Pesticides are a necessary tool for controlling pest insects that can transmit diseases to people and animals, attack our food, attack our homes, and cause other problems that negatively impact human health and happiness. However, it is important that when we use pesticides outdoors that we are aware of the negative impacts they can have on non-pest insects like honeybees and other pollinators. In this blog, we are going to discuss ways to get control of outdoor pests while also reducing the odds of killing helpful insects like bees!
Pesticides are tools that can be used to control a wide array of pest insects. Unfortunately, helpful insects like predators and pollinators are also impacted by pesticide use. Yes, that includes ‘organic’ or ‘all natural’ pesticides, too. Most products that are labeled to broadly kill insects will kill all insects, especially after direct application (i.e., you squirt the product right onto the bug). However, there are many methods for application that can be used to target the pests you want to get rid of while preserving the safety of helpful bugs. In fact, reducing non-target effects (killing bugs you don’t want to kill) is an important goal of integrated pest management plans. Here, we list some common ways to avoid impacting non-target pollinators, specifically. Fun fact—pollinators include some bugs you might not expect, like native beetles, flies, wasps, and ants!
Tips and Tricks
1. APPLY PESTICIDES IN THE EVENING
Most pollinators forage during the day when the temperatures are >55°F. Changing the time of spraying can make a huge difference for non-target insects. Even better—lots of pest insects are active in the evening, like many mosquito species. If you can do it, a dusk/evening application is not only less risky for pollinators than morning or mid-day, but they are also a more efficient way to target pests, too.
2. DO NOT SPRAY BLOOMS
If you cannot change when you apply pesticides, you can change where you are applying them. Do your best to avoid spraying flowering plants and blooms. Most pesticidal products will have these instructions on the label. Pollinators are attracted to a wide array of blooms. Spraying elsewhere will reduce the chance that they come into contact with insecticidal products.
3. CHOOSE THE RIGHT FORMULATION
The appropriate choice of formulation is another way to avoid negative non-target impacts on pollinators. Formulation refers to the active ingredient(s) (kills the pest) and inactive (all other) ingredients. Inactive ingredients are often solvents that dilute the active ingredient, and other compounds that make the product shelf-stable. Pesticides come in many different formulations. There are formulations that are less likely to kill pollinators and, when possible, these should be used where pollinators are known to be active. For instance, solutions (S) and emulsifiable concentrates (EC) dry in a short amount of time and do not leave a powdery residue like dusts (D) and wettable powders (WP). Dusty residues might impact pollinators that visit the site later, making solutions and emulsifiable concentrates a better choice for pollinator-prone environments.
Granular (G) products are also a good choice for pollinator-heavy areas. Granular products are similar to dusts, but are larger in particle size so they have less risk of drifting during application. Granular products can be broadcast on the soil. They are rarely applied directly to plants and, as such, pollinators do not often make contact with them.
Finally, if you are dealing with a specific pest, like ants, you could also use a bait formulation. Baits are meant to be eaten by pest insects and are typically more narrow-spectrum than other products. Pollinators are not likely to come into contact with baits as they are not attracted to them as a food source.
4. USE A LESS PERSISTENT PRODUCT
Persistence refers to how long a pesticide remains active in the environment. A product with long residual activity is usually very ‘persistent’. Conversely, using pesticides that degrade rapidly, like pyrethrins, can reduce non-target mortality. A product that degrades in a few hours can be applied with relatively low risk, especially when applied when pollinators are inactive. Many tables can be accessed online which can help you decide which compounds are more/less persistent. Although these tables are often developed with honey bees in mind, they can be relevant for other pollinators as well. Many product labels also contain a “bee box” which should communicate how likely the product is to persist in the environment and pose a risk to pollinators.
5. ADJUST THE APPLICATION METHOD
The method of application can also change the risk of non-target effects. Many pollinator deaths occur when a pesticide drifts from the target area into places that are attractive to or occupied by other pollinators. Spraying during windy days greatly increases the risk of drift as does using a misting system. Using granular formulations, soil treatments or application equipment that can target the spray to the intended area will keep pesticides from getting into places they shouldn’t!
Multiple factors have contributed to the decline in pollinators including climate change, lack of forage, and parasites. Pesticide use, however, can also affect pollinator health when applications are made irresponsibly. The potentially high risks of pesticide applications to pollinators can be significantly reduced with very simple modifications like changing formulation or application time. Pollinators are a valuable agricultural resource and are ecosystem servicers that deserve our respect. However, reducing populations of pests that may make people sick is also crucial and sometimes that means using pesticides outdoors. Balancing pest control with the maintenance of the health of beneficial insects should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when designing an outdoor pest control program. If you have more questions, here are additional resources from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that may help!
A lot of people throw around the term “bug” to describe any small critter with more than a couple of legs. Kids, adults, scientists, experts, and non-experts alike all use this term, especially conversationally. But what is a bug, technically? Are all insects also bugs? In this week’s blog, let’s talk about some basic entomology terminology that confuses a lot of folks!
The word “bug” can mean a lot of things such as- coding error in a computer program, a microorganism that causes a disease, or, a small animal with four or more legs. Today, we’ll be talking about references to the last one—a small animal with four or more legs.
Technically speaking, “bug” means something very specific to an entomologist. A bug is a creature that belongs to the insect order Hemiptera, known commonly as the true bugs. (All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs!) Because the order Hemiptera falls under “insects” (see below), this means that all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. This has to do with the way scientists group animals. You might remember this from science class: “Dear King Phillip Came Over For Good Soup”. This was a way to help us remember different taxa (groups) in biology class: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The more taxa an animal has in common, the more related they are. In the case of “insects” and “bugs”:
1. Kingdom (Animal)
2. Phylum (Arthropoda)
3. Class (Insecta)
4. Order (Hemiptera)
There are 24 insect orders (although this number changes as insects get reclassified). There are a few characteristics that distinguish true bugs (Order: Hemiptera) from other insects. Most true bugs have a straw-shaped mouth (rostrum), or stylet, that they use to either pierce and suck juice from plants, or blood from animals. They also tend to have long, segmented antennae and wings that are leathery at the top but membranous at the bottom (“hemiptera” means “half wing”). True bugs include insects like stink bugs, bed bugs, aphids, and cicadas. Confusingly, some insects with bug in their name aren't actually true bugs, like ladybugs. Ladybugs are actually beetles (Order: Coleoptera). Beetles have mandibles meant for chewing and their wings are hard and shell-like.
So... What Is NOT a Bug?
Insects, in general, (not necessarily "bugs") on the other hand, are classified as arthropods that have a three-part body, a hard exoskeleton, three pairs of jointed legs (6 legs total), compound eyes, and a pair of antennae. Thus, these general rules for grouping insects into a “class” are a bit less rigid than those for a particular “order”. The criteria for groupings get much stricter as you move down the list above (from class all the way down to species).
Notably, there are other animals that people might call “bugs” that aren’t actually bugs, or even insects, at all! Spiders, ticks, centipedes, earthworms, and millipedes are animals that have either more or less than six legs and none of them have three-segmented bodies. So, none of these animals could possibly be classified as insects, let alone classified as bugs. People call them bugs all the time, but that does not make it so. Spiders and ticks are considered arachnids (Class: Arachnida). They are in the same phylum as insects (Arthropoda). This means that they are distantly related, but with enough distinct characteristics to separate them once you move down to "class". Again, just because they are small, hard bodied, and have lots of legs does not mean they are insects at all, let alone true bugs.
Calling all insects and all small crawling animals "bugs" is a colloquial use of the term. Many scientists and entomologists will use the term generally when speaking with lay audiences. However, if you are enlisting the help of an entomologist for an ID—keep in mind where their specialty lies and what training they have had. For instance, every entomologist may not be an expert in spider or tick identification since those critters aren't insects. Expertise in non-insect animals usually requires time and focus outside of the traditional/technical entomology discipline!
Although mosquitoes have a mouthpart capable of sucking blood, they are also not considered true bugs. Because they have only one pair of wings and a specialized organ for flying, they are in the order Diptera, or, the flies. Taxonomy can definitely get confusing!(Image Credit: JJ Harrison, Image Source: Wikimedia Commons).
So, to sum it all up:
A bug is an insect, but not all insects are bugs. Additionally, some non-insects that we call bugs are not bugs at all, and they aren’t insects, either. Easy, right!?
We talk about integrated pest management (IPM) a lot here at Bug Lessons. However, what is IPM? What is science-based pest control? Is there a difference? To answer these and even more questions, we will publish a multi-part series on the topic! Be on the lookout for the “Integrated Pest Management Series,” coming the second week of every month. Read on to start learning about pests, IPM, and how it all works.
People create farms to produce food, they modify landscapes for enjoyment and leisure, and they build structures to protect themselves from the elements. Unfortunately, pests can damage all of these creations and if left untouched, wild ecosystems. Additionally, pests spread germs that can make people and animals sick. Because pests impact our lives directly and indirectly, people spend a lot of time and money trying to keep these creatures at bay. And WOW, managing pests is no easy task.
In fact, professionals often use the term “manage” rather than “control” when it comes to pests because killing every single individual often proves impossible (at least without causing significant damage to the environment). As result, the goal of many integrated pest management programs is managing a pest, or keeping the population below a damaging level (i.e., some individuals will still exist). The alternate goal is eliminating a pest, i.e., completely eradicating the entire population. Both management and elimination are acceptable strategies for pest control professionals. Which one is chosen depends on the situation. Either way, an integrated pest management strategy is usually implemented.
Pests like German cockroaches can spread nasty germs throughout the environment. The microorganisms they transmit can be carried on their legs and bodies and passed to people. Reducing disease transmission is an important benefit of integrated pest management in urban settings. (Image Credit: Erik Karits, Image Source: Unsplash)
What IS IPM?
Integrated pest management, or IPM, uses data and all tools available and reasonable to sustainably manage and control (not necessarily eradicate) pests. The U.S. government provides a more specific definition as, “a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks.”
The process is science-based, meaning folks use data to make the best decisions possible. IPM programs use information on pest biology, environmental data, and available technology to manage pests in a way that maximizes results while minimizing harmful impacts. Ideally, pesticides are only used after data shows there is a reason and need. By using IPM, professionals can reduce the amount of pesticide applied.
Initially, scientists developed IPM for agricultural systems. Pesticide applications can be very costly and have unintended consequences on the environment. Once the negative effects of pesticide overuse were understood, integrated pest management was developed to help offset such effects, as well as reduce the cost of pest control.
As a result, IPM was born and provides the following benefits:
Now, professionals use many of the principles of IPM to manage insects in other settings, including urban environments, too. There can be some major differences. For example, traditional IPM programs accept that some pests will be present in a field. However, in a home, what is an acceptable number of bed bugs? (The typical answer is ZERO!)
So, while the specifics of a program might look different for bed bugs (urban) versus boll weevil (agricultural), most IPM plans contain the following critical components:
Studies have shown that using IPM can reduce the amount of chemical needed to manage a pest population while still achieving excellent results. For more information on the implementation of IPM in various settings, check out the National Roadmap for Integrated Pest Management, which aims to increase adoption of IPM in the U.S.
An IPM program can be complex and requires many different parts. However, the benefit of IPM to people and the environment is worth tackling the complexity. To help everyone achieve the best results, Bug Lessons will release a series of blogs on this topic, including taking a deep dive into all of the steps above. The goal of this series is empowering both professionals and consumers with the knowledge needed to sustainably manage any pest.
You’ve probably seen or at least heard of Terminator, right? Killer robots, violence, decimation of humans? Now, can you imagine if those robots were lowly ants? Although individual ants can’t accomplish all that much on their own, a collective group of them can achieve surprising feats. Researchers are operating on that premise to build groups of cooperative robots capable of completing complex tasks. Will these robots be the end of humanity as we know it? Thankfully, probably not. The real story, although less violent, is still interesting—so read on to find out more!
Simple Robots, Complex Abilities
Eusocial insects work cooperatively, divide labor, and live in elaborate nests constructed by colony members. This cooperative action allows social insects to solve complex problems that they likely could not solve individually. Harvard researchers became interested in this phenomenon and were curious as to how insects manipulate their environment to create complex, functional architecture. They began by investigating the behavior of carpenter ants and their ability to, as a team, escape from a soft “corral”.
Researchers watched the ants behave inside of these ‘corrals’ and noted that before trying to escape, the ants wandered around at random and talked to one another using their antennae. Insect antennae are comprised of a number of specialized cells that allow them to interact with their environment in all sorts of ways. They are predominantly used for smell. Using antennae to interact and communicate with other insects is called antennation. The authors saw many ants engaging in antennation before they started working together. Once a few ants got together and started excavating, more and more ants started arriving. Eventually, excavation at this point started proceeding faster than in other areas, allowing ants to tunnel out. Mathematical models of this behavior showed that ants can only successfully get out of a corral when they i) work together sufficiently strongly while ii) excavating together efficiently.
Making Robot Ants, or "RAnts"
Building upon their mathematical models, researchers constructed robot ants to see if they could also communicate and cooperate in the same way. They used “photoromones” instead of pheromones, to initiate robot behavior. Photoromones are fields of light that researchers used to mimic antennation and chemicals that ants use to communicate with each other. They programmed the RAnts to follow the gradient of a photoromone, avoid other ants where the photoromone density was high, and to pick up obstacles where photoromone density was high, and move them to an area where density was low. With this code, RAnts were able to successfully, and quickly, escape confinement.
This study revealed that even complex events and behaviors stem from simple rules. The ability of the robots was robust— even if a few ants failed, the team could still complete the task correctly. These findings may contribute to the field of AI and robotics, where engineers that input simple, reinforceable rules could build a team of robots capable of achieving grand outcomes. The work will also help humans better understand the evolution of cooperative behavior in animals. All around, some high-level findings resulting from some very tiny insects!
Bug Lessons Blog
Welcome science communicators and bug nerds!
Interested in being a guest blogger?