Difference Maker: Dr. Dini Miller, Virginia Tech University

|  January 13, 2013

As a child, were you fascinated by or fearful of pests?

I don’t know if I would say fascinated, but my favorite toy was a stuffed ladybug I received at age two. I named her “BugWug” and still have her. Maybe BugWug was a prophetic sign. I have always loved animals (even leopard slugs), and don’t recall ever being afraid of any. However, I do hold the household record for being bitten by the most animals, including a black snake, a giant pink skink, a mole, multiple cats, a dog, a tortoise and a marmoset. I don’t know why everything
wants to bite me. It could be because I always try to pick them up.

At my 20-year high school reunion, I thought I would really shock my old friends by telling them that I study bed bugs and cockroaches for a living. To my surprise, my best friend from kindergarten said she had expected as much and reminded me that I had a bug zoo in the back yard when we were 10. So, I guess I have always been a biologist at heart. I am fascinated by whale sharks, chuckwallas, sea turtles,
giant anteaters, sloths, wombats, bed bugs, German cockroaches, giant black sea slugs — you name it!

When did you first become interested in this business?

When I was applying to graduate school, Dr. Phil Koehler called me and told me that I needed to come
to the University of Florida because the on-campus sewage treatment plant was world-famous. I asked, “Famous for what?” He told me it was for producing eight lbs. of American cockroaches a night. He told me I’d never be satisfied with my life until I came to Florida to see this sewage treatment plant.
That was the craziest thing anyone had ever said to me, so I left for Florida. It was the best decision I have ever made. Now nothing makes me happier than working in a heavily infested apartment.

Which structural pest do you respect most and why?

That is a hard question. I have great respect for German cockroaches and subterranean termites. But of
course, I have to say I have the greatest respect for bed bugs. Knowing what I know about them
today, I am not surprised bed bugs came back. But I am very surprised that we had a 50-year
break from them. Bed bugs should have been with us the whole time, and I believe they will be from now on.

How do you define integrated pest management (IPM)?

I think it’s interesting that in the urban environment we have so many definitions for IPM. In agriculture, where the term originated, IPM has an economic foundation and very specific
metrics (economic threshold level, economic injury level, etc.) that can be quantified. In the urban environment, anyone can come up with his or her own definition of IPM depending on how he or she feels about pests and/or pesticide use in the environment. It’s not really the same in agriculture.

I think we need to come up with a more appropriate term than the borrowed “IPM” to describe effective, low-toxicity pest management in the urban market. That said, my definition is more of a description of the urban IPM process: a pest management program that is based on long-term prevention, which relies on monitoring and inspection to accurately identify the presence of pest species, their location, and invading numbers. Once the species is identified, an informed decision is made regarding the most effective, least toxic methods for controlling that pest. Treatment methods are implemented on an as-needed basis, according to pest location and numbers.
After treatment, the monitoring is ongoing to determine whether the treatment was effective
and to detect any new pest invasion.

Which three management techniques will expand significantly in the next 10 years?

1. Foaming large areas — not just drains — of commercial kitchens for small control.
2. Use of smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices for communication and documentation of pest problems and services.
3. Continued widespread use of heat for bed bug control. Hopefully, we will get better at it.

What are the top 3 obstacles facing the pest management industry today?

1. Convincing the public that 96 percent elimination of a massive bed bug infestation is not a treatment failure. IPM does not demand eradication. We are good at eliminating 90 percent of the bed bugs right away, just like we are with other pest infestations. But often, we might have to fight for weeks to get
rid of that last 10 percent. Bed bugs are continuing to spread. We need to help our customers accept that
periodically battling bed bugs might be part of their lives from now on.

2. Pest control, particularly bed bug control, is considered a luxury item for many people. Residents might not call a professional until the problem is way out of control. At that point, treatment is time-consuming and costly for both the pest control company and the client. These costs contribute to the spread of bed bugs.

3. Underselling German cockroach contracts to low-income housing facilities. You know what I am talking about. We have the luxury of being able to control German cockroaches today — but maybe not tomorrow — with our excellent bait formulations. So, huge infestations in apartment complexes are
inexcusable. Are you selling for $6 a door or less? I am coming after you!

At a Glance
Dr. Dini M. Miller
Title: Associate professor and urban pest management specialist for the State of
Virginia
Organization: Department of Entomology, Virginia Tech University
Years in pest management: 20
Industry mentors: Miller credits Dr. Phil Koehler with “teaching me everything
I know.” There were also many others who have influenced my career path over the years, including Dr. Gary Bennett, Dr. Mike Rust; Don Reierson, Dr. Shripat Kamble, Dr. Mike Potter, Dr. Brian Forschler, Dr. Jerome Goddard, Dr. Coby Schal and the great Dr. Austin Frishman.

Jerry Mix was editor/publisher of PMP until his retirement in 2004. Contact Mix, a member of the PMP Hall of Fame (Class of 2005), at jnmix@aol.com.

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