When the weather turns colder there are a lot of small critters that would like to spend some time in your nice warm home. Most people however, would prefer that they remain outside in the natural environment, whether that means they will survive or not. The good news about the coming of colder weather is that some pests will actually cease to be a problem.
Insects that become problems in the home in the fall include cluster flies and house flies, box elder bugs, Asian lady beetles, spiders, leaf and stink bugs. Small animals such as mice, voles, rats, squirrels, chipmunks and snakes also look for warm homes come fall. Even the occasional larger animal such as skunks, raccoons and opossums may find their way inside attics, crawl spaces and garages.
One of the first things to do of course is to prevent small critters from ever getting into your home. That means sealing all cracks and crevices. You can use putty, expandable foam or various forms of weather stripping to plug holes. Pay special attention to cracks and holes in foundations and around doors.
To keep larger animals out make sure there are sturdy screens on any windows or vents, that there are no holes or open spots leading under crawl spaces. You should consider adding a chimney cover. Avoid storing pet food or wild bird seed where any critters can get to it. Having a food source close to the bedroom is ideal for any critter. Store such items in metal trash cans with tight fitting lids or another vermin proof container. Also store trash in containers pests can’t get into.
Insects in the home
Most insect entering the home in the fall are hard to kill with conventional insecticides and the last thing you should do is follow them around with a spray can. Insecticides sprayed inside a home closed up for winter are more harmful to you than the insects themselves. Pesticide residue gets on counters, tables, toys, windows, and other things and from there on your hands and into your body. Most of the fall insect pests don’t want to feed on you or your food; they are just looking for a warm place to sleep and pesticide use is overkill.
In the case of most insects the vacuum cleaner is your friend. Simply vacuum them up and empty the bag immediately outside (far from the house) or into a bucket of hot soapy water. You fill have to do this numerous times, but its harmless to you and your family. You might want to purchase an inexpensive hand vac to make it easy to suck up the invaders.
Cluster flies, which look like large houseflies and may congregate on the sides of light colored homes or inside on a window may be hard to vacuum. You can hang sticky fly paper strips near where they congregate and dispose of the strips as they fill up. An old fashioned fly swatter also works well. These pests are usually gone in about 2 weeks after the weather turns cold enough outside to freeze the ground. They do not breed in homes.
Keep food covered and clean up spills promptly in the case of houseflies. If they keep reappearing well into cold weather they are breeding somewhere in the house, something other insect pests, even cluster flies, don’t do. Look for decaying food, (maybe in a kids room), wet areas in the crawl space or basement, in the bottom of dirty hamster cages or other pet enclosures and the bottom of trash cans for maggots, which are the larvae that turn into flies. These must be cleaned up and the areas kept clean and dry. Hang sticky fly paper and use a fly swatter to get the adult flies.
Spiders should be tolerated in out of the way places such as crawl spaces and attics as they eat other pests. They are generally harmless inside too, but most people don’t appreciate them. Remove spider webs as soon as they appear and use a fly swatter to kill spiders you see.
Mice, rats and other rodents
Unlike insects, mice, rats, voles, chipmunks and other rodents can do considerable damage to the home and can carry diseases. You must work quickly to kill them because they do multiply inside. It’s senseless to live trap these pests and release them outside. They will immediately come back inside if you release them nearby and if you release them out into a natural area they generally become fast food for the current residents.
There are numerous styles of better mousetraps (and rat traps) on the market. Many feature designs that allow you to release the dead animal without having to touch it. Place the trap near where you see damage or have seen the pest. Peanut butter is great bait for all rodents. Place the traps where pets and kids won’t be harmed. You can put a trap under a milk crate which will keep pets out and allow mice and rats in.
Mice are generally trapped pretty quickly as they are curious and explore things in their environment. Chipmunks and squirrels are a little wary and they require a rat trap to kill them quickly. In the case of larger rodents the traps should be wired or chained to something so an injured animal doesn’t drag them off.
Rats are quite wary of new things in the environment and you may need to leave the trap up for a week or so before they are caught. Once you begin trapping mice and rats keep resetting the traps until you haven’t caught anything in two weeks. Place traps in several areas of the home and remember to check them each day.
Poison is the other method of destroying mice, rats and some other rodents. It generally doesn’t work well on squirrels. Poisons must be handled with extreme caution if there are pets or children in the home but they are very effective. Consider placing them in attics and crawl spaces if pets and children don’t get into those places. There are metal bait boxes which have locks that you can purchase but some kids and pets are adept at getting things out of the holes in the boxes that allow mice and rats in.
There may be some smell if poisoned rodents die in the attic or crawl space and occasionally a dying animal may wander into view. Just keep in mind that a big infestation of mice or rats will also cause a smell and could cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to wiring or other parts of the home. Never let pets eat or play with poisoned animals because secondary poisoning can occur.
Snakes sometimes enter basements to hibernate for the winter. They are more likely to enter through old stone foundations. Snakes are protected animals and valuable in the environment so they should not be killed, even if they are venomous. If you find the snakes early in the fall they can be taken a good distance from the home and released. After freezing temperatures have set in putting a snake outside will kill it. In many cases a nature center or zoo will take the reptiles until they can be released in the spring.
The vast majority of snakes that enter homes in the northern states for hibernation are not poisonous. You can sometimes catch snakes that are still active with glue traps that are sold for rats. Put them close to the wall and to a water source if there is one. To release the snake from the trap pour cooking oil on it. If you have snakes in the home you are afraid to deal with consider calling a professional animal control service.
Most large animals can be live trapped. While skunks may spend some time in deep winter sleep and not be attracted to bait once they enter that state, opossums and raccoons are ready to eat all year round. Skunks will often wake and become briefly active in mid spring during warm spells. The problem with live trapping is that you have to handle the animal and either release or dispose of it. You may want to contact an animal control company if you feel you can’t do this.
Sometimes animals can be encouraged to leave on their own. Noise, lights and frequent hassling will often cause them to leave. Do not use moth balls in an effort to get rid of them. Not only is this not effective but moth balls contaminate the soil and your home and can cause human and pet health problems when the vapors are inhaled. Ultrasonic devices are also ineffective so don’t waste your money on them.
Make sure to remove any source of food that large animals can get to; this may cause them to leave. And once the animals are gone make sure any openings they entered through are sealed up.
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