Have a holly jolly pest-free holiday

As households begin preparations for the holidays, there are several precautionary measures residents should consider to avoid adding pest control to their to-do lists. Before decking the halls, it's a good idea to keep a lookout for signs of unwelcome intruders. This week, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) released its tips for avoiding pest infestations this holiday season.

Inspect the Christmas tree
For many, the holidays aren't complete without a tree. If residents decide to bring a fresh evergreen into their homes, they should check the tree outside before doing so. Homeowners should look for spiders, insect nests and eggs before purchasing trees, wreaths and garlands, the NPMA advises. It's a good idea to shake out any greenery before bringing it indoors.

Keep firewood 20 feet away from homes
Because the fireplace is a popular gathering place during wintertime, homeowners should be very careful about spiders, ants and other insects that make their homes in woodpiles. The NPMA recommends keeping firewood on an elevated platform outside of the home. Residents may also consider wearing work gloves when handling wood.

Be cautious with decorations
It's a good idea to unpack ornaments, signs and other festive home accessories outside, in case mice or other pests have infested them over the year. In addition, after the holidays decorations should be repacked in durable, sealed containers and stored in a dry area.

Keep food pest-free
The NPMA encourages homeowners to check expiration dates on ingredients and look for holes in sealed packages. Residents can place a bay leaf in storage containers and packages of dry goods, as the smell deters many pantry pests.

Bring in a professional
If homeowners suspect or notice signs of an infestation, such as rodent droppings, eggs and insects, they should contact an exterminator promptly. A pest management professional can solve creepy crawler problems quickly and efficiently, so residents can focus on their holiday festivities.

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Tree termites terrorize Florida residents

State officials are taking action against nasutitermes corniger, a Caribbean species of termites that is destroying trees, walls and ceilings throughout South Florida.

Unlike many of their relatives, nasutitermes corniger build basketball-sized nests above ground and dig visible brown tunnels on the sides of houses, which can cause serious damage for homeowners. While Department of Agriculture officials thought they eradicated the pests when they first turned up in Dania Beach in 2001, the termites showed up again last year, according to Sun Sentinel.

The organization is currently planning pest control initiatives to eradicate the species before spring, when nasutitermes corniger fly around to form new colonies and increase their populations.

Barbara Thorne is a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and is helping plan the campaign.

"Certainly all of South Florida could be at risk, up into Central Florida," Thorne told the newspaper. "Once this gets out, there will be no containing it, ever. So we're trying to deal with this now."

While a similar campaign took place last year, officials said it wasn't as successful as they had hoped.

Nasutitermes corniger, or tree termites, which are native to rainforests, are beneficial to their home environment because they eat dead wood on the exterior of trees. However, these pests can wreak havoc in residential areas. They destroy outer frameworks and materials used to build walls and structures. Tree termites can also severely damage roofs. Often, wood infested by this species requires replacement. To avoid mounting renovation costs, homeowners should contact a pest control professional promptly if they suspect tree termites.  

Spotting an infestation
While a ballooning nest may be an obvious sign of infestation, the early starts of a nasutitermes corniger population can be difficult to detect, as they build large colonies before establishing a home. These bugs present an especially serious threat because they don't nest underground or compete for space resources with other termite species. A home is therefore at risk of infestations from above and below, Department of Agriculture officials explained to Sun Sentinel.

Florida officials say pest control experts are able to identify these critters. If residents spot insects around their house, they can put a sample in a bag and bring it to an exterminator for evaluation. Tree termites are about 3 to 4 millimeters in length and have cream-colored bodies and dark brown heads.

Homeowners who suspect a nest or tunnels on their property should take a picture and show it to a professional as soon as possible. One expert told The Miami Herald tree termite nests often resemble wasp nests.

Protecting the home
There are several measures residents can take to protect their home from a tree termite invasion. As they come from a tropical climate, nasutitermes corniger are attracted by moisture and humidity. While wetness may be difficult to control on outside walls, residents can ensure their roofs aren't leaky and repair any water damage immediately following rainfall.

Because these termites forage on the ground, homeowners may also consider monitoring moisture in their yard and eliminating brush buildup to prevent any potential problems with the bugs.

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Preventing roof rat infestations

As fall quickly turns into winter, many pests attempt to sneak their way into warm homes in search of food and shelter. Roof rats are named after their tendency to infest attics and the upper portions of structures, but they can be found in lower levels of buildings as well. Their tendency to chew up materials and ravage stored food can be extremely troublesome and dangerous for many households. In addition to damaging wiring and insulation, roof rats can spread infectious diseases such as salmonella and rat-bite fever to residents and pets via saliva, urine and droppings. Throughout history, roof rats have also been notorious for spreading plague.

Protecting the home
There are several steps homeowners can take to avoid inviting roof rats into their houses this season. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) recommends sealing up any holes or cracks larger than a quarter that appear in outdoor walls, piping and foundation.

Like most pests, roof rats look for sources of moisture. It's therefore a good idea to repair leaky faucets, pipes and water heaters. After heavy rain, homeowners may want to inspect attics and basements for water damage. Residents can also purchase a dehumidifier to eliminate moisture buildup.

The NPMA also suggests keeping trees and shrubs trimmed and away from buildings and cleaning up trash outdoors and around areas in which garbage is stored  to avoid attracting roof rats. Homeowners should also always seal trash in bags and place it in tightly covered bins.

Spotting roof rats
There are several noticeable characteristics that can help homeowners identify roof rats. They grow between six and eight inches long, not including their tails, and are usually black or dark brown. The University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences explains roof rats often treck through oil and dirt and leave their traces around rafters and other high places.

Scurrying sounds coming from the attic at night are also a sign of roof rat presence, as these pests search for food after sunset.

Roof rats are attracted to fruit hanging on trees and on the ground nearby. They make small holes in fruit peels to suck out the pulp and leave behind empty rinds, which are sign for property owners with orange trees to look out for. It's a good idea to harvest fruit consistently and to clean up fallen produce to keep the pests from having a food source close to a home. 

Upon noticing these signs or spotting roof rats, homeowners should call an exterminator to eliminate the infestation quickly and efficiently.

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Marsh rats plague residents

Residents in areas of South Carolina are reporting increasing numbers of marsh rats, according to The Island Packet.

Local pest control organizations report sending crews to almost every plantation and roughly 50 to 60 homes per week in the area to catch the rodents and prevent them from causing damage to local residences. Some professionals believe because of warmer temperatures last winter, marsh rats were better able to survive. Meanwhile, the large amount of rain this year has provided the water necessary to support a growing population.

However, some local pest management professionals told the newspaper the population hasn't changed since last year, and the large amount of recent sightings can be attributed to high tides bringing the critters closer to coastal homes.

Whether the number of marsh rats has increased or not, the cold weather is sure to push these animals to seek warm havens, such as attics, storage spaces and other parts of homes, making it essential for homeowners to be aware of the pests.   

Rodents cause problems for homeowners
The Island Packet states many residents in Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and surrounding areas are concerned about contracting infectious diseases from the rats. While there have been no recent reports of hantavirus, the disease spreads through rodent droppings, saliva and urine and could show up in the area if pest populations are not kept under control. The illness can turn into Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, which can be fatal, according to the CDC.

To avoid attracting marsh rats and other rodents into buildings or onto their property, homeowners should fill all gaps and holes in outside walls, around fireplaces and doors and along piping. It's a good idea to place trash in thick plastic or metal garbage cans with strong lids to prevent the critters from seeking food near a home.

Pet food should never be left outside and should be stored in sealed containers indoors. Homeowners may want to clean up trash, brush and weeds and trim their property's grass and shrubbery to eliminate any potential hiding places for pests. According to the CDC, old tires and cars should be disposed of as mice and rats may nest in them.

If homeowners find rodent droppings, they should clean the area cautiously and call an exterminator immediately. This will help residents prevent potential property damage and rodent-related disease.

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Know your termites

Termite infestations may be one of the most costly pest infestations for homeowners. Known as “silent destroyers,” these bugs often act undetected, destroying wood, flooring and even wallpaper. The ruin they cause with their saw-like teeth costs Americans $5 billion in property damage every year, according to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). Because many insurers do not cover termite damage, it’s critical to bring in an exterminator early on to limit damage.

Termites are often found in unexpected places. Subterranean pests can destroy plastic plumbing pipes and swimming pool lines or even collapse an entire building. To safeguard property, homeowners should understand which termite species their property may be exposed to. Because there are different varieties of these insects, they can cause many types of damage. However, pest control can be relatively easy if termites are found early on.

Dampwood termites
These brown critters are attracted to moisture. While they are unlikely to be found in structures, water damage or leaky pipes should be treated immediately to avoid luring dampwood termites in. The NPMA states they’re often found in Pacific coastal regions, semi-arid states in the Southwest and southern Florida.

Homeowners should reduce humidity in crawl spaces with clean ventilation to avoid creating an inviting environment for dampwood termites. These bugs should also be on the radar of homeowners on the East Coast who experienced damage during Hurricane Sandy.

Drywood termites
As their name implies, drywood termites infest dry wood and can ravage attic framings, according to the NPMA. These light brown bugs do not need soil to survive and can form colonies of up to 2,500 members. Because they prefer a dry climate, they are most often reported between South Carolina and Texas and in parts of California.

Subterranean termites
These pests are the most menacing of the 2,500 termite species. They live underground or in moist secluded areas with colony populations that can reach 2 million. They build mud tubes to access food and to protect themselves from open air,according to the NPMA, and these tunnels may be one of the first signs of a pest problem in a home. Subterranean termites vary in size and most are cream-colored or brown.

Formosans, which are a breed of subterranean termites, are extremely troublesome because they are aggressive and nest quietly inside building walls. After this type of pest is discovered, it needs to be eliminated immediately, as colonies can be extremely destructive.

To avoid problems with subterranean termites, the NPMA suggests maintaining a one-inch gap between the soil and wood portions of buildings, but residents need to be on the lookout for other signs of pest invasions. Often, a termite infestation begins with swarmers, or pests looking to develop a new colony. Upon first sight of these winged bugs, homeowners should contact an exterminator to prevent structural damage and the expenses associated with severe termite infestations.

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Seek pest control early to avoid costly bed bug infestations

Of all the pests that frequent American households, bed bugs may be the most troublesome. In addition to biting, these critters multiple rapidly and a large population can become impossible to manage very quickly. In addition, if not treated early, an infestation can become very costly and emotionally draining for residents. Homeowners should confront bed bugs upon first notice by hiring an exterminator.

According to the National Pest Management Association, 99 percent of pest control professionals encountered bed bugs in 2011 and 80 percent said bed bug cases have increased. The organization also states bed bugs can hatch one to five eggs per day, or an average of 540 in a lifetime, making it easy for the number of insects to skyrocket in just a matter of weeks.

These pests nest inside mattresses, box springs, pillows, sofas and other places that provide hideouts, such as tight cracks or crevices. If a population is not dealt with early, homeowners may have to replace all the infested furnishings, which can cost thousand of dollars.

While bed bugs can be killed in a laundry machine on high heat, any affected furniture a homeowner decides to keep must be professionally cleaned, which is also costly. It is possible to avoid this route by hiring a pest control professional who can eliminate the bugs quickly and prevent them from spreading to any expensive furniture.

These bugs aren't extremely dangerous, but their bites can cause an allergic reaction or anemia in some instances. As bites are itchy, excessive scratching can lead to a skin infection, which can amount to hefty treatment costs.

Bed bugs can be hard to notice at first, but after just one sighting, homeowners should call an exterminator to handle the situation. Waiting several days or weeks will only result in the problem worsening and becoming a costly nightmare. Seeking help immediately can help prevent residents from incurring excessive expenses.

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Pest problems creep up after Sandy

While homeowners begin repairing damages caused by Hurricane Sandy, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is calculating the effects the storm had on pest populations in New York and New Jersey.

"Communities devastated by the storm will likely experience an increase in pest encounters due to displacement and destruction caused by flooding," said Jim Fredericks, Ph.D, technical director for the NPMA. "From the delay in sanitation services caused by power outages and road blockages, to the widespread structural damage and increased number of people staying at shelters, hotels or with family and friends, there are a number of ways Sandy will affect a variety of pest populations both in the short-term and months after the storm."

The organization has identified the following pests that will be of greatest concern to East Coast residents:

Rodents
While some rodents were killed during and after the hurricane, many have been displaced and are seeking shelter and food. NPMA explained the delay in garbage pickup in several areas is attracting rats and other mammal pests. Because sanitation crews will focus on "garbage" before debris, homeowners should separate food trash and construction rubbish. Rodents can carry many diseases, and residents should take precautions to avoid their carcasses.

Flies
Because flies breed in spoiled food, dead animals and backed up sewage, homeowners who experienced several days of lost power should be on the lookout for fungus gnats, phorid flies and other bugs. Residents should consider asking an exterminator to inspect their home's pipes to ensure no sewage leaks or plumbing problems are creating an ideal place for pests to live. 

Bed bugs
People forced out of their homes and into hotels and shelters or those who have received donated furnishings and clothing have an increased chance of finding bed bug infestations, according to the NPMA. The pest can "hitchhike" from person to person in close spaces and are difficult to eliminate, so seeking professional help immediately upon finding these pests is essential.

Termites
These bugs consider wet wood a feast, and many termites have been displaced by  flooding. It's a good idea for homeowners to ask a pest control professional to inspect their home's termite defenses to ensure the destructive critters don't cause additional damage to a residence already suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

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Keeping pets safe from rodent and raccoon infestations

Raccoons, mice, rats and other critters can be a nuisance to homeowners. They wreak havoc on garbage cans, damage property and can cause destruction in attics and roofs if they decide to nest inside a home. While annoying, rodents and their relatives can also be be very dangerous to household pets. 

The risks
Raccoons and rats can carry diseases such as rabies, roundworm, canine distemper and leptospirosis which can be spread to pets through contaminated fecal matter, urine, water and bites. This puts outdoor animals like dogs and cats at serious risk of infection and in some cases, these diseases can be fatal for man's best friend.

Rats and mice can act as hosts to a myriad of fleas, mites and ticks which can infect pets and transmit disease through blood exchange. Even though outdoor cats sometimes hunt smaller rodents, pet owners should keep their furry friends away from these potentially dangerous pests and vigilantly monitor their skin for signs of bites or parasites.

In addition to spreading disease, rodents can be dangerously unpredictable. While some larger pests may not display aggressive behavior immediately, they can become very hostile around other animals. To avoid inadvertently putting pets in harm's way, homeowners should keep a close eye on any suspected infestations in the yard or indoors, and ensure their animals have up-to-date vaccinations to prevent disease.

Keeping pests at bay
Raccoons and rodents are omnivorous, meaning they'll eat nearly anything – including trash and pet food. Homeowners should always tie garbage bags tightly to avoid making their waste an easy meal and it's also a good idea to vigilantly secure trash can lids and place bins behind a gate or door. It's important to feed pets indoors to avoid luring raccoons or other pests into the backyard. Homeowners should inspect their yards before nightfall to ensure no bones or treats are left outside to attract unwelcome critters.

Preventing a problem
Because raccoons and many rodents are nocturnal, homeowners can avoid contact between pests and pets by keeping dogs and cats indoors at night, but they should keep in mind pests can access homes through pet doors and take necessary measures to secure these entry points overnight.

It's important to remember the dangers pests present to animals can also affect humans, especially small children. Scare tactics such as bright lights and loud noises only work to keep critters away temporarily and larger female animals with litters, such as mother raccoons, are especially aggressive. Raccoons and rodents that are active during the day and don't seem afraid of humans may have rabies, a disease which poses a threat to both pets and humans. In order to protect their pets, families and residences from a potentially dangerous infestation, homeowners should call a rodent control professional at the first sign of a pest problem.

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San Antonio takes on local beehive

Days before Halloween, San Antonio removed a neighborhood beehive after residents complained of hundreds of bees swarming surrounding homes.

The hive was inside the exterior wall of a vacant house. Ruby Ortiz, who lives next door to the once infested home, told KSAT 12 she was afraid trick-or-treaters would get stung. Ortiz says the bees were entering her home. "They're starting to go into the kids' room, my daughter's room," she said. "They don't want to be in there because there's a whole swarm of bees inside."

Ortiz said she called the city several times over a two-month period, but received no response. She then emailed KSAT, which contacted the Metropolitan Health Department. Code Enforcement sent in a bee removal team.

According to the TV station, the emergency crew cut into the wall to remove honeycomb and bees. At first, the city refrained from intervening because of property rights. However, evidence of public danger reversed the decision.

"Where it could become a safety issue for the residents around there the city is allowed to go in and abate that and we'll charge the owner," the assistant director of Development Services told the station.

Bees can be extremely troublesome for homeowners and present serious danger to anyone who is allergic to their stings. Hives can be quickly and efficiently removed by professional pest control services.

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Woman faces painful recovery from spider bite

A woman in Lafayette, Ind. is temporarily in a wheelchair as she recovers from a brown recluse spider bite.

Two weeks ago, an Indiana woman was bitten by the venomous spider on the leg while she was asleep, according to Lafayette-area CBS affiliate WLFI-TV. She assumed it was a normal bug bite until the injury started swelling and oozing pus. After visiting to her doctor, the wound was popped and she was given antibiotics.

Within 24 hours, however, the wound started growing once more. The woman went to the hospital, where she was brought into surgery immediately.

According to WLFI, brown recluse venom eats away at cells and  the victim had to have dead tissue removed. One doctor told the news source that brown recluse bites can be so severe they require amputation. The woman who received the bite told the station she is grateful to have avoided those measures, and hopes to be able to walk without pain soon.

Brown recluses are one the U.S.'s most deadly common spiders. As their name implies, they live a hermit-like life style in sheltered places like woodpiles, crevices and cracks. These spiders can be recognized by their brown, bulbous body and the violin-shaped marking on their backs. If a brown recluse is spotted or suspected, it's important to hire a pest control professional to avoid being bitten, as a bite can result in serious medical emergencies.

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