By Dr. Bill Miller (USAEC Entomologist)April 7, 2014
Not many people like bugs or rats or weeds. Humans have always dealt with pests .... in their food, in their clothing, on their animals and on themselves. Egyptian mummies had lice attached to hair follicles. For some, "Bed Bugs" can make their skin crawl. Unfortunately, pests are part of Army life for Soldiers, their families and Army civilians. The Army's Integrated Pest Management Program uses more than just chemicals to control pests. If we compare the Army IPM program to a visit to the doctor's office, the intent of integrated pest management becomes more evident.
You go to your family physician with a complaint. The physician examines you and proscribes a treatment. Once treated, the doctor asks you to call if the symptoms reoccur. Let's take the same idea, except consider your house the patient.
You wake up to get coffee and find cockroaches crawling across the floor. You call for pest control; the technician arrives and sees the cockroach. For IPM, this is pest surveillance. Just like your physician conducts his or her examination, the IPM technician does the same. The IPM technician identifies the pest, the American Cockroach (Periplenata americana) and knows the species is normally found outdoors, or in sewer or steam lines. The technician looks under your sink and finds a hole that connects to the sewer lines.
Rather than spraying, the technician alerts maintenance to repair the pipe. For a temporary fix, the technician tapes the hole to keep the roaches out without using chemicals. Using fewer pesticides is one of the Army's and DoD's goals.
Knowledge of the pest's biology helps the technician identify and fix the problem. If the technician only used chemicals, they symptom would have been treated (cockroaches), without fixing the problem (leaking pipe). Once fixed, a return visit determines if the problem is solved. For the occupant, all is well -- no more cockroaches.
But it's not just in office buildings, housing and lodging that the Army wants to minimize the threat from pests, it's also in the field, where missions can be impacted. The Army has a kind of tool box it uses to help with pest problems.
All pests look for three things: food, shelter and water. Modern pest control prevents or eliminates access to these things. Our IPM tool box has several drawers. The first is biological, simply put, bug wars. If you buy lady bugs for aphids on plants, that's biological control. Next are the mechanical items, such as rat snap trap or bottle traps for fruit flies. For IPM, window screens are a mechanical control device; they let the fresh breeze in and keep the bugs out. Physical control is the third drawer. Using extreme heat to control bed bugs is one of the tools that can be found in this drawer.
Regulations provide a legal means to control pest species. Think of the damage that could occur if a pest species crosses our borders. That's one reason why Soldiers take the time to keep their equipment clean before it's moved. It's a requirement for international transit of material. But the real goal is to keep the pest in its home country and out of the U.S. This also means keeping our pests at home and not sending them to another country. Some pests are very invasive; they arrive in our country from another country or habitat and immediately disrupt the natural environment. Some examples are fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) or the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus); both came to our shores on ships and cargo.
Making it harder to find food, shelter and water is cultural control. A simple control for ants and roaches is to keep the counters clean. If you don't, you may find the counter full of bugs when you wake up. Remember: if you keep the bugs from food, shelter and water, they'll go somewhere else. Chemical control, the thing most ask for when seeking cockroach control, should be a last resort. Chemicals can be an effective tool to use, but think of them as a means to reduce pest populations so other IPM tools can be more beneficial.
Let's go back to the doctor's office, there's problem diagnosis, an examination and treatment, resulting in a cure. For our Army pest controllers, they identify the problem and use the IPM tool box to solve the problem. IPM means controlling pests with less toxic measures or by more cost-effective means, or working to cure the problem and not just putting a band-aid on it. IPM saves dollars and makes sense!