Don’t Let Pests Settle in for the Winter

Dinner went well. The boss seemed happy with the food and my family. We went to the living room for a bit more conversation and dessert. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something scurrying behind the plant in the corner. Hopefully I was the only one who noticed it. I remembered the noises I had heard in the wall the last couple of days. Why do pests always show themselves at the most embarrassing times?

Pests come into homes and commercial establishments in two ways: 1) they are carried in on us or on things we bring in, or 2) they come in naturally from outside where they have been living. Autumn, throughout most areas of the country provides increased opportunities for pests to come in either of these ways.

Consider the following ways we may bring pests inside:

  • Clothing which has been stored away in the attic or in back of the closet is brought out of storage along with pests such as webbing clothes moths or roaches.
  • Students going off to school use stored suitcases which may contain pests such as spiders and centipedes. These pests will be delivered to the new residence.
  • Holiday materials are purchased or brought out for celebrations. Stores may have held these materials from the previous year, and pests such as mice or silverfish may be in them now.
  • Food and decorations are purchased for the holiday season and may be infested with pests such as grain moths, cigarette beetles or drugstore beetles.
  • Christmas trees brought in for the holidays may have pests such as aphids or mites associated with them.
  • Tropical plants are brought indoors to prevent damage from the cold, and often pests such as ants, roaches or flies are in the soil around the roots in the pot.
  • Pest such as large roaches, spiders and centipedes may hitchhike inside on wood brought in for the fire. The internal warmth activates those wanting to hatch or become active.

Pests aren’t shy about inviting themselves in either. Fall’s approach usually causes two conditions that encourage pests to come inside: 1) their food source becomes less available, and 2) temperature changes are not optimum for pests. Therefore, for survival, pests start looking for new sources of food and more comfortable places to live.

For example, rodents such as mice, rats and squirrels typically start moving inside with fall’s approach. Mice do not hibernate or have a resting stage of development, and therefore cold outside conditions make it difficult for them to survive. They can enter through openings as small as 1/4 inch, and once they are established inside they will probably stay even when the weather turns warm again. Unlike many rats, which need water daily, mice can go many months without water.

Spider types like the harvester, or daddy long legs (not a true spider), move in for better conditions. (Though it is not a pleasant experience to have one walking on you while you are reading or watching TV, it is a myth they are the most poisonous spider.) Ants which are living under slabs close to structures/houses will move in when soil temperature where they are living gets below freezing. (Usually these ants are not interested in food, just warmth, so ant baits do little to help in this situation.) Lady bugs enter underneath siding and through eaves to attics in the fall to hibernate or pupate. Short warm spells in the winter bring them out of rest. When their outside hunting at these times does not prove fruitful because few insects are out, they return to the warmth of structures.

The summer provides good conditions outside for pest populations to increase, and their survival instincts encourage them to come inside when these optimal conditions decline. It is important to beware of letting them get inside during the cold weather and then to prevent those already in from starting an infestation during this time of year.