Difference Maker: Dr. Susan Jones, The Ohio State University


February 27, 2014

As a child, were you fascinated by or fearful of pests? I was fascinated by all kinds of insects. I spent countless hours exploring the wooded field that ran the length of our neighborhood block in Lake Charles, La. I collected every insect

imaginable from those woods, and I often stored them in the freezer at home, much to my mother’s dismay.

In the fall, I would hand-capture dozens and dozens of “drunken” butterflies that fed on fermenting pears in our neighbor’s compost pile that bordered the woods. I was interested in moths and their communication via pheromones. I spent innumerable hours under porch lights collecting moths. I performed crude experiments trying to understand insect chemical communication.

The only insect that aroused fear in me was the cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus. These large wasps nested in abundance in my great-grandmother’s yard along the path leading to her door, and I had to run a gauntlet of wasps during my frequent visits with her in Lake Charles.

When and why did you first become interested in this industry? During my undergraduate days at LSU, probably around 1977. I first recognized the importance of the pest management industry while enrolled in Jeff LaFage’s urban entomology course and working in his laboratory. Among the lectures was one by a pest management professional (PMP) from Houston, Emile Pappas, if I recall correctly.

I subsequently fell for termites when Jeff went on summer vacation and I was left in charge of the lab’s termite colonies, which, of course, began their swarming period. I knew little about termite alates and colony foundation, so I immersed myself in the termite literature so I could take advantage of this precious colony resource and allow the alates to establish new colonies. The rest is history, as it’s been for more than three decades. I’m still fascinated by termites and research.

For which structural pest do you have the most respect, and why? Bed bugs. These ectoparasitic insects were thought to have been largely eradicated from the U.S. and other developed countries, yet they’ve rebounded with a vengeance. Bed bugs are a challenge to work with in the laboratory because they’re quite susceptible to injury when being handled for experiments (studies have to be repeated when control mortality exceeds 15 percent). Yet in human habitations, bed bugs thrive, in part, because of their nocturnal behavior, stealthy feeding habits, numerous hiding places, reproductive capacity, and ability to feed on alternate hosts. Their multiple insecticide resistance mechanisms enable them to challenge control measures continually.

How do you define integrated pest management (IPM)? IPM is a holistic approach to prevent and control arthropod pests through multiple tactics. The strategies vary depending on the pest species and its context, but IPM considers all relevant pest control methodologies such as cultural, biological and chemical. Insecticides are a component of IPM.

Without mentioning any suppliers or brands, which three pest management technologies will take off in the next decade?

  1. Sensors to rapidly detect various insects.
  2. New residual insecticides for bed bug control.
  3. Easy and effective do-it-yourself products for bed bug detection and control.

What are the three biggest obstacles facing the pest management industry?

  1. The EPA. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particularly the Pesticide Regulation section, poses a significant obstacle to the pest management industry and U.S. residents, particularly those trying to combat insect pests such as bed bugs.As just one example, I don’t understand the EPA’s decision not to regulate numerous “natural” active ingredients (AIs) without regard to their concentration or the many variants of plant-based oils and other chemicals. This decision, which resulted in the current list of 31 AIs exempt from federal registration under section 25(b) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), violates the basic principle of toxicology that the dose makes the poison, as first articulated by Paracelsus (1493-1541), who often is recognized as having founded the discipline of toxicology. In Paracelsus’ words, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”In essence, the agency opened Pandora’s box: This seemingly inconsequential decision has resulted in far-reaching consequences, opening the floodgates for numerous entrepreneurs to market natural products without having to provide efficacy data for registration.

    The lack of efficacy of numerous 25(b) natural products against bed bugs is illustrated in recent research by entomologists at Rutgers University. Of the nine biopesticides and two detergents that were evaluated in the laboratory, only two products caused greater than 90 percent bed bug mortality after 10 days.

  2. Limited funding for independent research. There’s a need for independent research funding for household and structural insects because the industry requires up-to-date information about pests and unbiased data about control measure efficacy.
  3. The economy. Monetary concerns can limit the public’s ability to pay for professional pest control.

What are the industry’s three biggest opportunities?

  • Termites and bed bugs. Controlling these pests presents an opportunity for the public to recognize the value of capable PMPs. These insects are difficult to control by someone who has little experience without a professional’s access to diverse management tools.
  • Invasive species. Invasive arthropod species in homes and yards present an opportunity for PMPs. It can be anticipated the list of exotic species will continue to increase.
  • Control of public health pests.

What research opportunities are you focusing on? My research goals are to find ways to effectively combat these important urban pests. My program has centered on the biology and management of subterranean termites because they’re the most economically important structural pests in the U.S. My applied research focuses on developing termite control strategies, with the goal of finding effective products homeowners can use to safeguard their home.

I continue to conduct laboratory and field studies about the efficacy of termite baits and soil termiticides. I’m also conducting research to investigate population dynamics, including colony growth and the reproductive composition of colonies.

Given the worldwide resurgence of bed bugs during the past decade, my research program has expanded to meet this new challenge. My basic research includes studies of bed bug movement and dispersal, bed bug feeding behavior, and the potential of bed bugs for disease transmission. My applied research centers on bed bug monitoring devices and control using insecticides, including do-it-yourself products, natural products and synthetic insecticides.

At A Glance: Dr. Susan Jones

Title: Professor of Entomology, The Ohio State University

Years in pest management: 35

Industry mentors:

  • Dr. Jeffery LaFage (deceased). As my master’s of science degree advisor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Jeff shared his passion for termites. He readily communicated that an in-depth understanding of an insect’s biology and ecology was needed to develop the most effective control measures. He also communicated his great respect for members of the pest management industry and the important role they play in society.
  • Dr. William Nutting (deceased). As my doctoral degree advisor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Bill shared his extensive knowledge and love of desert termites and ecological research.
  • The members of the Ohio Pest Management Association (OPMA). During my tenure at OSU, I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from numerous OPMA professionals, particularly Lonnie Alonso of Columbus Pest Control and Dr. Gerry Wegner and John Livingston of Varment Guard Environmental Services.

Three industry achievements:

  1. I was one of the pioneer researchers on termite baits, working on this issue from the early 1980s to date. Well before Sentricon was marketed as the first termite bait in 1995, I was publishing laboratory and field research on the efficacy of potential bait toxicants while studying termite colony dynamics and foraging ecology to gain a better understanding of how baits could impact colonies of various termite species.
  2. I was among the first U.S. entomologists responding to the bed bug resurgence, and I’ve been strongly committed to providing extension outreach publications and presentations, as well as research about detection and control measures. I’ve participated in bed bug task forces at the local, state and federal levels.
  3. I was the lead author of an in-depth study documenting the ineffectiveness of over-the-counter total release foggers (bug bombs) to control bed bug infestations. In September, Alaska’s Pesticide Control Program announced it would deny registration to all total-release fogger products that list bed bugs as the target species, or include the terms bedbug or bed bug, on the packaging. The agency’s decision was based on the continuing reports about pesticide misuse incidents and the lack of efficacy against bed bugs. It concluded total-release fogger products presented an unnecessary risk when used to control bed bugs.

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

About the Author

PMP Editor-at-Large Jerry Mix can be reached at pmpeditor@northcoastmedia.net.

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