The Billion Dollar Chew: Termites Eat Through Homes and Businesses

Each year, termites cause billions of dollars in damage, and homeowner’s insurance will not cover the cost of treatment.

These invisible destroyers cause more damage in the U.S. than storms, fires and floods combined. The National Pest Management Association estimates that termites are responsible for $5 billion in property damage every year.

While you sleep, termites may literally eat you out of house and home and even your business. And while they eat 24 hours a day, their damage is insidious because you usually do not see them or the damage they cause until it’s too late. Termites are known for their industriousness and can always find a way into your home, whether the structure is made of wood or concrete.

Homeowners might notice termites when they swarm around spring time, a likely sign of infestation. But they can swarm in both the spring and fall, anytime the environmental conditions are right.

The U.S. is home to many species of termites, the most common being Subterranean and Drywood termites.

Subterranean Termites tunnel in the soil. The ability to tunnel allows them to find and feed on countless pieces of wood. This mobility also allows them to create much bigger colonies than those of wood inhabiting species. A Subterranean termite colony can have hundreds of thousands to several million members working in a caste system.

Drywood Termites can cause serious damage to houses and furniture. These termites are easier to spot because they produce coarse sand-like fecal pellets that can be spotted long before you discover the termites themselves. The Drywood termite not only eats the wood structure, but lives inside the wood structure. These insects will construct a virtual city within the wood, complete with connecting tunnels to get around it. They can enter the home by flying in or being carried on previously infested wood, such as furniture or construction materials.

Preventing termites is as important as exterminating them. A termite prevention program should include the following elements:

  • A professional inspection done at least once a year. The potential damage is too great to rely on “do-it-yourself” methods.
  • An ongoing preventive system including sodium borate-based materials, which can be painted, sprayed, or spread onto the wood, or injected into hollow spaces inside the walls of the home.
  • Having your pest control professional establish an “early warning system” that detects termites in the soil before they reach the home itself. Many systems establish bait stations around the perimeter of the home to detect the approach of termites while they are still several feet away.

By taking the necessary precautions, you can help prevent your home from becoming a termite’s permanent residence.

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How to spot houseplant pests

Pests frequently enter a home through a seemingly innocent decorative staple: houseplants. Various insects and less noticeable mites can infest plants before they are even brought back from the store. Spotting the pests is the first step to exterminating them.  

An infestation can damage the appearance and health of the plant, and will occasionally kill them. Regardless of side effects, the pests pose a bothersome problem. 

Whiteflies
Whiteflies look slightly like gnats covered in a waxy white substance. Adults will have wings, and are typically very small. They’re not difficult to spot on darker leaves, as their light coloring contrasts with the plant. These pests are most damaging at their younger stage, as that is when they consume the plant. Whiteflies inhabit the undersides of leaves, so regularly check your plants for the small white insects. 

Mealybugs
Mealybugs are easily visible at about three-sixteenths of an inch long. They can resemble mildew, but upon closer inspection will be moving. Like whiteflies, they are lighter in color and stick to the undersides of leaves. They also populate near the stem and at the base of the plant, so be aware of anything that looks like mildew on an indoor plant.

Thrips
Thrips are tiny and darker than mealybugs and whiteflies, which makes them harder to spot. They hop rather than fly, so identifying thrips can be done after examining a plant for more than a few seconds under a magnifying glass. The mites eat flowers in addition to leaves and stems, so unusual streakiness on flower petals could indicate a thrip infestation. 

Aphids
Aphids are usually found on household plants, but infestations can be found in dense wooded areas outdoors as well. Indoor aphids range in color from green, black, brown, gray, yellow, red or purple. A study done by the University of Minnesota suggests looking for clusters of aphids beneath flower buds and on petals. 

A fact sheet from Colorodo State University recommends keeping plants in a separate area of the house, away from already-established plants for a few weeks before moving them to a permanent location. Scale insects (whiteflies and mealybugs) are present on most houseplants that have been recently purchased. Most mites can be removed easily by running the plant under water on moderate pressure, while whiteflies and other airborne insects can sometimes be tamed with sticky traps.

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Excluding mosquitoes from your outdoor event

Mosquito populations are known to increase with warmer temperatures. Outdoor events are frequently crashed by the pesky pests, who are attracted to the congregation of people. Take the following pest control precautions to avoid unhappy bitten guests. 

Eliminate standing water
Mosquitoes breed in still waters: Females lay their eggs under water, so man-made ponds, bird baths, old tires, gutters and pools should either be emptied, cleaned or equipped with devices to keep the water moving. Extra attention should be paid in locations that are near a pond or swamp, or in places that have just experienced heavy precipitation. This will help to prevent a mosquito infestation from occurring in the first place.

Use screens or netting
The most foolproof way to keep mosquitoes out of a gathering is to close in a porch or tent with netting or screens, which can be purchased at a local hardware store. Check the material to be sure it’s in good shape and patch up any holes that may be present with wire.

Clothing 
Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, and exposed skin gives them an open invitation to bite. Recommend that guests wear lights colors, long sleeves and pants with thick fabric. The pests are a
lso known to be attracted to pregnant women, who may want to avoid insect repellent chemicals, so these guests may enjoy a screened area as mentioned above.

Repellents
Aside from insect repellent, which can get on food and emits a nasty smell, look into other ways to discourage mosquitoes from coming near the event. Tiki torches are available that burn an oil that may help repel the insect. They also provide a unique visual to a party. Similarly, candles and oil lamps are sold that provide the same effect with less of the hassle of torches.

Bug zappers (the hanging blue lights that attract, then kill flying bugs), while unpleasant to look at and hear, can also help reduce the mosquito population near your house. Mosquito coil is another option and produces no smell. The different types of coils burn Citronella oil to disguise the CO2 that humans emit (which attracts mosquitos). However, they make less of an impact than sprays and zappers. 

The pests aren’t just an annoyance: getting bitten also puts the victim at risk for diseases. Those over 50 are more likely to get malaria or the West Nile virus from a bite, so making an appointment with an exterminator such as Truly Nolen each spring may be the surest way to provide a safe, bug-free environment.

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Indoor and outdoor ants can wreak havoc on the home

Ants are some of the most difficult pests to remove from the home. According to National Geographic, the insects live on most of the world and account for 15% of the total terrestrial animal population. They can be especially problematic because, regardless of whether they nest indoors or outdoors, they can still find their way inside. 

Indoor ants 
Ant infestations inside the home can begin when a winged potential queen ant makes its way inside the home. These ants look similar to flying termites but are bent in the middle instead of the cylindrical shape characteristic to termites. Some winged ants are merely drones, but they almost exclusively leave their original nests to establish new ones. If a potential queen gets inside a home, it will begin laying eggs and create a new colony as soon as possible. While many ant colonies ultimately fail, the ants may be able to eventually develop an indoor nest and from there they will travel into the pantry and kitchen in search of food.

House ants will nest in any dark, undisturbed spot they can find. The College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky reports that ants will build nests in the walls, behind cabinets, and under seldom-used appliances. The fact that the ants will often nest in places that are already neglected can make them even more difficult to find. If the nest is hidden well enough, professional pest control is the best way to find and exterminate the insects.

Outdoor ants
Spotting an indoor ant does not always mean that there is a colony indoors, but may be an indication that they are coming in from outside. Ants leave trails of scent for each other to follow from the colony to the source of food or water. Known for their strength, ants will carry the food and water back the colony. Crumbs or water left on the floor are ideal sources for ants, so one of the best ways to prevent ants from entering the home is to discourage outdoor ants from getting inside. If they are coming frequently enough it may be possible to simply follow the line of ants heading in and out of the house to their colony.

Although outdoor-nesting ants are often less of a household problem, it can make their colonies much harder to find. There are many places ants can nest outdoors, including under gravel, beneath bushes, under old construction equipment, in the foundation of houses and many other places. Ants are able to nest virtually anywhere they can dig so the possibilities are nearly limitless.

Extermination
There are many do-it-yourself methods to dispel ants, but none are known to be as effective as professional exterminators. Pest control is usually best left to the professionals, especially since many of the products marketing for ant prevention will not fully solve the problem. To remove ants completely, the entire colony needs to be eliminated or the ants will rebuild. 

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Effects of warmer weather on potential pests

Snow and ice begin to melt as the air gets warmer, and plants start to bloom. It’s a great time of year, but it’s also a great time for pests to get into your home. Read more to learn what warmer weather means for pest control indoors. 

Ice
When water gets into cracks and freezes, it also expands. So when moisture is present in existing cracks in foundations and walls, the spaces will get larger. Most pests only need a quarter-inch to enter a home, and if water caused damage over the winter, it could mean new vulnerabilities that didn’t exist last season. Check for possible bug entrances with every significant temperature change, and fill new cracks with foam, screens and caulk. 

Water
As snow and ice melt, it leaves the ground soft, damp and easily picked up by shoes and pets. Lots of pests, namely ants, are more than willing to be transported indoors without having to find an entrance themselves. Keep a welcome mat by the door for visitors (and residents) to wipe their feet on. Bugs and insects are also attracted to dampness in attics, basements, and garages. Keeping these areas dry and free of leaks will make it less tempting for unwanted guests to move in. 

Pollen
Warm weather brings plants, plants bring pollen, and pollen brings bees. Equip all open windows with thicker screens to keep pollen out, and brush off pets after they’ve been out in plant-heavy areas. 

Earlier winter thaws also mean earlier infestations. The majority of pests are most active in warmer climates, so be aware of when the temperature is expected to rise, and make the necessary preparations. Pest eggs hatch more easily in the heat, so an untreated problem can exponentially worsen. It may be best to book an exterminator agency in advance, as the demand for them will increase with the heat. 

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Carpenter ants cause extensive damage

Carpenter ants are known for being large, often having wings and destroying wood structures to make their nests. These pests can cause hundreds or thousands of dollars of damage before being noticed, so it’s important to know the signs of carpenter ants.

Nests
These ants typically have two kinds of colonies: parent and satellite, according to the University of Minnesota. A parent nest contains the queen and thousands of worker ants, and is where most of the resources gathered will go. Satellite nests can also contain up to thousands of workers but no queen or ant larva. It is possible for a parent colony to be outside and to have satellites of that colony inside a house. In order to maintain a full level of insect control, a complete extermination of all nests is necessary.

Nests will be most often located where wood is damp, since that is easier for the ants to mine. The University of Kentucky states that areas that are near consistent leaks or around sinks are common locations for carpenter ants to build their nests. The insects will often choose the bathroom, the kitchen or rooms with poor circulation where condensation tends to gather. There may be multiple colonies within the same house in different areas that are all affected by water in one way or another. 

Detection
Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not actually eat the wood that they destroy. It is possible to spot a nest by noticing small piles of what appears to be sawdust on the floor. Occasionally the ants will push all the wood they have ground up out of the nest to make room. However, this is not always the case, as they will sometimes keep the wood dust inside the nest with them.

Visually, carpenter ants look similar to other species of ants as well as termites. These ants are larger than other species of ant, however, and often have wings. While termites are smaller and typically white, these pests are large, black and have jointed bodies like that of a wasp. 

Extermination
Since carpenter ants will so often make multiple nests that are nearly impossible to detect, it is almost always best to seek professional pest control. Often exterminators will need to find all the satellite nests as well as the parent nest to ensure that the ants do not return. Simply spraying the visible ants will not work, as they will reproduce and return.

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San Francisco food distributor reopens after rodent infestation

A food distributor in San Francisco was forced to close down and perform a massive recall after two employees leaked information about the rodent-infested condition of the facility. The employees detailed the unsanitary conditions, describing rodents living, breeding and leaving droppings in many of the foods in the warehouse that were later repackaged for sale. Once the Department of Health became aware of the situation, the retailer was forced to shut down until professional pest control was able to take care of the situation.

Infestation
The facility was allowed to reopen only after extensive extermination took place. A professional on-site noted that rats and mice were able to get inside the facility through the walls which were full of cracks and holes large enough for the rodents. Once all the entryways for the mice were sealed, the exterminators had to eliminate the rest of the rodent population. The population of rodents inside the facility had been booming due to the abundance of food and space. 

Threat of disease
The employees who informed the Department of Health about the violations claimed that the mice were largely ignored by building management. They described finding mice and rodents everywhere in the building and were instructed to remove the mice only when found dead. Rodents carry a wide variety of communicable diseases and allowing them to reside near or come in contact with food poses a major health threat to consumers. Both live mice and their droppings can carry over 30 diseases that can spread to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These diseases can be spread through handling the rodents, coming in physical contact with droppings, inhaling airborne dropping dust and through ticks and mites that live on the mice. 

The CDC suggests that the best way to eliminate any threat of exposure to these diseases is to avoid coming in contact with mice at all. However, if mice have already come in contact with food, it should be thrown away immediately.  

The fact that the food retailer did not discard the food that had come in contact with rodents was its largest error. Now that it has sought the help of professional exterminators, the facility is now awaiting approval from the Department of Health to reopen.

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Michigan residents try to keep rats out of their homes

Residents in a Michigan town near Detroit have been hit with a huge influx of rats – so many that the town legislature is considering offering $5 for each dead rat brought in by citizens, reports local Fox affiliate WJBK. Residents are scrambling to find ways of preventing rats from entering their homes and contaminating their food and possessions, as well as effective means of pest control.

Keeping rats out
There are several ways to keep rats and other rodents from entering the home. In Detroit as well as many other parts of the country, the winter is frigid which affects both humans and rats alike. Rodents will seek out any warm shelter they can find, and they are skilled at finding entry points. Rats have nearly collapsible skeletons and can fit in any hole that is larger than their head (about the size of a quarter) so the best step is to plug any and all holes through which the pests could fit. 

Feeling for air movement can also reveal an entryway for a rat, a report from Popular Mechanics details. It is important to go around the house and find any vulnerability to rats and other rodents. Also important are windows and doors – any crack in the framing should be sealed. All doors should close flush against the frame and be sealed tight. Vents for driers and air conditioners can also allow rodents into the home, but are easily blocked with screens. 

Keeping them away
Rats and other small mammals are attracted to the bounty of free food that is provided by an uncovered garbage can or a backyard garden, so tying down all garbage can lids with weighted bungee cords can help keep rats from coming back. Gardens are best kept several feet away from the house in order to prevent rodents from dashing into an open door or window. 

Piles of unattended boxes, lumber or other refuse will provide a shelter to rats that are trying to stay out of the cold. The rodents won’t have as easy an opportunity to settle when the yard is kept free of refuse.

Rat traps are inexpensive but vary in effectiveness depending on the environment. Professional pest control is required in many cases.

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Landlords and tenants must cooperate to remove bed bugs

Bed bugs are some of the most tenacious pests that can infest a typical home or apartment building. Often times it takes several attempts to fully remove them, since they tend to burrow into every upholstered item in the home. Not only this, but they also lay their eggs in droves so even after all living bugs are killed, there may be a resurgence weeks later. Landlords and tenants often turn to professional pest control to effectively exterminate the pests.

Chicago
Landlords and lawmakers are fighting over the responsibility of removing bed bugs from buildings. Members of the Chicago Housing Committee are pushing legislation that would cost landlords $1,000 per day that they do not seek professional pest control to rid their buildings of bed bugs. Landlords, however, are complaining that it takes the entire building’s tenants’ cooperation to remove the bed bugs. If even one tenant does not thoroughly clean his of her clothing and other personal items, the building may become infested again and the process will repeat. One landlord claimed he had tried several times to remove the pests but to no avail since the tenants did not follow instructions. He was forced to call the exterminator again.

Tenants in all manner of living arrangements are feeling the consequences of bed bug infestation. While the insects do not directly cause disease in their victims, they do drink their blood and can cause painful rashes for some who are allergic. In some cases, these allergic reactions can even weaken the immune system enough to allow potentially serious infections to develop.

Urban menace
Beg bugs have a particularly easy time traveling from home to home in the city since they are able to gain transportation with people unnoticed. Bed bugs will often hide in a person’s clothes and can thus travel between places like apartments, offices, movie theaters and hotels. Infested furniture also tends to get thrown out and this discarded furniture is often picked up by people who are unaware of the risk, says a fact sheet from Chicago’s Safer Pest Control Project. Any item discarded with bed bugs in it should be marked as such to avoid spreading the pest.

The sheet also recommends talking to a pest control professional before using any chemicals or throwing anything out. Certain chemicals may be harmful and many items can be salvaged from bed bugs.

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How to prevent a scorpion infestation

In the past month, many residents in Las Vegas, Nevada, noticed small scorpions in their homes, specifically in beds, shoes, garages and near pets’ water bowls. Local ABC affiliate KSNV-TV reported that the number of the pests has increased over the past year, along with reports of sightings in and near homes. Although the creatures can be common in deserts, they are also found in many environments across the world.

When scorpions appear
Spring and fall are the mating seasons for scorpions, at which point they may be more frequently seen. The bark scorpion, which has been spotted the most as of late, is considered life threatening, although reports of stings far outweigh fatalities. While this species is native to Arizona, California and New Mexico, the FDA notes that their numbers have been increasing in Clark County, Nevada. Bark scorpions most often grow to be a little more than an inch long, but can grow to over three inches. To discover whether or not there is an infestation, the Arizona-Sonoma Desert Museum suggests waiting until nightfall and shining a black light into dark spaces and across floors and ceilings. Under a black light, their exoskeletons will have a distinct glow. 

Children under five are at risk for more serious sting side effects, which the Mayo Clinic notes as including severe pain, convulsions, drooling, sweating and occasionally inconsolable crying. They are more likely to require intensive treatment. After being stung, adults frequently experience rapid breathing, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, muscle twitching, and weakness, according to the healthcare provider. If the stung victim is an adolescent or younger, or elderly, of a low body weight or is experiencing high levels of pain, he or she is recommended to see a doctor, regardless of symptoms. Scorpions also sting pets, so if they are exhibiting strange behavior that might be indicative of a sting, a trip to the veterinarian may be in order. 

Preventative measures
Reduce the likelihood of the dangerous pest by eliminating standing water as much as possible and by sealing potential entryways. The most commonly stung areas on the body are hands and feet, so it’s best to be aware of those extremities when making the bed, putting on shoes and reaching for items. Closets, cabinets and other enclosed spaces ought to be inspected frequently in areas where scorpions are common (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California). Scorpions typically hide during the day and travel at night, so inspections should be conducted after sunset with a black light if possible.

Keeping the area surrounding a home free of brush, firewood and debris will help keep the pests away. The aforementioned should be kept at a distance of 30 feet or more. Most species like to hide under rocks and other things outside, and under clothes and shoes indoors. Leaks from pipes, humidifiers or air conditioners should be repaired as soon as possible, since scorpions are attracted to warm, wet places. It is also advisable to contact an exterminator to handle the infestation rather then attempting to exterminate the scorpions independently. 

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