for pelleted baits that are placed at least six inches down active rat burrows.

In 2008, EPA reviewed rodenticides and in 2010 they released changes that restricted the use of certain types of rodenticides for consumers (buy at the local store) and also how pest management professionals and agricultural operations can purchase and use these products as well.  As such, there has been confusion over what products are still ‘legal’ and ‘how do I service this school account’.

Most everyone is familiar with warfarin. My mother takes Coumadin which is the human equivalent and they are both blood thinners.  For rodenticides this class of product is referred to as the first generation of anticoagulants.  They kill by preventing blood from clotting and it does take multiple feedings to gain success.  The problem with this class of product is that when it was on the market for the public (consumer), children and animals could pick up the poison and ingest it, resulting in injury or death.  Now the only way first generation anticoagulants can be used in the consumer market are ready-to-use bait stations that contain and/or are packaged with rodenticide bait that is in block or paste form.  This means if you were to go to your local hardware store, you would find this product in one large container and there is no easy way for children or pets to tamper with it.  For PMPs to use this product they must place inside tamper resistant container within 100 feet of buildings and other structure and must purchase the rodenticide in containers of 4 pounds or more.

Whereas the first generation anticoagulants take multiple feedings, the second generation of anticoagulants was created so that rodents who had become resistant to the first gen products would have an alternative permanent solution. Second generation anticoagulants are much faster acting; in some cases a single night feeding can result in death.  However, this is dangerous when it comes to children and pets under the Risk Mitigation Decision. EPA took this class of rodenticide off the consumer market and these products can only be purchased for commercial pest control and structural pest control markets.  Products containing second generation anticoagulants must be sold in containers holding at least 16 pounds of bait if they are labeled for use by professional applicators and at least 8 pounds of bait if labeled for use in or near agricultural structures. In TX, you must have a license with the TX Dept of Ag in the SPCS Pest category or 1D vertebrate pest control for agricultural pest control in order for you to use this category of rodenticides. These registered baits are for use by professional applicators to control rats and/or mice in or within 100 feet of buildings and other structures or for use in and near agricultural buildings and man-made agricultural structures.  One item of note is that Vitamin K is considered to be an effective antidote to this type of rodenticide.

There are a couple of non-anticoagulants that require mentioning.  Bromethalin is a single dose rodenticide that stops the cells in the nervous system from producing energy. You must be licensed to purchase this product. Cholecalciferol works at producing too much vitamin D; rats must eat several doses to kill them but this can be dangerous to humans and non-target animals if they are exposed as well.  Zinc phosphide is an inorganic compound that combines phosphorus with zinc. When an animal eats the bait, the acid in the animal’s stomach turns the zinc phosphide into phosphine. Phosphine gas blocks cells from making energy which means the heart, brain, kidney and liver fail to work.  Products with cholecalciferol and zinc phosphide are classified as restricted-use by U.S. EPA. Restricted-use products have the potential to cause unreasonable adverse effects to the environment and injury to applicators or bystanders without added restrictions. The “Restricted Use” classification restricts a product, or its uses, to use by a certified applicator or someone under the certified applicator’s direct supervision.  Simply put these products are dangerous; in TX they are considered Red Category on school campuses and should be considered as a last resort.

This handy chart will help you begin to understand active ingredient and mode of action.

This handy chart will help you begin to understand active ingredient and mode of action.

Understanding how rodenticides work is just as essential as bait station placement. Too often when I’m conducting IPM inspections I see some common mistakes made by all of us.  The rest of this article is an effort to explain some of practices that should be adopted according to my lessons from Dr. Bobby Corrigan.  First and foremost, exclude for all rodents. If they can’t gain access into the structure then the battle is half won.  Even if they are inside, close up the building so you don’t leave them a one-way access point, however, they will hide and evade in order to survive.

Ed Freytag, City of New Orleans Mosquito, Termite & Rodent Control Board.

Above image of House Mouse on a penny. Taken by Ed Freytag, City of New Orleans Mosquito, Termite & Rodent Control Board.

Mice (Mus musculus): typically with this species using snap traps, repeating/catchall traps, and other mechanical devices can capture the smallest to largest of populations.  Mice are curious according to Dr. Corrigan, they will explore and if you use enough devices you can eradicate the population.  But You the PMP must seal up areas, ensure that any clutter and food is cleaned up and make sure they don’t have any choice but go to these devices.

Roof Rats (Rattus rattus): at my house these are public enemy number one, this population of rodents thrive in suburban areas where there is a lot of vegetative cover. Since schools are often near residential neighborhoods, these rats can get into school buildings when the school or neighborhood undergoes construction, school administrators need to be aware of this so they can report activity immediately.  These rodents can climb trees, chew through metal and dig under areas to survive; therefore exclusion is essential to keep these rats out of the building. Depending on the area rodent baiting can be done; however, where you place the stations and types of baits you use is important.  Too often on my inspections I see the same type of rodenticide and bait stations placed in the same place as ‘routine’.  In my experience you have to think like the roof rat and place those stations in areas where they ‘run’ and bait. For instance, the roof rats at my house seem to like the soft packs better than grains.  And if it’s been dry, they will go to the liquid baits, which you set up in a specific feeding tube. These rodents will travel 500 feet or more; if you can set up stations 100 feet away from the building along a fence or block wall in a dumpster area, you can draw the rats away from the building. You will also want to think about using bait stations on roofs if that is where they are gaining access.  In the meantime, seal up any holes in the structure.

Top: Norway Rat Bottom: Roof Rat Thanks to Ed Freytag for sharing this well captured image.

Top: Norway Rat
Bottom: Roof Rat
Thanks to Ed Freytag for sharing this well captured image.

Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus): Bobby Corrigan refers to this species as the diabolical rat; this is the species that is seen in news stories from coast to coast. In cities, this is the rat most of us see in and around garbage. When I was working with the City of New Orleans Mosquito, Termite, & Rodent Control Board on their school IPM project, I saw what a large population of these rats can do. As with all rodent species exclusion and sanitation is tantamount. At the same time, experts really stress types of baits, bait station location and exclusion as the best way to reduce this population.  In some of Dr. Corrigan’s research these rodents can travel far and wide, they range like wild animals, which mean that they may not come to the same location night after night.  Again if you can bait within 100 feet of a building structure, check around vegetation areas, as these rodents love to burrow.  These rodents do need water, so ask your pest control distributor about baits that could be used during drought conditions.

For more information about rodent control check out this IPM Action Plan   http://articles.extension.org/pages/63911/ipm-action-plan-for-rodents

For more information about rodenticides check out the NPIC website http://npic.orst.edu/ingred/ptype/rodenticide.html

Handout on Rodenticides for use with trainings. [PDF]


Getting a school garden blooming (The Garden Committee)

By:   Jeff Raska, Program Assistant, 4-H Youth Development,  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension  Dallas County Texas                jwraska@ag.tamu.edu

100_2766A school vegetable garden can be a wonderful outdoor classroom for studying natural science or just hanging out writing a story. Having worked on and off with school gardens for 25 years I have seen many great school garden programs bloom and fade as time passes and school priorities change. For the last 7 years, I have had the privilege of working with school gardens as a 4-H Program Assistant for Dallas County and have had the benefit of seeing the wide-ranging needs and challenges that schools face when trying to start a garden. Of the more successful long term programs a few common threads seem to have been in place.

One of the first common elements is a dedicated garden committee. The committee can be made up of teachers, parents, community members or school support staff and have certain duties assigned to each member. There needs to be a point person at the school that reaches out for help when needed and maintains accountability. Remember, if funded from outside sources such as grants or corporate sponsors, certain benchmarks must and should be met.   The committee needs to determine why to invest the time and resources in a school garden program and how it will benefit their students.  I have honestly tried to talk some schools out of pursuing a school garden after it was evident that they didn’t have a committee structure in place for success. The committee should write a list of goals they hope to accomplish and the expected benefits the school garden will bring. They then need to balance those benefits with the costs involved (start up and yearly maintenance), the time it will take out someone’s daily school duties, the team it will take to schedule and carry out a garden program and how they will incorporate the garden into the school’s lesson plans.  The committee can be responsible for startup funding, long-term maintenance costs as well as material procurement and maintenance schedules. The committee should research and recommend a school garden curriculum that best fits the schools lesson plans and goals. I recommend the Learn Grow Eat Go Curriculum developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Junior Master Gardener team through a USDA research grant that not only incorporates the horticultural aspects but also teaches nutrition, cooking and a classroom exercise plan for a complete healthy living model. I incorporate a nutrition element in all school programs I teach (being primarily Title 1 schools) because nutrition is such needed education for communities of need.

The people that make up the committee will change as the year’s pass (kids and parents move up, teachers move schools, Principals change) so a good foundation (Committee) needs to be established and put in place to keep the garden blooming for years to come. I never use the word sustainable in horticultural systems as no natural eco system just sustains itself.  In the same way that an ecosystem evolves to climatic changes, understand that school garden programs must also plan to evolve to be able to enjoy long-term success.

3rd Graders building and planting vegetable gardens in Dallas Texas

3rd Graders building and planting vegetable gardens in Dallas Texas



Related article:  Seeds for a healthier future: Mesquite ISD students create, learn in campus garden

Once upon a time, Jeff worked as an IPM coordinator for a local Dallas County school district and began pursuing is love of gardening and youth with AgriLife Extension.  Remember we have County Agents in all 254 counties in Texas that can help your school with building and maintaining a youth garden.

Why people resort to the silver bullet: using psychology to teach IPM

Written By: Rosemary Hallberg, Communication Director, Southern IPM Center

I’ve had many discussions with my colleagues about the best way to sell integrated pest management, or IPM, to the public. Although I don’t usually work with people directly on their pest management practices, I have heard some of our IPM Coordinators say, and have read in several news articles, that IPM is easier to sell to some people than to others. Why is that? Why is the organic community so successful at selling organic goods to the general public, while most people I know outside of my job don’t know what “IPM” stands for?

The answer may lie in an article that appeared in Perspectives on Psychological Sciencein 2015, titled “Improving Public Engagement With Climate Change: Five ‘Best Practice’ Insights from Psychological Science.” Although the article focuses on climate change policymaking, we can use similar principles in IPM to assist our “integrated people management,” as some of my school IPM colleagues call it.

The authors assert that most people make decisions about a social issue based on five psychological principles:

  1. The human brain privileges experience over analysis
  2. People are social beings who respond to group norms
  3. Out of sight, out of mind: the nature of psychological distance
  4. Framing the big picture: nobody likes losing (but everyone likes gaining)
  5. Playing the long game: tapping the potential of human motivation

While I’m not going to make any policy suggestions—as I have many colleagues who have much more experience in the IPM policymaking world than I do—I am going to try drawing some parallels between the author’s explanations of each of the 5 principles and how they might relate to our rhetoric about integrated pest management.

  1. The human brain privileges experience over analysis

The human brain relies on two processing systems, says the Perspectives article. One system involves the emotions and the second system involves the intellect. Most of the decisions that we make that affect our lives emanate from the emotional system, while we use the intellectual system to defend them.

BabyPeople tend to prioritize things based on strong feelings. In campaigns, discussions about terrorism and children typically win over voters because they are top priorities for people. People want to feel safe and they want to protect the helpless. Many of our disinfectants are advertised next to babies or young children because the message is that they’re “safe” for the most vulnerable. Growers clamor for new herbicides after years of battling weeds like Palmer amaranth and losing money. People may buy organic products because they feel they are “safe” and “healthy,” grown “with no pesticides,” not realizing that many organic growers have to use some kind of chemical to protect their crop. How can we generate emotions about IPM products or practices? Or override the fear that without a pesticide that the crop or setting will be overrun with insects, diseases or weeds?

  1. People are social beings who respond to group norms

When consumers see an issue as a global problem (such as climate change), they tend not to feel that their actions can make a difference. When a practice such as integrated pest management is presented as “good for the environment,” if an individual doesn’t see their neighbors following the practice, he or she tends not to pick up the practice.

However, people tend to follow the example of others that they trust or respect. I’ve talked to several Extension specialists who said that growers adopted a practice or variety after talking to their neighbors at the local hangout. Teachers talk to each other in the teacher lounge. How can we promote community acceptance and practice of IPM, whether in a farming community, school or neighborhood?

  1. Out of sight, out of mind: the nature of psychological distance

The APS article states that the promotion of climate change as a future consequence removes it from the public eye as something that needs to be addressed now. In fact, “immediate day-to-day concerns take precedence over planning for the future” (van der Linden et al.). The authors show this principle at work in the public belief that climate change is a distant threat that doesn’t need to be addressed now.

RAID adOne of the main motivations behind IPM practices is resistance management. This rationale, however, is an example of something that can be perceived as a distant threat. I have lost count of the number of articles in agricultural media such as Farm Press and Growing Produce that include warnings and pleas by weed scientists and entomologists not to rely on a new chemistry once an old one has been rendered useless. However,eager to reclaim income lost the previous year, growers ignore the warnings and do what they think will rid them of the problem. In the same vein, teachers and homeowners reach for the canned insecticide when they see an ant or cockroach because they feel it will give them immediate satisfaction of the insect’s death, while neglecting to realize that a good cleaning is needed to get rid of the rest of the colony that is nesting in closet clutter or in an unmaintained windowsill. To convince people to use IPM, resistance and clutter must be seen as issues that are immediate rather than in the future.

  1. Framing the big picture: nobody likes losing (but everyone likes gaining)

Whether it’s climate change, pest management, pollinator protection or world peace, conversations around change involve the idea of “loss.” In fact, often the loss is the part of the discourse that’s heard when experts present the actions to take to prevent the future problem. To slow down or reverse climate change, people hear that they need to give up their automobiles. To maintain use of a pesticide, growers hear that they need to spend more time on insect or weed management. To ensure pollinator survival, growers and homeowners hear that they’re going to lose a pesticide that has always worked. So in response, many people feel that the status quo is better than having to give up something.

When used effectively, IPM can ultimately save money and time. However, those promises fly in the face of principle #3 (out of sight, out of mind). Many people aren’t willing to lose something today to gain something tomorrow. Growers will use an herbicide again and again until the weeds don’t respond. Homeowners will use a canned insecticide again and again until they realize that they’re not ending the infestation. How can IPM professionals present IPM as a win-win that gives an immediate return?

  1. Playing the long game: tapping the potential of human motivation

honey beePeople respond to one of two different sources of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic incentives include external rewards such as cost savings, time or profits. Intrinsic incentives include values and morals. Farmers who participate in pollinator protection collaborations do so because the reward appeals to their extrinsic—they need pollinators for fruit set—and intrinsic—they care about the environment and want to protect it—values. Some home gardeners refrain from using commercial pesticides because they think it is safer for their family (an extrinsic appeal) and good for the environment (an intrinsic appeal). IPM specialists focus on both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations when appealing to audiences to use IPM.

I’m sure that many IPM specialists can think of examples where all of these psychological principles have been at work, but the one that has been weighing on my mind the most since I read the tragic story in Delta Farm Press is the situation over dicamba in Arkansas. Soybean growers suddenly had a new technology that seemed to give them access to a new use for a powerful herbicide. Although weed scientists, consultants and industry representatives gave strong warnings that growers were not to spray dicamba on top of the new soybean variety, memories of weeds crowding out the previous year’s crop, in addition to the promise of new profits, made the temptation to ignore warnings and spray the crop too hard to resist. Growers who were on the fence about whether or not to spray heard from other growers who decided to use the product illegally and decided to join the group. Some growers focused on their own gains or losses and didn’t consider that their illegal dicamba use might cause drift that would destroy their neighbors’ non-GMO crop. Ultimately, tensions between both sides reached a head and resulted in the death of one grower and stricter regulations assigned by the Arkansas Plant Board.

Many of my colleagues have told me that their specialty is science, not psychology or sociology. As someone whose specialty is writing and not science, I understand the reasoning. However, sometimes science isn’t enough to convince a farmer who fears for his or her crop and is battling several other environmental challenges like drought or temperature shifts. Science may not convince a schoolteacher who is worn out by the end of the day that he or she needs to take extra time to clean out the closet. Convincing the public that IPM is worthwhile to support will involve more than simply integrated pest management principles. It will take an understanding of the emotional motivations that lead people to act as they do. It will involve Integrated Psychology Management.

Source: van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., and Leiserowitz, A. (2015). Improving public engagement with climate change: Five “best practice” insights from psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10:6, 758-763, doi: 10.1177/1745691615598516

SPN: Mid-year Clutter Control – Keeping it Clean at your school campus

This area is in need of some decluttering. Start small, use storage containers to sort and place keep items in them.

This area is in need of some decluttering. Start small, use storage containers to sort and place keep items in them.

As November comes to an end, and the weather starts to cool, teachers and staff start thinking about the holidays. However, what they probably don’t think about is their role in the IPM program. As parties are planned, decorations brought out of storage and cooler temperatures invite open windows it’s also a good time to remind everyone that mice, ants, and other critters are on the move. This time of year also brings out the clutter bug in all of us, it’s best to keep on top of this behavior then let it take over one’s life.

De-cluttering has the immediate effect of eliminating pest harborage. When clutter is reduced, there is increased access to floor spaces, allowing for more thorough cleaning by custodial staff. The same is true for shelves and inside cupboards. When there are nooks and crannies – created by “stuff” – for pests to hide and breed among, there will be allergens and lots of bugs.

Clutter control also helps improve overall school hygiene. It’s easier for custodial staff to sweep, mop, and dust when things are generally organized. Minimizing clutter also helps teachers stay organized. It’s much easier to keep your room tidy when your cupboards and bookshelves are not overflowing with stuff!

HOW do you de-clutter a school?

Kitchen staff

While food preparation and cooking lends itself to keeping areas clean.  Kitchens often harbor some of the worst pest problems

Don't keep empty cardboard boxes for storage.

Don’t keep empty cardboard boxes for storage.

simply due to the fact that food, water, and harborage are in high demand.  Keeping an eye out for potential pest problems is essential to a sustainable integrated pest management (IPM) program.

  • Do not use corrugated cardboard for long term storage. German cockroaches are actually brought inside our schools hiding in the corrugations. They actually feed on the glue starch that holds the boxes together. Rotate out all corrugated cardboard if possible.
  • Keep pantry shelving free of needless debris. Emptied supply boxes should be broken down and recycled rapidly.
  • Clutter is also a problem around and in drains: debris blocking and clogging up drains can not only lead to maintenance issues, but drain flies love to breed in the scum that accumulates around the edges (and bleach won’t help!). Make sure all drains have covers, especially sink drains. Those heavy duty metal sink-drain baskets that can be washed in the dishwasher or sink to help eliminate organic matter.
This is what a new floor drain looks like.

This is what a new floor drain looks like.

This floor drain is several years old, but still fairly clean.

This floor drain is several years old, but still fairly clean.


Though you are the sanitarians of your schools, in general you are not responsible for de-cluttering areas other than your own. Custodians can set a great president by maintaining well organized custodial closets.

In this closet cockroaches, spiders, and ants could go undetected for long time without anyone noticing.

In this closet cockroaches, spiders, and ants could go undetected for long time without anyone noticing.

  • Hang brooms and mops on a wall rack so that mops can drain of moisture; brooms & mops are pest havens as they contain food, moisture, and a protected
    Mops are hung up off the floor on against a hard surface to prevent mold and mildew.

    Mops are hung up off the floor on against a hard surface to prevent mold and mildew.

    area in which to feed & breed.

  • Get good shelving! Too often, custodians have no shelving or organizational features in their closets. However, this is a “pest vulnerable area” and without organization it can lead to a rapid decline toward bugs, dirt and filth. Shelves should be wire (not wood), with the bottom shelf a minimum of 6” off the ground to allow for cleaning under. Use the IPM program you are part of as leverage for good quality shelving that will get your school on the right track.
  • Make sure your storage closets are not reservoirs for cans of illicit pesticide sprays, from classrooms or elsewhere. Remember only licensed applicators should make pesticide applications in your schools and should also consult with the IPM coordinator.


As the educators in your school, you have a great opportunity to set an example for students and staff. Get the kids to help out with the following suggestions, too!

Remember storing on shelves should be 24 inches from the ceiling.

Remember storing on shelves should be 24 inches from the ceiling.

Storage space is limited but beware that when bed bugs or lice are a problem - space is a better option.

Storage space is limited but beware that when bed bugs or lice are a problem – space is a better option.

  • Art supplies – Cockroaches dine on glue, and crickets, termites, booklice and silverfish (among others) will readily consume paper. Just think about what the can do with macaroni noodles and rice! Keep glue containers clean and capped. Store art supplies in plastic pest-proof containers, such as Tupperware or Rubbermaid, with tight-fitting lids.


  • Storage closets – have you ever seen a well-organized teacher’s closet? We have and generally they belong to the best of the best teachers we know. We appreciate that it’s tough for teachers to create projects and educate on a budget; of course you want to keep all that stuff! But ask yourself one question: have you used it in the last 2 years? If the answer is no, then toss (or recycle) it. This goes for the rest of your classroom, too. No cheating by stuffing storage bins full of things you plan to get to “one day”. Benefit from the extra space and let the clutter go!
  • For everything that’s left, organize it and store it in plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids. No boxes – you’re importing cockroaches AND feeding them when you use corrugated cardboard!
  • End-of-week 15 minute desk clean off. Think “file not pile”. Documents go in one of 3 places: the file cabinet, recycle bin, or trash. Have students do this with their desks as well! You will thank yourself at the end of the year, as your overall clean up time will not be measured in days, but hours.

IPM coordinators to help with your education program – download and share this handout with all of your staff Clutter in the Classroom Handout

This image is almost perfect, all items are stored properly, but there is an extra item not needed in the classroom. Can you find it?

This image is almost perfect, all items are stored properly, but there is an extra item not needed in the classroom. Can you find it?