Are Household Pests Turning Your Dream Home into a Nightmare?
Table of Contents
Ants | Bed Bugs | Bees, Hornets, Wasps & Yellow Jackets | Beetles | Cockroaches | Earwigs | Fleas | Flies | Fruit Flies | Gnats | House Spiders | Spiders | Mice | Millipedes | Mites | Mosquitoes | Stink Bugs | Termites | Ticks
Pests. They come in many shapes and sizes, from the tiniest fruit fly or mosquito to the largest mouse. They invade our pantries, garages, sheds, and more, wreaking havoc and spreading disease.
But it’s not just the indoors that you have to worry about, idyllic summer days for yard work can also be interrupted by buzzes and angry stingers.
Household pests are so common that they have often played a starring role in pop culture. From the classic Tom & Jerry scenario to scenes of ants marching along checkered blankets, or turning into giant, human-eating nightmares.
It’s no wonder homeowners shirk from the existence of these home invaders. Yet despite their prevalence, when push comes to shove, not many individuals know what to do when it’s their home that has been invaded.
No matter how well kept your home is, no residence is immune to pest invasions. But you can be prepared, arming yourself with information on what to look for, and how to protect your home, your family, and even your pets.
The first step in taking charge of pest control is understanding the pests themselves. You also want to ensure you understand the risks each pest carries; while many qualify as nuisances, others can carry harmful diseases, or cause severe property damage.
What qualifies as a pest? What do they look like, what are they after, and how can you dissuade their interest? How can you recognize what’s dangerous and what’s just a nuisance? To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the top pests, including easily identifiable traits and some fun (and not-so-fun) trivia.
Let’s Take a Look at Twenty-Two of the Worst Offenders…
Perhaps the most common of household pests, the small yet mighty ant has been deemed the #1 nuisance pest in America by the National Pest Management Association. Ants can often be found trailing along your floors, baseboards, windows, and more in a steady, single file line. You may also see the occasional scout out on their own or queen’s hunting for new colonies in certain seasons (you know it’s that time of year when a dozen or so winged ants grace your light fixtures…).
Ants can cause a variety of issues in your home, not the least of which is food contamination and property damage.
With over 700 species of ants in the US alone, it can be difficult to correctly identify just which of these pesky home invaders is threatening your home. It’s best to have a professional pest control worker come and identify the species before attempting any form of treatment.
Ants come in a variety of colors and sizes, but you can count on a few standards in their appearance. They have a small, triangular shaped head, a more oblong midsection, and a large abdomen. Six skinny legs are connected to the midsection, and two frail-looking antennae jut out from the head. If you take a peek under a magnifying glass, you may see their small pincers around their mouth. Odds are that you see more than one at a time, and occasionally you may find ants with wings.
Ants range in blacks, browns, and occasionally vibrant reds. When it comes to home invaders, you are likely to be dealing with one of six most common species:
You can help mitigate your risk for attracting ants with a few simple steps.
- Eliminate areas of standing water, since pests are attracted to moisture.
- Cut plants back from your house and keep tree branches trimmed. Pests can use twigs and other plant structures to access your home.
- Seal any cracks or small openings in your walls our foundations.
- Do not store firewood or building materials next to your home.
- Many ants dislike cinnamon and peppermint. Spraying a small amount of these as an oil around vulnerable areas can help keep away scouts.
- Ants leave pheromone trails when foraging to keep track of where they have been and how to get home.
- Ants can lift 20x their body weight.
- Ants do not have ears; instead, they “hear” through their feet by sensing ground vibrations.
- Ants do not have lungs; tiny holes called spiracles on their body take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.
- Over 12,000 species of ants exist throughout the world, though only a few of these invade homes.
- Ants live in social communities, creating intricate networks underground, in trees, or in ground-level mounds. All colonies are ruled by a Queen.
#2 Bed Bugs
Don’t let the name fool you! These little critters can be found in many areas, including outside the home. Bed bugs like to feed on humans because our skin isn’t protected by thick layers of fur like most animals’.
These small, wingless insects are often referred to as ‘nest parasites,’ because they will hunker down in a birds nest, bat roost, or human home/bed and continually feed on the same bird, mammal, or people.
Bed Bugs are typically nocturnal, so people often don’t realize they’ve been exposed to them until they start seeing bite marks and checking nooks and crannies in the room. It is possible to be bitten in public spaces like movie theaters, as well.
Roughly the size of an apple seed, bed bugs are typically reddish brown in color. Truthfully, Bed Bugs range in color from light tan to deep brown or burnt orange; after feeding, you may see a red or black blob inside their plump forms. They typically have a flat, oval shape, but after feeding, they can double in size and be rounder.
You can help defend your home against bed bugs with certain precautions,
- Vacuum any suitcases after a vacation.
- Check bedsheets for blood spots.
- Thoroughly inspect any second-hand furniture before bringing it into your home.
- Carry a flashlight with you for quick, visual inspections of nooks and crannies bed bugs may hide in during the day.
- Bed Bugs can live anywhere, thriving in apartments, buses, college dorm rooms, movie theaters, single-family homes— practically wherever humans are!
- Bed Bugs are not limited to any particular area; they can be found in cities and rural areas, public spaces and single-occupant apartments.
- Bed Bugs are smart, elusive, and hardy, able to live several months without blood and able to hide in a myriad of locations to avoid detection.
- Bed Bug saliva acts similarly to anesthesia, which is why you typically won’t feel them bite.
- Bed Bugs can feed on any warm-blooded animal.
- Female Bed Bugs can lay 1-5 eggs a day, which equals up to 500 during their lifetime.
#3-6 Bees, Hornets, Wasps, and Yellow Jackets
Marked by the tell-tale buzz or low hum, Bees, Hornets, Wasps, and Yellow Jackets are often portrayed as a homeowner’s greatest enemy. In truth, these critters can be useful in controlling other pests and maintaining a healthy eco-system, but their overly-protective and aggressive habits when nesting near doors and windows have earned them a bad reputation. Wasps (and their derivative hornets and yellow jackets) are far more aggressive than bees.
Many a fun summer day has been interrupted, and many a landscaper has learned to wear long sleeves and pants no matter the heat to help prevent stings.
The easiest way to know you have a hornet, wasp, or yellow jacket problem is to spot their nests. While some will burrow underground for the unfortunate lawn mower to discover, many build nests from a papery, mud-looking substance— chewed up wood fibers and saliva, to be exact. These custom-spit homes are often attached to awnings, walls, poles, fences, and other surfaces. Bees, on the other hand, tend to create hives in trees. Some homeowners like to provide bees with man-made hives in order to harvest honey.
Singing flyers like wasps and hornets are harder to deter without pest control, but it is possible. Seal any entry points to your home and remove food sources like pet food, picnic scraps, open garbage bins, or compost piles. Open cans of soda, fruit juices, or fallen fruit from trees can also attract them.
If you do notice wasps or others, avoid swatting them or wearing perfumes nearby. Also avoid wearing vibrant colors and floral patterns, as these can attract their attention. Swatting wasps can release their stress hormone, which can call other wasps to come and sting you even though the first is dealt with.
- While Bees can only sting once, Wasps and the rest can sting repeatedly.
- Yellow Jackets and Hornets make their nests from wood fiber and saliva, chewing the fibers into a paste.
- Only female Bees, Hornets, Wasps, and Yellow Jackets can sting. Male drones are born without a stinger.
- Stinging pests such as these send approximately 500,000 people to the emergency room each year.
- Hornets like to eat other pests, including bees.
- Bees are incredibly beneficial to the environment, working as primary pollinators to keep plants thriving.
- Beekeeping and honey collection actually helps protect bees and eliminates excess honey buildup.
Believe it or not, one category of pests outstrips ants when it comes to variety: beetles. That’s right! Of the order Coleoptera, over 350,000 species of beetles exist in the world (12,000 of these are in the US). They come in a rainbow of colors and scale of sizes, some patterned and others textured, some solid and others smooth.
Ladybugs, June bugs, click beetles, and dung beetles all fall into this category.
Any manner of material could have interested beetles and drawn them to your home, from fabrics to grains.
Despite all of the variety, you can count on a few specific traits to recognize beetles. For one, they have very defined jaws and antennae. For another, they always have a hardened pair of wings, or elytra, covering a second, softer pair. The elytra meet in a thin line down the beetle’s back.
Despite having two pairs of wings, Beetles are often poor fliers. You need only see a dozen or so June Bugs flipped on their back during a Midwestern summer to get the idea.
While most beetles fall under the nuisance category, some can cause damage to furniture, cloth, wood, and food in your home. Pest control isn’t always needed to control beetles; you can also try these steps:
- Physical removal, like a vacuum, can effectively control some beetle issues through physical relocation.
- Inspect any foods, fabrics, or wooden items before you bring them into your home.
- Control moisture in your home.
- Some beetles are attracted to the lights in our homes. You can use shades to block them and ensure that doorways and windows are properly sealed.
- Beetles communicate through pheromones, sounds, or vibrations.
- Beetles have poor eyesight.
- Not all beetles are considered pests. Some, like the ladybug, are only pests part of the time. Others are actually beneficial, eating dead trees, pollinating flowers, and helping get rid of garbage.
- The order name “Coleoptera” comes from two Greek words: Koleos and pteron, meaning “sheath” and “wing.” The title refers to their elytra acting as a sheath for their second set of wings.
- Approximately 40% of all known insects are beetles, with Coleoptera making up almost 30% of all animals.
- Ladybugs are used by many gardeners and farmers to help control other pests.
- Beetles can live almost anywhere; the only two global locations that have yet to reveal a beetle presence are the arctic and saltwater oceans (there are freshwater beetles, though!).
Of all the pests to threaten infestation, the cockroach is perhaps one of the most stubborn and most hazardous. Cockroaches are filthy, often carrying at least 33 kinds of bacteria— including hard-hitters like E. Coli and Salmonella. Cockroaches can also host parasitic worms and up to seven other human pathogens. Their discarded husks can trigger allergic and asthmatic reactions, especially in children.
If you see one in your home, especially during the day, then chances are you have more. Cockroaches are nocturnal by nature and incredibly elusive. Cockroaches are common in all manner of buildings, from warehouses to homes, and feed on all sorts of food— though they seem to favor fermenting materials like decaying leaves and fungi. Inside, they’ll scavenge any crumbs and unattended pet food.
Cockroaches average 2 inches in length, though some can be longer and others shorter. They boast six legs, two antennae, and occasionally wings— though they aren’t great at flying. More…knocking into things with style.
Their bodies are flat and oval, and their heads are small. A shield-like pronotum protects their heads. Depending on their species, cockroaches can be brown, reddish brown, even black. Despite their often large size, cockroaches are deceptively fast and elusive.
Popular theories maintain that cleanliness is the key to being cockroach-less. Unfortunately, cockroaches find multiple ways to get into our homes and buildings and simply aren’t in a hurry to leave. While keeping up with the cleaning can help reduce their food sources, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll go or stay away.
- Check all weather sealing strips on doors and windows.
- Seal any crevices or cracks in walls and foundations.
- Keep floors, kitchens, and bathrooms as clean as possible.
- Check items— especially second-hand items, grocery bags, or cardboard boxes— for signs of roaches before carrying them inside.
- Cockroaches can hold their breath for 40 minutes and can survive being fully submerged in water for 30.
- Cockroaches spend 75% of their life resting.
- Cockroaches can run as fast as 3 mph, allowing for the faster spread of bacteria and easier
- Since they are cold-blooded, Cockroaches can live for a month without food but only survive a week without water.
- Cockroaches can survive without their head for a week. They have an open circulatory system, breathing through little holes on their body segments. After a week, they die from dehydration since they no longer have a mouth to drink water.
- Two researchers at Tohoku University in Japan, Makoto Mizunami and Hidehiro Watanabe, discovered that cockroaches could be trained and conditioned much like dogs and rats.
- The idea that cockroaches would survive in a nuclear wasteland is a myth; while they can withstand higher levels of radiation than a human, high levels are still deadly.
While the myth that these creepy crawlies will slither through your ear and tunnel to your brain while you sleep unawares has been wholly and thoroughly busted, earwigs never did escape the name.
One of the smaller families of insects, earwigs only come in 2,000 varieties grouped into 12 families. Many find the pincers on their back ends disconcerting, leading to several myths throughout the ages and more than a hint of dislike. However, these pincers are not venomous and do not spread disease.
While the pincers can, well, pinch, earwigs hold little threat to humans. Instead, their target is our plants.
Earwigs are long and slender, with two pairs of wings; the hind wings generally fold beneath the front ones. Despite the wings, earwigs rarely fly; however, when they do, they look far more frightening than they actually are— mainly because of their pincers.
Earwigs tend to be dark brown, and their length ranges from a quarter to three inches. Some can give off a foul odor for defense.
The best way to keep earwigs out of your home is to ensure your drainage is up to par, but all of these tips can help:
- Check your gutters and downspouts; are they draining away from the foundation?
- Ensure irrigation systems water in the morning so your yard can dry through the day.
- Have outdoor lights shine from your yard on your house. That way bugs are attracted to the light source and away from your home.
- Repair screens on any crawl space vents and secure other possible entry points.
- Earwigs are nocturnal, spending days beneath rocks, leaves, and bark or in hollow trees.
- Earwigs burrow six to seven feet underground to hibernate.
- You can tell the difference between male and female earwigs through their pincers: are they curved (males) or straight (females)?
- Earwig hatch after 7 days and then go through four to five molting sessions to become an adult within 30.
- While earwigs earned their name through the eggs-in-your-brain superstition, they prefer to avoid human ears because they lack food and moisture.
- Unlike most non-social insects, female earwigs take care of their babies. She will protect her eggs fiercely and keep them clean. Mom helps the babies hatch and then feeds and protects them until their first molting.
Fleas. Every pet owner’s nightmare. Not the worst, but it ranks pretty high up the list.
Trouble is, fleas aren’t just a threat to pets. Sometimes, they come for humans.
“Infestation” is apt when it comes to fleas. The little pests thrive in carpeted or fabric areas, lay eggs quickly, and hatch after thirty days to start the cycle all over again. Their tiny size and immense jumping capabilities make them especially difficult to target. They can rarely ever be squished, instead, requiring man-made treatments— and a lot of work— to eliminate once they’ve nested in a home.
Fleas are tiny, wingless little specs that rarely grow beyond an eighth of an inch. They are dark in color, brown to reddish brown, and their bodies are thin, flat, and a bit hairy.
You can see them scampering through fur (or fibers) if you are lucky, but your best indication is if your pets start scratching or chewing. The easiest way to verify fleas is to check your pets for flea dirt. An easy method is to have your dog lay on a white sheet or paper and brush their back. If small, black flecks come off, then transfer them to a damp piece of paper. If they turn red or rust-coloured …well, then I’ve got some bad news.
For pet owners especially, prevention is the best approach. Veterinary offices offer a myriad of solutions, and your pet’s vet can give a well-informed opinion based on breed, size, and overall health of your dog, cat, or other furry friend.
Flea prevention also protects your furry family member from diseases that fleas can spread from sucking blood. Prevention comes in pills, topicals, and collars. You can also purchase over-the-counter preventatives, but they can be less effective.
Cleaning and vacuuming frequently can help. If you find fleas in your home or yard, call a pest control professional as soon as possible!
- Fleas can pull 160,000x their own weight; they can jump 150x their own body size 30,000 times without stopping.
- Fleas are practically blind and do not have ears.
- Fleas have a flexible lifestyle that makes them extremely difficult to eradicate in your home. While the ideal cycle takes place over 21 days, fleas can adapt to their environment and wait for ideal conditions to move between stages (egg, larva, pupa, adult).
- A female Flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day, though they average closer to 20.
- Indoor-only pets are not necessarily safe from fleas, as they can easily transport from place to place on other animals and your clothing.
- Even if your infestation started with your pets, treating them will not fix the issue. Getting rid of fleas takes a lot of work including constant vacuuming and treatment of all fibrous areas in your home. You may even need to treat your yard.
Cockroaches aren’t the only filth-spreading nuisance pests. Who hasn’t spent an annoying evening sporadically swatting around their head when the high-pitched, whining bzzz whisked past before the culprit alighted on their food?
Flies. We arm ourselves with sticky traps, swatters, and in some cases cats and dogs, but these pests still manage to slip past us and invade our homes, infect our food, and spread germs wherever they please. (And that’s not including the ones who bite.)
Flies are common and often underrated as pests. Many homeowners associate them with nuisance but not disease. The house fly is associated with over 100 pathogens, including salmonella, staphylococcus, E. coli, and Shigella. Flies have been known to lead to food poisoning, gastric upset, meningitis, cholera, hepatitis, and more.
Flies come in a wide variety, from tiny, skittering gnats to giant, aggressive horse flies. They always have two wings, landing them in the order Diptera. Flies are insects, so you can count on six legs and a pair of antennae to match.
Most flies come in black or brown colors, but a few varieties like the blowfly and bottle fly have a green and yellow shimmer.
To help keep flies from taking over your home, follow these steps:
- Limit entry points by either closing or screening doors and windows.
- Keep garbage bins secured and clean.
- Maintain clean surfaces in your home.
- Don’t leave out uncovered/open food containers.
- Flies can see behind them; their compound eyes allow them to see 360 degrees at once.
- Flies are good at math, able to calculate trajectories of moving obstacles like hands or swatters and a flight path to avoid them.
- Some flies mimic other insects like bees or wasps to avoid predators.
- Flies taste with their feet just like butterflies.
- Flies actually survive on a liquid diet. Why are they attracted to your crumbs? When they find a tasty solid meal, they will vomit on it to break down the solid matter before drinking the liquid.
- A fly’s lifespan averages 21 days, and females can lay up to 600 eggs in this time.
#12 Fruit Flies
Despite their name, fruit flies aren’t just attracted to ripe, rotting, or decayed fruit and produce. They also enjoy fermented items like beers, liquors, and wines. They breed and develop in drains, garbage disposals, mop buckets, and garbage bins.
The main danger with a fruit fly infestation is contamination. They spread bacteria easily and have a massive breeding cycle. Females lay around 500 eggs that can hatch after a mere 24-30 hours.
Like other flies, fruit flies have six legs, two wings, and two antennae. They are one of the smallest variety of flies; they average 1/8 of an inch long. Their colors range from yellow to brown, with eyes that can be red or dark.
Keeping fruit flies out of your home is not a one-time task. It’s a continuing process, especially if you live in humid environments where they are more common.
- Keep fruit and produce off of your counters, storing them in air-tight containers or in your fridge.
- Keep pipes, drains, and garbage disposals clean and cleared of debris; bacterial digesters can help.
- Regularly wipe down your counters, trash bins, and other surfaces; don’t let sugary spills like soda sit.
- If an infestation occurs, seek pest control quickly before your kitchen and home are overwhelmed.
- Keep trash bins sealed and take out the trash as soon as it’s full.
- Fruit flies have one of the most advanced compound eyes among insects.
- Fruit flies have greatly contributed to medical breakthroughs; their short lifespans make them ideal lab subjects. In 30 years of fruit flies equals information equivalent to 200 years of studying mice.
- Fruit flies have also contributed to the field of genetics; Thomas Hunt Morgan was the first to systemically study fruit flies and confirmed the chromosomal theory of inheritance.
- Humans and fruit flies are genetically similar, so fruit flies can model human diseases for research.
- Fruit fly brains contain more than 100,000 neurons that form discreet circuits.
- Fruit flies have a rapid life cycle; within 10-12 days, a mated pair can produce hundreds of offspring.
Like other flies and the fruit fly, gnats are more than an apparent nuisance. They risk spreading pathogens through your home and contaminating your food. The more an infestation grows, the more unsanitary your home becomes.
While not all gnats bite, some species such as the black gnat have females that feed on blood. They can carry parasites and other diseases, spreading them between both humans and livestock.
Like their fly brethren, gnats have six legs, two antennae, and two wings. Their immature stages are grub-like larvae and cocoon-based pupae. Their legs are long and spindly, and their bodies are narrow. Gnats are small like fruit flies, but their exact length and the appearance of their wings tend to vary since gnats break down into still more species.
To keep gnats under control, reduce potential food sources, water sources, and breeding areas.
- For fungus gnats: Identify plants with wet soil; ensure that soil fully dries between watering to kill off larvae.
- Do not leave fruit exposed to open air; store in containers or keep them in the fridge. (refrigeration also extends the fruit’s ripeness.)
- Adult gnats can be collected with a vacuum.
- You can set insect traps in your home such as electric fly exploders and sticky traps. (Do not place these outside, as they can trap beneficial insects as well.)
- Most species of gnats can lay approximately 300 eggs a day.
- Gnats are known to live, breed, and even attack in swarms.
- Gnats hatch and mature within a week; their lifespan is 4-5 months.
- Female gnats who bite do so for reproductive purposes, not to feed.
- Gnats use fermenting and decaying materials for breeding grounds and food.
#14 House Spider
The term “house spider” refers to the seven species of spiders most commonly found in domestic areas such as your home. House spiders include Yellow Sac Spider, Black House Spider, Brown House Spider, American House Spider, Common Cellar Spider, Domestic House Spider, Giant House Spider, Hobo Spider, Southern House Spider, and Tiny House Spider. When discussing pests, however, it often narrows to the American House Spider.
Spiders have earned an unfair reputation among homeowners; their ‘creepy’ appearance, predatory drive, and pop culture have all contributed to this. They are more of a nuisance pest than an actual threat. Spiders can actually be beneficial house guests, helping to control other pests. However, their webs and waste can get out of hand.
Like all spiders (and other arachnids), house spiders have eight legs and two body sections, the head and cephalothorax. Their actual appearance varies by species, as spiders can be furry or slick, wide or skinny, round or flat, and come in a variety of colors and lengths.
The American House Spider specifically is generally dull brown with shaded patterns creating a spotted look. Average body length is a quarter inch, with long spindly legs and a round, almost spherical abdomen. They blend well into their surroundings.
American House Spiders are generally easy to keep under control. You want to seal cracks around your house with a silicon-based caulk. Any spiders, webs, and eggs in the home can be removed with a vacuum.
- American House Spiders leave cobwebs and funnel-shaped web through your home.
- While some house spiders can live outside, most only thrive indoors and will die if released ‘back’ into the wild.
- Not all spiders found in your house are House Spiders. Wolf Spiders and other active hunting spiders from the outside may find their way into your home while searching for prey. Other, more dangerous spiders like the Black Widow or the Brown Recluse may shelter in your home, especially the attic or garage.
- Most house spiders cannot traverse pipes and drains; you often find them in sinks and tubs because they fall in when searching for water.
- House spiders rarely bite; only if they feel threatened and cannot escape. Their venom is not particularly dangerous, causing at most moderate and short-lived effects.
- Some American House Spiders will play dead before they resort to biting.
But wait! We already discussed spiders!
Well, yes. We discussed the common house spider. But we also mentioned that they weren’t the only spiders you could find in your home. Now it’s time to talk about the more dangerous varieties, whose venom can cause serious harm. Black Widows and Brown Recluses are the most prevalent of these dangerous invaders.
Like the arachnids discussed above, these spiders have two body segments— a cephalothorax and an abdomen— and eight legs. They also have eight eyes. However, Black Widows and Brown Recluses are easy to recognize due to their shape and markings.
Black Widows are shiny black spiders with spherical abdomens. On the bottom of their abdomen is a vibrant red hourglass. They are comb-footed, meaning they have bristles on their hind legs that help them cover their prey with silk once it is trapped. Their neurotoxic venom is also 15 times as potent as a rattlesnake’s. Males are smaller than females, and the females are often more aggressive. Black Widows generally keep their webs at ground level and in dark areas.
Brown Recluses are typically hermits. They will hide in your attics, walls, or basements. This means that if you see one running around your home, then you most likely have an infestation and need to contact professional pest control. These spiders are, as their name implies, brown. They have long, spindly legs and a decently slender body. Their main identifying mark is a violin-like shape on their cephalothorax, starting at the front with the handle stretching towards their abdomen. Like Black Widows, they are one of three spiders with medically significant venom.
The best form of control for these spiders is prevention.
- Seal any cracks or crevices along the outside of your home.
- Ensure doors and windows are properly sealed and/or screened.
- Keep firewood at least twenty feet from your home and use gloves when handling.
- Inspect any boots, baseball gloves, boxes, gloves, or other such items that are stored in a basement or attic prior to
- Inspect any boxes prior to having them enter your home.
- If you visit somewhere with a known spider issue, check everything including your luggage when you pack up to leave and when you arrive home in case you have a hitchhiker.
- Black Widows and Brown Recluses are two of three spiders with medically significant venom in North America. The third is the Chilean Recluse.
- Brown Recluses will not outright attack a human. They bite when provoked— however, putting on a shoe in which they are hiding counts as provocation.
- Brown Recluses will build webs in out of the way places, but they are actually nocturnal active
- Many pesticides don’t work well for these spiders, as they don’t stick to their legs. However, sticky traps work rather well.
- The Black Widow’s hourglass isn’t always red; some variants of brown and yellow hourglasses have been seen.
- Black Widows are web hunters; they will purposefully hang upside-down on their webs to display the hourglass as a warning to predators.
The only mice you want to invite into your home are the ones on television or the fancy pets kept in habitats. Pest mice may look cute, but these varmints can spread disease and contaminate your food; additionally, they leave waste everywhere and have destructive chewing habits.
Mice are adept climbers, so they can enter your home from a variety of places, clamber through walls, and access higher shelves to find food. The most obvious sign you may have a mouse problem is if you see their ‘pellets’ (waste droppings) in drawers and cabinets. If you are working on a mouse problem, make sure to wipe down surfaces consistently and clean dishes both before and after you use them.
Mice are small, furry rodents with body-length, scaly tails. They boast rounded ears and pointed snouts. For house mice, fur will typically be a light brown or dusty grey color with cream bellies. They scurry around on all fours, running, hopping, and climbing.
Size-wise, they typically range from 2.5 to 4 inches long (not including the tail). They have small nails on their paws.
To avoid attracting mice, stay on top of habitat benefits they’ll look for.
- Store all food— especially bird seed, grains, or pet food —in heavy plastic or rodent-proof metal containers.
- Do not leave out uneaten food.
- Rodent-proof garbage bins by setting them on a platform at least six inches from the ground. Keep lids secure, fastening them down if necessary.
- Collect any fruit that falls from trees in your yard.
- Search out holes around your foundation and eaves; fill or cover them. Caulk, cement, steel wool, plaster, and sheet metal are all viable options.
- Mice do not like the smell of peppermint; you can plant peppermint in flower gardens or in pots around your home to help repel them.
- Mice have poor vision, instead relying on their senses of smell and hearing.
- Mice dig out complex burrows in the ground, including escape tunnels, various routes, and long
- House mice breed rapidly and can adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
- Despite their small size, mice eat 15-20 times a day.
- Mice are excellent swimmers, jumpers, and climbers; they can also squeeze through openings as small as a dime.
- Over 30 species of mice are known, including more domesticated breeds.
- Mickey Mouse was the first cartoon depiction of a mouse, first airing in 1928; since then, many characters have been popular across household televisions including Speedy Gonzales, Jerry and Nibbles from Tom and Jerry, and Stuart Little.
Further Reading: Check out our ULTIMATE Guide to the best mouse traps you can buy and all the steps required to get rid of mice and keep them away for good. Click the link below to read this detailed guide!
Millipedes are one of the least dangerous of the ‘pests.’ Like the house spiders, they are rather beneficial to have around; unlike the house spiders, you want them around your house, not in it.
Millipedes fall in the pest category for two reasons: they serve no purpose in the home other than taking up space and getting underfoot, and many people are startled by their appearance. They don’t bite or carry a myriad of diseases; the only danger posed is that some varieties can release a foul-smelling odor that may irritate your skin.
They typically migrate inside if the outside becomes too hot or dry or if they were hiding in or under boxes and got carried in by mistake. They cannot survive long indoors, as it is too dry.
Millipedes are arthropods. This means they have an exoskeleton, jointed appendages, and segmented bodies. Often compared to worms with legs or elongated roly-polies, millipedes are long and round. They have two pairs of legs for every individual body segment, and their exoskeleton is generally a shiny black or brown.
To keep millipedes from migrating indoors, take the following steps:
- Check any boxes before carrying inside, including from garages.
- Ensure all doors are properly sealed or screened.
- Check weather stripping on doors.
- Ensure crawlspaces are appropriately
- Millipedes are beneficial because they are nature’s recyclers. Detritivores, they eat dead plants and animals. They recycle the nutrients back into the soil at a faster rate than the natural decay process.
- Millipedes need lots of moisture, so they favor damp spaces.
- They do not have a million or even a thousand legs; the average number is closer to 200 by adulthood.
- Millipedes will curl into a circle when they die, but they also do so as a defense The spiral helps protect their soft undersides, displaying their exoskeleton.
- While millipedes are related to centipedes, the two species are incredibly different. Millipedes are rounder, have two pairs of legs per segment, are slow, and are detritivores; Centipedes are flat, have one pair of legs per segment, are quick, and are carnivores. While millipedes are practically harmless, centipede bites are venomous and painful (if bitten by a centipede, speak with a physician).
- Millipedes are generally docile since they have no ability to bite, sting, or generally fight back. However, some varieties have stink glands that produce a foul-smelling, awful-tasting liquid. This liquid may irritate your skin if you are handling millipedes, so always wash your hands afterwards.
Mites are a category of pests that is wide-ranging. These minuscule, insect-like arachnids can be anything from foragers and scavengers to parasites. Some mites are nuisances, others are a danger, and still more are harmless. Despite some similarities, mites and ticks are different.
Mites are almost as varied as insects. Dust mites are actually counted as a common allergen, and anyone from the Midwest can tell you what a chigger does to your ankles. If you find you have a mite problem, it is important to capture one for two reasons: pest control workers will not treat heavily without proof of an infestation, and knowing what mites they are dealing with helps them determine how best to treat your home.
How do you catch a mite? You can use a tissue dipped in rubbing alcohol or a piece of tape. The tape is a simple stick and pull away, but it makes identifying the species difficult. With the tissue, dab at the mite and then store it in a sealed sandwich baggie.
Mites are incredibly small and hard to see, the largest no bigger than 0.04 inches. You often need magnification to see them, though you can occasionally catch movement with your bare eyes.
Mites are almost oval in shape, with a body separated into two segments: the cephalothorax and abdomen. They have four sets of legs. Color is as widely varied as type.
Mites are difficult to keep under control if they are prevalent in your area. Homeowners commonly have to call pest control to deal with them properly. While you cannot keep your home mite-free, you can take a few steps to reduce their numbers.
- Protect pillows and mattresses with allergen covers.
- Keep dust and clutter to a minimum.
- Vacuum and wash bed linens often.
- Keep humidity low in your home.
- Keep pet dander to a minimum.
- Some mites infest insects like honeybees; depending on the species, mites may eat plants, may pray on other mites, or may eat decaying materials.
- Mites can survive on land and in water.
- Mites do not have eyes.
- The most commonly discussed mite is the dust mite, but pet owners are familiar with many more.
- Dust mites cannot drink water. Instead, they absorb moisture through glands on their forelegs.
- Dust mites feed on dead skin cells that we naturally shed, and they often reside in mattresses. Some mattresses can double in weight over ten years due to growing dust mite populations.
Many a camper and hiker are familiar with this particular pest. The high-pitched whine, the sting of the females’ bite, the itching after that. The sprays, natural remedies, candles, torches, anything that might help keep them away.
And that’s just outside. It’s worse when they invade your home. You find yourself waking up with a myriad of itchy bumps. Your family is interrupted by several attempts to smash the invader.
And if you’re a pet owner, you have even more concerns. You also have to protect your pets from mosquito bites and the dangers they hold.
Mosquitoes grow between a quarter and three-eighths of an inch. They have long, narrow, oval bodies. Mosquitoes are pale brown, though they have some white-like stripes across their abdomens. As is typical of insects, mosquitoes have six legs.
Because they have a single pair of wings, mosquitoes fall into the same order as flies.
While mosquitoes are heavily prevalent, there are steps you can take to limit their presence around your home.
- Avoid areas of stagnant water. If you have something with standing water (like a bird bath), then change out the water once a week.
- Keep trash away from standing water.
- Screen windows, doors, and other openings with a fine mesh.
- Use insect repellent techniques that best fit your lifestyle, from Tiki torches to candles to sprays.
- Only females feed on blood; they also eat plant nectar like males.
- Female mosquitoes must feed on blood to help with their egg development.
- Mosquitoes can spread diseases like dengue fever, malaria, and the West Nile Virus.
- Mosquitoes breed in soft, moist soil and stagnant water. Storm drains, old tires, wading pools, and birdbaths are all potential breeding grounds.
- Female Mosquitoes will fly up to 14 miles to find a blood meal; they hunt by detecting body heat and carbon dioxide and can drink up to three times their weight in blood.
- Mosquitoes hibernate when temperatures drop lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
#20 Stink Bugs
Also known as “shield bugs” because of their shape, stink bugs earned their more common name from the foul stench they release as a defense mechanism or when crushed. These bugs are not native to the US, with most reports starting in the late 1990s. They typically aren’t considered pests, but when they gather in large numbers, they can lead to significant nuisance and plant loss.
Stink bugs are most likely to invade during the fall. The main sign of an infestation is finding large numbers of them in your home, dead or alive. One or two may occasionally wander in, but multiples gathered together indicate a larger problem.
Remember that mention of “shield bugs”? Stink bugs are shaped very similarly to a shield. The wide, flat top of the shield stretches around the bug’s head. It then curves downward, meeting at a point at the bug’s rear end.
Stink bugs come in a few varieties, but the most common are the Green Stink Bug and the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Green Stink Bugs are a vibrant green color, while the Brown is a patterned bug of various shades. Both camouflage well amid certain plants.
All stink bugs have six legs, a pair of antennae, and a pair of wings.
The first step in any pest battle is trying to keep it from happening in the first place.
- Seal off entry points, especially doors and windows
- Replace and repair any damaged screens or torn weather stripping
- Reduce sites of moisture and standing water
- Eliminate food sources: sweep floors, wipe down surfaces, seal up food, secure garbage bins, etc.
- Use a vacuum to remove any stragglers before they attract friends.
- Stink bugs pierce and suck juice from plants.
- Stink Bugs don’t usually harm you, but they can bite when threatened. The bite may cause redness and swelling.
- Stink Bugs do not have many natural predators. Even those birds, reptiles, and insects that consume them do not do so in significant amounts.
- The main reason Stink Bugs invade is to find a safe place for the winter; they will even release another scent to attract more stink bugs.
- Stink Bugs are fond of apples, citrus fruits, cucumbers, grapes, green beans, plums, raspberries, soybeans, and tomatoes.
- Despite their more herbivorous traits, stink bugs will occasionally feed on caterpillars.
If you own a home, odds are this isn’t the first you’re hearing about termites. One of the few pests powerful enough that mortgage companies make you pay for protection to qualify for buying a home. Known as the silent destroyer, termites can rip through walls, floors, any wood, and even wallpaper virtually undetected.
As winter melts away, the termites wake. They send out their Alates (also known as explorers or swarmers) to prospect for new locations. Don’t be fooled! Swarmers look like flying ants in an effort to camouflage as more harmless. Don’t tolerate the explorers.
Termites can cause massive structural damage in a short amount of time. While homeowners occasionally balk at the cost of protecting their home yearly, they spend far less than they would on renovations and repairs if their house was infested undetected.
Out of 20,000 species throughout the world, five are the predominate pests in the US: Subterranean, Formosan, Dampwood, Drywood, and Conehead Termites.
Termite Warning Signs
Swarmers aren’t the only indication of termite presence. You should also watch for the following:
- Cracked or bubbling paint
- Discarded wings from scouts
- Mud tubes build along exterior walls, rafters, wooden beams, or crawl spaces
- Wood that sounds hollow when tested
Termites typically grow between a quarter and a half an inch, though kings and queens are larger and able to grow past an inch. They are typically pale with soft bodies. They can be any color between white and light brown, with the workers paler and swarmers darker. Only the swarmers and reproductive have wings, two pairs.
Termites are insects, so they have six legs and two antennae. They also have long mandibles stretching from their heads. These mandibles allow them to chew through wood easily and to defend themselves and their young from predators and potential invaders.
Some variations between types include head coloration and overall size. Castes within a colony also have unique features to assist with different jobs. Workers are the smallest and can be confused with larvae. Alates or swarmers have hard exoskeletons, tend to be dark in color, and have two prominent wings. Soldiers protect the mound and can alert other termites of danger by kicking walls.
The best idea is to set up a protection plan with pest control. However, you can take several steps to help deter termites.
- Eliminate moisture problems
- Divert water away from your foundation
- Eliminate standing water, including on your roof
- Keep gutters and downspouts clean
- Keep vents open and clear
- Remove excessive mulch or plant cover
- Repair any leaking faucets, HVAC units, and water pipes
- Seal entry points near water pipes and utility lines
- Remove or protect food sources and entry points
- Check decks, wooden fences, and other structures for any damage
- Eliminate stumps and debris near your house
- Keep soil away from any wood on your home
- Screen vents and crawlspaces
- Store firewood, lumber, and paper away from your home
- While they look similar, it is possible to tell the difference between swarmers and flying ants
- Flying ants: front wings are longer than hind wings; antennae are bent at 90 degrees.
- Swarmers: wings are approximately equal length; antennae are straight but may droop.
- Only some castes of termites can see; Kings and Queens need to see for reproduction, but soldiers and workers are blind since they spend most of their time in the dark.
- Special enzymes and other microorganisms help termites digest wood. They are not born with these; young must eat the feces of other termites to develop the needed bacteria.
- Several animals throughout the world eat termites, which helps offset their rapid reproduction; in some areas of the word, humans also eat them as a treat.
- Termites will eat live, processed, and decaying wood as well as some fungi.
- Termites cause over $5 billion in property damage every year.
Almost anyone who knows to prepare mosquitoes is also familiar with this particular bloodsucker. Ticks are parasites which often feed on animals and humans. Not only are they a nuisance, but they can also transmit multiple diseases, including Lyme disease.
Ticks will climb to the edge of long grass, twigs, anything, and stretch their forelegs up into the air. As soon as a human or animal passes by, the tick latches on and starts climbing.
If you have ever tried to flick a tick off of your jeans, then you know those suckers have a vice grip. The best way to eliminate them is to either flush them or seal them in a plastic bag and either take to a doctor for identification or mail in to certain research labs for study. (Yes, that’s a thing; researchers are very appreciative as it helps them track tick populations, ticks carrying Lyme disease, and other information.)
While ticks are more prominent in rural and wilderness areas, city dwellers are not immune to their presence. As such, all pets should be treated with proper preventatives as recommended by a veterinarian.
Ticks, like mites, count as arachnids. However, they only have six legs during their larval stage. Ticks are small and almost-round, often smaller than a sunflower seed. When they are first seeking prey, they are very flat. After they have finished a full meal, they are large and almost round.
Colors vary by species, but ticks commonly found on dogs and people are small and black (able to pass as freckles) before swelling and turning grey.
Ticks can be found in debris piles, long grasses, foliage that borders meadows, trees, and more. It can be hard to avoid them, so you — and your pets — should be prepared.
- Use proper protection as recommended by your veterinarian for dogs and cats.
- Keep jeans tucked into boots and sleeves tucked into gloves; the less skin you have exposed, the fewer places to attract a tick.
- Clean up landscaping debris in your yard. That pile of twigs and branches from tree trimming? Don’t let it sit there; that’s just asking for ticks.
- Like with other arachnids, seal cracks and crevices on the outside of your home and properly seal doors and windows.
- Some insect repellents work on ticks, and many companies are developing natural blends based on cedar oil to treat your yard.
(Not so) Fun Facts
- If a tick bites you, it’s likely to stick around for a while if you don’t remove it.
- Most internet remedies for ticks do not work, and some increase your risk of being infected.
- You can use tweezers to remove ticks, but you risk ‘backwash’— i.e., squeezing blood and spit back through the bite— and leaving the head.
- Tick removal tools are the best option for being rid of the pests.
- Ticks can carry several diseases at once, but exposure is neither instantaneous nor guaranteed if you are bitten.
- Ticks can live 200 days with neither food nor water.
Understanding is Half the Battle
Pest control in your home is a constant process that requires vigilance, research, action, and occasionally help from a pest control company. Most treatments, natural or commercial, need application; yards need upkeep. Homes must continually be cleaned, food cycled, and drains cleared.
Your house is your castle, and every castle needs a strong defense. While a moat might just make your problems worse (remember all those warnings about stagnant water?), you can arm yourself with what you’ve learned here to mount a solid plan.
Many of the pests discussed above had similar prevention tactics to keep your home safe. The top ten pest prevention tips include:
- Secure garbage bins and store them away from your home
- Store firewood twenty feet from your home and handle with gloves
- Screen and secure eaves, crawl spaces, and more
- Screen and/or seal windows and doors, check weather stripping
- Ensure proper drainage and remove standing water; for fixtures like bird baths, change out the water once a week
- Minimize clutter and dust in your home
- Do not leave food open and unattended
- Wipe up spills and crumbs as soon as possible
- Ensure pets are adequately protected with veterinarian-recommended solutions
Not everything requires harsh chemicals, and more companies are finding ways to treat pest issues naturally or relocate mice and other rodents. Don’t be afraid to try natural remedies, taking gradual steps in your fight against invaders. Many people like to try with prevention, then natural or ‘soft’ remedies, lighter chemicals, and then heavier pesticides.
However, it’s important to remember that even some natural remedies can be dangerous for members of your household, especially those with sensitive allergies and medical conditions and our feathered and fluffy family members. Due diligence is key when researching tactics to keep pests out but keep our families and pets safe.
Strength in Numbers
Remember, no homeowner faces this battle alone. Unfortunately, the internet is filled with both helpful information and misguided attempts to educate about pest control.
Researching potential strategies is always wise, and you can often find likeminded homeowners on social media sites who have both successfully and unsuccessfully dealt with pest situations similar to yours.
When all else fails, professional exterminators or pest control services may be your best bet. Pest control companies are committed to keeping their communities safe and healthy, so you can always turn to the professionals for help. Any legitimate company will have highly-trained professionals that can accurately assess your situation, offer a range of solutions, and help you with prevention once the original threat is eliminated.
About the Author: Kris Lippi is the owner of ISoldMyHouse.com and the broker of Get LISTED Realty. He actively writes about real estate related topics such as buying and selling homes, how-to guides for around the house and home product recommendations. He has been featured in Inman, Readers Digest, American Express, Fit Small Business, Policy Genius, Lending Tree, GoDaddy, Manta as well as other major websites. Read more about us here.