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Through the centuries, a war has been waged between humans and pests. Creepy crawlers and furry intruders have been invading food supplies and damaging homes for thousands of years and throughout that time humanity has come up with many creative ways of dealing with the pests. Some of those methods worked, and others fell to the wayside as failures, but one question always stayed the same: How to build a better mouse trap?
While bugs and animals are a part of the natural ecosystem that keeps the planet healthy there has to be some line between letting nature survive and protecting the home or business. If pests are not causing a problem outside of the home or business then most times they are okay to be left alone. However once they cross a line into the human realm some type of pest control should be considered.
Brief History of Animal and Pest Control
Pest control stretches back at least as long as humans have grown their food. When agriculture based societies began to form the need to protect the food supply came into existence. Killing off weeds and other invasive plants was easy. Plow the weed over and remove it from the crop. Getting rid of the bugs and animals trying to steal the food was a bit harder.
Imagine early civilizations spending hours of each day wandering through the field, hand picking spiders, beetles, and other bugs from the plants. This would have removed the pest, but did little to keep them from coming back. At one point people learned that planting strong-scented plants, such as mint and sage, in their garden helped reduce the bug population. It was also learned that rotating crops improved pest control, but that still left animals ransacking their crops.
Perhaps the earliest form of animal pest control was the cat. The term barn cat is still in use today and the cat has much the same function as it did thousands of years ago. Cats roamed the fields and storage areas catching small mammals trying to steal a meal. Over time, other animals were trained to hunt down and kill pests. Traps were also used to catch rodents and other animals.
Chemical pest control also has a long history. The Sumerians documented using a sulfur compound as an insecticide. Other ancient cultures sometimes mixed poisonous plants into the crops to kill off unwanted intruders. However, it wasn’t until the last hundred years or so that manmade chemical pesticides and insecticides became widespread.
Common Home and Business Pests
Before a home or business owner can begin to control or prevent a pest problem, they should learn about the most common pests. Pests have not changed much over the millennia. In fact, most have remained remarkably the same. The very same pests that early man fought with modern humans deal with every day. There are two main types of pests: Bugs and Animals. Bugs encompass insects, grubs, spiders and all creepy crawlers. Animals typically include small mammals and birds.
Ants: A very common intruder found anywhere that food or water can be found. Ants will travel large distances from their hill to find food and water and will leave behind a scent trail that allows them and other ants in their colony to return to the source. There are many different types of ants, some of them more invasive than others. Fire ants, black ants, carpenter ants and red ants are the most commonly seen pest in homes. If one is spotted in the home or business, then a hill is most likely located somewhere around the foundation or under steps or a porch.
Cockroaches: A truly unchanged pest, the cockroach can scurry into a home or business like a thief. They stay hidden during the day and stick to dark places. Cockroaches will invade a home looking for food, water or warmth and can be found in cabinets, wall cavities and almost anywhere that stays dark most of the time. Because they normally stay hidden, it’s a good bet that if one is spotted many more are hiding somewhere.
Spiders: Nature’s bug catcher, the spider is a master at catching and removing many crawling pests. Of course, spiders can also be a pest in a home or business. There are thousands of species of spiders in the world and they range from the very small to the super-sized. Some spiders are poisonous, and most are just plain scary for people to be near. Their webs look unsightly in corners or cabinets. They are attracted inside by warmth and like to set up shop in dark places, like under tables, in corners and shelves.
Termites: A real threat to any structure, termites can infest a home or business without much warning. Like ants, termites form a colony, with a queen that can sometimes live up to 50 years. These white insects eat dead organic matter, such as foliage, wood, and even animal waste. They burrow into wooden beams, eating away support, and can cause a great deal of damage if not detected early. In the U.S. alone more than a billion dollars worth of damage a year can be blamed on termites.
Wasps: Flying little bullets of fury and packing a pouch of a stinger, wasps can become a problem very quickly. Wasps, unlike bees, have a smooth stinger and can sting a person or animal repeatedly. Wasps like to make their nests at overhangs, the corners of covered porches and just about anywhere that is safe from the rain and heavy winds. They can get into attics and in between wall cavities very easily. For a business owner having a wasp nest near, on or in their building can lead to customer loss if the wasps sting anyone. In or near a home they can cause quite the uproar and repeated stings may occur before the nest is discovered.
Yellow Jackets: They won’t normally go into a home or business building but they can make their nests near the foundation. Like wasps yellow jackets can sting repeatedly without losing their stinger. These flying pests make their home in the ground most often. They either dig a series of tunnels or overtake another nest dug out by ants. They are extremely territorial and will swarm when their nest is threatened.
Mosquitoes: While not really a problem inside the home or business, mosquitoes can cause a problem for visitors. Female mosquitoes will bite humans and animals, leaving behind an itchy red mark. They can also carry a number of diseases. Mosquitoes are attracted to stagnate water, water that isn’t moving. This is where they lay their eggs and once those eggs hatch it can turn into a swarm of mosquitoes.
Rats and Mice: Living alongside people for perhaps the longest, rats and mice scurry about looking for shelter, food, and water. While some people have even begun to keep rats and mice in their homes as pets, wild rodents can do a great deal of damage to a building. Rats and mice are known for chewing through wires and wooden beams to wear at their teeth. They will also tear into food supplies easily ruining entire boxes and bags of dried goods. They are also known carriers of a number of diseases.
Birds: They get into attics, crawlspaces, and chimneys. Birds can make a big mess of just about any place they decide to nest. The most common reason for birds invading a building is for shelter while raising their young. They will bring in twigs, grass and just about anything else they can make a nest out of. Birds will leave behind feathers, waste and sometimes even discarded bugs. They can also cause a noise problem, and their nests can clog ventilation and chimneys.
These are just some of the more common pests that can get into a home or business. Depending on location other pests can be more commonly seen. Silverfish, bed bugs, carpet bugs, flies and gnats are all common throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world.
There are a number of pest control and prevention tips a homeowner or business owner can use to prevent an infestation. Learning proper cleaning methods and food storage is a big step to keeping pests out of the home. Being able to identify and knowing which pest control method to use when a lone pest shows up is also nice.
Cleaning is very important in a home or business. Having a clean environment helps improve a person’s health and offers little in the way of food to pests. Vacuum and sweep often, making sure to get under and behind furniture. A good mopping on hard surface floors is always a good idea. Keeping dishes and laundry done routinely reduces food sources for insects and other creepy crawlers.
Keeping the home or business building in good repair is a great way to keep pests out. Fix broken windows, cracks in foundations, busted vents and other areas that could create an easy doorway. Pay close attention to duct work. Heat from the ducts attract rodents and bugs like a magnet, and they will chew or scratch through the soft insulation to get to that heat. Keeping the home or building in good repair can also save on heating and cooling costs, giving anyone a good second reason for keeping air leaks patched.
Leaking plumbing can also attract pets. The water source they provide can be valuable to a pest during a dry season. The moisture can also create a breeding ground for some bugs that can easily take over your home. This moisture can also cause mold, another health hazard if ignored. Common places to check include under sinks, behind shower walls, near the washer and dryer and around the water heater.
Properly store food. Dry foods, like cereals, flour, rice, and pasta should be kept in sealed containers. This way pests have a harder time getting to the food supply. Keep food stored in cabinets or on shelves, at least, a foot or more off the ground to discourage rodents from finding it. Go through the foods every so often to look for evidence that bugs or rodents have been around and toss out expired foods to cut back on clutter.
Keep the yard or surrounding area clean from debris and clutter. Both natural clutter and man-made clutter can serve as homes or food for pests. By removing the outside shelter and food source the yard will be less inviting to pests. Rake leaves and sticks away from the side of the home or business. This will discourage bugs from venturing closer to the home and reduce the risk of them coming inside. Rotting fruit form apple, pear, and other fruit trees should be picked up and removed before wildlife and bugs are attracted. Branches should be kept trimmed away from the home or business. This will discourage pests from entering into the attic of the building. Trash bins should have a heavy or sealable lid and be emptied on a regular basis to reduce the likelihood of rodents and bugs from getting into them.
Along with good cleaning and home repair, there are a few tricks that can help keep pests from a home. Plant mint around the home or business. The strong scent of mint confuses most insects. It will discourage them from venturing beyond the plants into the building. Toss a few moth balls into the attic and/or basement. Like the mint, the strong odor will keep rodents and other pests from trying to make themselves at home.
If a pest is spotted, it is best to accurately identify it before taking action against it. Once identified the owner should find a method that works for that type of pest. Many over the counter chemical pest control products are targeted killers. Make sure to read all the instructions before using. If an animal has made its way inside then, traps or poisons are available.
When using bug bombs or chemical sprays it’s important to get in the nooks and crackles of the home or business. The owner should also be aware of the health risk to themselves and others while using these products. For sprays and after bombs good ventilation is key to clearing the air and avoid breathing problems. A simple face mask and safety goggles can also help prevent injury or health issues.
There are also a number of natural do-it-yourself methods to eliminating pests. For ants, cockroaches, and other crawling pests a spray bottle of soapy water can eliminate the pests one or two at a time. It also works on stink bugs but is best not used on flying insects that sting. A bucket filled one-quarter of the way with sugar-water will attract crawling, and some flying pests and they end up drowning in the water.
Leading or luring an animal out of the home and then repairing the entrance they used to get in is another common natural method to removing a pest. Live traps can also be used to capture the animal and release it far from the home. However, once an animal is removed from the home should be checked over to make sure young ones are not still inside.
When to Call a Pest Professional
A home or business owner can do many things to control and prevent an infestation, but sometimes it just isn’t enough. When the pests get out of hand, it’s time to call in a professional. Knowing when to call an exterminator is just as important as knowing when pests have gotten into the home or business. If the infestation goes on for too long damage can be done to the business or home and if it’s grown large enough could end up costing a lot more to correct.
For owners without the time or ability to tackle a small pest problem a professional should be the first choice. They can come in and handle the issue before it gets out of hand. For those who prefer a do-it-yourself approach keep in mind that should the issue become too large too quickly, a professional may be needed to remove the pests. For bugs treat for about a week before considering a professional. If the pests have grown instead of reduced in number than a professional is needed.
Termites and other pests that can do heavy damage quickly to a building are best left to professionals from the start. This is because these pests can be overlooked and the resulting damage can easily reach into the thousands. At the first sign of termites, a professional should be called to come and check everything out. Exterminators may end up saying that a contracted may be needed to do repairs, but owners can always get a second opinion after the pests have been removed.
Animals can be removed by owners sometimes. If the owner knows what type of animal is the problem, then they can normally start controlling the issue with traps or poisons. Rats and mice are the most common and if caught quickly won’t cause too much of a problem. However rats and mice multiply very quickly, and two can soon become two dozen. If the scratching and scurrying noises start happening all the time, a professional should be called in. Larger animals, like raccoons, should be removed by a professional. Squirrels, birds, and bats are also pests best left to a professional pest control agent to handle. The threat of diseases, such as rabies, is very real with mammal pests and anyone dealing with these types of pests should call a licensed exterminator to remove the threat.
A professional can also help prevent an infestation by doing yearly inspections and treatments. The pest control specialist will look through the home or business for signs of pests and will be more capable of noticing an early problem. They can also spray inside and outside chemicals that will kill off and detour pests from coming into the building.
By hiring a professional to inspect, treat and remove pests from the home or business owners will have the satisfaction of knowing the job is done. A professional exterminator also has more extensive knowledge about pests, such as their life cycle, habitat, and weaknesses, making the removal much less complicated.
It’s a war that has seen many battlefields, from the kitchen to the cellar, and it’ll keep going on for the foreseeable future. The planet is a delicate ecosystem that needs all its living creatures to function properly. While completely removing pests from the ecosystem is not possible, it is possible to set boundaries. Living side by side with nature, humanity will be dealing with pests forever, but knowing when and where to spot them is a good start to winning the battle inside the home. Know the enemy and the battle is half over. Treating the issues quickly reduces the risk of losing money in either home repair, medical or extermination costs.