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Keep Thanksgiving about the Harvest, not Harvester Ants

Thursday, November 07, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and as we look to gather around the table with loved ones and give thanks for all of the blessings we have received this year, we are reminded of what has made this all possible: gratitude and the yearly fall harvest. From decorations of cornucopias to the abundant feast itself, Thanksgiving is all about celebrating a successful harvest, whether it’s remembering the first miraculous harvest that would eventually spawn this tradition, or being reminded how lucky we are to be able to enjoy such a banquet with people we love. Though many of us do not do the harvesting ourselves, dedicated farmers’ hard work comes to fruition and provides us with fresh nutritious food that keeps us happy and healthy the whole winter through, something to truly be thankful for.

But farmers are not the only ones dedicating their days to harvesting, there is a much smaller, but still very committed, hard-worker, the harvester ant. These hearty ants spend their lives harvesting for seeds to feed their colony, so much so that this behavior became the epitome of what we think of when we think of them. So it is in honor of all of the successful harvests that this country has seen, and the hard work put into them that we take a look at the indigenous harvester ant.

Why are they Called Harvester Ants?

Harvester ants are one of the most aptly named ant species, as they get their common name from their food-gathering behavior. Given that their food of preference is seeds, this means that they are spending their days collecting, or harvesting, seeds (such as wild sunflower, Johnson grass, burr clover, alfalfa, and even small beans) for their meals. They will then store this harvest in their nest to be feasted on by the colony. If their preferred foods aren’t available these resourceful ants will harvest for dead insects instead of seeds, adding them to their food stores.

What do Harvester Ants Look Like?

With 22 species of harvester ant in the United States, and at least 10 of those found in Texas (the most common being the red harvester ant), there is a bit of variance in the physical appearance of the different species of ants. In general, they are either orange to red or brownish-black, the workers are 1/4” to 1/2” long with 6 legs and antennae, most species have a 2-segmented mid-section with a pair of spines on the top (except for red harvester ants which notably do not have spines), many have square heads, and most have long hairs on their head that form a sort of “beard”. The “beard” is utilized in excavating nests as a means to push material from the nest, sort of like a shovel or bulldozer. These large, robust ants are slow movers, cannot walk up slippery vertical surfaces (such as glass), and have mouthparts designed for chewing the seeds that form the primary part of their diet.

In addition to workers (up to 10,000 for some species), the colony will include a single queen, which can live upwards of 17 to 30 years (nearly half the life of the colony itself, which tends to survive for 14 to 50 years). And on a summer afternoon after a rain, the colony will release reproductive harvester ant swarmers to go about the task of mating and building new colonies, with the males dying shortly after mating and the females shedding their wings and digging a burrow to lay the eggs that will eventually become the worker ants of a new colony.

Though the ants do have a fairly specific look, the easiest way to spot a harvester ant is by its distinctive nest. They generally create large mounds, almost 4.5 feet in diameter at times, with barren vegetation surrounding the nest.

Where are Harvester Ants Found?

Though harvester ants are still considered a common Texas ant, they are not nearly as prevalent today as they were in the first part of the 20th century; this is largely due to repercussions from the influx of fire ants.

Geographically, harvester ants are primarily found west of the Mississippi river, though they are also found in Florida.

Outdoors, harvester ants make moderate to large mounds (depending on the species) in flat, open, and sparsely shaded areas or dry, sandy or hard soil, and will strip a large area (3 to 6 foot circle) of vegetation surrounding their nest to prevent shading. They will also strip the vegetation along their foraging trails that radiate out from their nest. The nest can be up to 3 feet deep and generally has 1 central entrance with small pebbles, charcoal, or bits of dead vegetation on the surface of the mound, particularly around the opening. Often, colonies are widely separated; however, in cases of heavy infestation, there can be multiple nests in closer proximity to each other (as many as 80 or more nests per hectare). These ants have such a strong preference for nest location that they are known to move the entire mound if there is a change in climate or a drastic increase in shade.

Harvester ants are rarely found Indoors; they are not known to invade homes or structures, so if they are seen indoors it is generally in very small numbers as they have simply gotten lost; they are not foraging or looking to set up a colony indoors like other ant species.

Are Harvester Ants Dangerous?

The short answer is “Yes, harvester ants can be dangerous.” Not only do these ants possess a nasty sting, they have the added negative of potentially causing costly damage to yards and rangeland.

Though these ants are not considered as aggressive as fire ants, they can become aggressive, and will most certainly bite or sting anything that disturbs their nest, potentially even killing the offending animal. Their painful, and poisonous, sting is known to last longer than the stings of other ants and spread along lymph channels, potentially becoming medically serious. This is in addition to the possibility of the sting causing a serious allergic reaction, especially in those who are more susceptible to insect-sting allergies. Even if you do not get stung by these ants, they are known to be vicious biters.

Fortunately, the ants are large and their mounds are fairly obvious, so avoiding contact with them is significantly easier than it is with ants like fire ants. Unfortunately, because their mounds are large and they not only harvest seeds from the nearby vegetation, they also clear a significant area of vegetation around their mound itself, they can cause considerable damage to ornamental lawns and home gardens, and in large numbers can damage pasture and range land, reducing yield.

How do you Eliminate Harvester Ants?

Once you have determined that you are facing a harvester ant issue, the best thing to do is call The Bug Dude at Mid-Cities Pest Control, Inc. and get one of our certified pest control technicians to take care of the problem. Not only do we know the best time to treat the ants, we will also be best able to choose the most effective product and dosage amount to eliminate the colony that is causing you an issue without over-treating; this is of particular importance for red harvester ants which are a primary food source for the Texas horned lizard, a protected species. Due to this connection with the Texas horned lizard, the harvester ant should ideally only be treated for minimally and only in cases where they are a danger to person or property, which is again why it is so important for these ants to be evaluated and treated by a professional, and not using DIY methods.

How can you Prevent Harvester Ants?

Since harvester ants are not an indoor pest, there are very few preventative measures that can be taken to keep them from becoming an issue as it’s much more difficult to deter a pest from enter your yard than it is your home. The two biggest preventative measures you can take are:

  • Keep sources of seeds (such as gardens or bird feeders) to a minimum
  • Make your yard less hospitable by increasing shade cover

            This Thanksgiving, if you see harvester ants trying to get in on the holiday celebrations, don’t wait until they have decimated a large portion of your yard, call Mid-Cities Pest Control at 817-354-5350 and get a licensed technician to evaluate the issue and go over the best course of action to keep your harvest celebration intact.

Additional Resources:

“Harvester Ants” – PestWorld.org

“Red Harvester Ant” – Field Guide to Common Insects – Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

“ANTS, WASPS, AND BEES (Hymenoptera)” – Roger D. Akre, Hal C. Reed, in Medical and Veterinary Entomology, 2002

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

A Halloween Ghost (Ant) Story

Thursday, October 10, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

It was a night much like this one, still and quiet except for the rustling of leaves from the first true breezes of fall. A glassy sheen leaned in through fluttering window curtains as the light of a nearly full moon casts broken shadows across the rooms where a family lay in peaceful slumber, blissfully unaware of what was creeping ever closer.

Silently, the unknown presence moved through the family’s home, chaotically searching for what it needed, ever-growing, its numbers dwarfing that of the family still asleep upstairs. If there had been a noise, a squeak, a groan, anything to alert to the family to the invasion that was taking place, they may have stood a chance, may not have been woken so terribly from dreams so sweet, but the creatures moving through the home, through the walls themselves were chillingly noiseless.

So the night passed with the creatures amassing a horde of untold numbers.

The next morning, in the time just before dawn, when the sky is still murky and the world hasn’t yet taken its proper shape, the youngest child creeps from their bed and steals downstairs alone. Their heart is racing from the thrill of sneaking through the empty halls, racing past any open doors till they get to the kitchen. Holding their breath, they hear their pulse hammering in their ears as they drop down and peer around the corner, hoping they are alone, terrified they are about to be caught. A loud “caw” from a crow on the patio sends them tumbling to the floor, heart nearly exploding with its frantic pace. But the emptiness of the kitchen has been verified; or so it seems.

Tiptoeing to the counter, they see the treasures they had sneaked down for: Halloween treats of all shapes and sizes. They open the container with a flinch as its plastic crackles in the stillness of the heavy morning air. Keeping surveillance on the room around them, they reach a hand in and grab the sugar cookie they had had their eye on since last night. Without looking, they bring the cookie up to their mouth, but before teeth can sink in, they catch a glimmer of movement out of the corner of their eye. They look all around, but no one is there. The hairs on the back of their neck stand up as they know that something is moving all around them, something they just can’t see. Inching away from the kitchen, they bring the cookie up to their mouth again. And that’s when they see it. The movement is coming from the cookie itself. Their heart stops. Suddenly there is a glint of movement by the sink, and on the wall next to their head; the whole kitchen seems to be undulating in the dim gray light. They throw the sugar cookie down and scream, running full-tilt up the stairs and away from the possessed kitchen.

As parents and siblings are roused to soothe the terrified child, the moving creatures, hundreds of tiny ghost ants that have built their nest in the cracks of the kitchen, gather around the discarded cookie, continuing the task of foraging it for food for the ever-expanding colony.

Why are they Called Ghost Ants?

Unlike the “zombie ant,” another classic Halloween-appropriate ant species, the ghost ant doesn’t get its common name from any trauma or behavioral characteristic; instead, it received a spooky name simply because of its semi-translucent and spectre-like appearance, which make it difficult to see, like a ghost.

What do Ghost Ants Look Like?

Ghost ants are extremely small, around 1/16” long, and the workers are monomorphic (they are all the same size). They have a dark brown head & thorax with a pale, nearly translucent, yellow/white abdomen, antennae, and legs. When their colony is disturbed they tend to move in rapid, erratic movements, though they can sometimes be found in the more orderly and linear trail common to other ant species.

Where are Ghost Ants Found?

Geographically, ghost ants are found primarily in warm regions, originating in the old world tropics of Asia or Africa, and spreading from there to places like Hawaii, the Caribbean islands, Florida, Texas, and various tropical areas around the world. Though they prefer warm climates, they have made their way as far north as Canada by sticking to indoor locations, particularly greenhouses.

Outdoors, ghost ants tend to make their nests in protected places in the soil, in crevices of dead tree branches, under stones, in leaf piles/debris, in/under logs, in flowerpots, and under loose tree bark.

Indoors, ghost ants will nest in just about any protected cavity they can find, such as cracks, spaces between books, wall voids, behind baseboards, between cabinets, and in the soil of potted plants. Given the inconspicuous choices of nesting sites, you might be more likely to encounter the ghost ants when they forage or trail to water sources; though, these tiny ants will often live up to their haunting name by keeping themselves hidden from view while on their expeditions by trailing under carpet edges and along electrical wires within wall voids.

What do Ghost Ants Eat?

In nature, ghost ants prefer a diet of the honeydew that aphids make, and will also consume other insects. When they are interacting with people, however, they are just like kids at Halloween, and prefer to feast on sweet foods (in the case of ghost ants this would consist of cereals, sweet cakes, syrup, and raw sugar). Yet, though they prefer sweet foods, they will also consume foods high in protein or grease; so virtually any food in your kitchen is a potential meal for a ghost ant.

Are Ghost Ants Dangerous?

On an individual level, ghost ants are not dangerous. They do not sting and very rarely bite. Their bite, if you were to encounter it, would likely go completely unnoticed as it would be extremely rare to cause any discomfort or pain, and it carries no health risks.

The primary concern around the safety of a ghost ant infestation is due to the numbers of ants that can join together in giant nest sites of thousands, or even millions of individual ants; they are an ant species known for being able to redistribute themselves quickly and having no issue with overlapping colonies. Not only is there a significant risk that these populous ants will contaminate food in your home, which could at best cost you the price of replacing the food, and at worst cause illness for you and your family, but there is also an ecological concern at play (as with most invasive species) that as their numbers grow, they drive away local species, which can adversely affect the balance of the ecosystem.

How do you Kill Ghost Ants?

If you have ever killed a ghost ant by squishing it, you almost certainly noticed the pungent odor that was emitted upon its death. Much like Odorous House Ants, ghost ants give off a coconut-like odor when crushed. This odor has led to the ants being called by a different name in Malaysia: “Corpse Ant,” another fitting Halloween moniker. Not that killing ants by hand via squishing would ever be the #1 recommended method, but in this case, you would particularly want to avoid doing it at all, or else end up stuck with an otherworldly odor.

Much like their namesake, ghost ants are difficult to exorcise from a home once they have possessed it. Part of the reason for the difficulty is that their colonies contain multiple queens, so when a contact insecticide is used, the highly mobile colony can simply move to a new area and suffer no long-term ill effects. As with most ants, the most effective method of treatment is via the use of targeted ant baits; however, with the diminutive size of these ants, it’s especially important to get the correct dosage and type of bait if you are to succeed in eliminating the entire colony, and not just the foraging ants. It’s also particularly important to know where to place the bait, since ghost ants are such good hiders and have erratic foraging behavior, this can be particularly tricky, and is where training and years of experience definitely pay off.

If you think you have a ghost ant infestation, the best way to get it eliminated is to have a licensed pest control technician out to evaluate and treat using targeted products designed to exorcise even these spooky pests from your property.

How can you Prevent Ghost Ants?

Given the difficulties in eliminating a ghost ant colony once one has been established, it’s highly recommended to invest in a bit of preventative efforts to keep your home from becoming haunted.

  • Keep shrubbery and tree branches trimmed away from your home
  • Eliminate any leaf litter and yard debris around your home
  • Store firewood or piles of bricks at least 20’ from your home
  • Keep mulch (in landscaping) 12” from foundation and less than 2” thick
  • Make sure your sprinklers don’t directly spray the foundation
  • Remove any moisture sources from around your home
  • Seal up any exterior cracks on your home
  • Stay vigilant and if you suspect ghost ant activity, do an inspection
    • Inside: check all plumbing areas (sinks, toilets, tubs, etc.), carpet edges, around windows & doors, & electrical outlets (especially in the kitchen & bathroom)
    • Outside: check along foundation walls & sidewalks, turn over any stones, bricks, logs, debris, etc. on the ground

Don’t let this Halloween become a stressful story of ghost ant haunting; if you think you are having a pest problem, call Mid-Cities Pest Control to help you get it eliminated quickly so you can get back to the fun of costumes, decorations, pumpkin carving, and bone-chilling frights, and make the only ghosts on your mind the spectral visages that dominate this holiday season.

Additional Resources:

“Ghost Ant, Tapinoma melanocephalum” – Urban and Structural Entomology Program at Texas A&M University

“Ghost Ant” – Texas Invasive Species Institute

“Ghost Ants” – PestWorld.org

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

Don’t let Crazy Ants add to the Craziness of Back to School Season

Tuesday, August 06, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

August has arrived, bringing with it the sure sign that summer festivities are coming to their close: Back to School season. Though the heat and humidity of summer are still firmly entrenched for at least another month, the relaxed summer vibe of vacations and time off from responsibilities is rapidly giving way to a hectic shopping frenzy as families rush to prepare for the next school year. Go into any major store in August and you can’t miss their Back to School section, which is virtually guaranteed to be constantly teeming with adults and children erratically making their way through the array of school supplies set out before them. And if your brave enough to venture into one of these stores over tax free weekend you are sure to encounter a crowd so dense it’s almost intimidating. It’s the time of year where you are likely to describe your days as “crazy” as you try to get everything ready for the coming year.

But your days aren’t the only “crazy” things propagating this summer, and the Back to School crowds can’t hold a candle to the erratic movements and dense numbers of the crazy ants that are invading Texas.

Crazy ants aren’t a new species of ant for Texas; they’ve been in the U.S. for over 80 years and the Tawny Crazy Ant was recognized as a unique ant type within the U.S. in 2002, but they haven’t yet reached the household recognizability of the infamous fire ants or carpenter ants, at least not until you have experienced a crazy ant infestation firsthand. Since they are an invasive species, having originated in South America, and have no natural predators in the U.S., their colony sizes can grow to overwhelming size, dwarfing the colonies of other ant species that have become household names. If you think that wrangling children through the maze of Back to School supplies while navigating their disappointment at the impending end of summer break has made your life hectic, imagine adding a house full of ants with a penchant for getting inside electronics to the mix, and see just how crazy the last month of summer could become.

In the spirit of Back to School, here is Crazy Ants 101 with everything you need to know about these prolific pests.

Why are they called crazy ants?

They are called crazy ants because they move in a rapid and erratic fashion and do not follow trails, unlike most ants which are very orderly in their movements.

What do crazy ants look like?

When we refer to crazy ants in Texas, we are usually referring to the Tawny Crazy Ant. There are several different species of crazy ant worldwide, but this is the one that is proliferating in the U.S. at the moment.

They are small, about 1/8” long, are uniform in size, have long, coarse hairs on their body, and are reddish brown (including their legs and long antennae). They are often found in mass groups so large they don’t even look like ants (more closely resembling dirt) until you get close enough to see them moving and spot individual ants.

Are crazy ants dangerous?

Since crazy ants are an invasive species and have only recently been studied in the U.S. their full impact hasn’t yet been determined. They are not directly harmful to humans; though they can bite you, the pain is very minimal and fades quickly. However, due to their extreme numbers and erratic movements, they can be extremely stressful to be around and can make you feel like you are the one going “crazy”. They can also cause significant damage within our homes as well as to livestock and wildlife.

When crazy ants get indoors, they are often drawn to electrical equipment and have been known to render these appliances and electronics inoperable due to their large quantities shorting out the circuits.

Where they are native, they are known to have caused the death of small livestock animals (by asphyxia) and to have attacked larger livestock around the eyes and nose, sometimes blinding them.

Perhaps most telling is that crazy ants are actually displacing fire ants (and most people want the fire ants back). Crazy ants produce an acidic chemical that they rub on themselves as an antidote to fire ant venom and that they can spray at other insects/animals as a weapon to defeat any competitors that might otherwise have kept their populations in check. Though many people would be happy to be free from fire ants, there are ecological consequences, and crazy ants are a frustrating alternative to their much easier to treat counterpart.

How do crazy ant colonies spread?

Unlike a great many ants that create new queens to spread their wings in the spring and take to the air to establish new colonies, crazy ants do not fly, so their spread across the U.S. is happening due to people transporting them unintentionally in materials like abandoned boxes, cars, and potted plants.

Signs of a crazy ant infestation:

Since crazy ants are known for their giant populations, the first, and possibly only, sign you will probably see of an infestation are the ants themselves, often in sizable groups.

Crazy ant prevention and treatment:

Crazy ants are notoriously difficult to get full control over, and are not possible to self-treat for. There aren’t any effective over-the-counter products available to consumers at this time. However, there are several products a licensed pest control professional can use to eliminate the ant population. The sooner you get the infestation treated, the more likely you are to see success with fewer treatments for the ants. When a population has grown to enormous proportions it becomes difficult to kill every last ant with just one treatment, and if there are some ants left alive, they will rapidly begin to rebuild their colony and cause there to be a need for another treatment to eliminate them.

Due to their enormous colonies, you are likely to see large piles of dead ants after your treatment; it’s important to sweep or vacuum up these dead ants so that the crazy ants can’t use the dead ants as a sort of bridge over any products that were put down to eliminate them.

Due to the erratic nature of crazy ants and their habit of not tending to building traditional nests/piles like most other ants, there is not much to be done for prevention. However, it’s always helpful to keep the following tips in mind to control ant populations, and they will assist in the battle against these insanity-inducing ants:

  • Remove all harborage areas: fallen tree limbs, rocks, leaf litter, and anything on the ground that isn’t truly needed.
  • Reduce humid/wet conditions in and around your home: reduce irrigation, repair any leaks, improve drainage, etc.
  • Seal any cracks/crevices around foundation, windows, and doors.

This year, don’t let your August be made any crazier than it has to be; put your new knowledge to use and call us out at the first signs of a possible crazy ant infestation.

Additional References:

“The Rise of the Crazy Ants” – Dina Fine Maron – Scientific American

“Tawny (Rasberry) Crazy Ant, Nylanderia fulva” – Urban and Structural Entomology Program at Texas A&M University

“There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants'” – Joe Mooallem – The New York Times

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

The Truth about Five Common Termite Myths

Tuesday, April 09, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

It’s that time of year again. Spring has arrived bringing with it warm weather, rain, and humidity. And though this combination makes our trees, grass, and flowers look gorgeous, it is also a perfect recipe for the start of termite season. When the weather hits just right, you can expect to see swarms of winged termites on the wind, which is why they are such a popular topic of discussion every April. Last year we brought you a Termite 101, which let you know all the basics of termite behavior, damage, and treatment. But as with anything that can cause significant damage, there is always extra anxiety, which brings with it a whole host of accompanying fables and misconceptions. So this year we’re going to go over five of the most common termite myths and let you know what is fact and what is fiction…and what is somewhere in between.

 

 

Myth #1: If you see a winged ant-like bug in your home this time of year it can only be a termite.

 

This is definitely one of the biggest misconceptions that we regularly encounter. Though termites are extremely common in April, the mix of warm weather and humidity are also excellent conditions for the arrival of a wide array of pests, including carpenter ant and fire ant swarmers, which are easy to mistake for termite swarmers to the untrained eye. If you take a look at our articles on termites and carpenter ants you can get a better idea of exactly what it is you are looking at, and what you can expect in terms of potential damage as well as treatment options. However, no matter what the pest turns out to be, when you start seeing swarmers (winged ant-like insects), the best course of action is to have a termite technician out to evaluate the situation; it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

 

 

Myth #2: If I don’t get termites treated the minute I see them they will destroy my house.

 

This is one of those myths that is based somewhere in between fact and fiction. Though termites will do extensive damage to a home if left untreated, they’re not about to make the structure collapse overnight. This means that you have time to get a technician out there to evaluate the situation, give you treatment options, and then arrange to get it treated; as long as this is done in a reasonable time frame, there’s no need to add stress to an already stressful situation by worrying about every minute that passes. It is true that a quick response is key to mitigating damage, but remember that by the time you see termite swarmers, the colony has already been doing damage for several years, so a few days will not make any significant difference.

 

 

Myth #3: The signs of a termite infestation are obvious.

 

Unfortunately, other than termite swarmers, the signs of an infestation can be very easy to miss. Unlike carpenter ants, which will leave noticeable piles of wood shavings (called frass) when the colony has grown to a sufficient size, termites generally do not leave telltale external signs that they are in your home. The only sign, other than swarmers, that you are likely to encounter are mud tubes, which are basically covered pathways the termites use for transportation. However, these tubes are generally camouflaged against the foundation of your home, making them very difficult to detect unless you know exactly what you are looking for. The only other time you are likely to find out you have an infestation, other than when a termite technician is out at your house and identifies the signs, is when you are doing home repairs or remodeling and discover the wood damage, or the actual termites themselves, in your open walls.

 

 

Myth #4: One termite treatment will last the life of your house.

 

It’s true that termite treatments are designed to last longer than your average pest control service, but they certainly don’t last forever, nor would you want them to. The idea of never having termites again may sound appealing, but the ecological impact of using a pesticide with that long of a life would be disastrous. Ultimately, termites are a part of life, which means that it is impossible to give a 100% guarantee that termites will never return to a structure. Though a professional termite treatment will eradicate the current infestation, termites are prolific and since pesticides can only last so long while still being safe to be used around you and your family, there is always a chance a new colony could find its way to your home in the future. Fortunately, most professional termite treatments come with a warranty and regular inspections, which will aid in keeping your home free from termites, and will give you peace of mind knowing that if they come back, they can be detected early and treated before extensive damage is done.

 

 

Myth number 5: I can save money if I just treat termites myself.

 

When it comes to termites there is no good over-the-counter option. The products needed to treat a termite infestation are significantly stronger than what is safe for use without a license. Additionally, termite treatments involve much more than simply spraying a product around your home. A qualified technician not only needs to assess the source of the infestation, but they will often need to trench, rod, drill and inject in the right areas (usually exterior and interior) in order to eliminate and control the issue. In the end, by attempting to save money up front and treat for termites yourself, you’re almost certain to end up costing yourself much more in the long run when termites do extensive damage to your home because they were not correctly treated and eliminated.

 

 

When it comes to dealing with something as significant and potentially costly as a termite infestation, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with and be able to understand fact from fiction. And if you’re ever in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and call a trusted pest control company to ask for advice rather than simply believing the termite myths that have a way of proliferating. So as spring arrives, know that the staff at Mid-Cities Pest Control are ready and waiting for all of your termite questions.

 

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

The Truth about the Big, Bumbling Bugs: Crane Flies

Monday, March 18, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

There’s a saying that “everything is bigger in Texas,” and it generally holds true, from the size of the trucks we drive to the size of the pests that lurk in our homes. So it’s no wonder that when you see an insect that looks like a giant mosquito with long, spindly legs, your first reaction would be to assume it’s a Texas-sized mosquito. After all, these pests seem to be just as annoying as their smaller counterpart, constantly invading your space and making it impossible to relax when they are around.

But if you pay attention to these ungainly insects you would quickly realize that they don’t bite, and if you asked around about them you might hear them called “mosquito hawks,” a moniker that implies that the insect is indeed a predator of the hated mosquito. It may then seem tempting to endure the annoyance of these pests at your next outdoor event if it meant a reduction in the mosquito population. Unfortunately, as you would quickly find out, this nickname is little more than wishful thinking, as adult crane flies are not predators (of mosquitoes or anything else). This doesn’t mean, however, that crane flies can’t make themselves into a stress-inducing nuisance, especially in the late winter and early spring when the adults are most active.

Picture this: it’s a beautiful March evening, the air has just the right amount of crispness to it as you come home from work and walk up to your front door where you are greeted by several large, awkward insects flying lazily in your path. You’re familiar enough with them to know that they won’t hurt you, so you breeze past them and into your home, not even realizing that you brought several crane flies in alongside you. The sun is beginning to set so you get right to work starting to cook dinner; you’re keeping it simple tonight: spaghetti and meatballs. As the water for the pasta begins to warm up you notice an insect clumsily hovering around the kitchen floor. You roll your eyes and continue dinner prep. A few minutes later, that same insect is now eye-level and heading straight for the light above your stove. You flick it away with the wave of your wrist and grab the pasta to throw it into the water, sighing under your breath as you hear the crane fly make a light clinking sound as it bumps its way along the stove hood. Now that the pasta is in the water you turn your attention to the insect just in time to see it hit the stove light bulb and come crashing down into your simmering spaghetti sauce, its long legs sinking down slowly into what was supposed to be dinner. With a huff, you toss the bug-laden sauce and begin again. As you slide the new pot of sauce onto the burner you catch another crane fly invading your kitchen space. After a moment, you out-maneuver the bug and catch it, releasing it a moment later out your sliding door. Then, just as you turn back to your food, you watch, horror-struck, as another crane fly bounces its way to the stove light and falls, this time into the boiling water with its nearly-cooked pasta. And, as if in spite, as you stare down at the bubbling water which has now fully consumed the insect, another one flies into the wall next to you, grazing your cheek on its way and making you jump. This propels you into action, hunting down each crane fly that managed to find its way indoors. When the house is finally free from these pests you head back to the kitchen and for the third time tonight, you begin dinner prep, all the while on high alert for any sign of flying pests. A little while later, after food has been served and enjoyed, you hear a soft clink and see yet another crane fly bumbling around; with the evening’s stress pouring over you smash the insect and grumble that you are calling pest control in the morning before you go insane.

 

But what exactly are crane flies and what can you do to keep them from adding unnecessary stress to your life?

What do crane flies look like?

Crane flies are a large fly with a narrow body about one inch long, six spindly legs which can be twice the length of the body, and two long, slender wings; overall, they look like a large mosquito on stilts. They are generally black, red, or yellow depending on the species.

Are crane flies dangerous?

Adult crane flies are completely harmless; in fact, many species don’t eat anything at all as adults, and the species that do feed rely solely on nectar for their meals.

When are crane flies active?

You are most likely to see active adult crane flies in Texas in late winter and early spring, just before mosquito season hits. Large populations are likely to emerge around a particularly wet winter/spring.

Should I be concerned if I see a lot of crane flies?

Fortunately, the crane flies most often found in Texas are not one of the species known for damaging turfgrass larvae. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the adult crane flies buzzing and bouncing around your home any less troublesome to your peace of mind. It is no small feat to fall asleep, cook a meal, or just relax with these large insects disrupting the sanctuary of your home.

What can I do to prevent crane flies?

The best thing to do to prevent a crane fly issue is to keep good care of your lawn by practicing good irrigation habits, including not over-watering, and to remove any excess debris in your yard; this will make your yard less hospitable for crane fly larvae.

How can I get rid of crane flies?

If you are being inundated with these oversized insects, don’t prolong the headache and suffering, call to get a pest control technician out to your home to help you create and enact a plan to eliminate the pests.

With the first official day of spring just around the corner, expect to see hoards of adult crane flies emerging and taking to the wind, invariably finding themselves at your front door, and then as an uninvited and unwanted occupant of your home. And as with any pest, early detection and treatment is key to controlling the issue and keeping your stress levels down

(And yes, that crane fly scenario did actually happen to me, and I do consider them my most aggravating nuisance pest in Texas)

Additional References:

“‘Mosquito Hawks’ in Your House?” – Karey Windbiel-Rojas (& Andrew Mason Sutherland) – Pests in the Urban Landscape

“Mosquito Hawk? Skeeter Eater? Giant Mosquito? No, No, and No” – Leslie Mertz – Entomology Today

“Crane flies, not mosquitoes” – Mike Merchant – Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

A “Kiss” to Avoid this Valentine’s Day

Thursday, February 21, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

The season of love

Fills our days with sweet things,

Like chocolates, and flowers,

And big diamond rings.

And with all the romance

A kiss seems just right,

But be careful it doesn’t

Come from a bug in the night.

The Kissing Bug’s name

Might seem tender and sweet,

But its kiss can be deadly,

A fate no one should meet.

Their kiss is a bite,

Not loving at all,

And they hide in your home,

Prepared for nightfall.

And when they attack

You won’t feel a thing,

But you won’t like the damage

These little bugs bring.

While you are showering

You loved ones with care,

Make sure the only kissing

Is the one from your pair.

Fast Facts About Kissing Bugs:

  • Size: they range from .75” to 1.25” long
  • Appearance: slightly flat teardrop body, dark colored often with a band of orange or red markings around the ends of its body, cone shaped head, and long, uniformly thin legs
  • Geographical Location: within the U.S. there have been documented sightings in the entire southern half of the country, with the greatest density being found in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona; Chagas disease became a reportable disease in Texas in 2013 (meaning doctors are required to report incidences when they occur) and saw a significant number of cases in 2016
  • Diet: they feed on the blood of a variety of animals including wild mammals, domestic dogs, and humans (they get their name from their habit of biting humans around the mouth & eyes)
  • Habitat: they are often attracted to heat and carbon dioxide, which are indicators of potential blood meal sources; they are also drawn toward lights
    • Indoors: in cracks and holes within homes and especially in and around beds/bedrooms particularly under or near mattresses or night stands, and near pet resting areas
    • Outdoors: dog kennels, under porches, under cement, in rock/wood/brush piles, in animal burrows, and in rodent nests
  • Active Times: nighttime
  • Dangers: they are a vector for Chagas Disease, with approximately half of the population of kissing bugs being infected with the Chagas parasite
  • Chagas Disease:
    • Transmission: the Chagas parasite is transmitted when a Kissing Bug bites a host and then defecates near that bite or when a dog consumes an infected Kissing Bug
    • Symptoms in Humans: there are 2 phases of Chagas disease in humans, the acute phase and the chronic phase
      • Acute Phase: lasts for a few weeks or months with symptoms including fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting; not everyone infected will develop the acute disease
      • Chronic Phase: includes cardiac complications (i.e. enlarged heart, heart failure, altered heart rate, cardiac arrest, and death) and/or intestinal complications (i.e. enlarged esophagus or colon, causing digestive difficulties) which may only become apparent decades after the initial infection; approximately 30% of people infected with the parasite are at risk of developing the chronic disease
    • Symptoms in Dogs: many dogs may be asymptomatic after infection, but for some it can cause severe heart disease and death
    • Treatment: there are currently no readily available treatment options in the United States (the anti-parasitic medications are only available through the CDC, and is only applicable for the acute phase) and there is no vaccine for Chagas disease
  • If you see a Kissing Bug: never touch it with your bare hand and thoroughly clean all surfaces the bug came into contact with using a bleach solution

Kissing Bug Control:

If a Kissing Bug infestation is suspected, contact a pest control company to evaluate the situation and treat accordingly. The pest control products needed to deter and kill Kissing Bugs should only be applied by a licensed pest control technician; baits, such as roach motels, are not effective against Kissing Bugs.

Kissing Bug Prevention:

  • Seal any gaps or cracks around entryways (windows & doors), at walls and roofs, and any that lead into the attic or crawl space
  • Remove any wood/brush/rock piles near your home
  • Always use fully intact screens on windows, doors, and attic/crawl space vents
  • Do not use nighttime lights close to your home if possible; if nighttime lights are needed use lights designed not to attract bugs
  • Have pets sleep indoors at night
  • Keep kennels clean and periodically check for bugs
  • Caulk around opening for plumbing, cables, utility lines, etc.
  • Repair any cracks in the foundation
  • Utilize fully intact weather stripping

Don’t let the innocent-sounding moniker fool you, Kissing Bugs are not a pest to be taken lightly. With the high potential for spreading a dangerous disease, these pests have a “kiss” you will want to invest in avoiding this Valentine’s Day.

Additional References:

Kissing Bugs & Chagas Disease in the United States – Agriculture & Life Sciences & Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University

Texas Chagas Taskforce Tackles Kissing Bug Disease – Wendy Rigby – Texas Public Radio

Parasites – American Trypanosomiasis (also known as Chagas Disease) – Centers for Disease Control

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

Don’t let Spiders Ensnare Your New Year

Monday, January 07, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

Christmas has come and gone and we have officially moved into 2019. It’s time to start putting up decorations and preparing homes for cozy evenings spent indoors as long nights and winter weather settle into Texas. But don’t let the chill in the air trick you into thinking that bugs have all gone dormant. Though it’s true that many pests are inactive this month (in fact, now is the perfect time to protect your trees and shrubs from damaging pests that will resume activity in spring and summer; see our May Blog for more on this), there are plenty that can wreak havoc in your home on a peaceful winter night.

Perhaps the most plentiful of these pests are spiders. With over 900 different species of spiders in Texas, it’s safe to say that they are a pest you will regularly encounter. And though some species are simply nuisances, building webs in seldom used areas in our homes, some carry significant danger to anyone on the wrong side of their bite. So as you venture into attics, crawlspaces, closets, and other out-of-the-way places in your home to put up your Christmas decorations, it’s important to be aware of the hidden danger spiders can pose and take steps to minimize the risk of starting off the new year with a trip to the doctor.

The three spiders that tend to garner the most attention in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are brown recluse spiders, black widow spiders, and wolf spiders. In order to best keep yourself safe from these lurking pests, it’s important to learn a bit more about them so you can spot the danger before you feel the bite.

 

Fast Facts About Brown Recluse Spiders:

  • Size: its thin legs extend over an area about the size of a quarter to half-dollar
  • Appearance: golden-brown color with a dark violin shaped marking on its back between the eyes and the abdomen
  • Habitat: in and around buildings in warm, dry places, especially in areas that are rarely disturbed
  • Active Times: most active at night and during the spring
  • Dangers: its venom causes decay and death of tissue around the bite
  • How to Avoid: shake out shoes before putting them on, wear gloves when cleaning an area with a lot of cobwebs or where you can’t fully visually inspect
  • If you see one: try not to disturb it; it will generally only bite when trapped, disturbed or threatened
  • If you are bitten: seek medical help

 

Fast Facts About Black Widow Spiders:

  • Size: female’s body length is about 3/8”; male’s body length is about 3/16”
  • Appearance: females are shiny and black with a red hourglass pattern on the underside of its abdomen; males are brown and nondescript
  • Habitat: protected outdoor spaces such as portable toilets and unused sheds, as well as inside buildings in warm, dry places
  • Dangers: venom of the female spiders causes intense pain within a few hours of biting; the pain is generally in the abdomen and back and can last up to 48 hours; males are not dangerous to humans
  • How to Avoid: shake out any shoes or gloves kept in storage areas before putting them on, and wear gloves when handling wood piles, mulch, etc.
  • If you see one: try not to disturb it; it will generally only bite when trapped, disturbed or threatened
  • If you are bitten: seek medical help, especially if the person bitten is a child, elderly, or has pre-existing health issues

 

Fast Facts About Wolf Spiders:

  • Size: 1/2” to 2 inches long
  • Appearance: hairy and varies from orange-brown to gray and black with a mottled, almost camouflage appearance; it has 2 tiny arm-like appendages in the front of its body in addition to its standard 8 legs
  • Habitat: generally found outdoors in open, grassy areas, or inside around doors, windows, and in garages, but they can be found anywhere there are insects to feed upon.
  • Dangers: as with any spider bite there is a possibility of an allergic reaction, but the bite itself is not inherently dangerous, though it can be painful and feel much like a bee sting
  • If you see one: DO NOT SQUISH IT! If it’s a female, it carries its eggs on its back and when you squish it, you will release those eggs, causing you to now have hundreds of wolf spiders in your home to contend with. And try not to disturb it; it will generally only bite when trapped, disturbed or threatened

 

 

Spider Prevention:

  • Reduce the food source for the spiders; aka eliminate other insects from inside and around your home
    • Reduce bright outdoor lighting
    • Be on a regular pest control service plan
  • Trim weeds, grass, and shrubs around buildings
  • Seal/caulk openings, cracks, gaps, etc.
  • Remove any webs and egg sacs when found
  • Reduce clutter which can be harborage areas, especially in undisturbed areas
  • Use glueboards to catch and remove spiders, especially wolf spiders
  • Keep the home cleaned, vacuumed, and dusted

 

This year, as you wrap up Christmas celebrations and start in on your New Year’s resolutions, consider adding regular pest control to your list and keep yourself safe from lurking spiders.

 

Additional References:

“Spiders and Their Kin” – Texas Parks & Wildlife

“Venomous Spiders in Texas: Which Two Species to Look Out For” – Jenny Webster Jurica, Texas Hill Country

“This Bites: Venomous Texas Spiders” – Texas Health and Human Services

“Wolf Spiders and Their Bite” – Lisa Jo Lupo – The Spruce

 

 

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

The Twelve Days of Squirrels

Monday, December 03, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

On the first day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
A nest built in my attic.

On the second day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the third day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the forth day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the fifth day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the sixth day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Six raided feeders,
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the seventh day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Seven days of trapping,
Six raided feeders,
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the eighth day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Eight points of entry,
Seven days of trapping,
Six raided feeders,
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the ninth day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Nine chewed up wires,
Eight points of entry,
Seven days of trapping,
Six raided feeders,
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the tenth day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Ten damaged heirlooms,
Nine chewed up wires,
Eight points of entry,
Seven days of trapping,
Six raided feeders,
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the eleventh day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Eleven days of noises,
Ten damaged heirlooms,
Nine chewed up wires,
Eight points of entry,
Seven days of trapping,
Six raided feeders,
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

On the twelfth day of Christmas the squirrels gave to me
Twelve attic messes,
Eleven days of noises,
Ten damaged heirlooms,
Nine chewed up wires,
Eight points of entry,
Seven days of trapping,
Six raided feeders,
Five stressed days,
Four baby squirrels,
Three gnawed trees,
Two damaged eaves,
And a nest built in my attic.

Fast Facts About Squirrels:

  • Tree Squirrel Species Native to Texas: fox squirrel, gray squirrel, and flying squirrel
  • Most Common Squirrel Species in the Metroplex: fox squirrel
  • Lifespan: 4 to 7 years
  • Average Size: 18 to 27 inches long, 1.5-2.5 lbs
  • Appearance: brown-gray with orange underbelly and 7 to 14 inch long bushy tail
  • Diet: tree nuts, fruit, bark, tree buds, insects, tubers, bulbs, roots, bird eggs, mushrooms, and seeds
  • Habitat:
    • In the Wild: tree dens (natural cavities & crotches in trees) and leaf nests, ideally in an area of open forest with mature shade trees
    • In a Home: nests are most often built in attics and chimneys
  • Active Times: daytime
  • Reproduction: 1 to 2 litters per year: 1 in Spring, 1 in Fall.
    • Babies are born blind & furless and are weaned for approximately 12-14 weeks
  • Behavior:
    • Caching of food: they bury shelled foods that are high in fat, such as nuts
      • Often these buried nuts are forgotten and will later grow into trees
    • Solitary and asocial other than during breeding season
    • Large vocabulary consisting of clucking and chucking sounds
    • Can jump 15 feet horizontally and 8 feet high
    • Can land safely from 20 feet high
    • Have 4 front teeth that will continue to grow throughout their lives and are kept in check via gnawing on nuts and other items
    • Can run up to 20 mph
    • Will inhabit a range of about 10 acres per season

 

Signs of Squirrel Damage:

  • Holes chewed in soffits/eaves
  • Torn up insulation
  • Urine and feces in the attic
  • Chewed wiring
  • Gnawed tree bark
  • Dug up and eaten flower bulbs
  • Noises coming from the attic or chimney during the daytime

 

Squirrel Removal:

Once a squirrel has taken residence in your attic or chimney, the best thing to do is call in a professional to assess the situation and begin a live animal trapping wherein the squirrel can be safely caught and relocated. A technician can also access your home for any entry points the squirrel may have created by chewing through the siding, eaves, and soffit around your attic and go over your options for repair and prevention. Given the length of time of weaning for baby squirrels, it’s especially important to have a professional perform any trapping and exclusion work, so as not to separate the mother from the babies.

 

 

Squirrel Prevention:

If you notice squirrel activity in your yard or hear them scampering on your roof, it’s a good idea to make sure you have taken appropriate measures to prevent them from getting into your chimney or attic and causing the need for extensive repair and clean up work.

Below are tips for successful squirrel prevention:

  • Trim tree limbs back to at least 8 to 10 feet from the roof
  • Place sheet metal bands around the trunks of trees to discourage squirrels from climbing them
  • Confirm that any attic vents are properly screened
  • Remove any bird feeders from near your home
  • Be sure you have a chimney cap installed and in proper condition

 

This winter, don’t let squirrels crash your Christmas party; as soon as you notice the signs of squirrel damage, call in a professional and let the only noises on your rooftop be from Santa and his reindeer and get back to making your celebrations merry and bright.

 

Additional References:

“Controlling Tree Squirrels in Urban Areas” – Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Squirrels: Diet, Habits & Other Facts – Alina Bradford, LiveScience

“Squirrels” – Texas Parks & Wildlife

 

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

 

Things that go Bump in the Night

Monday, November 19, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

A cold wind wails past your open window, rustling leaves and clattering blinds on its way down the dark, empty street. You feel a chill brush against your arms and try to rub it away as you head to close the window in hopes of keeping out the cold. As you approach you hear a loud crash and see a shadowy mass race through your yard. The wind, you notice, has suddenly ceased its howl and the street is completely silent. You lean against the screen, looking for the cause of the crash, but the dim light of a cloudy dusk and the solitary circle of amber provided by the lone streetlight keep most of the street in shadows. A rustling in the bushes directly below you causes you to jump back and quickly shut the window, bolting it tight against whatever is out prowling this night.

With the window closed, the cold begins to dissipate from the room, but you can still feel the chill rippling your skin and crawling down your spine. Attributing the chill to the patio door still being open, you walk through the house toward the screen door that’s still letting in the evening air. Your fingers barely graze the handle before you get the feeling that something is just feet from you on the other side of the flimsy mesh. You slam the door closed and latch it before flicking on the light and illuminating your backyard where you barely glimpse what you swear is a small hand pulling away from your garden gate, which creaks gently on its hinges.

Shaking your head, you convince yourself that you’re just tired, and head off to bed. As you lie under your warm blankets, you attempt to ignore the quiet scraping coming from somewhere above you.

It’s not a restful sleep that greets you, as images of prowling shadows creep through your head, so it’s no surprise when you find yourself roused just before dawn. A quick glance at your phone tells you it’s not the culprit for your early wake up call and you are just about to attempt to lie back down when you hear it. A loud thump and some definite movement coming from right above you. You throw back the covers and jump out of bed, eyes glued to the ceiling. Nothing happens. Minutes pass and still nothing. Then, just as you are about to head to the kitchen for some much-needed coffee, another thump, this time closer to where you’re standing.

Heart racing, you throw a coat on over your pajamas and grab a flashlight, hoping that the noise is something hitting your roof instead of what you truly fear. The tiny circle of light doesn’t make a dent against the grayness of the sky, but surely there is nothing on your roof big enough to make the kind of noise that woke you. As you make your way around to the back, you notice what look like dozens of tiny hand prints in the soft soil. The chill in your spine is back and you snug your coat tighter against you as you point the beam of light further into the darkness. Rounding your garage, you see that your trash can has been tipped over and one of the bags has been violently ripped open, strewing garbage across your driveway. As you maneuver through the refuse you curse at every jolting clunk and crinkle as your feet contact trash you hadn’t noticed as you keep your light pointed into the hazy distance.

When you reach the back of the house, you hear the garden gate still creaking on its hinges. You give a glance over your shoulder as you feel a shiver pass through you and shine the light in great arcs across the yard. With nothing clearly in sight, you slowly approach the garden. More tiny handprints greet you, along with the sight of several pillaged and decapitated plants. You click the gate back into place just as you hear a rustling from somewhere above you. Whipping around, you shine the light against the roof and see a shadowy mass seemingly emerging from your roof. Your chest constricts and your breath catches in your throat as you watch the mass continue to grow. Just as you are about to turn and run, the mass scampers across the roof and down the side of the building. Once the shock wears off, you head in its direction, flashlight wavering, until you see it just beyond the periphery of light. Steadying yourself, you raise the light higher and finally get a good look at the creature: gray fur, small hands, and a distinct black mask around its eyes. The raccoon saunters away as you collect yourself before heading back inside to call your exterminator.

 

Fast Facts About Raccoons:

  • Average Size: 2 to 3 feet long, weighing 7-23 lbs.
  • Lifespan in the Wild: 2 to 3 years
  • Appearance: gray fur, black mask around the eyes, black rings around the tail, pointy snout, and nimble hands
  • Diet: omnivorous and opportunistic
  • Habitat:
    • In the Wild: den in tree hollows and ground burrows (made by other animals) in heavily wooded areas near water and vegetation
    • In a Home: attics, crawlspaces, chimneys, sewers, barns, and sheds
  • Active Times: nocturnal with greatest activity in spring, summer and fall
  • Reproduction: females usually give birth to 1 to 6 kits in April or May; these babies will stay with the mother for about a year
  • Skills: highly dexterous and clever, they can open doors, jars, lids, latches, etc. They are also excellent climbers and swimmers.
  • Dangers: raccoons can carry and transmit several highly dangerous organisms:
    • Rabies – this virus infects the central nervous system and can be fatal
    • Roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) – in humans this parasite can invade the eye, organs, and brain, and can cause death
    • Leptospirosis – without treatment this bacteria can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and death.
    • Salmonella – this bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, and can be severe enough to require hospitalization

Signs of Raccoon Damage:

  • Raided & tipped over trash cans
  • Trash strewn around a yard
  • Damaged/eaten gardens or crops
  • Torn shingles
  • Uncapped chimneys
  • Pillaged bird feeders
  • Tracks with front paws that look like human hands, and rear paws with five long toes
  • Loud noises at night from the attic, chimney, or crawlspace
  • Damaged insulation, shingles, and wiring
  • Build up of nesting materials accompanied by droppings and/or urine stains

 

 Raccoon Removal

If you think you have a raccoon living in or around your home it’s best to call in a pest control professional to assess the situation and create a plan to safely catch and remove the raccoon. The technician will determine any points of entry that the raccoon may be exploiting to access your home and will place and regularly check a live animal trap to catch the raccoon before it can cause any further damage to your home. A technician may also be able to perform exclusion (repair/deterrent) work on any possible entry points, and can create a plan for the best time to do this work so as not to trap a raccoon inside your home.

It’s best to leave raccoon trapping to a professional for three main reasons. First is safety; as noted above raccoon can carry several very dangerous organisms, and a technician is trained in proper handling of wildlife, making it significantly safer for them to interact with the raccoon than the average homeowner. Second is effectiveness; a technician has training and experience on the best baits, locations, and methods for wildlife removal. Third is humaneness; a technician will know to check for the possibility of raccoon kits and will take appropriate measures to ensure that the mother and babies are removed together.

 

 Raccoon Prevention

Whether you’ve already had a raccoon issue at your home or you just want to mitigate your chances of having one in the future, here are some tips to prevent these animals from invading your space.

  • Regularly inspect and repair any potential entry points: broken vents, holes, uncapped chimneys, loose siding, and loose shingles
  • Install a mesh cover over chimneys
  • Store trash and pet food in sealed areas that a raccoon cannot get into (remember, they are very clever and have nimble fingers)
  • Remove bird feeders
  • Keep your yard free from debris (like leaf litter) and brush
  • Keep firewood away from the house, ideally 20 feet or more

 

This fall as Halloween approaches, don’t let raccoons make your home into a haunted house; keep the scary stories and bumps in the night relegated to the realms of movies and campfires, and call a pest control technician as soon as you suspect you might have a problem.

 

Additional References:

“Raccoon Facts” – Havahart

“Raccoons” – PestWorld.org

 

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 10 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

Waging War with Armyworms this Fall

Saturday, September 15, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

If you live in north Texas you have probably heard about the armyworm invasion that has blighted lawns all across the region. Troops of these unwanted pests have marched through yards of all shapes and sizes and brought with them a wave of swift destruction. Though you have probably encountered the armyworm before, this September brought with it a conspicuous clash between battalions of the caterpillars and the homeowners and landowners desperate to save their property from pillage. But what exactly are armyworms and what do you need to know about them before preparing for battle?

 

 What are armyworms?

Armyworms are a type of moth with several species common to Texas, but when we speak of armyworms in general we are referring to fall armyworms whose larval stage is known for causing destruction to plants en masse. The larvae, caterpillars, can grow to about 1″ to 1.5″ long and are either green, brown or black with a few distinguishing markings. Those markings are: a dark head featuring a light inverted “Y”, longitudinal black stripes on each side of its body, a yellow-gray stripe along the middle of its back, and four black dots near the rear end. It’s in this caterpillar form that the fall armyworms are most easily identifiable and the most damaging.

 

Where do armyworms come from?

Armyworms are preferential pests of warmer climates, and will actually overwinter in southern Texas due to their sensitivity to cold and inability to endure it in any stage of their life-cycle. When weather conditions are favorable, and spring is heading into summer, the prolific armyworm moths will migrate north and lay their eggs at the base of suitable host plants (and sometimes even nearby structures like fences and light posts). One female moth can deposit up to 2000 eggs in clusters of 50 or more, but there’s not much point in searching for these eggs as they are incredibly small and very difficult to detect. In approximately a week these stealthy eggs will hatch into the larval stage, the caterpillars discussed above, which will lay siege to grasses and crops, growing ever larger as they feed over the next several weeks. They will attack an area en masse before moving together to a new feeding ground, in the process making it clear why these pests would have been named an “army”worm as their legions continue with their assault. Once they have eaten their fill, they will then pupate in the soil, emerging as adult moths approximately ten days later. And the cycle continues, with anywhere from three to six generations commonly produced each season. As summer draws to a close, they will head back to south Texas and wait for temperatures to rise again.

 

When is armyworm season?

As mentioned above, armyworms prefer warm weather, but even more so than that, they thrive on above-average rains in late summer and early fall, which ensure a high egg survival rate. The record amounts of rain received this September are the reason these pests have come out in droves and become a newsworthy topic as generation after generation march forth. The fall onslaught is actually a pretty common occurrence, though rarely to the magnitude we are seeing this year, as several generations of the pests emerge quickly, unlike the more sporadic solitary outbreaks that happen in spring and summer. Stormy weather also benefits the fall armyworm moth, which is a strong flier, as the turbulent weather can help them evade their natural predators. So though there isn’t a predictable armyworm season, any time we have late summer and early fall storms there’s a good chance you’ll find an armyworm attack in the near future.

 

What do armyworms eat?

Armyworms are not very picky eaters and will attack an array of plants. Some of the most common food sources are warm-season turfgrasses, grains, corn, sweet potato, beans, turnips, clover, tobacco, spinach, cucumber, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, and the list goes on. Their preferred mealtimes are early in the morning and late in the evening, but again they are not discriminate eaters and will feed any time of the day or night.

 

What kind of damage do armyworms do?

Though they aren’t overly preferential with their food sources, they do regularly feast upon turfgrass (like bermudagrass and bluegrass). In fact, they are a major cause of damage to turfgrass in residential lawns, athletic fields and golf courses. The destruction they inflict is that of foliage consumption. The caterpillars will chew the green layer of blades of grass or leaves, starting at the tips, creating a transparent section in its wake, almost like a window pane. If you’re looking at the yard as a whole, instead of at a single blade, you would notice that the grass appears off-color or brown. As the infestation progresses, the damage done will rapidly advance from small transparent sections to destruction of the entire blade or leaf. Once they have stripped the plants in an area, they will charge the next available food source. Since armyworms often produce very large larval populations, they are capable of causing significant widespread damage in a very short amount of time.

Will armyworms kill my lawn?

Generally speaking, even with the significant defoliation that armyworms will inflict, many turfgrasses, such as bermudagrass, are resilient enough to recover from the onslaught provided that they were healthy to begin with. You will, however, be faced with the aesthetic devastation of your lawn until the grass recovers. And there is no way to know for sure if your grass will recover; newly established grasses like ryegrass or fescue can most certainly be stunted or killed by armyworms.

 

How do you control armyworms?

The most important step in controlling armyworms is to keep a vigilant eye on the foliage in your yard, especially your lawn. Watch for discoloration of the grass and look for the caterpillars themselves, which will be easiest to find when they are most active in the early morning and late evening. Pay special attention to any area of lush plant growth as it’s a preferred place for the moths to lay their eggs. And remember that maintaining a healthy and manicured lawn will be especially helpful in the prevention of an armyworm invasion. If you see a lot of the caterpillars or evidence of their attack, immediately call in a pest control professional to treat as quickly as possible to reduce the level of damage inflicted.

Armyworms are not a pest to be trifled with, as their name would suggest. These pests are experts at attacking foliage and stripping blades of grass or leaves bare in record time. They seem to show up overnight in multitudes and can change the entire aesthetic of your yard before you even realize you’re facing a mighty foe. So when fall draws near and storms begin to pop up, keep your pest control company’s number close at hand to get help as soon as the invasion begins.

 

Additional References:

Armyworms in Turfgrass – Insects in the City – Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
The Fall Armyworm – A Pest of Pasture and Hay. – Allen Knutson, Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Dallas
ArmywormCasey Reynolds, PhD, Mike Merchant, PhD and Diane Silcox Reynolds, PhD – AggieTurf

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