Hey! All you pest control type folks,
Do you ever get pictures of insects that need some clarification? I’ll bet you do!
Do you get that far away or fuzzy picture with NO size reference? Again, your answer is YES!
Do you get information as to where it was found? Maybe. Maybe not.
I polled several people who act as their company’s staff entomologist, technical director, quality manager, and anyone else who frequently gets asked ID insects to sound off on these growl-worthy irritants. A few Board Certified Entomologists and Associated Certified Entomologists were also included in my survey. As you can guess, these folks had LOTS to say. Here are some of their pet peeves, and some useful tips on how to get a great, or at least, identifiable picture.
SOME PET PEEVES
When taking photos with your smartphone, it helps to zoom in a little, but not too much. Keep the final picture clear. “We don’t want to compare it to a grainy likeness of Big Foot,” says Courtney Carace, A.C.E., of Pest-End Exterminators.
A size reference is very helpful. Quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies have specific dimensions and are easy references to length and width. Lance VanZant, A.C.E., Branch Manager at Clark Pest Control states, “My biggest pet peeve is getting a blurry picture with no size reference. A metric ruler is the best measurement tool, but we’ll take a business card or car keys for comparison.” Shawn Wilson from Cardinal Professional Products doesn’t like, “unclear or out of focus pictures,” and adds, “If you are going to share a picture, make sure you own the rights to it.”
Dr. Janis Reed, B.C.E., Technical Services Manager of Control Solutions, Inc., urges, “NO VIDEOS! Still, photos are best. It’s tough to see insects when they are moving, especially if they are small.” The common theme to the pet peeves of Lisa Myers-Botts, owner of Peacock Pest Prevention, James Miller, A.C.E., Trece’ Market Manager, Sylvia Kenmuir, B.C.E., BASF, is giving the picture a size reference. “Customers expect you to ID an insect from one picture and a small description,” said Devin McShane, Quality & Food Safety Manager for Bimbo Bakeries. “Multiple photos in higher quality always help.”
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
It’s helpful to know how many insects were found. Were they all in one site? Or scattered several feet apart? This information will give a clue if the insect is social or not.
Multiple pictures, from multiple angles aid in ID. Images showing lateral, top and bottom, head and abdomen need to be seen. What kind of antenna does it have? Club? Segmented? Eyelash-like? None, at all? Does it have wings? Are they the length of the body? Or just teasers with wing pads only? Does the insect have legs and how many?
Wilson also commented, “When taking a picture, it helps to have the insect in their natural habitat or feeding on their sources of food.” This is due to the varied nature of food preferences of insects and other pests. Some are herbivores, some carnivores. We need to ask, “Are they after the protein foods or feasting on sugars.” Determining this factor will have a significant impact on your treatment plan.
“Using a flash is a great way to get additional details that may not be seen by the naked eye,” says Myers-Botts. Some insects are similar in size and shape. It is sometimes hard to distinguish the difference. VanZant used the Sawtooth Grain Beetle and the Merchant Grain Beetle as examples. “Most people wouldn’t think to zoom in on the head of these insects. They do have differences,” he said.
Heather Alonso, from Target Specialty Products, wants to know the geographic location, and “In what part of the house were these insects found?” She also asks that the picture taker NOT zoom in. Let her do that on her end.
McShane added, “People don’t seem to understand the level and depth required to properly identify a non-routine insect. Grainy photos can increase the opportunity of inaccurate identification.” The clearer the picture can be, the more accurate of identifying the pest.
Any successful pest ID needs to be a partnership between the person who found the insect and the person making the identification. The inexperienced field technician is the one most likely to need identification. They should be trained on what type of information is important to get that proper ID. McShane says he often provides customers with a dichotomous key to show them what is important for picture identification and isn’t. (I actually had to look that up)
Miller continues with, “Teaching a technician HOW to use the magnifier on a smart phone, or an attachment tool, is a great start. Online retailers have some high performing, inexpensive USB microscopes that plug into a personal computer.” Miller also recommends building a relationship with a local United States Department of Agriculture - Agriculture Research Service Center (USDA-ARS). They can help with the identification of the specimen when pictures aren’t feasible.
Knowing about conducive conditions where the insect was found is informative. “Don’t leave out any details. I need the rest of the story.” Says VanZant. He, and Mary Tanner of Anthony Pest Control, would like to see the actual insect be able to give a positive ID. After all, a proper treatment plan starts with correct pest identification. Kimmy Caballero of Hi-Tech Pest Pros wants to put the specimen under a microscope, and adds, “I have gotten pictures of dryer or carpet fuzz…no bugs at all.”
“Don’t send me a blurry picture that looks like a piece of lint. I can’t ID something if I don’t know what I am looking at,” stated Beau Bridwell, a Food Safety Professional with the American Institute of Baking (AIB). He is in the same mindset as the other polled participants. Give clear, precise photos that show all relevant information to the pest ID. He gave tips on how to use an iPhone to get those precise pictures. To achieve this, touch and hold the zoom controls, then drag the slider to the left or right accordingly.
To a newer pest control technician, getting these photographic details might be a challenge. This person is mostly untrained and may only see a bug. He doesn’t want to betray the customer’s confidence, but the correct way to handle a treatment plan is to get ALL the facts. Wilson says, “Knowing basic characteristics and some biology about insects is a must.” Inspection and getting a proper insect identification are how the Integrated Pest Management principle begins.
A newly minted pest control professional is an open book. Managers, technical directors, manufacturers, and all you seasoned PESTIES, share your knowledge with those less skilled. We were all brand new at some point in our careers. This pest control industry is continually growing and changing, and we need that wealth of information to be passed on to the next generation of promising pest control operators. The New Guy or Gal needs to know that they won’t be judged for asking questions. I, like all of you, got into this industry for a specific reason. Yes, each reason is different, but nonetheless, here we are…. gaining knowledge and training every day. It’s our duty to make sure that information doesn’t stop.