Spring Is Here
Spring. A time of rebirth, renewal, new life… and the resurgence of pests. We’re not the only ones enjoying the warming weather. The house mouse, house fly, and eastern subterranean termite are among the most troublesome pests to come with the changing of the seasons.
The house mouse is a commensal rodent; “commensal” is Latin for “sharing a meal” or “sharing a table” which is an apt description of their relationship with humans. House mice are small and delicate, light brown or gray with a white belly, with a body length of about three to four inches, minus the tail.
The house mouse might be cute for a pest, but it causes more problems than most people realize. Mice, like all animals, need food. When a mouse chews a hole in a cereal box and eats less than a teaspoon of your favorite sugar-coated flakes, do you really think that you’ll eat the rest? Of course not - most food loss from mice is not due to food being eaten; they contaminate way more food than they consume.
Mice, like all animals, also need to expel waste. Simply put, mice pee. A lot. We are talking about several hundred microdroplets of urine per day, and they are peeing constantly, everywhere they go. In addition, they also have to excrete waste in the form of solids, and they aren’t shy about leaving roughly sixty fecal pellets around your house during a single day’s excursion.
Aside from the gross factor of urine and feces, mice also transmit diseases. While most mouse-to-human diseases are mild and resolve on their own without medical intervention, mice can carry and transmit Salmonella which causes food poisoning, sometimes severe enough to be life-threatening.
Is your house attractive to a mouse? You might be inadvertently luring them to your home with a seed-based bird feeder. Consider moving the feeder further away from your house or getting rid of it entirely if you’re having issues with mice. Seal up any holes, cracks, or crevices that might allow them access. A general rule of thumb is if you can fit a pencil into a hole, then a mouse can squeeze through.
Photo credit: University of Florida
The house fly is one of the most reviled insects and has been ruining cookouts and picnics since the conception of cookouts and picnics. The house fly is rather unremarkable in appearance: it is a medium-sized, gray fly with four black stripes right behind the head. The eyes are dark red and the mouth resembles a plunger (essentially, it is a sponge on a stick). Their mouthparts have no chewing capability, so house flies must use liquid – namely saliva and regurgitated stomach contents – to break down solid foods into small enough particles to suck up. If a fly fed on some sewage before it fed on your hamburger, then you’re probably getting a dose of something gross (and potentially harmful).
Like house mice, house flies can also transmit Salmonella and cause food poisoning. They transmit at least 60 other diseases to humans as well. A few that come to mind are typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera, tuberculosis, and even leprosy.
Preventing flies from coming indoors is as easy as keeping your doors and windows shut. If you like open windows, ensure that you have window screens without any obvious holes.
Eastern subterranean termites
Photo credit: Hank Vaughn
Some things in life are certain: death, taxes, and subterranean termites feeding on unprotected homes in the southeastern United States. Infestation is really only a matter of “when” because of our humid and subtropical climate. Subterranean termites are everywhere and in numbers that would boggle the mind. That statement isn’t meant to strike fear into the hearts of homeowners. Termites provide a tremendously important ecological function – they recycle wood, breaking it down into nutrients that are usable by plants and animals. Around 2.2 billion dollars is spent annually on termite control in the United States alone, but if we had to assign a monetary value to the services that termites provide in nature, it would greatly exceed that cost.
Termites superficially resemble plump, white ants. Their pale bodies have a maggot-like coloration. The ancient Romans called them termes, which meant “wood worm.” The worker termites make up the majority of the colony and are the ones that look like small worms in the wood. The soldier termites have orange-colored, hardened heads with protruding mandibles, and their sole function is to protect the colony from predators, particularly ants. The swarmers are the dark-colored, winged termites which are sent off on mating flights to find love and a place to raise a new family.
Around this time of year, termite swarmers are out on their annual mating flights. Most homeowners only become aware of a termite infestation when they find swarmers in their house. Swarmers break off their wings after mating, so you may find piles of detached wings. If you find wings or swarmers, you should get your home inspected immediately. It’s always better to be proactive and protect your home before an infestation occurs. A termite inspection should occur annually and include both the inside and outside of your home.