Mosquitoes have earned a reputation as one of life’s most annoying insects. They seem to be ever-present when we’re trying to enjoy a warm evening outdoors, biting us and causing us to itch, and can create a persistent, loud buzz that seems to defy their body size when they’re trapped in a room with us. In addition to being an annoyance, however, mosquitoes are increasingly becoming a health risk with the emergence of the Zika virus.
Mosquitoes belong to the order of Diptera, or True Flies. Both male and female mosquitoes feed on plant nectar, but the females have a long, piercing proboscis that they use like a needle to extract blood when they bite. The blood they extract is a protein source for their eggs. Mosquitoes use temperature, body odor, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide to locate potential victims. They become carriers of infectious disease when they bite an infected person or animal; the blood they extract enters their circulatory system through their mid-gut, and from there enters into their salivary glands. The redness and itching we experience from mosquito bites is actually an allergic reaction to their saliva.
There are over 3,000 species of mosquito in the world, but only three are responsible for the spread of human diseases. The Aedes genus is the carrier of the Zika virus, which includes the Asian tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito. These mosquitoes are known as aggressive daytime biters, are also vectors for yellow fever, dengue, and encephalitis, and are commonly found in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, but have been found as far north as Connecticut and Maine. The Asian tiger mosquito has been found in Hawaii as well as the mainland U.S.
While most mosquito caused human disease is limited to undeveloped countries, there have been cases that become widespread, causing alarm around the globe. This was the case with the West Nile virus previously, but in recent months the threat of Zika has become of chief concern to many. The World Health Organization even declared it an international health emergency after the spread of the virus in the last two years.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947, and gets its name from the Zika Forest in Uganda. Symptoms of the virus include fever, headaches, rash, red eyes (conjunctivitis), and joint or muscle pain. The symptoms may last up to a week, but typically don’t require hospitalization.
Zika is believed to have spread from Africa to mainland Asia, then to the Pacific islands, and from there to South America and now into North America. The first indications that the virus have more dire effects were discovered in French Polynesia in 2013, where 11% of the population had symptoms severe enough to require medical care. This was when Zika began to be suspected of causing neurological symptoms after 40 infected persons contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome.
The concern over Zika grew even more last year, after being linked to an explosion of microcephaly cases in South America. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than normal and they suffer from incomplete brain development. Zika is believed to be passed from a pregnant mother to the fetus when the virus attacks fetal nerve cells through the walls of the placenta. Pregnant women should be especially careful about mosquito bite prevention, but the virus can also be spread sexually. Men who have been infected by mosquito bites can infect their partner, as viral RNA has been found in semen more than two months after initial symptoms. Women who recover from Zika virus before becoming pregnant are believed to be immune, however, which would negate any harm to the baby.
It is believed that over half of the human population on Earth live in areas where the mosquitoes capable of spreading the virus are found. During the first week of infection, the virus is in the blood of infected persons and can be passed to mosquitoes and then on to other people. There is no vaccine for Zika virus, and no known cure for either microcephaly or Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Until populations have built up a herd immunity against the virus, the best approach to dealing with it is in prevention. Pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and their sexual partners should be especially cautious. Preventative measures include wearing clothing that covers the arms and legs, using mosquito repellent on both your exposed skin and on your clothes, using mosquito netting around bedding when necessary, or avoiding areas of greater insect activity. For men who have been infected, wearing condoms during sexual activity can prevent the virus from spreading to partners.
Since mosquitoes breed around water, laying eggs even in as small an amount as a bottle-cap full, the key to prevention is removing any standing water around your home. Be sure to check vases, potted plants, buckets, pools, and bird baths, and empty or filter this water routinely. Pesticides may also be used to kill adult mosquitoes and their larvae.
Moths come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, and are most commonly seen outdoors at night. They are the well known cousin of the butterfly, and are widely considered a nuisance pest. Though they have a short lifespan, they serve primarily as a food source for other animals.
While moths are not difficult to eradicate, the key to controlling their damage is in prevention. The adult moth that we see flying around is mainly concerned with reproducing and laying eggs; it is the larvae that does all the damage. So then the question is: what are moth larvae, where do we find them, and how do we prevent them from causing damage in our homes?
There are two main types of moth infestation that may occur in the home; that of the pantry moth, and the clothes moth. Pantry moths, or grain moths, will produce larvae that feed on cereal, flour, and other foods. Clothes moth larvae feed on animal based fabric – wool, hair, silk, fur, felt, and even feathers. Moths are seldom seen because they avoid light. They are commonly found in basements, attics, or closets, where they may live in corners and in the folds of fabric. Because moths tend to seek undisturbed dark spaces, it is often only after we find their damage, that we become aware of an infestation.
The most common way for moths to enter the home is through an open door or window. Grain moths may also enter in infested food items, and clothes moths may enter in infested fabric. Some ways to prevent an infestation in your home are to limit using outdoor lighting, which attracts moths, and to inspect the food and fabric you bring home for webbing or cocoons.
If you have seen signs of moths in your home already, it is important to treat the problem. They will only repopulate until they have extinguished their food sources. Pantry moths will likely be the easiest to spot, because they infest areas with stored food. You may notice small, whitish worms (up to 2/3 inches long) or clumps of webbing in your food, small brownish moths flying around the lights, and cocoons on the tops of cabinets or in the corners of drawers. To get rid of these pests, you have to dispose of all infested food, vacuum up any crumbs inside cabinets, and thoroughly scrub shelves. To prevent further infestation, you should store food in airtight, rigid containers (rather than in plastic bags) and keep pet and bird food stored in containers away from the kitchen.
Clothes moths may be more difficult to spot right away, but you will find evidence of them in fabric that has holes in it or irregular patterns of surface feeding. These pests cannot digest cellulosic fibers such as cotton, linen, and rayon, or synthetic fibers such as nylon and acrylic; they prefer wool, hair, silk, fur, and felt. Clothes moth larvae are creamy white caterpillars that reach up to 1/2 inch in length. They commonly infest wool sweaters, coats, or blankets that have been stored. However, they may also infest carpets, toys, upholstered furniture, or down pillows and comforters. Clothes moths avoid items that are in regular use. Sometimes though, they can breed in hair-based accumulations under furniture, behind base boards, or inside vents and air ducts.
To remove these infestations, it’s important to thoroughly vacuum all carpeting and upholstered furniture. While doing this pay special attention to corners and out of the way places by using vacuum attachments such as crevice tools. Clothing and bedding should also be laundered or dry-cleaned, especially before it is stored, as body oils on clothing can attract the pests. For severe infestations, it may take up to three weeks of treatment to ensure that all stages of the pest are removed.
Moth larvae are rarely seen, but can easily cause damage that can become very costly. Whether the affected items are expensive furs or sentimental items like old blankets, unless you thoroughly treat the infestation, the moths will return. It’s important to protect those irreplaceable items. When it comes to moth infestation, prevention is key. Knowing how to store items and what areas may need extra attention when cleaning is essential. This will create an environment that is not conducive to the life cycle of moths. Awareness is more than half the battle with these pests; the best way to protect your home is to identify the signs early and prevent them from repopulating.
No matter where we live, we all have to deal with pests at some point. It can be tempting to put off addressing the issue by telling ourselves it’s only one mouse, or only one roach, or that these things just happen. We stay busy with so many other responsibilities that the last thing we want to do when we get home is think about things like pest control and prevention. However, ignoring the problem of pests can cost us a lot of time and money in the long run.
While it may be easy to dismiss “just one mouse,” it pays to be diligent when dealing with rodents. Mice reach sexual maturity in just six weeks, and a single female mouse can have up to ten litters a year. One mouse then becomes many, and the problem quickly spreads into your walls, furniture, and sub-floors. The obvious signs of mice may be sounds in the walls or attic, holes chewed in the baseboards, chewed up paper or fabric, or droppings behind appliances or in corners. If you have seen evidence of one mouse, it’s likely there are others you haven’t seen. If left untreated, these pests can create pathways for more and bigger rodents, and can even cause electrical and flooding problems. It’s possible to treat the problem on your own, but it may be necessary to hire a professional if the rodent population has become too large. Rodents are not only a nuisance, but can carry disease and bring fleas into your home.
One cockroach may not seem like a big problem, but it could make a big difference depending on when and where you see it. Roaches are nocturnal and like to stay in dark, damp places until they come out to forage for food at night. If you see a roach during the day, especially in a room other than the kitchen, then the problem you don’t see could already be pretty serious. It’s important to treat roach infestations because cockroaches can trigger asthma attacks and spread salmonella and E. coli.
Ants and fleas may be small, but if left untreated will become big problems as well. Ants will identify food sources and leave a trail for other ants to follow to the source. Once they build a colony, there can be thousands of them. Carpenter ants, in particular, can do massive damage chewing through wood in your home causing potentially devastating structural damage. Just as there is never just one ant, there is never just one flea. Fleas reproduce quickly and can spread eggs and larvae throughout your home. In short order, fleas will be in your bedding, carpet, clothes, and on your pets. Fleas can cause anemia in smaller animals and have been known to spread disease.
Like cockroaches, bed bugs have been known to trigger allergies, and cause asthma. While not everyone is allergic to bed bugs, it is essential to treat any bed bug infestations thoroughly, as they can lie dormant for months at a time. Once they are active, they can cause insomnia while they are leaving bites all over any unfortunate sleepers.
Termites are a nuisance that can cause severe damage both inside and outside the home, and if untreated can become quite costly – with damages costing Americans in excess of five billion dollars annually. Termites will eat through wood, paper, carpet, and cardboard, and are considered the biggest threat to homes because they are difficult to detect until their damage is done. Winged termites will leave their nests to start new colonies in spring and summer months, and are perhaps the most easily recognizable evidence of the insects themselves. If you notice any damaged wood, particularly wood that looks as if it’s damaged in a honey-comb pattern, or any pinholes in drywall, or buckling/sagging floors, then you need to have your property inspected for termites. Termite infestations require immediate, professional attention.
It’s prudent to pay attention to signs of pests in the yard as well as inside the home itself. While brown spots in the lawn may seem inconsequential, it could indicate an issue with sod webworms and grubs. The damage these insects do from feeding can be unsightly, but that isn’t the only danger they pose; there’s also the problem of the natural predators they can attract to your property. Moles and skunks will dig up your lawn to find and eat these pests, and rather than that being any help to you, simply introduces a larger and smellier problem. It also turns a well-manicured lawn into a pock-marked mess.
No one really wants to deal with pests, but most issues of pest infestation can be handled relatively easily and inexpensively if treated early, before the pests have repopulated and caused extensive damage. In terms of time, money, health, and sanity, it truly pays to address the issue of pests – and not ignore it.
Homeowners take great pride in maintaining their homes, and yards. Many reasons contribute to this: they know that it can increase the value of their property, increase the “curb appeal” of their home, and reflects well on them as a “first impression” for guests. One thing that no homeowner wants to deal with are pests, but pests are a reality that we all live with. The only solution is to be aware of the signs, take precautions, and quickly treat pest problems before they become full-blown infestations.
In order to maintain the integrity of their property, homeowners in neighborhoods of closer proximity need to be aware of issues that their neighbors are having with pests, so that the problem doesn’t spread to their own property before they become cognizant of the danger. After all, pests are animals and they are mobile; they will seek out more areas to build nests and colonies. By communicating with your neighbors, you can help stop the spread of pests, as well as share tips on how to prevent and treat them.
It’s important to know the signs of a pest infestation in order to treat it, and keep it from spreading. It’s also important to understand what may attract pests to yours, or your neighbor’s property. Many homeowners associations, or HOAs, will have standards that not only increase over-all property value for the area, but will also decrease the likelihood of pests. Rules concerning garbage, clutter, standing water, and landscaping can help limit the areas that pests are attracted to. Trash will attract many pests if not removed, clutter gives pests more places to hide while they do their damage, stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and unsecured material may draw pests – exposed wiring, for example, is a favorite of rats and mice to chew on.
Ants, termites, beetles, mice, rats, roaches, moles, snakes, and spiders generally prefer to remain unseen. Webs, shed snake skins, fecal droppings, and anthills are probably the easiest signs of pests to spot. Snakes will sometimes use outdoor clutter to help push their dried skins off as they shed. Rats and mice leave droppings along perimeters, along with what may appear as an oily streak near the bottoms of walls. They will also make nests from chewing up softer items. Any signs of chewing are a good indication of rodents. Musty or ammonia-like odors are also obvious signs of rodents, whereas roaches are said to leave an “oily” odor.
Problems that you may notice in the yard can include brown spots in the lawn, holes or tracks in the trees, wood shavings or dust around fencing and utility poles, and chewing around the edges of your plants’ leaves. Moles dig in the ground for grubs and bugs, and will leave a lawn torn up. Wood shavings or dust could indicate an issue with carpenter ants or termites.
Carpenter ants tend to infest wood that has already been damaged, either by other insects or water. They eat the fungus and not the wood itself; the wood they excavate is used for their nests. Termites, however, consist on a strict diet of plant cellulose, and will do incredible damage to your property. They are primarily subterranean, but can create tubes to travel safely to new material to devour. Signs of termite damage include floors that buckle or sag, pinpoint holes in drywall, damaged wood that crumbles or has honey-comb holes, and wood that sounds hollow when tapped. Termites will also feed on plants, cardboard, and paper, which may be an issue in storage areas where papers and boxes are kept.
If you or a neighbor have seen the signs of pest infestation, it pays to communicate with each other so that the problem does not recur. Pests do not acknowledge property lines, and can easily access many properties in a search for food or an ideal place to colonize and nest. Rodents are quite infamous repeat offenders and prolific breeders. Flies and roaches are also difficult to eradicate. Ants and termites have winged alates that leave the nest in spring and summer to start new colonies, and ants also have satellite colonies outside of their home colony.
In order to make sure your pest control efforts are effective long-term, make sure your neighborhood is a pest-free environment. Talk to your neighbors, your HOA, and your local health department about pest issues. Help your neighbors maintain a clean neighborhood; messy environments, cluttered areas, and uncleared trash will keep bringing pests back, as they are sources of food and shelter for undesirable critters. Compost bins are a popular and sustainable effort of many gardeners, and are less pest-friendly if kept free of meat, fish, and dairy. Something as simple as keeping pet food in proper rodent-proof containers can greatly reduce the risk of repeat infestations.
Remember: ants, rats, and other pests are not stymied by fences and hedgerows. When living in close proximity to others, pest control is a neighborhood effort.