Stephen Mays provides a safe and "pest-free" work environment

Stephen Mays

Stephen Mays

By Kristal Humphrey, university news and communications

After 31 years of working in pest management, Stephen Mays, senior building and grounds specialist, has dealt with everything from bats to bald-faced hornets to termites. He says pest management is all about promoting a safe and healthy environment for all of us to work, live, learn and eat in.

Q: How did you get started in pest management?

A: I grew up with someone whose family owned a pest management firm, and they offered me a job. I managed the office in Oxford for 10 years and was hired by Miami 21 years ago.

Q: What kind of training do you have and need for your job?

A: I have licenses in five categories of pest management as is required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is enforced by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. I have attended ongoing training and recertification every year for 31 years and have received training at the state agriculture headquarters of three different states. 

Q: What methods do you use for pest control?

A: I use both insecticides and nonchemical control methods. Nonchemical methods include trapping and monitoring with sticky traps, caulking and sealing cracks, vacuuming, and altering environments to make it difficult or impossible for pests to thrive.

The insecticides I use contain about 10 active ingredients and come in various formulations. They may be in baits, dusts, granules, liquids or aerosols. They may be adulticides or biorational growth regulators. Ninety-five percent of the products I use will be pyrethrins, natural insecticides derived from flowers like chrysanthemums, or pyrethroids, man-made chemical arrangements of pyrethrins designed to be more stable. Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are in the botanical classification of insecticides. Bio-rational insecticides are specific to certain insects and interfere with the development of insects as they transform between life stages. 

Occasionally, I talk to professors in Pearson Hall to help me identify a new creature that has been carried or shipped in from somewhere else in the world. It can be difficult to identify insects when you don't know their true name or common name. We have dealt with ghost ants from South America, Cuban and Australian roaches, Asian lady beetles and the new invader, brown marmorated stink bugs.

Q: What is the most challenging thing about your job?

A: Covering all four campuses. Physical facilities maintains control over 1,200 acres, 218 buildings, 4.6 miles of tunnels, and 34 miles of sidewalks at the Oxford, Middletown, Hamilton and Voice of America campuses. I have to be preventive and respond to emergency calls on short notice at all the campuses. I usually complete about 1,525 work orders each calendar year.

Q: What do you like about your job?

A: Every day brings new challenges and requires me to be constantly moving in order to keep up with the pest problems. I’m also a people person and enjoy meeting a lot of different people.

Q: What are some examples of challenging situations you’ve had to deal with?

A: One is eliminating yellow jacket nests from the walls, window frames or heater housings of student residence halls while the wasps are getting into the rooms. Another is eliminating bald-faced hornet nests that are hanging from buildings and trees. It’s always a challenge to get rid of these without getting stung. So far, I’ve been successful.

Q: How does a warmer winter like we’ve had affect pests on campus and elsewhere?

A: I can’t say there are larger numbers of insects due to a warm winter, but many insects that used to come out later in the year are arriving earlier, like June bugs coming out in late April or early May and carpenter bees arriving in April instead of June. Some populations of annual insect colonies like yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets have a longer season now that results in larger colony sizes towards the end of the year.

We also are seeing more American roaches (palmetto bugs) now. They’ve always been common in the south but are becoming more common here. A few years ago our area was included in the more southern planting zone because of temperature increases, so those plant-eating insects, like stink bugs and Japanese beetles, are arriving sooner as well.