Small bugs – Big news

Small insects have been big news in Albany, as lawmakers move to protect pollinators, help growers fend off a new berry pest, and educate the public about tick-borne illnesses.


Do you know tick species by sight, where they lurk, and how to avoid them? These are some of the essential skills for avoiding Lyme disease that Matt Frye, an educator with Cornell's New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, advocated during a community forum hosted by New York State Senator Sue Serino, R-41st District. Serino, who chairs the New York State Senate Taskforce on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases, hosted the June 30 forum in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“My goal is to make sure the issue really hits the mainstream, because no matter how much we think we know, there are new developments each and every day,” Serino said. “If there is one thing I have learned when it comes to combating Lyme, information is power.”

The information Frye provided was preventative and practical: how to identify, avoid and remove ticks. He explained that being able to correctly identify the pest is a prerequisite for proper treatment, and he recommended the TickEncounter website as a guide. He also covered tick habitat preferences and personal protective measures—including insecticidal socks—and the importance of staying on the path away from underbrush.

“Ticks are questing when they are looking for a bloodmeal,” he said. “They are standing on the vegetation, with their tarsi (front claws) out, looking for you to come by. If you don’t walk into them, your chances of picking up a tick are much reduced.”

Spotted Wing Drosophila

A winged newcomer is causing big problems for berries across the Northeast, according to professor of entomology Greg Loeb and Dale-Ila M. Riggs, owner of The Berry Patch and president of the New York State Berry Growers Association (NYSBGA), who testified before the Assembly Agriculture Committee. The spotted wing drosophila, a new invasive fruit fly, has caused millions of dollars in economic damage to the berry industry in New York since its arrival in 2011, but the partnership between the NYSBGA, Cornell, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the state has been hailed as a model for how to deal with an invasive pest.

“We have made progress in our battle against this pest and, more importantly, have given some hope to the farm community that they will be able to continue to grow berries locally,” Riggs said.

Successes to date include a new statewide monitoring network and strategies for managing the pest, from netting to protect ripening fruit to frequent harvests to minimize damage, as well as sprayer systems for high tunnels. Loeb is on the forefront of developing other solutions, including repellents to drive the fruit flies away from fruit coupled with “attract and kill” stations to lure them away from the crop and identifying natural enemies—including diseases—that could be harnessed for controlling pest populations.

“Much more still needs to be done to develop a sustainable, long-term solution for this invasive pest,” Loeb said.


On August 6, Richard Ball, New York Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets, welcomed a meeting of the interagency task force charged with protecting, in his words, “a large work force in New York state that works from dawn till sundown” and without W2s: the bees. The task force, established by Governor Andrew Cuomo in April, will develop a roadmap to conserve and grow pollinator populations across the state.

Among the first to speak was Jennifer Grant, the director of Cornell's New York State Integrated Pest Management Program
(NYSIPM), who included an update on pollinator research by NYSIPM and Cornell entomologists Scott McArt, Bryan Danforth and Greg Loeb. Offering a bird’s eye view of Cornell research, Grant described wildflower strips to diversify bee diets and enhance their health; bee habitat in natural areas and golf courses; and transmission of pathogens among bee species on flowers. Another recent development is the establishment of a new pesticide residue detection facility at Cornell, which will help researchers identify environmental chemicals that may be affecting bee populations.

“Some things are being addressed on a very basic research level; some of it needs to be brought into the field to be tested,” Grant concluded. “And then a lot of needs to be taught, to make people more aware of what’s happening and what they can do to help in the bigger picture.”