Expect invaders as weather gets colder

This post was written for Texas Extension specialists; however, the tips included are applicable to people in all states.

With temperatures dropping, many Texas residents likely will be getting some unwanted guests in their homes around the holidays, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service pest management experts.

“This time of year, squirrels, as well as raccoons, will try to make nests in attics,” said Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension program specialist in integrated pest management, Dallas. “Also several species of ants will nest in the walls of homes for warmth and protection.”

Hurley said another unwelcome guest people can expect to see more of as the weather turns colder is mice.

“Rodents can infest homes, threaten public health and destroy property,” Hurley said.

She said the common house mouse, for example, can eat or contaminate household foods, cause structural damage by building nests and gnawing on furniture and electrical wires, and can spread disease.

Hurley said exclusion is an effective means of reducing the threat of rodent-borne diseases, allergens and other health threats. To help exclude mice and other rodents from the home, she recommended:

— Seal gaps of 1⁄4 inch or more with steel wool or a foam sealant that expands. Fill large holes or cracks with concrete or stuff with an excluder cloth and seal them.

— Seal around water, gas, electrical and other pipes and conduits.

— Install brush-type or baffle-style door sweeps to seal exterior doors.

— Seal gaps around eaves and the frames of screens and louvers.

— Do not let trash, weeds or wood accumulate near or along exterior walls or doorways.

— Keep garbage cans covered and lids tightly closed.

— Store pet food off the floor and in airtight containers.

To control mice that have already entered the home, Hurley suggests using traps as opposed to poison baits.

“If there are young children or pets in the home, consider placing the traps inside locked box stations to avoid accidents,” Hurley said. “The use of poison baits should be a last resort and is best left to the professionals since there could be risk to children and pets.”

Anyone traveling during the holidays should be aware of the potential for picking up bed bugs, according to Dr. Mike Merchant, AgriLife Extension urban entomologist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown, oval-shaped insects that feed on human blood and are becoming more common in hotels and homes.

“Bed bugs are great at hitchhiking in luggage, and savvy travelers should know how to minimize their risk of bringing an unwelcome guest home from the holidays,” Merchant said.

He noted that while the risk of encountering these pests in your travels is relatively low, bringing a bed bug home is definitely not a good idea.

“Suffering a few bed bug bites while traveling is not pleasant, but it’s much worse to bring them home where they can proliferate,” he said.

Experts recommend avoiding setting luggage on or next to a bed or other upholstered furniture where bed bugs can easily stow away after feeding.

“This practice is an open invitation for bed bugs,” he said.  “Instead, put your stuff on the luggage rack away from the bed.”

“It’s just now starting to get close to freezing in the South Central Texas area, but in the next few weeks I expect to start getting calls about more insects coming indoors,” said Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension entomologist for Travis County. “The ones I’m most likely to be getting calls about will be cockroaches, spiders and scorpions.”

Brown said the most effective means of control is to exclude these and other critters from the home by way of sealing exterior holes or cracks as well as eaves and frames around doors and windows.

“And if you have any tall grass or weeds around your house, or any wood, compost or leaves near your exterior walls, now would be a good time to remove those so they don’t provide a warm nesting area from which they might then enter your home,” she said.

Brown said now might also be a good time to prune any trees or shrubs that touch or overhang the house.

“That way animals can’t use those as a bridge to enter the house,” she said.

For more information on insect identification, exclusion and control, go to http://communityipm.tamu.edu/ or http://bit.ly/1lFxrHi.

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