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Rats: Not Even Their Own Are Safe!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

2020 is the year of the rat in the Chinese Zodiac, and according to tradition, that means it is a bad year to be a fellow rat. For those born in a previous rat year, the year is all but destined for mishaps and unfortunate circumstances; and 2020 seems to be living up to that destiny, not only for the people encompassed by this Zodiac symbol, but for the rats themselves. Though rats are generally adaptable and highly successful at living alongside humans, the major lifestyle and economic shifts that have been adopted worldwide to combat COVID-19 have caused these critters to find themselves suddenly thrust into survival mode.

For rats that have made their homes near restaurants and other food establishments, they are accustomed to living a life with plenty of access to food and water, but with so many food establishments shut down or operating at a drastically reduced capacity, those rats have seen their food supply curtailed and are being forced to find new means with which to survive. As reported by Dartunorro Clark for NBC News in the article “Starving, angry and cannibalistic: America’s rats are getting desperate amid coronavirus pandemic”, rats that have been displaced by the coronavirus shut downs are turning to drastic measures. Not only are these rats hitting the streets in droves looking for new places to find food, when they do find a promising location, it is often already inhabited, which leads to lethal fights over territory. In cases where food is scarce the rats have been turning to cannibalism, especially in the form of infanticide, as a means of surviving.

Seeing large numbers of desperate rats on the move would be unnerving at any time, but add that it’s in the midst of a pandemic and it’s impossible for the sight not to bring to mind the most infamous epidemic: The Black Plague. Though it’s been nearly 700 years since that devastating disease struck Europe, killing more than 20 million people, its memory has persisted throughout Western societies, and has been one of the more notable references for the dangers that large numbers of rats can pose to humans. Though COVID-19 is not linked to transmission via rat, the social-distancing measures being put into place to combat that virus is increasing the potential for rats to interact with humans in larger numbers than we have seen for quite some time, and that can cause a whole host of problems.

What Dangers do Rats Pose?

A rat infestation is no small problem; these critters are not simply a nuisance, they can prove to be quite harmful. Of course when we think of rats one of the first dangers that comes to mind is disease; not only did the black rat carry fleas infected with the bubonic plague that led to The Black Death, but rats carry more than 40 diseases that are harmful to humans, including murine typhus, the plague, and rabies. The threat of rat-borne disease is significant enough that it is believed that in the last 1,000 years they have taken more human lives than all wars and revolutions combined. But disease is not the only threat that a rat infestation poses; they are also exceptionally dangerous to agricultural products, destroying approximately 20% of these products annually world-wide. They are even dangerous to local flora and fauna, preying on nestlings, competing with other animals for food items, and playing a significant role in preventing certain trees from re-growing. And under certain circumstances, they can even provide a direct danger by attacking people; around 14,000 people annually report having been attacked by rats in the U.S.; of these attacks some will even bestow mortal wounds.

What are the Warning Signs of a Rat Problem?

Rats are nocturnal creatures, which means they are the most active at night. So if you are hearing noises in your walls or in your attic at night there is a high likelihood that there are rats inside your home. Remember that even if the noise sounds too loud to be a single rat, the noise of several rats running around in an attic can be surprisingly strong. You should also be on the lookout for rat droppings (which are dark brown, oblong, and tapered at the ends) and nests (which are generally made out of soft materials like cloth, paper, cardboard, cloth, and even hair), particularly in largely undisturbed areas of your home or near food and water sources. Another sign to pay close attention to is chewed wiring (either within your home or even in your vehicle); not only is this a sign of a potential rat problem, it could also prove dangerous to you or your home’s safety and is likely to be quite costly to repair. And of course the most tell-tale sign of a rat problem is actually seeing them inside your home, garage, shed, etc.

How can you Prevent a Rat Infestation?

During the COVID-19 crisis, while businesses are closed or operating at a drastically reduced rate, it will be more difficult than usual to prevent rat infestations. With rats finding themselves desperate for food that would have otherwise been plentiful in dumpsters and garbage cans, they are increasingly likely to go in search of food inside business and homes. Once inside a structure, rats can rapidly multiply in numbers, with an average female rat having seven to ten litters each year and each litter containing an average of six to ten pups. That means in just one year a rat population could go from two to around 1,250 if left unchecked. This is why preventing rats from ever getting into your home is so important, because once you notice the rat infestation, you are likely to have quite a few rats to combat.

So how do you prevent rats from getting into your home? It’s more difficult than you may think, as a rat only needs a hole about the size of a quarter to get inside a building, they can climb trees and brick walls, can walk across phone lines, can jump three feet vertically and four feet horizontally, and can chew through lead, cinder block, and aluminum sheeting. Still, it is possible to make your home a less inviting target for hungry rats on the move. Here are some helpful tips to keep your home rat-free:

  • All entry points that are visible need to be sealed. Remember, not only can a rat fit through a hole the size of a quarter, it could gnaw on a smaller hole to widen it to be of a suitable size for entry. A quick call to The Bug Dude @ 1-800-310-BUGS will put you at ease.  All of the exclusion work we perform comes with a 1-year warranty.
  • Trim tree branches away from your roof and vines away from your walls. You want to make it as difficult as possible for a rat to have access to parts of your home you may not be able to regularly inspect (like the roof line).
  • Keep trash cans sealed. Always keep lids on trash cans and make sure that they are securely in place.
  • Keep pet food in sealed containers. If you store your pet food in the garage, a metal container would be the best bet. Remember that anything your pet could eat, a rat would happily eat as well.
  • Remove any bird feeders or bird baths from your yard. The goal is to not have anything that could entice a rat onto your property, and nothing is more enticing than readily available food and water.

How do you Treat a Rat Infestation?

Given the prolific nature of rats and their potential dangers, it’s important to get a rat problem treated as soon as you see the first signs that you might be facing an infestation. Though it might be tempting to try to treat for rats yourself, eliminating an infestation is more complicated than simply placing a trap and waiting for a rat to get caught in it. Rats are clever creatures, so it’s important to not only choose the best type of product to battle the infestation with, it’s also necessary to know exactly where to place the product(s) to ensure the greatest success in treatment. By calling The Bug Dude at 1-800-310-BUGS and having a trained technician out to your home, you not only get verification that the pest you are combating is rats, you will also get a professional who can determine the most effective and safest (for you, your home, and your pets) method for treatment.

During this time of global crisis it’s easy to focus solely on the threat that is on everyone’s mind and forget that the threats that we have always had to contend with are still very present, and in the case of rats, are actually increased because of this pandemic. That’s why it’s more important than ever to keep your home and your family safe and call Mid-Cities Pest Control at the first signs of infestation, and not allow rats to add one more worry to your plate.

Further Reading:

“Year of the Rat” – Chinese New Year 2020 – Wasai LLC

“Starving, angry and cannibalistic: America’s rats are getting desperate amid coronavirus pandemic” – Dartunorro Clark – NBC News

“Black Death” – History.com Editors – A&E Television Networks

“The Facts about Rats” – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

“Facts About Rats” – Alina Bradford – Live Science

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 11 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.

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A Message Regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Wednesday, April 08, 2020 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

As the pandemic of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to grow and change the everyday lives of countless people, we here at Mid-Cities Pest Control want to assure all of our customers that we are here for you and will continue to provide all of our pest control services without interruption.

Pest control has always been an important aspect in maintaining the health and safety of your home and workplace, and with the governmental classification as an essential service, we remain committed to doing our part throughout these difficult times.

In order to better care for our customers, we continue to monitor and implement the latest CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As always, our staff is dedicated to addressing the health concerns of our customers and working with them on an individual basis to create pest control solutions that keep them safe and healthy.

During this time of self-isolation and social-distancing, we are taking precautions to keep our staff and customers safe and healthy: from additional sanitation measures to an abundance of caution with any signs or reports of illness, we are dedicated to ‘flattening the curve’ while not allowing pest problems to run rampant.

If you are one of the many people practicing self-isolation, we want to assure you that we provide treatment options so that you can maintain that isolation and still get the pest control you need:

  • For many pest problems we can offer fully contact-free service. From exterior only treatment, to credit card payments made over the phone, to digital invoicing, we can provide exceptional service to your home without you even having to open your door.
  • If you are having a problem with an indoor pest, we have consumer-friendly products available for purchase for several types of pest. Not only will we deliver these products to you, our technicians will offer professional guidance on how to best use the products to safely and effectively treat the pest problem.
  • Whatever your circumstance may be, we at Mid-Cities Pest Control are always ready to work with you to customize your service experience so that you get the optimum pest control that suits you and your family’s needs.

Pests aren’t going to stop their normal activities during this national emergency, but there’s no need for you to spend your self-isolation worrying about critters, call us at 1-800-310-BUGS and let us ease at least one of your concerns in this difficult time.

For more information on COVID-19, check out the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), WHO (World Health Organization), and Texas Department of State Health Services.

Termites vs. Carpenter Ants

| Mid-Cities Pest Control

Spring is a time of renewal, growth, and change, with warmer weather pushing aside the winter chill and frequent rains encouraging plants to grow. It’s the time of year where bluebonnets bloom, young animals explore and scamper across yards, and bugs of all sorts begin to flourish. For many pests, April will just barely start their prolific season; however, for a few notable pests this is the month where conditions are perfect and they thrive above all others. The most notorious of these April-loving pests are termites and carpenter ants.

It’s during this month that you will see swarmers (winged versions) of both of these pests leaving their nests en masse in order to mate and begin a new colony. To the casual observer, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a termite and a carpenter ant, especially since both are wood-destroying pests, prefer similar habitats, and send swarmers out at the same time of year; however, termites pose considerably more danger to the structure of your home and require more extensive and expeditious treatment than do carpenter ants, which is why being able to tell the difference between the two is so important.

So how do you correctly identify a termite from a carpenter ant and why is one so much more concerning than the other? The answers can be found in both the visual and behavioral differences between these pests.

What are the Visual Differences Between Termites and Carpenter Ants?

When discussing visual differences, it’s important to distinguish whether you are looking at the swarmers, workers, or soldiers of the species, as they all have unique characteristics that will help you tell which species you are looking at.

Swarmers: These are by far the most common type you will encounter, and are especially prevalent in spring. Swarmers are simply winged termites or ants that are setting out to reproduce and create a new colony. They tend to emerge in large numbers once the existing colony has grown quite large, and they can generally be found heading toward windows in their attempt to get outside to propagate.

Termite SwarmersCarpenter Ant Swarmers
Fairly uniform body widthSegmented body with narrow waist
Straight, short antennaeSegmented, bent antennae
2 sets of uniform wingsFront wings longer than hind wings
Wings are much longer than bodyWings similar size as body
Wings are clear or white and are fragile and easily fall offWings are semi-transparent yellowish-brown
Body is blackBody is black or red and black
3/8” long including wings3/4” long

Workers: You are unlikely to encounter workers of either species unless their nest has been disturbed. They tend to stay fully within their colony and are responsible for providing food and building/maintaining the colony.

Termite WorkersCarpenter Ant Workers
1/8” long body3/8” long body
Translucent cream-coloredBlack or red and black
Soft-bodiedHard, segmented body

Soldiers: As their name suggests, these insects are responsible for defending the colony, and as such can occasionally be seen outside the hive.

Termite SoldiersCarpenter Ant Soldiers
Large, rectangular, orange/brown head with powerful jaw and pincersSegmented body with bent antennae
Light-colored bodyBlack or red and black
A bit bigger than workers1/2” long body

What are the Behavioral Differences Between Termites and Carpenter Ants?

Though both termites and carpenter ants are drawn to damp, rotting wood, and do damage to wooden structures, the similarities in their habits largely ends there. These two insects have a different diet, different ways of building nests, and different telltale signs of an infestation.

Diet: Perhaps the biggest behavioral difference between termites and carpenter ants is their diet. Termites feed upon dead plant material and cellulose, which means that they are literally eating the wood in your home for their meals. Carpenter ants, however, do not eat cellulose, instead they mostly consume protein (i.e. insects) and sugars. This difference illustrates the primary reason why termites are so much more destructive to wooden structures: since it is literally consuming the wood as food, the more termites there are, the more they will eat.

Nests: So if carpenter ants don’t eat wood, why are they doing so much damage to it? Put simply, they are merely excavating sections of the wood in which to build their nests. Because carpenter ants are only using the wood for their nests, it will take them longer to do severe damage, as they will only excavate tunnels and galleries in the wood when needed for growth. Additionally, their tunnels and galleries are very neat and smooth, unlike those created by termites, which tend to be rough, ragged, and filled with layers of soil and mud. The reason there is soil and mud left by termites is due to their subterranean nesting. Though termites can create satellite nests within your home, they generally have their primary nest underground, and come into your home to feast on the wood there.

Telltale Signs: Because termites live mostly underground and come into a home to eat, they need a safe way to travel between their nest and their food, which is why they build mud tubes. Mud tubes are the highway termites use to safely traverse exposed areas (generally against the foundation of a home) and are the primary sign that you have a termite infestation. On the other hand, carpenter ants, which live in the wood itself, do not need external methods of travel; what they do need is space, which is why they expel wood shavings and waste out of the nests. This expelled material is called frass and can generally be found at baseboards and windowsills, this is a sure indicator that carpenter ants have infested your home.

Whether you are seeing the signs of a termite or carpenter ant infestation, it’s important to take immediate action and call The Bug Dude @ 800-310-BUGS to assess the situation and get it properly treated. The technicians at Mid-Cities Pest Control are dedicated to helping you quickly eliminate the infestation and get back to enjoying your home without the stress and worry of insect damage. So give The Bug Dude a call at 1-800-310-BUGS and reclaim your spring.

Further Reading:

The Truth about Five Common Termite Myths

Termite 101

Spring, and Carpenter Ants, are in the Air

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 11 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. 

Texas Armadillos: Friend or Foe?

Thursday, March 05, 2020 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

March in Texas holds a special place in our hearts, beyond the warming weather, the increasing hours of daylight, and the appearance of fields of bluebonnets, this is also the month where we celebrate the signing of Texas’ Declaration of Independence. On March 2nd, 1836, a convention of sixty men representing Texas’ revolutionary government met in Washington-on-the-Brazos and formally declared its independence from Mexico. This declaration was made in the midst of the infamous battle of the Alamo (going on nearly 170 miles away), which had begun on February 23rd and came to its harrowing conclusion on March 6th. Just six weeks later, a Texan army led by Sam Houston won a landmark victory in the war, and gained official recognition of Texas’ independence. For the next nine years Texas stood as an independent republic before joining the United States in 1845.

Across the state people will be celebrating Texas Independence Day with all things Texan: from Shiner to barbecue, rodeos to country music, and the particular brand of spunk and conviviality that epitomizes Texans. So in celebration of this great state, we are taking a look at an animal that is so fully Texan it’s in nearly every piece of Texas-themed memorabilia, and is the official (small) mammal of Texas: the nine-banded armadillo. Though this animal is revered by many a Texan as a symbol of the state, that does not keep it from being a problem pest for many a homeowner statewide.

What do Armadillos Look Like?

Though there are around 20 species of armadillos, only one is found in the U.S.: the nine-banded armadillo. This critter is about the size of a cat or small dog, weighing around 8-17 lbs. and with a body length of around 16”, a tail virtually as long as its body, and short legs. It has a bony shell, covering all but its belly, that acts like armor, protecting the armadillo from its predators; the “nine-banded” variety are so called due to having approximately 9 bands on their armor (the actual number can range from 7 to 11 bands). Contrary to popular myth, these armadillos cannot roll up into spherical balls when threatened; in fact, only two species can do this and they are both three-banded. In addition, they have powerful claws specifically adapted for digging.

Where are Armadillos Found?

With armadillos it’s not only a question of where but when you will find them. The general rule of thumb for these animals is that you will find them wherever food sources are plentiful and the ground is conducive for digging (the softer the ground, the better). It’s there that they are likely to dig burrows for their dens. However, they are not highly territorial, and will readily abandon a den if in danger or when the food source has diminished. This attitude of going where the food is means you can potentially find them in brush, woods, scrub, and grasslands.

 In addition, they are nocturnal creatures and have a diminished ability to control their body temperature due to having very little hair, meaning that they are most active during summer nights and warmer winter afternoons and evenings. You are likely to see an uptick in armadillo sightings starting in March each year as that’s the month they tend to give birth. A female nine-banded armadillo almost always gives birth to four identical quadruplets, which are born fully formed and with their eyes open, but with armor that hasn’t yet hardened.

What do Armadillos Eat?

Primarily, these animals eat invertebrates like grubs, beetles, roaches, wasps, fire ants, spiders, and scorpions. However, in a pinch they will turn to small reptiles and amphibians, eggs, fruit, seeds, fungi, and other plants matter. They get to this food by smelling around for bugs hidden just a bit below the surface of the ground (they have an exceptional sense of smell), then digging into the ground in the correct place and using their sticky tongue to grab the desired treat. This method of hunting presents one of the primary reasons you don’t want to see an armadillo in your yard, because they will very quickly create a lot of dug-out areas throughout your yard and landscaping, leading to lots of time, effort, and money to get your yard looking just the way you want it again.

Are Armadillos Dangerous?

If this question were to be “are armadillos likely to attack people or pets?” the answer would pretty clearly be “no.” They are not known to bite or else wise be combative (though they can use their claws to fight if absolutely necessary). In fact, if they are surprised, they don’t attempt to fight, they leap straight into the air, startling whatever just snuck up on them, giving the armadillo time to run to a safety. Clearly, even with more teeth than any other known mammal, they are an animal rooted in defense, so is there any reason to call them dangerous? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.”

The greatest danger that armadillos pose comes from the fact that they are the only animal other than humans that can contract leprosy, and they are capable of passing that disease to humans (though incidence of this is quite rare).

However, this is not the only danger they pose. Since they are regularly digging out areas for their dens, if they dig under a deck, foundation, sidewalk, etc. they can potentially make that structure less stable, leading to costly repairs and unsafe conditions.

In addition, their abandoned dens often become home to other animals, like snakes, opossums, rats, and skunks, all of which can present their own pest control and safety issues.

How do you Prevent Armadillos from Getting in your Yard?

Unlike many pests where there are multiple risk factors you can address in order to attempt to prevent an issue from occurring, with armadillos there are only 3 preventative measures you can take. The first is to keep your lawn as bug-free as possible by maintaining regular pest control services and immediately addressing issues such as grub worms when they invade your lawn (see our article about grub worms). The second is to utilize rocks or wood chips in your landscaping to make that area too difficult for the armadillo to dig in. The third, and much more costly method is to install a sturdy fence around your property that also creates a barrier 2 feet underground. Since armadillos are excellent diggers, any preventive barrier will need to cover above and below ground if you want to actually keep these critters out of your yard.

Though there are some products that claim to deter armadillos and there are plenty of “home remedy” deterrent suggestions, none of them have been proven to be effective.

How do you Handle an Armadillo Problem?

As with all wildlife, Mid-Cities Pest Control responds to armadillo problems by performing a live animal trapping. Our expert technicians will evaluate the problem and place a humane trap in the ideal location to catch the animal. It’s important to note that it’s especially helpful to get professional assistance in trapping for armadillos as they are notoriously one of the most difficult animals to entice into a cage. Once caught, the animal is removed from your property and relocated far enough away that they will not be able to find their way back to your lawn. This way the animal gets to continue their docile existence as Texas’ mascot and your lawn gets to quickly return to its pristine state.

So whether you are dealing with an armadillo settling into residence in your yard or a skunk or opossum making its home in an abandoned armadillo den, you can rest assured that the experts at Mid-Cities Pest Control will have the solution well in hand. With years of successful experience in live animal trappings (we recently performed a skunk trapping where, at one home, we trapped a den of skunks totaling 7 animals!) our technicians are ready to handle any situation.

This March don’t let armadillos ruin your springtime celebrations, call The Bug Dude at 1-800-310-BUGS at the first sign of a problem and declare your independence from pests.

Additional Resources:

“Texas declares independence” – History.com Editors – www.history.com – A&E Television Networks

“Nine-Banded Armadillo” – Texas Junior Naturalists – Texas Parks & Wildlife

“Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)” – Texas Parks & Wildlife

“Nine-Banded Armadillo” – National Wildlife Federation

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 11 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.

An Aphid Valentine

Monday, February 10, 2020 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”

– Aristotle

Valentine’s Day has a long and varied history, with its true origins unknown. Not only are there at least 3 different saints named Valentine/Valentinus upon which the holiday could have been based, but it’s also believed that the celebration date being in mid-February was chosen specifically in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan holiday “Lupercalia”. Lupercalia was a fertility festival largely in honor of the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. It only seems appropriate then that we turn our attention to a tiny insect this month that is known for its prolific reproduction and its impact on agricultural and horticultural plants, the aphid. This tiny insect also brings with it a particularly unique life cycle which not only includes reproduction via coupling, but also solitary reproduction, which means that whether you find yourself in a couple or single this Valentine’s Day, the aphid fits the bill.

How Many Kinds of Aphids Are There?

Not only are there over 4,000 species of aphids worldwide, but of those 4,000, more than 250 species feed on horticultural and agricultural crops. With that kind of diversity, it’s no surprise that there are a number of different species of aphids in Texas, the most common of which tend to attack landscape plants. A few of the most common species are: the Cotton or Melon Aphid, the Green Peach Aphid, the Crape Myrtle Aphid, and the Oleander Aphid. As you may have noticed, many aphid species are named after their preferred host plant, but they all do share the same nickname: “plant lice”.

What do Aphids Look Like?

With so many aphid species worldwide, it’s little wonder that their physical characteristics can vary quite a bit from species to species. They can be pear-shaped, oval, globular, or narrow-bodied and can range in color from black/gray to red, orange, yellow, green, brown, or blue-green and can sometimes have markings or appear wax-covered. However, there are a few characteristics that are true for all aphids: they are small, ranging from 1/16” to 1/8” long, have soft-bodies, antennae, and a stylus mouth part used to pierce and suck sap from plants. Most aphids also have a couple tubes in the rear of the abdomen (called cornicles) that secrete a type of honeydew called cornicle wax. In addition, some aphids will have wings and some will not (more on this in the section “How Does an Aphid Infestation Happen?”).

How Does an Aphid Infestation Happen?

In order to understand how an aphid infestation can take hold of your landscaping and garden, you only need to look at the complex, and uncommon life cycle of this insect that allows this pest to be quite prolific (they reproduce faster than any other insect). Not only do many aphids follow a relatively standard life cycle wherein they reproduce sexually and deposit their fertilized eggs, which will then go through a basic metamorphosis (overwintering as eggs, growing into nymphs, and emerging as either winged or wingless adults), but they can also reproduce via parthenogenesis (reproduction without mating) and will give birth to live female young; these young are clones of their mother. This variable method of reproduction allows for generations of new aphids to be born quickly and thus grow exponentially. Generally, aphids reach sexual maturity in about 4 to 10 days and are then capable of reproducing for about the following 3 weeks (the average lifespan of an adult is about 1 month); this means that there will be overlapping generations of these insects reproducing via parthenogenesis. Not only are the fast-growing numbers a concern for your plants, but they can also increase the rate at which these pests develop resistance to insecticides.

These insects are still even more adaptable, sometimes giving birth to winged aphids, which can make an infestation even more difficult to control. The winged version of this pest tends to occur for one of two main reasons: the need to travel or as part of the reproductive cycle for some species. When a plant becomes too crowded with aphids, the next generation to be born will be winged so that they can move to a new host plant where there will be plenty of food and space for the increasing numbers. Though that is the most common reason to see winged aphids, they are also part of some aphid species’ standard reproductive cycle. In this case, the pests live on one plant and reproduce on a separate plant, so they need to have wings in order to move from one plant to the other. Because of this movement, you can sometimes find yourself tricked into thinking the infestation has gone away because it’s no longer on the plant you had been focused on, but in reality the insects have simply moved and will come back in even greater numbers before you know it.

Are Aphids Dangerous?

Though aphids are not harmful to humans as they do not bite or sting us, they can be quite devastating to the plants they reside and feed upon. Their potential for plant damage is three-fold: damage done while feeding, causal damage, and viral damage.

Damage Done While Feeding: when aphids remove the sap from the plant tissue (phloem) to feed upon, it not only inherently weakens the plant, but some species also leave behind toxic salivary secretions in the plant. These two factors will lead to stunted plant growth, deformed and discolored leaves/fruit, potential for leaf loss, and can cause galls to form on the plant.

Causal Damage: it’s common for aphid species to secrete a sugary substance called honeydew (or more specifically, cornicle wax) on the leaves and other plant parts of thelir host plant. This cornicle wax is a prime host for the “sooty mold” fungus, which colonizes on the surfaces covered by the honeydew, blocking out the sunlight to that section of the plant, ultimately preventing it from taking in the sunlight and leading to plant damage.

Viral Damage: aphids are a major vector when it comes to spreading diseases among plants. Not only can they transmit dozens of viruses from a diseased plant into a healthy plant in only a matter of seconds, they can also host viruses that go through a latency period within the host insect itself. The transmitted viruses are acquired instantly on the aphids mouth parts when it feeds on an infected plant, and are easily spread to new plants when the aphid feeds on them for its next meal. Even worse, many of the diseases these pests can spread are incurable, making viral damage the most worrisome effect of an aphid infestation.

How can you Prevent Aphids?

When it comes to aphids, putting in a little advance work to discourage them from making your plants their home can go a long way to keeping a significant infestation at bay. Here are a few tips on how to prevent or minimize an aphid attack:

  • Remove weeds that could be used by the insect for a reproduction site.
  • Use insect nets to cover crops.
  • Avoid excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizer.
  • Remove any plant residue/waste.
  • Grow banker/barrier plants around the important plants you wish to save from damage; these banker plants are plants that are not susceptible to the viruses aphids carry so when the insect feeds on them, the virus is safely deposited into a plant it won’t effect. You can also intermingle plants in your garden that naturally repel aphids (i.e. garlic, chives, leeks, marigolds, and catnip).

How do you Eliminate Aphids?

If you have found yourself facing an aphid infestation on your plants, it’s time to give Mid-Cities Pest Control a call at 1-800-310-BUGS to get a technician out to combat the issue. Since they can reproduce quickly, time is of the essence, which means that at the first signs of an aphid issue, you need to call so that Mid-Cities Pest Control can send out an experienced technician to evaluate the infestation and determine the best course of treatment. Since aphids cause damage to the plant, which is ultimately the vehicle through which the pesticide will reach the insect, it takes a knowledgeable hand to know how to make treatment effective, and even more so, to know which products to use to successfully eliminate the target insect.

Though aphids are a wonderfully unique pest, they are also very dangerous to landscape plants and crops, and need to be carefully monitored and eliminated when evidence arises that they have settled on your property. So show your plants some love this Valentine’s Day and call The Bug Dude at the first sign of an aphid infestation.

Additional Resources:

“Aphids – in detail” – Canna

“Aphids in Texas Landscapes” – Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

“History of Valentine’s Day” – History.com Editors

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 11 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.

Out with the Weevils, in with the New Year

Thursday, January 09, 2020 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

Around the world people ring in the New Year with traditions meant to celebrate a fresh start and let go of the prior year. In Colombia and Ecuador they release the negativity of the prior year during “los años viejos” where they burn previously made effigies (in the form of large puppets or scarecrows) of those who have died in the past year or of people they dislike. Until recently, people in Johannesburg, South Africa, would throw old furniture out of windows to symbolize the removal of old problems and the gaining of a fresh start. The people of Denmark utilize old dishes in their celebrations, breaking these dishes against a friend’s front door or front step in order to bring them good fortune in the dawning year (in Denmark, broken glass is a sign of good luck). Closer to home, we often include in our celebrations a set of New Year’s Resolutions, meant to help us embrace the idea of “out with the old [bad habits], and in with the new.”

In that spirit of letting go of the old, we turn to a place often neglected when it comes to that sentiment: the pantry. Though it may not seem like a priority with the dazzle of the New Year and the new decade still fresh, with so many people making resolutions around both food and money, it’s a place you won’t want to forget about lest you find your food infested with weevils and yourself having to let go of more than just old food.

How Many Kinds of Weevils Are There?

Weevils are actually a type of beetle and in comparison to other beetle groups, are known to have an exceptionally high number of different species in its family. In Texas alone, it is believed that there are over 1200 different types of weevils. Though they all share certain commonalities, and many can become pests agriculturally (like the boll weevil) or to ornamental plants (like the black vine weevil), when you are dealing with them in your home the predominant varieties you will encounter are the rice weevil, granary weevil, cowpea weevil, and maize weevil.

What do Weevils Look Like?

With so many different types of weevil in existence, there isn’t one description that could cover them all. However, there are certain traits shared by most weevils, especially those listed above as the common varieties you would find in your home (with the exception of the cowpea weevil, which lacks the notable snout). Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the adult weevil is its head shape, which is elongated at one end to form a snout with the mouth at the end of that snout. They are generally dark brown or black with slender or oval-shaped bodies, and are quite small, ranging from 1/10th to 2/5ths of an inch in length. Some weevils are capable of flying (such as the rice weevil), while others (like the granary weevil) are not. In the larval stage, they are tiny, white/cream-colored, wrinkled, humpbacked and legless, with a small, tan-colored head.

How Do You Get Weevils?

Though there are plenty of weevil species that can be found outdoors and can make their way indoors through cracks and crevices, the most common way that these pests find their way into your home is inside packaged and bulk food items. The eggs arrive in your home already inside a seed or grain kernel. The adult female weevil will chew a hole into a seed or grain kernel using her long snout and will then deposit an egg inside and seal up the opening afterward, keeping the egg well-hidden. Once the egg hatches, the larva will feed on the meat inside the seed/kernel until it is fully grown, when it will eat its way out of the grain/seed.

But you won’t have just one weevil emerging, and it won’t stay as just one generation for long. Not only does mating often occur within 24 hours of the adult weevil emerging from the seed/grain, but 1 adult female can lay 300-400 eggs, which can complete a generation in just 1 month in favorable (warm, damp) conditions; this means that an infestation can happen quite suddenly. And these pests are persistent, living as adults for around 7 or 8 months, which means you could be living with them for quite some time unless you take proper measures.

Are Weevils Dangerous?

Fortunately, weevils are not a dangerous household pest. They don’t bite or sting, and they are not toxic if consumed. They are, however, a significant agricultural pest, doing damage to a wide variety of crops and stored grain. And on an individual level, they can be responsible for a great deal of food waste, as well as the unmistakable horror upon finding these pests crawling all throughout your food; a horror that can linger for years afterward every time you think about buying that same product again.

How can you Prevent Weevils?

There are several important steps to take to prevent weevils from infesting your food and your home. Following these preventative measures year-round will significantly decrease the likelihood that you will find these pests taking over your pantry.

  1. Inspect bagged and boxed foods before purchasing and do not purchase any items that have torn or damaged packaging.
  2. Pay attention to expiration dates on bagged and boxed foods and do not purchase items past their expiration/best by dates.
  3. Store dry goods (rice, pasta, flour, beans, nuts, etc.) in glass, metal, or thick plastic containers with tightly-fitting lids. If this is not possible, store these goods in the refrigerator or freezer.
  4. Clean out reusable dry good containers before refilling; do not add new items to the existing (old) ones.
  5. Keep the pantry clean and free of food debris and loose food.
  6. Keep food storage areas dry.
  7. Store non-food dry goods (pet food, birdseed, etc.) in tightly sealed containers away from the pantry, ideally in a shed or garage.

How do you Eliminate Weevils?

Eliminating weevils is essentially a 3 step process.

Step 1: Remove the infested food

  • If you see weevils in your stored foods, immediately discard the infested food item.
    • Do save a small sample of the insects you are seeing in a well-sealed container so that when you have one of Mid-Cities Pest Control’s technicians evaluate your home for treatment they can correctly identify the pest for optimal treatment.
  • Inspect all remaining food items in the vicinity for possible infestation and discard any additional affected items. Ideally, you will want to inspect all food items in the home, but it is especially important to check all items in the same pantry/cupboard/etc.
    • Pay special attention to all grains, flours, seeds, rice, nuts, beans, cereals, corn, etc.

       Step 2: Clean

  • Remove all food items from the area where the infested food was found (pantry, cupboard, etc.) and vacuum all of the shelves, floor, and wall joints. Use the brush/crevice attachment on the vacuum to get to all areas, especially the edges of shelves, corners, and all other cracks and crevices.
    • Note: a vacuum is by far the best tool for this job as you need to ensure that all insects/eggs are removed from the food storage area. Cleaning agents, bleach, etc. will not aid in the removal of the insects.
  • Always empty the vacuum or discard the vacuum bag outdoors.
  • Give the kitchen a thorough cleaning.

Step 3: Call a Professional

  • The danger in a weevil infestation comes from the fact that the eggs are so tiny and well-hidden that you will end up with hundreds of insects destroying your food before you even know you have a problem. Even after following steps 1 and 2, there is a good chance that these resilient pests may still be lying in wait to devour even more of your food. That’s why it’s always a good idea to call in a professional. The technicians at Mid-Cities Pest Control will identify the pest from the sample you saved to confirm it is indeed weevils and then determine the most effective, as well as the safest, method to treat for these pests so that they do not continue to cause damage to your food stores.
    • Never attempt to self-treat for weevils. Since products will need to be put in areas where food is kept, it is important for your safety to have a professional do the treating.

Don’t let weevils dampen your New Year; at the first signs of pests, call Mid-Cities Pest Control at 1-800-310-BUGS and let us help you say “out with the infestation, in with a fresh start.”

Additional Resources:

“Weevils of Texas – Superfamily Curculionoidea” – compiled by Mike Quinn – Texas Entomology.

“Rice Weevil and Maize Weevil” – Janet Hurley, Bradleigh S. Vinson – Entomology Extension, Texas A&M Forest Service

Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 11 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.

Christmas with the Jerusalem Cricket

Friday, December 13, 2019 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

When we think of Christmas time our first thoughts go to the child born in a manger, loved ones, snow, Santa, and the carols we most love to sing. As we immerse ourselves in the magic of the season, we are sure to find animals of all shapes and sizes become part of the yearly yuletide; from reindeer to sheep, and mice to turtledoves, we welcome our furry and feathered friends (or at least their most charming likenesses) into our celebrations. Not too surprisingly though, the insects and arachnids that just a few months prior were central to many a Halloween decoration, are largely left out when it comes to the glory and joy of Christmas. Maybe it’s just too difficult to feel the cozy warmth of Christmas when looking at a spider or see the magic and joy when watching a roach skitter across the floor, even if that roach were wearing a tiny Santa hat and beard, or maybe it’s simply that we haven’t chosen the correct insects to include in our Christmas celebrations.

There is one insect that has had its place in Christmastime lore, one of the few insects that has had several notable positive representations in pop culture: the cricket. In 1845 Charles Dickens published a very popular novella: The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home, the third of his five Christmas books, in which a cricket acts as a sort of guardian angel to a family. Though Mr. Dickens was certainly writing about a fairly common cricket in that story, there is yet another cricket that seems destined to be connected to Christmas: the Jerusalem cricket. Not only does the name instantly bring up thoughts of the Biblical city and its own history, but it also brings to mind the city that’s less than 6 miles away and is infamous especially at Christmas, Bethlehem. But before you start singing “O little town of Bethlehem,” consider the second reason the Jerusalem cricket seems destined for Christmas: instead of making a chirping noise like standard crickets, the Jerusalem cricket makes a sort of drumming noise (perhaps a “Pa rum pum pum pum”…at least at Christmas) with its body.

Though this insect seems like the best candidate if one were looking to add to the Christmas animal repertoire, it faces the same challenges so many insects face: most people do not want to be around it. Not only is it a strange-looking insect, but it’s large, and the sight of it actually in your home would probably give you Halloween flashbacks instead of making you sing Christmas carols. So let’s learn a little more about this almost-Christmassy insect so you can learn how to avoid an unwanted Christmas surprise.

Why are they Called Jerusalem Crickets?

The name Jerusalem Cricket is actually a bit of a misnomer as they are neither from, nor found in, Israel. It’s unknown exactly how they received their name, but the most common theory is that it originated from a misinterpretation of the Navajo name for these insects (“Skull Insect”) by Spanish priests who interpreted the name as being related to “Skull Hill,” the place where Christ died.

Even calling them a cricket is a bit of a misnomer, as they are technically not a true cricket. Yes, they are still in the same Order as crickets and grasshoppers, but that’s a very broad category and there are several key differences between the Jerusalem cricket and common crickets that help to illustrate the naming confusion: unlike common crickets they are not built for jumping, instead they are built for burrowing into the soil; and though they are known for their unique mating song, it’s not the familiar chirping noise, instead the Jerusalem cricket creates their distinctive drumming sound by bumping the ground with their body.

In the end, these odd little bugs seem to defy all naming logic, adding even more intrigue to these unique creatures.

What do Jerusalem Crickets Look Like?

These strange-looking insects are quite large, around 2”-2.5” long, and have quite a distinctive appearance. Their bald, shiny, amber-colored head is one of the most distinguishing features, being that it is disproportionately large for its body and almost “humanoid” in shape, with two dark, beady eyes set just below its slender antennae. They also have very large mandibles (mouth-parts), which are highly effective for chewing roots, tubers, vegetables, and meat (including other insects), as well as aiding in soil excavation as they dig through the dirt in their subterranean world. Their shiny abdomen is ringed tan against dark brown or black. Finally, its legs, especially its front legs, are stout and spiny and adapted for digging in soil, not for jumping.

Where are Jerusalem Crickets Found?

Geographically, Jerusalem crickets are found in the western United States and parts of Mexico.

Outdoors, Jerusalem crickets generally spend most of their lives in underground burrows, only coming to the surface at night to feed on plant matter and insects; however, they can also occasionally be found making their homes in warm, damp places, generally in a protected area like a wood or rock pile. After mating, the female will burrow 6”-10” underground, usually in a protected area like was just mentioned, and will created a nest there that will house their eggs.

Jerusalem Crickets are rarely found Indoors, other than in a terrarium as a pet. Due to their preferred habitat and nesting site, they generally won’t be looking to make your home into their home, and most likely just wandered in while looking for food.

Are Jerusalem Crickets Dangerous?

Though they are an intimidating insect to suddenly find yourself faced with, they are not aggressive and are likely to simply try to escape if they encounter a threat rather than attempt to attack or defend. However, their strong, and sizeable, mandibles are known to deliver quite a painful bite should the Jerusalem cricket be cornered into a situation where it cannot flee and is forced to fight. Fortunately, they are not venomous or poisonous, so though the bite will hurt for a little, it won’t do any lasting damage.

These bizarre insects aren’t even particularly dangerous to crops, though this is definitely where they have their greatest potential for threat and damage. Since their diet consists of a good deal of plant matter, and they live underground, there are many crops, especially things like potatoes (another nickname for the Jerusalem cricket is Potato bug after all), that they have the potential to negatively affect. However, they can only do significant damage in large numbers, and though they can live for 2-3 years, it also takes about 1-2 years for them to mature to adulthood, and they are known to have a low rate of reproduction, making it rare to find an infestation of these insects to the point of causing severe crop damage.

How can you Prevent Jerusalem Crickets?

There are two main things to consider when attempting to prevent Jerusalem crickets from becoming an issue in your home: 1) how could they get into your home and 2) are there any ideal burrowing/nesting conditions in your yard that you could reduce or eliminate?

When considering how they could get into your home, be sure to look for any large gaps that may be present, especially at door sweeps or window seals, and make sure that any windows or doors that may be left open have a fully sealed screen over them. Since these aren’t a small pest like an ant, they will need a much more sizeable opening to enter your home, one that would be visible to the naked eye.

When considering what could be done to make your yard less hospitable to the Jerusalem cricket, remember that they like warm, damp places, and often go for protected locations under rock or wood piles. Clearing any such piles and keeping your yard free of leaf/plant debris will go a long way toward making your yard a less ideal home for these giants. Additionally, keep a close eye on any fruit or vegetable gardens as these are a potential food source for these insects and could serve to draw them into your yard when they’re searching for a midnight snack.

Finally, when it comes to eliminating potential food sources for the Jerusalem cricket, it’s always a good idea to keep your home as insect-free as possible. By getting on a pest control service plan with Mid-Cities Pest Control and having a certified technician maintain a pest barrier around your house you are far less likely to ever have to face a startling encounter with the Jerusalem cricket inside your home.

How do you eliminate Jerusalem Crickets?

If you find yourself facing a problem with Jerusalem crickets; whether it’s a lone insect that got inside and reminded you it’s time to get on a pest control service plan, or whether you’re facing an infestation, the best course of action is to call Mid-Cities Pest Control at 1-800-310-BUGS and have a certified pest control technician come out to evaluate your home and yard; they can provide you with service options to get the issue under control and maintain a pest barrier to keep your home from becoming a buffet for the Jerusalem cricket.

            This Christmas as you prepare to gather family and friends together to celebrate the joy and the wonder of the holiday, don’t worry about having to utter a “Bah, humbug” at any pests finding their way into your home, give Mid-Cities Pest Control a call and let our technicians help to make this a very Merry Christmas for all.

Additional Resources:

“Jerusalem Cricket” – Pestnet.

“Wild Thing: Stranger Things” – Ben Hutchins – Texas Parks & Wildlife.

“Potato Bug: AKA Jerusalem Cricket And Child Of The Earth” – Daniel Nelson – Science Trends.

“Genus Stenopelmatus – Jerusalem Cricket” – Cotinis, Chuck Entz, & David Ferguson – BugGuide.

“The Jerusalem Cricket” – Dr. Wayne S. Johnson & Jeff Knight – University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative 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.

Christmas vector created by pikisuperstar

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.

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