Michael Merchant, Ph.D., leads training for a group of school pest management professionals. 

Honorary membership recognizes significant contributions by ESA members who have served for at least 20 years. The recognition comes with complimentary lifetime membership to the ESA and lifetime registration to the society’s annual meeting, of which Merchant has participated annually since joining in 1982.

“I feel immensely honored by this recognition,” Merchant said. “It’s a testament to some of the great work we’ve accomplished through the ESA and a satisfying honor at the end of my career.”

In August, Merchant retired from a 31-year career with AgriLife Extension, where he was based at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in Dallas. During this time, his professional efforts reached across the state as he trained AgriLife Extension county agents, the public and pest management professionals on structural pest control, turfgrass and ornamental plant insects. He also provided comprehensive lessons on entomology for public health.

An integrated approach to pest management. Aside from organizing and conducting learning programs around urban entomology, Merchant’s research with AgriLife Extension addressed control issues for many specific pests including fire ants, scale insects, spiders and scorpions, among others.

His research also covered the economics and implementation of integrated pest management, or IPM, in Texas schools, where IPM is required by law.

IPM is the practice of controlling pests with alternatives to pesticide. It employs many “integrated” methods that consider environmental safety and human health.

Merchant is credited with expanding IPM in all aspects of entomological teaching across the state, and industry professionals say he is synonymous with IPM training in Texas.

“He is a distinguished leader in both the study of entomology and with Extension programming,” said Kim Engler, education and technical trainer with ABC Home and Commercial Services, San Antonio. “His attention to detail and striving to provide science-based research to the general public helped shape my career by providing the fundamentals for being a good scientist.”

Merchant is a coauthor of the ESA publication IPM for the Urban Professional: A Study Guide for the Associate Certified Entomologist, and he established the IPM Experience House training facility at AgriLife’s Dallas center.

“IPM House is the only training program of its kind in Texas, and it is an effort to ensure that our state has some of the most safety conscious, educated and effective pest management professionals in the nation,” Merchant said.

The “house” contains a series of mock real-world environments for training pest control professionals. They include a restaurant dining area, a nursing home bedroom, an industrial kitchen, a cultivated landscape and a residential living room, kitchen and attic. The facility also houses a bank of microscopes and learning materials for pest identification training.

Industry impact. An outpouring of congratulatory remarks followed the ESA’s announcement of Merchant’s honorary membership in September.

“Throughout my tenure in industry, I have used Dr. Merchant’s blogs and printed materials to support conversations with homeowners,” said Janis Reed, Ph.D., entomologist and technical services manager with Control Solutions Inc., College Station. “I could always count on Mike to be succinct, factual and use language any reader could understand. Having the large breadth of topics he’s covered over the years to use helped me to communicate with folks by using a reliable source of information.”

Merchant’s volunteer roles with the ESA over three decades have included student-contest judging, helping to establish the Southwest Branch Insect Expo for grade schoolers, chairing and serving on multiple committees and organizing entomological symposia.

He also was the first president of the ESA’s Medical, Urban and Veterinary Entomology, or MUVE Section, which focuses on how insects affect humans, domestic and wild animals and the urban environment. Prior to this, he served five years on the ESA Certification Board, including two years as director.

Expanding professional pest management training

It was in the director role that Merchant led establishment of the Associate Certified Entomologist, or ACE, professional certification program, which complimented his co-authored guide. The ESA credits this initiative for helping to build current ACE membership to more than 1,000 from zero in 2004.

“His dedication and support of the certification programs for the ESA stands out,” said Bob Davis, Ph.D., entomologist and technical specialist with BASF Pest Control Solutions. “Mike recognized that professional credentialing for pest management professionals could serve an important need for the industry.”

Merchant holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Western Washington University and a masters and two doctorates in entomology from Texas A&M University and Purdue University. He joins May Berenbaum, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;  Mike Ivie, Ph.D., Montana State University; Gary R. Mullen, Ph.D., Auburn University; and Lisa G. Neven, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, in receiving honorary ESA memberships in 2020. All recipients will be recognized during the ESA’s annual meeting, which will take place virtually in November.