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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

There’s a New Longhorn Making News in the U.S.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

In Texas when you hear “longhorn” there are really only two things that come to mind: football and cattle. But there’s a new “longhorn” making news lately in the U.S., the Asian longhorn tick. This pest is native to East and Central Asia, but seems to be finding new footholds, first in New Zealand, Australia, and other Pacific locations, and now in the United States. With the recent discovery of a sizable colony infecting a sheep in New Jersey, the Asian longhorn tick has gotten national attention as a possible new invasive species (the extent and probable ramifications are still being determined). Though these new longhorn pests haven’t yet been documented in Texas, they are worth a look not only because of the potential for them to spread here as they get a foothold in the U.S. but also because it’s a good reminder of tick safety, which is something everyone should be thinking of as summer begins to wind down and camping trips become ever more common while time and weather allow.


What do Asian longhorn ticks look like?

These invasive pests are small, ranging from less than 0.1” (or smaller than a poppy seed) up to the size of a pea when an adult is fully engorged with blood. They are inornate and nondescript to the naked eye, with a light-to-dark red-brown coloring and without any markings or distinct coloration. Their mouth parts are shorter and wider than many other common tick species, though this distinction is more likely to be seen by an expert than by the average person. Juveniles are unfortunately small enough that they often go unnoticed, leading them to regularly be found in very high numbers when they are discovered. Ticks of all stages can be found feeding on the ears, back of the neck, shoulders, groin, and armpits. Because these ticks are so generic and resemble other native tick species in the United States, they are difficult to distinguish, even for professionals.


Where are Asian longhorn ticks located?

Regionally, they are native to East and Central Asia and are an established invasive species in Oceania. In the United States there have been documented sightings in New Jersey, Virgina, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas; these sightings have been verified back to at least 2013. There is concern that they will spread further into the United States, especially since these ticks are capable of essentially hibernating so that they can survive in a wide range of climates.

The preferred habitats for Asian longhorn ticks, like many other tick species, are areas of tall grass with high humidity levels near the soil. Examples of these conducive areas are: pastures, hay fields, wildflower areas, and other unmowed tracts. They are especially common in areas where animals are likely to traverse; the ticks will hold onto a blade of grass with their rear legs and keep their front legs aloft, using them to grab onto a host that passes by.


Are Asian longhorn ticks common?

In the United States, they are a very new arrival, so the number of documented cases is still quite small. However, when an Asian longhorn tick colony is discovered, it’s often an extremely dense population. They are able to create such excessive numbers due to the fact that all documented females in the United States reproduce via parthenogenesis (the development of an egg without fertilization from a male), which shortens the overall length of the life cycle. Though these ticks will still need to feed off of three hosts in order to reach maturity, one in each of its life stages, in the span of a year, it can go from a newly lain egg to an adult capable of producing up to 2,000 eggs in less than a three week period. And since all of these ticks are capable of reproducing at this capacity, you can see how a population can quickly get out of control.


What is the difference between Asian longhorn ticks and deer ticks?

Most people would be hard-pressed to see a clear difference between the two ticks. Though deer ticks can have more distinguishing coloring than Asian longhorn ticks, they are very similar in size and the male ticks are often a plain brown, which can be similar to the longhorns.

The two biggest differences are that the Asian longhorn ticks in the United States reproduce exclusively via parthenogenesis, as opposed to deer ticks which mate via sexual reproduction, and that, as far as we know, they are carriers of different diseases; see the next section for more on this.


Are Asian longhorn ticks dangerous?

The short answer is yes, Asian longhorn ticks are dangerous. But the way in which they are dangerous and who they are dangerous to makes this a bit of a more complicated question. Where this tick is native, East Asia, it is known to carry several viruses and bacteria that can be harmful to humans and cause potentially severe illnesses, such as SFTS, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, and Japanese spotted fever. Fortunately, in the United States there haven’t yet been any reported cases of human bites by the Asian longhorn ticks, but this doesn’t mean that we are in the clear. Since they are still very new to the U.S., researchers haven’t yet determined what viruses and bacteria they can be host to on our shores, but there is concern they could carry a variety of pathogens that our native ticks carry and become another vector for their proliferation. Pathogens such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Powassan disease, and other dangerous diseases which can have long-lasting effects from arthritis and inflammation of the brain to amputation and even death.

Though they are not yet a documented threat to humans in the U.S, they are, however, a known danger to livestock and animals. In the U.S. these ticks have been seen on cattle, sheep, goats, horses, deer, opossums, raccoons, and dogs. Not only are these pests carriers of the pathogens that cause babesiosis (an infection which attacks red blood cells and can cause anemia and systemic shock and which is prone to relapse) in dogs and theileriosis (an infection of red and white blood cells which can cause anemia, jaundice and even death) in cattle, but they can also infest an animal to such an extent, due to their large populations, that they can cause anemia and death by exsanguination.

Experts caution that though there is potential for concern with these new invaders, it’s important to remember that there is also an immediate concern from native ticks, whose regions and populations have been growing as winters have warmed. Lyme disease is a dangerous illness and it’s estimated that in parts of the United States 25% of deer ticks carry it, presenting a threat worthy of bearing in mind even as new species are drawing our attention.


How do you prevent tick bites?

Whether we’re discussing Asian longhorn ticks, deer ticks, or any other tick, it’s important to take steps to prevent yourself and your animals from being bitten, especially in late Spring and early summer when the ticks are looking for blood meals to continue through their life cycle. If you live in an area where you are concerned about a tick population in your yard, especially if there are wooded or grassy areas nearby, the best thing to do is call a pest control professional to have your yard treated with products specifically designed to eliminate ticks. In addition to professional treatment, maintain a a low grass height, keep your yard weed-free, reduce or remove brush areas, and eliminate any wood debris.

If you will be visiting a potential tick harborage area that has not been professionally treated, it’s best to heed the basic rules of tick prevention: wear long sleeves and pants, apply insect repellent that contains DEET (on people only; DEET can be harmful to pets), keep your pets up-to-date on preventative tick treatments, and completely check yourself and your pets for ticks as soon as you are able. For more on prevention and symptoms check out the CDC page on ticks.


This summer as we head into fall, be sure to practice good tick safety whenever adventuring outdoors. And keep an eye out for the new tick on everyone’s radar lest this longhorn begin to infest our beloved longhorns.


Additional Resources:

“Asian longhorn tick, (AKA, East Asian, Scrub or Bush Tick): Newly Discovered Invasive Tick in the United States” – The TickApp for Texas & the Southern Region

“This invasive tick can clone itself and suck livestock dry” – Leah Rosenbaum – ScienceNews

“5 Things to Know About the New Tick Species in the US” – Rachael Rettner – Live Science

“Tick Bites: Symptoms & Treatment” – Elizabeth Palermo – Live Science

“Asian Longhorned Tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis” – Michael J. Skvarla & Erika Machtinger – PennState Extension

“An Invasive New Tick Is Spreading in the U.S.” – Donald G. McNeil Jr. – The New York Times

Make Fireworks the Only “Fire” in your 4th of July Celebration

Monday, July 02, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

Almost 250 years ago, on July 4th, the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence and set our country on its path for freedom. Since that time we have honored the historic day by gathering together and celebrating our community and our nation. And what better place to celebrate than outdoors, basking in the natural beauty, and enjoying all the joys our homes have to offer. So we head to our yards to play, swim, grill, and enjoy the holiday before the big show of fireworks lights up the night sky.

But while fireworks are an exciting addition to the festivities, there is another “fire” that can be lurking in your yard, capable of turning a beautiful day into a week of pain, itching, and general irritation; yes, we’re talking about fire ants. If you live in Texas there is a good chance you’ve seen these pests building their nests in lawns of all shapes and sizes, and almost an equally good chance that you’ve been on the wrong side of a fire ant encounter, having been stung and forced to deal with the pain and discomfort that follows. So before you deck out your lawn with flags and all things red, white, and blue for this year’s Independence Day Celebration, make sure you’ve declared your freedom from the misery and stress of fire ants.

Before you can wage war with the ants in your yard, you will want to know a bit more about them. Here are some of the things you will need to know in order to identify and eliminate this pest.

What Do Fire Ants Look Like?

In Texas, the fire ant variety you are likely to encounter are red imported fire ants. They are an average-sized ant, with worker ants ranging from 1/16” to 1/4” in length and are red and black in color, generally with a red head and thorax and a darker abdomen. These worker ants are the ones you will find foraging in your yard and crawling all over you if you happen to step on one of their nests; however, in the spring and summer you may also encounter fire ants with wings, also known as fire ant swarmers. Male and female swarmers will leave the nest when the weather is warm, often a day or two after a rainfall, mate, and then the females will shed their wings and begin constructing a new nest just about 1” to 2” under the soil surface wherein they will become the queen. The male ant swarmers, which are all black, will die after mating and are generally the ones you might see at your home’s entryways.

Where Do Fire Ants Live?

Fire ants live in colonies that can number up to 500,000 ants and tend to make their nests in open sunny areas. They are particularly fond of warmer weather and in the United States are predominantly seen in the south-central and southeastern states. Their nests are large dome-shaped mounds of soft soil that are generally no larger than 18” in diameter and show no distinct opening through which the fire ants enter. Due to their construction and choice of materials, fire ant mounds can sometimes be tricky to identify, especially if the mound is smaller or in an area without much grass. Keep an eye out for the distinctive mound shape and any areas of soil that have been disturbed, and give them a wide berth. Regardless of its ability to blend, the mound is the most important warning sign to watch out for when inspecting an area for these pests, and is also the most important thing to avoid if you want to keep your summer sting-free.

Can You Have a Fire Ant Mound Inside?

Though fire ants prefer open areas like yards, they are also known to create nests under concrete slabs and within walls, being especially drawn to electrical currents. In fact, they have even been known to cause electrical fires and extensive electrical wiring damage due to chewing on the wiring they have created a nest around. This move indoors is especially common during the warmest months as they look for a cooler place to forage than in the midday Texas sun. So if you notice a mound of dirt against your A/C Unit be sure to call an exterminator ASAP before you end up with an even hotter Texas summer than you bargained for.

Are Fire Ants Dangerous?

Beyond the danger fire ants present to your home, they can be a direct threat to people and pets as well. These ants are known for being exceptionally aggressive and will respond rapidly to any perceived threat to their nest or food sources. Individual ants will sting just as readily as a mass of ants, meaning that whether you have stepped on their nest or simply sat in the grass where an ant is foraging, you stand the risk of an attack. Though many people refer to it as a fire ant bite, the reality is that the source of the well-known pain and irritation is from a sting. When these ants decide to attack, they grasp your skin with their mandibles (jaws) and repeatedly stab into your skin with their stinger, injecting its venom. If they attack en masse, such as when someone disrupts their nest, you can find yourself quickly covered with these stings.

Though most people will find that fire ant bites are just extremely unpleasant, they can pose a real health risk, especially when susceptible people are repeatedly stung. So who’s most susceptible? Small children, the elderly, those with suppressed immune systems, and anyone with a severe allergy to fire ant venom run the risk of a fatal reaction to fire ant stings.

Also at risk are pets, especially young ones or those that are confined to a small section of the yard where they cannot escape a fire ant attack.

What Does A Fire Ant “Bite” Look Like?

Initially the sting will be swollen and red, turning into a small blister-like pustule in about a day or two. The sting site will hurt, especially initially, and itch, and the irritation can last up to a week.

So How Do You Kill Fire Ants?

The best way to eliminate fire ants from your home or yard is to call in a professional to treat using products specifically labeled for these pests. Generally, that will entail placing a bait in the yard and treating the individual mounds with either a liquid or a dust. By calling in a certified pest control technician not only do you get someone to search out the fire ant nests for you and treat in the most effective and safe manner, but you also don’t have to run the risk of being stung by the ants while applying treatment.

WARNING: Never attempt to get rid of a fire ant mound using gasoline or any sort of combustion. Not only is this extremely dangerous, it’s highly ineffective and can lead to the colony moving or spreading out to new and additional locations.

What Can You Do to Prevent Fire Ants?

Unfortunately there is no guaranteed way to prevent fire ants from invading your yard, but here are a few tips that will help make it a less enticing location for these pests to call home.

  • Keep trees and shrubs trimmed away from your house
  • Rotate mulch and other bedding materials about twice a month to lessen moisture retention
  • Keep your lawn mowed and remove any grass clippings, leaf litter, and stacked wood
  • Keep outdoor trash cans away from your house and clean them as needed

When it comes to fire ants it’s always better to treat at the first signs of trouble, before they take over your yard completely or find their way into your home. So this July declare your independence from the pain, irritation, and fear of fire ants and call a pest control technician to eliminate these pests and allow you to enjoy your pre-fireworks festivities in peace.

Additional Resources:
“Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA)” – Dini Miller – Virginia Tech
“Fire Ant Frequently Asked Questions” – Texas A&M AgriLife

Summer days in Texas are full of magic. The sunrise and sunset seem to last for hours and paint the most magnificent hues across the horizon. Skies are expansive and picturesque, clad in brilliant blue and dotted with incandescent white clouds that seem to hang just above your head. The days ring out with call to explore and play, a call tempered only by the heat, which has begun its steady march, and which will drive family and friends to spend their days in pools, lakes, rivers, and anywhere that offers the cooling relief of shade. But while these are exactly the places to enjoy a Texas summer, they come along with an all-too-familiar pest, mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are probably one of the most loathed summer pests, bringing with them irritation, itching, and the most disconcerting, a potential for disease transmission. They are definitely not something you want flying around your Father’s Day BBQ. Yet a gathering of friends and family in your yard or at a park, especially if there is any standing water or well-shaded areas, is exactly where you will encounter these pests. So before you plan the celebration of all things “Dad,” make sure your day won’t be cut short by these winged scourges.

Where Do Mosquitoes Live?

It’s pretty well known that mosquitoes breed in areas of standing water, but that isn’t the only place you will encounter these pests. Adult mosquitoes will often rest in tall grass, weeds, shrubs and brush, especially in shaded areas, during the hottest parts of the day. This means that the average neighborhood will have plenty of places for mosquitoes to build a population. So what are some of the areas of standing water you will find in your yard?

Common Mosquito Sources Around your Home:

  • Water that isn’t regularly emptied/changed in birdbaths, baby pools, untended pools, flowerpots, and pet water bowls
  • Standing water in gutters, fence posts with caps, wheelbarrows, buckets, tarps, tires, recycling bins, grill covers, and even stumps
  • Storm drains and french drains

When Are Mosquitoes Most Active?

In order to fully answer this question, there are two main few factors to consider.

First, there are 176 species of mosquitoes in the United States, 85 of which have been identified in Texas (according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension), and they don’t all have the same behavioral patterns. This means that although we generally associate mosquitoes with the evening and nighttime hours, they are active all day long.

Second, mosquitoes are active only when the weather is right. If temperatures drop and stay below 50°F, they will either hibernate or die off for the season. Once temperatures warm to a consistent 50°F, they become active, with temperatures of 80°F or higher bringing about the most prolific activity. As you can imagine, this means that Texas has a long, robust mosquito season.

Are Mosquitoes Dangerous?

We all know that being bitten by mosquitoes is unpleasant and invariably results in the telltale itchy welts, which can ruin an evening, but there is also a real risk associated with some mosquito bites. Though most mosquitoes are simply annoyances, some species can spread diseases that not only make you sick, but, in rare cases, can cause death. The transmissible diseases to watch out for in the continental United States are: West Nile virus, La Crosse encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and Zika (though Zika is extremely rare in the continental U.S.).

In addition, mosquito bites have the potential to cause a severe allergic reaction. The welts we all have after a bite are due to our bodies’ natural allergic reaction to the saliva deposited by the female mosquito when she bites us and draws our blood. The saliva is an anticoagulant, which allows her faster access to her food source, but which also causes our bodies to react and release histamines. For some people, the allergic reaction can cause symptoms beyond the standard welts and itching, and in rare cases, can lead to anaphylaxis.

Are Mosquitoes Dangerous for Pets?

Not only can mosquito bites be quite dangerous for us, they also have the potential to transmit harmful diseases to our pets. Though the reaction to a mosquito bite in dogs, for example, is often pretty mild, with symptoms similar to those in humans, there is the potential for the transmission of serious diseases such as: Heartworm, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. However, it is important to note that as dangerous as a mosquito bite can be, do not attempt to use an insect repellent on your pets unless it is specifically designed and approved for use on animals. Sprays designed for humans, especially those containing DEET, can be toxic for your pets.

How Do You Get Rid of Mosquitoes?

When it comes to getting rid of mosquitoes there are two main avenues to pursue, and both are needed to keep your Father’s Day and summer celebrations safe and pest free.

First, have a pest control technician treat your yard for mosquitoes. A technician will evaluate the yard for potential hot spots of activity and will treat the yard accordingly. Generally, a liquid spray/mist is used so as to coat all the areas mosquitoes will come in contact with, offering a high degree of pest control. In addition, where applicable, briquettes may be used in certain standing water areas to help control breeding grounds.

Second, take preventative measures, as discussed below, to help keep your yard from being a mosquito haven. No matter how much pesticide you use, if your yard is a significant harborage area, you won’t be able to fully escape the buzz and bite of these pests. Only with the combination of treatment and prevention can you keep your yard a no fly zone for mosquitoes.

How Do I Prevent Mosquito Bites?

Unfortunately, there is no full-proof way to fully escape getting any mosquito bites this summer as you adventure outdoors, but here are some tips to help keep your time at home and in your yard as bite-free as possible.

  • Eliminate any areas of standing water in your yard or on your home (areas of concern were discussed in the section above entitled “Common Mosquito Sources Around your Home”)
  • Fill in or adequately drain any swampy or low-lying areas in your yard
  • Remove or fill in any stumps in your yard
  • Regularly inspect and clean gutters
  • Maintain a well-trimmed yard: keep grass cut short, trees and shrubs trimmed, and remove all brush
  • Keep windows and doors closed or make sure all open doors and windows have fully intact screens

This year don’t let mosquitoes ruin your outdoor fun; take action now and let this summer be pest and worry free. Plus, what better gift for dad than knowing that his yard will be safe for family fun and all day BBQs all summer long?

Additional Resources:

“Job 1: Eliminating Conducive Conditions” – PCT Online
“Mosquito Info” – The American Mosquito Control Association
“Prevent Mosquito Bites” – Center for Disease Control and Prevention
“Mosquito Bites in Dogs” – Wag!

May has arrived in Texas, and as rain gives way to sun and summer is only a breath away, it’s the perfect time to spend outdoors. Fortunately, this is also a time of year when celebrations of friends and family take the forefront as we honor the mothers in our lives as well as the many brave members of the military who have given their lives for our country. And whether you are gardening, hosting a BBQ, or just taking the time to relax and play with those you love, your yard is sure to hold a prominent place in your May celebrations.

While a day spent in the backyard with family and friends sounds like a treat, it can quickly turn into headache if yard pests have decided to make your yard their destination this spring. Imagine trying to play soccer while dodging mole runs, or sitting around your patio at night relaxing with friends only to be harangued by June bugs; with a host of pests making their homes in soil, grass, bushes, and trees, it wouldn’t take much to ruin a beautiful celebration. But with some preventative measures and an eye kept out for warning signs, you can have your yard ready for the many festivities in store.

Starting from the ground up, we’ll cover some of the main yard pests and tell you what to look for, what to expect for treatment, and how to prevent or minimize their impact on you and your home.


First up are Moles. Moles are small mammals, generally around 7 inches long with velvety fur, small ears and eyes, a short tail, and large forelimbs and paws. They are excellent diggers, able to excavate tunnels, called runs, at a rate of 20 feet per hour. These tunnels are used for transportation between their burrows and the surface of the lawn where they find the various insects they feed upon, and can range in depth from surface-level to 10 inches underground. Generally, you will only notice mole activity in your yard when they are using it as a feeding ground, as the deeper runs don’t protrude the surface of the lawn.

Though they are active throughout the year, spring is a time of particular activity for moles, as it brings with it an abundance of insects for the the moles to feast upon, and it is also the time when moles go out in search of a mate (this is the one time of year when you will see multiple moles coming together, as generally they are solitary creatures). With increased activity, not only do you have to contend with greater damage to your lawn, you also have to be concerned about the escalated risk of damage to sidewalks and even your home’s foundation. Though a mole can’t directly harm the foundation or sidewalk, their runs can accumulate water, and as temperatures change, if those runs are too close to your home, that water can cause cracks to form.

What to Look for:

  • Lines of dirt a few inches wide disturbing the grass in your lawn
  • Volcano-shaped mounds of dirt with a noticeable hole in the center

What to Expect for Treatment:

There are two main methods for mole treatments: trapping and baiting. A pest control technician will evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis to determine which is the best method to use, keeping in mind the safety of pets and people who will spending time in the yard. Either way, mole treatments will take several weeks to complete, so the sooner you call, the sooner you can get your lawn back.


When it comes to preventing moles from invading your lawn the first recourse is to remove the moles’ food sources, this means keeping your yard free from grubs, ants, and other lawn insects. To do this, be sure not to over-water your yard; keeping it on the dry, compact side will not only limit insect activity, but it will also make it less inviting for moles. There are other more extreme measures that can be taken, such as the use of gravel and metal barriers and fences, but these are rarely needed, especially in the metroplex.

Grub Worms and June Bugs

Grubs are the larvae of insects, specifically beetles; the most common types to be seen in your yard are white grubs, also known as grub worms, which are the larvae of June bugs. Grub worms are plump, around 1/2” to 1” in length, are generally seen in a “c” shape, and, as the name suggests, are whitish in color. These pests can quickly destroy the root systems of turfgrass, eliminating its ability to uptake enough water and leading it to dry out and eventually die. In this phase of their life cycle, which occurs from mid-summer to late fall, they are the most damaging to lawns; come winter, they enter a dormant stage before transitioning into adult June bugs during spring and emerging from the soil to mate in late spring and summer.

June bugs themselves will cause some damage to plants in your yard, though the damage is not as severe as that of their larval form. Mostly June bugs are notable for being a nuisance. They are large nocturnal insects, clumsy fliers, and like to congregate at light sources at night, which means they are likely to disrupt any outdoor evening plans. And come morning, you will tend to find them dead on porches, clinging to window screens, and by any other nighttime lights.

What to Look for:

  • Scattered, irregular brown patches of dying grass that can be rolled up like a carpet
  • Evidence of birds or animals digging in your yard
  • The larvae themselves, which would reside approximately 2” to 5” below the soil; if there are 10 or more grubs in a 1 square foot section, that is a sign of a significant infestation.
  • A large number of June bugs in your yard during the summer months; this is a good indicator of a large grub worm population nearby

What to Expect for Treatment:

The best way to treat for both June bugs and grub worms is to have a pest control professional treat your yard when the bugs are in their early stages of development, before they become adults and start flying around.


In order to prevent an excess of June bugs from invading your yard the best thing to do is limit the grub worm population lurking under your grass. Unfortunately, there is no precise way to prevent grubs from being in your yard, but you can help limit their numbers through good lawn care practices such as maintaining proper irrigation and regular upkeep; it can also be helpful to allow the soil to be somewhat dry as grubs prefer moist areas. Additionally, by treating for grub worms as soon as you notice an issue, there will be fewer adult June bugs in your yard the following summer, which will lead to fewer grubs infesting your lawn the next year.


Webworms are the larval stage of the fall webworm moth. They mostly inhabit shade trees and shrubs, making their distinctive white web-like nests over the ends of the branches, and feeding on the leaves. The nests can surround several feet of the infested branch, with a dense population of larvae, as they will feed together until their final molt. Given a large enough population of these larvae, they can easily defoliate a tree, which is not only unsightly, but can cause damage to the tree.

What to Look for:

Keep an eye out for the fall webworm moth near trees in your yard; the moth is generally white, though it may have some dark-colored markings, has a slightly furry appearance, and has a wingspan of just under 1.25 inches. They usually start to appear in June, and will deposit their eggs on the underside of leaves. Once those eggs hatch into larvae, about a week later, they will begin to spin their silken web over the leaves they are feeding upon, gradually extending it over the summer. This means you also need to keep an eye out for the sizable whitish webs they suspend in tree branches and shrubs.

What to Expect for Treatment:

The best way to combat a webworm infestation is to have a pest control professional treat the infected tree or shrub as soon as you notice an issue arising.


There are two main methods to prevent a webworm infestation from taking over your yard. First, be sure to keep your yard free from leaf litter, especially around trees and shrubs, as the webworms will pupate in these areas before becoming adults and creating new webworm populations. Second, in the late fall or early spring, have your pest control technician perform a Dormant Oil treatment to any trees you are concerned will have a webworm problem in the upcoming year. Dormant Oil treatments are very effective at controlling this issue, but they need to be done while the tree is dormant (no leaves or buds) and the temperatures are just right (in the 50-70 degree range).

There are a whole host of pests looking to make your yard their home and feeding ground this summer, and though we have touched on three of the most common, there are easily dozens more to keep an eye out for, so pay close attention to your lawn, trees, bushes, and shrubs, and don’t hesitate to call for a pest control technician if you notice any signs of pests invading, such as: webs, large insect populations, leaves marred with holes, unusual growth-like scales or tubes, etc. This year, as holidays and summer approaches, let your pest control technician help your yard become a hub of activity for family, friends and fun, instead of a breeding ground and all-you-can-eat buffet for pests of all shapes and sizes.

Termite 101

Monday, April 30, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

It’s a warm Spring day, one of the first of the season; the air hangs heavy with anticipation of a storm. You’re taking a break from the yard work and Spring cleaning that inevitably call when temperatures first start to rise. Sitting on the couch with your loved one, you put on a show and settle in for a well-deserved rest. Not more than a few minutes pass before you feel something alight on your head; assuming it’s just an errant hair or a possibly a mosquito that followed you in, you brush it away without a thought. A moment passes before you feel another brush against your skin and you scratch at your neck, beginning to wonder if you should close the windows and doors and just turn the A/C on. But the couch feels too good to move and the company too good to leave, so you focus your attention on the show and vow to ignore any whispers of a touch against your skin.

That’s when it happens. A swarm of black flying bugs descends upon you and your loved one. In a matter of seconds dozens of the critters have landed in your hair, on your shirt, on your legs. You jump to your feet, suddenly finding yourself in a scene worthy of a Hitchcock film. As you both frantically brush the bugs from you and dart away from the center of the cloud, you search for its origin.

The culprit is a wood beam along the ceiling that the bugs are still pouring out from. Keeping your distance from the beam and from the window that they seem keenly drawn to, you take a closer look at one of the pests that has found itself on the edge of the pack. What you find when you search for a bug with long white wings and black body makes your heart sink: termites.

Termites’ reputation precedes them; they are an extremely destructive insect and account for billions of dollars in repair and treatment each year. This is not a pest to be taken lightly. But what do you do if you see a swarm in your home and what do you need to know about the pest you are about to do battle with? Here are the termite 101’s you really need to know:

Termite Types

Although there are around 2,000 termite species in the world and 55 in the United States (according to the Texas Department of Agriculture), the most concerning, and the most commonly seen in Texas, are subterranean termites. As their name suggests, these termites create colonies beneath the soil surface and from there extend their feeding sites above ground.

Within a colony there are three main types of subterranean termites you are likely to encounter: the swarmer, the soldier, and the worker.

  • The swarmers are reproductive termites that are sent out to create a new termite colony. You will generally see them take flight on a warm, humid Spring day. They are approximately 3/8” long (including their clear/white wings, which extend well past their body), are dark brown or black, and have a fairly uniform body width. It is most common to see these termites around your home or in your home, especially near windows and indoor lights.
  • The soldiers defend the colony from attackers, especially ants. They are most recognizable by their large rectangular head and pincers, and generally have a light-colored body with an orange or brown head. They are most likely to be seen if a colony is disturbed (for example, during a home remodel) as they will guard the affected area while workers attempt to repair their colony.
  • The workers are the most prolific and are the ones that actually cause the damage to your home; they gather food, make tunnels, and groom/feed the soldiers, king, queen, and nymphs. They are approximately 1/8” long, are translucent cream-colored, and are soft-bodied. Since they spend their entire life in the colony you are unlikely to see these termites unless you have opened a previously enclosed area (such as a wall) for construction.

Warning Signs

There are three main signs of a termite infestation: swarmers, mud tubes, and damaged wood.

  • Swarmers are the most readily recognizable and are the clearest indication to the average homeowner that there is a termite colony infesting their home (see “Termite Types” above for more on swarmers). The amount of termites in a swarm is proportional to the size of the nest, and a well-established nest can emit thousands of swarmers.
  • Mud tubes are essentially protected pipelines the termites use for travel; they are firm and are constructed primarily of mud. Oftentimes, they are difficult to spot as they can range in color and size and can blend with the soil, concrete and brick they are often built on. Look for mud tubes primarily on walls, piers, foundations, expansion joints, and near plumbing fixtures.
  • Wood damage can also be a sign of a termite colony, especially if the damage is in a honeycomb fashion, with many hollow sections following the wood grain. However, wood damage can be the result of many factors, making this a less reliable warning sign for termite activity.

How Concerned Should you Be?

A termite infestation is something you want to take very seriously; since termites consume the cellulose in wood for food, the larger the colony, the more damage they will need to do to your home to sustain themselves. but there is no need to panic at the first sight of a swarmer or mud tube. The good news is that it takes some time for a colony to do extensive damage to a home, and if you catch the issue in its early stages you are unlikely to be faced with costly home repairs. The bad news is that a termite colony can contain up to 1,000,000 termites, with workers living for around 2 years constantly doing their tasks to expand the colony, and queen termites living for more than 25 years producing more than 2000 eggs a day (at her peak); that’s a lot of damage potential if a colony isn’t caught and treated early on.

What to do if you Think you have Termites

  1. At the first sight of a potential termite colony, call a pest control professional and set an appointment to have the issue assessed.
  2. If you have active swarmers in your home, adjust your A/C to a cold, but still comfortable, temperature; this won’t kill the termites, but it will encourage swarmers to stay in the colony instead of flying around your living room.
  3. Collect a sample of any bugs you are seeing.
  4. Do not attempt to self-treat the termites or destroy any visible colony. Disturbing a termite colony will often cause them to move to a new, more secluded location, within your home, leaving them to do further damage until the colony grows to such a size its warning signs are again visible.
  5. If there is termite activity found, get it treated as soon as you can to prevent further damage to your home.


Preventative Measures

Though it’s impossible to fully prevent termites from invading your home, there are a few ways to reduce conducive conditions in and around your house.

  • Make sure the soil line doesn’t touch any wood portions of your home
  • Keep water away from the area around your home’s foundation
  • Ventilate crawl spaces and any other areas prone to high humidity in your home
  • Keep any stored wood away from your home, and ideally not in contact with the soil
  • Eliminate any plumbing leaks as soon as they occur

Additional Resources:

Destructive Termites in Texas” – Fumapest Group
Termite FAQs” – Texas Department of Agriculture
Subterranean Termites” – National Pest Management Association
Native Subterranean Termites Reticulitermes sp” – Urban and Structural Entomology Program at Texas A&M University
[Annual Termite Control Issue] A-maze-ing journey” – Anne Nagro – PCT

Spring, and Carpenter Ants, are in the Air

Saturday, March 31, 2018 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

An indigo hue of bluebonnets is overtaking the freshly green grass, leaves are excitedly bursting forth in droves from every tree, and exuberant song birds grace the morning air with their melodies; with a sigh and a warm breeze, Spring has arrived in Texas. Thoughts stray to picnics in the park, caressed by a sweet breeze, and days spent mostly outdoors while the air strikes a balance between crisp and torrid. Even the rains weaving their way through the weeks bring with them the fresh scent of spring and the promise of life renewed.

It’s no wonder then that this season has been appointed as the perfect time to rejuvenate our homes for the year ahead. Yes, it’s time for Spring cleaning.

The tradition of Spring cleaning has been around for thousands of years in one form or another in a wide array of cultures and practices, and has persisted in the general United States population, in part, due to its practicality. Imagine cleaning your home during the short days of winter when natural light is at a premium, or during the long, hot summer, when an open window will let in nothing but bugs and a stifling humidity instead of a fresh, cleansing breeze. So we persist in the yearly ritual, knowing that in the end we will be free of the clutter accumulated over the past year, and able to sit contentedly sipping coffee in a house with not a dust bunny or cobweb to be found.

In the maelstrom of cleaning, organizing, and dissecting every room in the house, it would be remarkably easy to gloss over the occasional oddity; for example, a small pile of sawdust on a windowsill or at the floor. With nothing else seeming out of the ordinary in the area, and the mess removed, it may appear that the job is done and your house is ready for summer. But after just a few short days of satisfaction with the spotlessness, you will almost certainly notice that the same pile of sawdust has re-appeared, and brought with it a bevy of concerns about its origin.

Perhaps the first thought that will rise up is fear that termites have invaded your home. After all, termites do billions of dollars in damage each year, are most active in Spring, and it’s even been said that if you live in Texas it’s not a matter of if you will get termites, it’s a matter of when, so naturally when a wood-destroying pest is envisioned, it’s their spectre that appears. But termites leave distinctive footprints, and these piles of sawdust, otherwise known as frass, are not among them (to find out what does signal a termite problem, check out our next blog all about termites). Frass in this context is an almost certain signifier that carpenter ants have taken residence in your home.

Carpenter ants are one of the largest ants you are likely to see in your home, they range in size up to 3/4 inch (compare this to the fire ant which is about a third the size), are generally red, black, or red and black, and prefer to make their nests in moist wood. Parent colonies are thus generally found outdoors where sources of moist wood (rotting trees, tree roots, tree stumps, and boards or logs lying on the ground) are prolific. The satellite colonies, which are never too far from the parent colony, are often found indoors in areas exposed to water leaks, condensation or poor air circulation, such as bathrooms, kitchens, attics, wall voids, and doors. These indoor colonies house workers, pupae and mature larvae; their primary function is to help grow the ant population, which is why when Spring arrives, winged reproductive ant swarmers will be found leaving the nest in search of new locations to populate.

It’s important to note the difference between ant swarmers and termite swarmers, as both are seen in Spring and both are often found dead near windowsills, attempting to get out into the world and create new colonies. There are two easy ways to distinguish between the swarmers; first, termite swarmers have wings much longer than their body, and second, ant swarmers have a distinctly segmented body. Either way, if you are seeing swarmers inside, that means it is time to call a professional for help as there is almost certainly a nest in your home, and the sooner it’s eliminated, the less damage will be done.

Carpenter ants, though less damaging than termites, are still more than capable of causing structural damage to your home. Once a nest moves in it will almost immediately begin to carve away at whatever wood it has infested, excavating tunnels and galleries to live in. This process is what creates the frass found within your home, as the carpenter ants push the excavated wood out of their nests, keeping their living space clean, even as they mess up your freshly tidied rooms. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat the wood, they merely nest in it, and prefer a diet of protein and sugar (like the meats, pet food, honey, and sweets kept in most homes). Their major damage comes from colonies that grow too large, or if they find their way into support beams and other structural wood areas, which is why it is so important to call for help as soon as a problem is spotted; early detection is key to keeping your home beautiful and sound for decades to come.

In addition to early detection and treatment, the most important thing you can do as a homeowner is to implement a few preventative measures to make your home less accessible for carpenter ants in search of a new nest. Here are the top five steps for prevention:
1. Replace any moisture-damaged wood in/on your home
2. If storing wood or lumber in a garage, make sure it has proper air circulation and is kept fully dry
3. Store firewood as far away from your home as possible
4. Trim branches away from the home, especially any that overhang the roof, eaves, or any nearby electrical wires
5. Remove all stumps and accompanying roots from your yard

Though it might feel as though carpenter ants have thwarted all the hard work put into Spring cleaning, the piles of frass besmirching your immaculate house are actually a boon for early treatment, a sort of warning signal for you to call a professional to keep your home as impeccable structurally as it is internally. In their own way, the carpenter ants doing their house cleaning will have led you to doing an even more thorough Spring clean than you had even known was necessary. And when all the treatment is done, the preventative measures implemented, and the remnant frass swept away, it will finally be time for that cup of coffee and a contented sigh at a Spring well begun.

Additional Resources:

Carpenter Ants” – Jeffrey Hahn and Stephen Kells – University of Minnesota Extension
[Annual Termite Control Issue] A-maze-ing journey” – Anne Nagro – PCT

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 9 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BFA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

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