Guest Post by Natasha Wright
During the cold winter months, it’s not just family and friends who are seeking warmth and comfort in your home — many homeowners often find themselves hosting a range of unwanted guests, from creepy crawly bugs to furry foes. Beyond being annoying, many of these intruders can cause damage, injury, or health issues, so prevention is essential in keeping bugs (and other pests) out of your home.
Identifying unwelcome winter bugs
In the summer, we often think of pests as more of an outdoor problem in terms of mosquitoes, stinging insects, fleas and ticks. But falling temps bring pest issues indoors. Some of the most common winter infestations include the following:
- Stink bugs — The brown marmorated stink bug, with its large, brown, shield-shaped plate can be a serious pest. It gets its name from the pungent odor it releases when threatened. It can invade homes and businesses by the thousands, where it lies dormant, dies behind walls, wanders about, or flies clumsily around light fixtures.
- Spiders — At the very least, spiders can give people the creeps. While most of the medically important spiders are found in the southern part of the United States, spider bites can still send some sensitive or allergic individuals to the hospital.
- Cluster flies — Slightly larger than houseflies, cluster flies tend to gather in large numbers and may overwinter in attics and between walls, emerging into homes or buildings during an unseasonably warm day.
- Cockroaches — This year-round pest can pose a significant threat to health, triggering asthma and allergy symptoms, which may worsen in the winter when homes are closed up.
- Ladybugs — Often considered a sign of good luck, these tiny insects are actually beetles. They can bite (which is not harmful, but is unpleasant) and discolor light-colored surfaces with their defensive secretions. They often overwinter in homes en masse, so where there is one, there are usually more. Ladybugs will leave your home in the spring, or die in the walls where they become a food source for other pests, like carpet beetles.
- Rodents — Rats can squeeze into your home through openings no bigger than a quarter, and mice through an opening the size of a dime. They can contaminate food and surfaces with their urine, feces and hair; carry bacteria, disease and ticks; and cause electrical fires by gnawing through wires.
- Bats — These flying pests hibernate in the winter, often roosting in attics and behind loose boards or shutters. They can carry rabies and spread infection, and their feces (called guano) can cause a disease called histoplasmosis. They can be difficult and dangerous to remove.
- Wildlife — Less common, but other possible winter intruders may include squirrels, skunks, opossums and raccoons. Often seeking food or shelter, all these animals can wreak havoc inside a home, may carry rabies and other diseases, and can be dangerous.
Preventing winter pest invasions
There are many pest prevention strategies that go a long way in denying access to the pests listed above, and more.
- Keep firewood at least 20 feet from the home, and give it a quick brush or shake before bringing it inside.
- Only bring in the amount of firewood you will use in a short amount of time. Some beetles and bugs burrow into the wood and emerge when they are warm.
- Rake leaves and other vegetation away from the foundation. Trim tree branches and bushes away from rooflines, porches, and building walls.
- Keep gutters clear and unclogged.
- Inspect walls and foundations and repair any holes and cracks. Check for openings around utilities and pipes entering the home. Seal even the smallest openings with caulking and/or steel wool.
- Check doors and windows. Replace old or failing weather stripping, repair loose mortar and cracked frames, fix holes in screens and install door sweeps.
- Inspect packages and boxes before bringing them inside.
- Use plastic or metal bins for storage instead of cardboard in basements, attics, and even pantries. Many pests are attracted to cardboard for nesting material or will chew through cardboard in search of food. Silverfish will even eat the glue that holds corrugated boxes together.
Food and water
- Clean counters, sinks, tables, and floors every day, and clean dirty dishes, crumbs, and spills right away.
- Store food in airtight containers.
- Pet food may be feeding more critters than you think, so don’t let food sit out.
- Check under sinks and around pipes for leaks and moisture issues, and ensure attics, basements, and crawl spaces are dry and properly ventilated.
- Many insects are drawn to water and moisture.
- Vacuum floors regularly to remove food debris and dust, and around doors and windows where spiders, silverfish, and beetles may be hiding.
- Routinely wipe down surfaces to remove dust and cobwebs, which can be appealing to spiders.
- Eliminate clutter where possible to limit hiding places and nesting materials for rodents and insects.
- Keep garbage in sealed containers, and empty and clean them often.
While finding a few common house spiders over the course of the winter is to be expected and is easy to deal with, by and large, more serious pest elimination is best left to the professionals. Most home or over-the-counter remedies are ineffective in addressing the problem, which can cost not only money, but time during which the infestation can worsen.
Attempting to remove or trap larger pests, such as bats and other wildlife, on your own can also be dangerous, resulting in serious bites and other injuries. Look for a pest professional with a wildlife division or a company that specializes in the safe and humane removal of wildlife.
Pest control experts are trained to properly identify the problem — for example, knowing the difference between a tick and a bedbug infestation, or determining the extent of an infestation. They can then determine the best, most targeted treatment plan that is safe for you, your family, pets, and environment.
Natasha Wright, Technical Director at Braman Termite & Pest Elimination in Massachusetts, is a board-certified entomologist and a member of the Entomological Society of America. She earned her bachelor’s degree in entomology at the University of Florida in 2009 and received her master’s degree in entomology at the University of Arkansas in 2013.
Other related articles include:
How to Deal with Common Winter Pests
Where Household Pest Go During the Winter and How to Prevent Them from Coming Back