Pests can and do invade every aspect of our lives, whether they are insect, mammal, plant, bird. or pathogen. This category identifies pests through photos, examines their biology and behavior and guides the reader in deciding whether their home, garden, farm, school or workplace is infested.
Important Facts About Mice and Rats
Rats may be associated with squalor and poverty but the truth is that they can flourish as well in a penthouse as they can in an outhouse. Some scientists speculate that mice evolved from rats to fit situations that did not require ferocity or large size, but instead offered shelter entered through small holes.
The Tale of the Tape for Common Rat and Mouse Adults:
Norway Rat: Heavy and Thick body, weigh 11 ounces or 300 grams
Roof Rat: Light and Slender Body, weigh 7 ounces or 200 grams
House Mouse: Small Head, Small Feet, weigh 0.5 ounce or 15 grams
Snout Shape of Common Rat and Mouse Adults:
Norway Rat: Blunt
Roof Rat: Pointed
House Mouse: Pointed
Ear Size and Hair of Common Rat and Mouse Adults:
Norway Rat: Short, Dark Hairs
Roof Rat: Large, No Hair
House Mouse: Large, Some Hair
Tail Coloration of Common Rat and Mouse Adults:
Norway Rat: Dark Above, Pale Underneath
Roof Rat: All Dark
House Mouse: All Dark
Fur Color and Characteristics of Common Rat and Mouse Adults:
Norway Rat: Brown with Black Shading, Shaggy Coat
Roof Rat; Grey with Black Shading, Smooth Coat
House Mouse: Light Brown with Grey Shading
Shape of Common Rat and Mouse Adult Feces or Droppings:
Norway Rat: Capsule-Shaped
Roof Rat: Spindle-Shaped
House Mouse: Rod-Shaped
Daily Food Requirements of Common Adult Rats and Mice:
Norway Rat: 1 ounce or 28 grams
Roof Rat: 1 ounce or 28 grams
House Mouse: 0.1 ounce or 3 grams
Nest Locations of Common Adult Rats and Mice:
Norway Rat: Burrows, mostly
Roof Rat: Walls, Attics, Trees
House Mouse: Stored material
Litter Size and Frequency of Common Adult Rats and Mice:
Norway Rat: 8-12, 7 Litters per Year
Roof Rat: 6-8, 8 Litters per Year
House Mouse: 6-7, 8-10 Litters per Year
Mice: Fast Facts of Prevention and Control
Because mice produce large litters in a short period of time, an infestation can equal big trouble for any home, school or business owner. Rodent experts say that the infestation of mice will continue to grow as long as competing species, shelter and food will allow. Fortunately for humans, most mice in the wild do not survive three months due to heavy predation.
Outdoors and in the garage, mice will damage autos, lawn tractors and bicycles by chewing through insulation, fuel lines and seat upholstery. Indoors, their urine and poop can stain and contaminate pantries, food and dishes and their incessant gnawing can ruin bagged foodstuffs, scar furniture and spill pet foods. Farmers lose untold amounts of grain and seed to the country cousins every year.
House mice have large ears, are 2 to 4 inches long, brown to grey with dark tails about the length of their head and body combined. Their feces are 1/4 inch long and rod shaped.
Ridding a home of mice once they have become established may be difficult but glue/sticky traps and the old reliable, snap traps may be the best least-toxic solutions. Fluffy the cat may only be effective against newly colonizing mice and not those already homesteading, so use her if you got her, but realize that she has her limits. Note: Some mice have reportedly become resistant to the anti-coagulant effects of baits and as with any poison, non-target species(pets and humans) and predators(owls, hawks and snakes) are at risk, so poisonous baits should not be used. Ultrasonic pest repellers have not proven to be effective in the lab or in field testing. So, once the whiskered critters have been banished from Shangri-la, how can they be kept out?
Seal, raise, cleanup, discard and store could be a mantra for mouse prevention. Seal utility entrances and attic vents with metal flashing or heavy mesh and install door sweeps and thresholds. Raise woodpiles off the ground one foot and move them away from the house at least six feet. Wrap outdoor pet cage legs with sheet metal if mice have been climbing them. Do not allow leaf and yard debris to accumulate. Move compost piles well away from the house and keep weeds and brush cutback from the home's foundation. Recycle all clutter that could make a nice mouse condo, especially straw and paper. Store pet food, indoors or out, in metal or hard plastic containers that resist gnawing. Maybe the hardest one, but stop feeding the birds and squirrels as mice will scavenge the spilled seeds and see them as an invitation to come inside for a buffet.
Termites: Identification and Management
Termites have six well defined legs, straight antennae and thick waists. Subterranean species feed on wood, eating between the grain and filling the void with dirt. They require moisture and their nest must contact the soil. Conversely, drywood termite species live above the ground, cut across the grain of wood and do not fill the void with dirt.
Termites have six well defined legs, straight antennae and thick waists.
Subterranean versus Drywood Species:
Subterranean species feed on wood, eating between the grain and filling the void with dirt. They require moisture and their nest must contact the soil. Conversely, drywood termite species live above the ground, cut across the grain of wood and do not fill the void with dirt.
Least-toxic Treatment of Termite Infestations:
Beneficial nematodes developed for termites may be injected into the structure's wood or soapy water/nematodes can be used as a drench if the colony is located. Liquid nitrogen can be injected to freeze drywood termites or orange oil shows promise in controlling termites as do electrical stun guns.
Winged Ants On the Move: Swarming to Mate and Form New Colonies
Ants are social insects that form colonies and nests, either indoors or out. At certain times of the year, male and female winged ants leave the nest to mate and form new colonies. Winged ants are often confused with winged termites but there are at least three distinguishing features between the two.
Ants with Wings:
During certain times of the year, winged male and female ants leave the nest to mate and establish new colonies.
Winged Ants or Termites:
Winged ants can be distinguished from termites by three characteristics; their hind wings are shorter than the front while winged termites have equal sized wings. Winged Ants have bent antennae and those of winged termites are hairy and straight. Last, winged ants have hourglass figures with a narrow waist compared to the thicker waists of winged termites.
Winged Ants Swarming in the House:
When winged ants swarm in the home, their colony is likely to be located somewhere indoors, hidden in spots such as behind appliances, or inaccesible areas like beneath the home's slab or in wall spaces. Spray lime and soapy sprays on the ants as the first line of defense, opting to use pyrethrins only if less toxic methods are unsuccessful in eliminating the pests.
Wasps and Yellow Jackets: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
wasps can be as beneficial as well as pesky pests so if they are just hanging around and not bothering anyone, let them be. They can help pollinate and rid the garden of other pests. If however, they have located their nest too close for human comfort, leave the toxic chemicals on the market's shelf and follow the non-toxic tip you will read here.
Found throughout North America, yellow jackets or various species of wasps are familiar to picnics yet do not generally attack humans or animals without provocation.
The supermodels of the flying insect world, adult wasps, 1/2" to 3/4" long, have narrow waists, long, cylindrical legs, smooth, shiny skin and two pairs of fairy-like wings.
After feeding on sugary treats such as flower nectar and the juice of ripe fruit, adult wasps prey on flies, caterpillars and crickets which they feed to their developing young secreted in a papery nest made from chewed wood mixed with saliva. These nests are built in a myriad of locations from underground to tree limbs, building eaves and wall voids. Nests located out of areas of human disturbance will normally be fine left alone. The wasp colony will die after one season except for the queen who overwinters, emerging in the spring to locate a new nesting site as she will not reuse an old nest.
Wasps sting to defend themselves and their colonies, injecting venom before they withdraw their stinger without harming themselves so they are capable of stinging multiple times. The sting location may be treated with ice, vinegar, meat tenderizer, topical ointments and even antihistamines if the victim's immune system is compromised. This information is not intended to supplant medical advice and those with known allergies to insect stings are always advised to carry adrenaline-based injectors on their person when outdoors during the warm seasons.
If wasps have built a nest too close for human comfort, a non-toxic method of nest control involves enclosing the nest AT NIGHT (when wasps are least active) in heavy plastic before severing it from its attachment point and dropping it into the "bag" and sealing it. Freezing the bag/nest will kill the wasp colony as well as sitting it in open sun for a couple of days.
So, wasps can be as beneficial as well as pesky pests so if they are just hanging around and not bothering anyone, let them be. They can help pollinate and rid the yard and garden of other pests.
Bed Bugs - Identification, Life Cycle and Natural Pest Controls
Bed Bugs are oval, wingless and round-bodied, rusty-red insects about 1/5 inch long. They are the only blood-sucking insects with round bodies and wingless adults. In addition to humans, bed bugs also feast on the blood of bats, birds and rodents. These nocturnal insects hide in crevices of mattresses and upholstery during the day and feast on victim's blood while they are sleeping. Simple, natural pest controls include frequent vacuuming, reducing clutter and sealing cracks and crevices.
Bed Bugs are nocturnal, hiding in crevices of mattresses, upholstery, box springs and behind picture frames during the day. The uptown bugs live in and hitchhike from theatre, bus and train seats while their country and suburban cousins find homes in firewood.
Batches of up to 50 eggs are laid on wood and paper, hatching in 10 days. When blood meals are available and air temperatures are 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, nymphs morph into adults in 5 weeks. Cooler temps slow the nymphs growth.
Simple fixes are reducing clutter by recycling or composting, reducing bed bug heaven by frequently vacuuming or by fortifying the castle by constructing a bed bug moat around the bed. See "Suggested Reading" for further info.
Bed Bug History
Where did bed bugs come from? Why did they disappear, more importantly, why did they reappear? And what is their status today? To answer these, and other questions on the ever-evolving bed bug, following is a brief history of this biting bug in the U.S.
- The bed bugs were among the first settlers of the New World, having journeyed across the ocean with the early colonists. Historical documents describebed bug infestations among 18th-century colonists of what is now the U.S. and Canada - but no writings indicated any such bed bug problems among Native Americans.
- According to the Entomological Society of America, bed bugs received "a big reproductive boost" when central heating was introduced in the early 1900s enabling the bugs to survive the cold winters.
- The bugs were considered to be one of the greatest problems for soldiers on U.S. bases during World War II - outside of actual fighting, of course.
- During this same decade, however, that much of the Western world began to see an eradication of the bed bugs.
- The eradication was due, to a great extent, to the use of the pesticides such as DDT. (In fact, many suspect that one cause of their current resurgence is the banning of DDT and reduced use of pesticides in general.)
- Although eradication has never been worldwide, in most parts of developed countries, the bugs became little more than a children's bedtime admonition: "Sleep tight, don't let thebed bugs bite" ...
- ... until the 1990s when the bugs began to crawl back into the spotlight, appearing primarily in urban areas but being just as likely to infest high-end hotels as low-income housing.
- Today bed bugs are, once again, considered one of the most common pests throughout much of the civilized world - and one of the most difficult to control.
Why Bed Bugs Are Back
According to the CDC, the resurgence is suspected to be associated with:
- increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides.
- greater international and domestic travel.
- lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence.
- the continuing decline or elimination of effective vector/pest control programs at state and local public health agencies.
- Whatever the reason, an entire industry has evolved around bed bug eradication, even to the point the it has been credited for enabling the pest control industry to thrive while other businesses have failed in the difficult years of the recession.
Partnering Against Bed Bugs
That same industry, however, is still learning to contend with the bugs, with new products (some effective, some not) and processes (some effective, some not) continually being introduced and tried.
Unfortunately, little has been introduced to allow homeowners to take care of a bed bug infestation on their own. Rather, an effective program will be a partnership, with:
- the pest control professional inspecting, making recommendations, then treating several times to eliminate the quickly reproducing bugs.
- the homeowner following all recommendations to clean, launder or discard household items, eliminate clutter, and not bring infested items back into the home.
- multi-unit home owners, dwellers, and property managers implementing preventive controls to reduce the chance of infestation and prevent spread from unit to unit.
If You Leave it Out, They Will Come - The Life and Times of German Cockroaches
Pests in homes, schools, restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, and offices, cockroaches contaminate food and eating utensils, stain and defile surfaces, destroy fabric and paper products. Why worry? German cockroaches are believed to transmit disease-causing organisms such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, hepatitis virus and coliform bacteria. Also, asthma associations suggest that up to 60% of urban residents are allergic to the feces, saliva and urine of cockroaches.
Although at least 6 varieties of cockroaches live in this universe, the German cockroach is by far the most common and the most likely to be seen as it prefers humid indoor locations, especially those with access to food and water.
Adults are light brown, about 1/2 inch long, sport long antennae and the 2 stripes on their back are usually covered by a pair of thin wings. The teenaged nymphs are slightly smaller and do not have wings.
Warm weather accelerates egg laying but a female and her offspring can produce a roach stadium of 30,000 individuals in 1 year. Fortunately for human co-dwellers, cannibalism and lack of sufficient food, water and shelter help to regulate the cockroach population.
Cockroaches travel along the edges of walls mostly at night, preferring to congregate in the tiniest of cracks where as much of their body surface can contact safety as possible.
Prevention and Management
Sanitation and exclusion are the keys to controlling or preventing cockroach infestations. The homeowner must clean up, dry up and seal up all likely hiding places like cupboards, stoves, unkempt outdoor vegetation and utility entrances. Water drips and leaks, indoors and out must be repaired and all refuse, human and pet foods must be sealed in hard plastic or metal containers.
The Battle is Not Over
Extraordinarily resilient, cockroaches can live in the cold of a refrigerator and the toxic fumes of an auto gas tank, so their populations must be closely monitored with sticky or baited traps for signs of resurgence.
For decades, bed bugs were all but gone from the U.S. and developed countries. But in the 1990s the bugs started reappearing, and today they are considered to be a common pest that has enabled an entire industry to thrive and evolve.