Several recent research articles have described the importance of human microbiota – all those organisms that live in and on humans. Although we emphasize sanitation in Integrated Pest Management, I remember the advice of my grandfather, who said “You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die”. (For those of you under 50, a peck is a dry measure of 8 quarts or 1/4th of a bushel.) So, as the planting season is upon us, don’t hesitate to get your hands dirty. The soil contains thousands of species of bacteria and actinomycetes, as well as fungi, insects, mites, nematodes and earthworms. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published this infographic on soils and how important they are.
Seeing bats flying in my backyard is a welcome sight — a single bat eats up to 4,500 insects, the equivalent of its body weight, each night. One of the most common bats throughout Colorado is the big brown bat.
The big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) can be found just about everywhere, especially in towns and cities. Large groups of big brown bats may take up temporary residence in an attic in the summer. They also use rock crevices for roosting. Big brown bats have a preference for beetles and other large, flying insects. They are year-round residents, hibernating in mines, caves, and a variety of other places.
White-nose syndrome (caused by a fungus) has not been found in Colorado, although, in less than 10 years, the disease has spread to 26 states and five provinces in Canada, killing almost all of the bats in some locations. Scientists say it represents one of the steepest declines in North American wildlife of the last century.
Bats and humans can live near each other in harmony. More information on bats can be found at the Colorado Bat Working Group. Installing a bat house is one way to attract bats or provide an alternative roost for evicted bats. An organization call Bat Conservation International, Inc. is another good resource for information about bats.
Charles Lindbergh said, “… if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”
The Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory provides practical information and habitat conservation in the inter mountain west, the Great Plains and Mexico. The four criteria needed to create a bird-friendly habitat are food, cover, water and a place to nest. They recommend high-fat, high-protein foods in feeders, especially oil sunflower seed and white proso millet. Juncos, sparrows, towhees, doves and others will feed on millet. Safflower is great for doves, chickadees and finches. If you want to discourage squirrels, grackles and starlings, try using safflower seed. Flickers, downy woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches eat both seed and insects; they will feed on peanut kernels and suet. Jays, magpies and other corvids prefer to pick over peanuts in the shell. Raisins, cranberries and cherries are attractive to robins and other fruit eaters. You can provide orange halves from May through September for Bullocks Orioles and Western Tanagers.
People sometimes struggle to find something positive to say about organisms such as bedbugs and rats. I recently posted that bedbugs are valuable because they provide food for Pharoah ants. In yesterday’s New York Times, there was an article about the value of rats. Gambian pouched rats have been trained to do valuable tasks for humans. In the first case, the rats have been trained to detect land mines. According to the article, “Rats are abundant, cheap and easily transported. At three pounds, they are too light to detonate mines accidentally. They can sift the bouquet of land-mine aromas far better than any machine. Unlike even the best mine-detecting dog or human, they are relentlessly single-minded.” In the second case, researchers found that Gambian pouched rats can smell the difference between tuberculosis bacilli and all the other germs in a human sputum sample. In the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Dr. Alan Poling (Western Michigan University), conceded that research on the rats was still preliminary. But he said, “We think that eventually there will be a place for them in first-line screening.” Dr. Poling says he likes Gambian pouched rats. “They’re handsome animals, they follow you around, come when you call them,” he said. “If they didn’t have those long, scaly tails,” he added wistfully, “they’d be lovable.”
“Few groups of animals are more feared, and few deserve it less.” (The Spider Book, John Henry Comstock, 1913). Last week, Dr. Paula Cushing, spider expert from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, speaking to a group of public health specialists, confirmed this opinion. Among the spiders that are native to Colorado, the one having the worst reputation is the black widow. Dr. Cushing brought a “pet” black widow with her (it was in a glass jar), and proceeded to demonstrate just how docile the animal is. You can feed your pet black widow almost any other invertebrate.
The black widow will bite when she is disturbed or threatened, especially if she is within a web. In fact, all spiders are venomous. Spiders bite to deliver their venom. Two criteria are considered when determining whether a species of spider is dangerous to humans: “Are its jaws strong enough to penetrate human skin?”, and “Is the venom virulent enough to cause any serious effects on humans?”
Black widows produce a toxin that affects the nervous system. Common reactions include muscle and chest pain or tightness, restlessness, anxiety, breathing and speech difficulty, and sweating. The pain may also spread to the abdomen, producing stomach cramping and nausea. Swelling may be noticed in extremities and eyelids, but rarely at the bite site. A sense of burning in the soles of the feet is often noted.
Dr. Cushing described how each female black widow spider produces 5 or more egg cases (wrapped in silk to protect them), with up to 300 eggs in each case. This demonstrates that, if your pet widow dies, there will always be another one to replace it.
If you are not convinced that you want black widows around your home or work, the best control is prevention. Periodically check areas where black widows may likely occur. Look near the ground and in dark, undisturbed areas, such as near holes produced by small animals, around low shrubs or around construction openings and woodpiles. Indoors, widows similarly occur in dark areas such as behind furniture, under desks, in undisturbed basement areas and crawl spaces. When discovered spiders can be destroyed by crushing or vacuuming the web and spider. Even though Dr. Cushing did not wear heavy leather gloves, we recommend you do so when looking for spiders!
Today is National Healthy Schools Day, promoting the goal of every child and school employee having a school that is environmentally safe. The Healthy School Network can help parents and others find answers to questions such as these: How do you promote good indoor air quality? Do you tell parents and employees in advance of hazards, such as renovation or pesticide application? How do you respond to complaints? Are the heating, lighting, ventilation, windows, doors, and buses energy efficient? Do you prevent pests without the use of chemicals?
The Colorado Coalition for School IPM help schools use common-sense methods to manage pests. Using Integrated Pest Management, coalition members help prevent pests from becoming a problem in the first place, reducing the need for pesticides. Pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides) are valuable tools, but are never intended to be a substitute for preventative measures such as sanitation and exclusion.
I have been talking with school district facility managers across the state and am surprised by how many listed termites as a pest problem. While our native species of termite, the arid lands subterranean termite, usually doesn’t cause many problems, the introduced eastern subterranean termite is reported to be increasing along the Front Range, especially in Colorado Springs. There is also a small area in Grand Junction affected by drywood termites that require different management tactics.
Use preventive measures to protect wooden structures against the eastern subterranean termite. These termites usually maintain contact with the soil in which the main nest is found. They construct earthen tubes from the nest to the food source. There should be no contact between wood and the soil. Remove all waste wood from the building site. Move or cap shut with reinforced concrete any cinder blocks, bricks or other hollow masonry in contact with wood and soil. Seal any crack or gap in the foundation or plumbing; these are potential points of entry. Wooden shingles or supports should have at least 8 inches of clearance above the soil or the termites may construct connecting tubes above ground for a short distance. Use pressured-treated lumber in termite-prone areas. “Termite sand” (10-16 mesh sand) has been used as an effective termite barrier under buildings in other parts of the country.
Eastern subterranean termites (USDA, ARS)
If an infestation is discovered, don’t panic. In addition to conventional chemical barrier treatments, existing infestations can be eliminated using a combination of bait stations and low toxicity termiticides. Locate the point of entry and contact a reliable pest control operator. Once an existing infestation has been treated and eliminated, identify and correct conditions in the structure that may have contributed to the problem.