- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Bed bugs can hitch rides on secondhand furniture, luggage, backpacks and other personal items to invade homes and attack people. While we rest and sleep on sofas and beds, the insects come out to feed. They want to suck our blood. A new web-based, interactive training course shows how to prevent and detect bed bug infestations.
“The training helps tenants recognize, restrict and report bed bugs and helps landlords comply with California state regulations on bed bugs,” said Andrew Sutherland, University of California Cooperative Extension integrated pest management advisor for the Bay Area.
Landlords are required by Assembly Bill 551, which became law in 2016, to provide bed bug information to renters in California. Renters and other residents can learn how to spot signs of bed bugs from an online course designed by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources integrated pest management experts, web designers, pest management professionals, housing management professionals and public health officers.
The online bed-bug education is available in full-length and shorter versions in both English and Spanish. The animated, fun and self-paced course is available for free at stopbedbugs.org.
Although bed bugs have never been shown to transmit disease to humans, their bites can cause itchy, red welts on the skin.
People shouldn't be embarrassed about having bed bugs, says Sutherland. Cluttered spaces give bed bugs places to hide and breed, but the tiny insects don't require a dirty environment. Even the nicest hotels sometimes play host to bed bugs.
“This training will help destigmatize having bed bugs and, by emphasizing prompt reporting and cooperation, will help landlords and residents fight bed bugs as a team,” said Heidi Palutke, senior vice president of compliance and education for the California Apartment Association.
The animated narrator, modeled after UCCE staff researcher Casey Hubble, urges renters to alert their property manager promptly if they suspect bed bugs are in their home so pest management professionals can rid the home of the biting insects and prevent them from spreading.
Bed bugs can go without feeding for many days to several months, depending on life stage, temperature and humidity, according to the UC Integrated Pest Management Program. Adult bed bugs may live one year or more and produce as many as four generations.
The bed bug course was produced with funding from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The digital artistry was created by Sergey Litvinenko and his colleagues at Geosphere LLC.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Termites can eat you out of house and home by chewing through wood and weakening the structure. The results of a new termite study led by entomologists at UC Riverside may enable homeowners to rid their homes of termites with a safer, effective pest control approach.
“Combining a volatile essential oil with heat might reduce callbacks for pest management professionals and potentially lead to lower risk of heat damage to things in the homes,” said Dong-Hwan Choe, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside.
The conventional method of exterminating termites requires residents to vacate the house while pest control professionals tent the structure then pump in toxic chemicals to kill the termites. While insecticides are effective at killing termites, urban pest managers are under pressure from regulators and residents to find alternatives that won't harm people, pets or the environment.
To rid structures of termites without using chemicals, pest control professionals heat the air inside structures to lethal temperatures. However, termites can survive in hard-to-heat areas such as in wood positioned against concrete foundation walls. In a recent study, Choe found adding essential oils to heat treatments can kill termites insulated from the heat.
“You need some kind of insecticide to kill the termites in those locations that are hard to heat,” said Daniel Perry, who conducted the study as a UC Riverside graduate student with Choe.
“By using an essential oil, which is toxic to termites, we can kill them without really any risk to humans or other animals that live in the house.”
The western drywood termite, Incisitermes minor (Hagen), is a common structural pest in the United States native to California, from the border with Mexico to Central California and inland to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“We tested several insecticidal essential oils on individual western drywood termites and found that methyl salicylate, or wintergreen oil, killed them the fastest,” said Choe.
Wintergreen oil kills termites, but it doesn't hurt people or their pets. Although pest control professionals commonly use orange oil for localized drywood termite treatments, wintergreen oil has about twice the flash point so it's safer to use with the heat treatment, Perry said.
To test the synergy of the volatile essential oil and heat, the research team placed wood blocks infested with 20 drywood termites each in Villa Termiti, a small wooden structure built for pest management research at the UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station. They applied 160microliters (about 16 drops) of wintergreen oil to some infested wood blocks (the treatment) and no wintergreen oil to other infested blocks (the untreated control), then used propane heaters to heat the house to between 134 degrees and 146 degrees Fahrenheit for 140 minutes. After seven days, they found that 92% to 100% of the drywood termites were dead when treated. In contrast, in blocks without the wintergreen oil, only 36% to 44% of the termites died in the same time period when treated within areas near the concrete foundation wall. Incorporation of the essential oil substantially increased the control efficacy for this area near the foundation, resulting in more than 90% mortality.
Lethal temperatures and essential oils will kill termites at all life stages, but the scientists used immature termites at the pseudergate (worker) stage. The wingless, pale pseudergates do most of the work for the colony, excavating tunnels and chewing up food for the other termites to eat.
“If you can kill all of the pseudergates, then the rest of the colony will likely collapse,” said Perry, who went to work for Procter & Gamble after finishing this project and his master's degree at UC Riverside.
“The most common treatment is fumigation and that requires three or four days during which the structure has to be vacated,” said Perry. "With the heat treatments, all you have to do is heat up the structure until the wood inside gets to the temperature that will kill the termites, hold the lethal temperature for a few hours, and then let the house cool off. You only have to be out of the house for maybe six hours, so it's a lot more convenient.”
Andrew Sutherland, UC Cooperative Extension integrated pest management advisor for the Bay Area, offers training for pest management professionals. He is encouraged by the results.
Sutherland said, “It means that folks will be able to heat effectively at lower target temperatures and lower durations, so it's less cost for everybody, and probably less time for everybody. It's a way to really synergize the heat treatment and no fumigant gas is released to the atmosphere.”
“Volatile Essential Oils Can Be Used to Improve the Efficacy of Heat Treatments Targeting the Western Drywood Termite: Evidence from Simulated Whole House Heat Treatment Trials” was published in the October 2020 edition of Journal of Economic Entomology.
- Author: Ricardo Vela
"I love it when they say, ‘You've taught me something new.'” When Lisa Blecker hears these words from workshop participants, she says it is one of the greatest satisfactions in her role as a pesticide safety education coordinator with the UC Integrated Pest Management Program. She enjoys teaching people how to see their surroundings differently when it comes to working with pesticides.
"Participants who have spent years in the profession often say, 'I've been doing this forever, and I had no idea that my gloves had to be 14 mils thick,'" Blecker said.
At the end of their workshops, webinars, or in-person training, all the participants fill out a survey and the results are positive: 93 percent of last year's participants indicated plans to make a change in workplace safety as a result of attending the workshops. The results also indicate that as many as 62,901 fieldworkers and 12,071 pesticide handlers will be trained in pesticide safety by participants from these workshops.
Training keeps Blecker busy. Half the year, she and her team travel across California to conduct workshops that provide pesticide safety training for commercial and private pesticide applicators. She works closely with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to promote, through testing, the basic competency requirements for applicators.
“We write the study material that helps them pass the test. We help people through our study guides to get occupational certifications or, in some cases, a license," Blecker said.
What also makes Blecker proud is the fact that she delivers her pesticide safety workshops in Spanish in addition to English.
"I think it's critical for a pesticide safety program, and many outreach programs in this state, to deliver the message in Spanish because so much of the agricultural and even the non-agricultural workforce around pesticides are native Spanish speakers," she said.
Blecker emphasizes the importance of the workshops in Spanish for on-farm applicators. Their education on safe pesticide use and decision-making has the potential to impact as many as 829,300 farm laborers across the state working in the vicinity of on-farm pesticide applications.
"Many of these laborers are Spanish-speakers, which further underscores the need for community education in Spanish; it is easier to deliver technical content in Spanish if you previously received that information in Spanish," Blecker said.
She learned Spanish many years ago in Panama during her time in the Peace Corps. There, she provided community outreach to regional farmers through agricultural education and has been proud ever since to utilize the skill that opened many doors in her profession. Her first experience educating the public on pesticides was in Idaho, where she learned the value of being bilingual.
"I had the privilege to work with the pesticide safety program in Idaho where there was a need for Spanish language delivery. I love speaking Spanish which helps me connect with the language even more because I also get to pair it with my love for education," Blecker said.
With workshops in communities near the border with Oregon to the border with Mexico, Blecker has a vast area to cover. And that is only one of the many services her department provides. Another service is offering courses in continuing education for those interested in maintaining a license to apply pesticides. The licenses must renew every two or three years.
In 2019 alone, Blecker taught 34 in-person continuing education programs to a total of 1,987 applicators across the state who already hold licenses. Some of the topics include proper selection and use of personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, and safe use of pesticides in the landscape. A pesticide safety educator on her team delivered 10 similar programs to an additional 1,275 applicators last year.
"We also provide statewide train-the-trainer workshops because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation require certain people to go through an approved train-the-trainer program, so they can, in turn, provide pesticide safety training to field workers and pesticide handlers.
“We are approved by both the US EPA and by the Department of Pesticide Regulation to provide this curriculum," Blecker said.
She attributes the success of her department to the passion and hard work of her staff.
"I am proud of my program, but I'm very well aware of the fact that I can't run this extensive program on my own and I depend on my valued and talented staff," Blecker said.
She and her team promote the economy and a better lifestyle for all Californians, embodying the true nature of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources public values.
Blecker envisions a new direction for her department, one that will benefit even more Californians.
"I would love to follow that model where we work with employers to create policies that contribute to a safe workplace because it's not enough to just train people to do their job or to train them to keep their licenses," she said.