This article is designed to provide you with an understanding of the most prevalent and hazardous types of pests impacting buildings, as well as the different methods of pest prevention and control.
Pest control may be defined as the use of control strategies to reduce pest numbers while causing the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. Integrated Pest Management or IPM is an effective strategy for controlling pests. IPM focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest populations using a combination of tactics, including sanitation, monitoring, habitat modification, and the judicious application of pesticides, when absolutely necessary. We will describe the most frequently encountered pests in buildings, including include cockroaches, rodents, and pigeons, as well as techniques for dealing with them.
Some ant species are considered pests. The management of these pests is accomplished by controlling local populations, instead of entire colony destruction, and for the most part is only a temporary solution to the problem. It is nearly impossible to completely eradicate the colony due to the adaptive nature of the ants. Some common ants that fall into the category of pest include the pavement ant, yellow crazy ant, sugar ant, the pharaoh ant, carpenter ant, argentine ant, odorous house ant, red imported fire ants, and European fire ants.
The most common method used to control these populations is through the use of insect baits, which come in either a granule or liquid form. The bait is gathered by the ants as food and brought back to the nest where it is then distributed to other members of the colony. Bait can be broadcasted over a large area to target specific species, like red fire ants that occupy large areas. If the location of the nest is known, it can be destroyed by pouring boiling water onto the mound. A sufficient quantity, approximately four gallons, is required to penetrate deep enough into the mound to kill the queen.
Cockroaches are one of the most common insect pests. They feed on scraps of food and other waste that people or animals leave behind. They also carry microbes on their bodies that can be potentially harmful to humans, especially in environments such as schools and hospitals. Cockroaches have also been linked to allergic reactions due to a protein called tropomyosin. General cleanliness is the best preventative measure to avoid this pest. Keeping all food stored in sealed containers, using garbage cans with tight lids, thoroughly vacuuming all carpets, and keeping floors clean will eliminate food sources for the cockroaches, causing them to look elsewhere for food.
Figure 2: Cockroach
Some cockroaches can live up to three months without food and up to a month without water. They prefer a warm climate but can survive occasional freezing temperatures. This makes them very difficult to eradicate once they have infested a building. There are products containing poisons that can be used effectively to combat cockroach populations; but avoiding an infestation in the first place by maintaining cleanliness of the facility is the best defense against this pest.
Bed bugs can cause a number of health effects, which may include skin irritation, psychological effects, and allergic symptoms. They are also able to be infected by at least 28 human pathogens, although there is no conclusive evidence to show that the pathogens can be transmitted to humans. Bed bug bites can cause a variety of symptoms including mild skin irritation to pronounced blisters. Facilities can become infested with bed bugs through many ways. The following list outlines some of the common causes of bed bug infestation:
Bed bugs can be very difficult to detect due to the fact that they are nocturnal. They often reside in dark crevices and lay their eggs in fabric seams. Signs of bed bugs other than bite symptoms include fecal spots, blood smears on sheets, and their molted exoskeleton.
It is possible to find a single bed bug but once established, they typically, congregate in large numbers. Generally they remain close to their host (people, pets, ect.) and are commonly located near or on beds and couches. Nesting locations are not limited however to just beds and couches; these locations can include luggage, vehicles, furniture, and bedside clutter. They may also take up residence in animal nests such as bird nests or rodent nests. Their eggs are found in locations similar to the ones listed and are attached to the surface by a sticky substance.
Bed bugs have a distinctive smell of almonds or over-ripe raspberries, which can aid in their detection. Specially trained dogs are also used to pinpoint infestation locations. These dogs can typically detect the insects within a matter of minutes, whereas it would take a pest control practitioner an hour or so to find them.
The complete eradication of this insect typically requires a combination of pesticide and nonpesticide approaches. Pyrethoids, dichlorvos, and malathion are pesticides that have been historically proven to be effective against bed bugs. As with the use of any pesticide, over time, the insects can become resistant to the effects of the poison, not to mention the concerns of negative health affects these chemicals have on humans and other animals. Nonpesticide approaches such as vacuuming up the insects and the use of heat or steam treating or wrapping mattresses have been found to be effective and are recommended.
Ticks are particularly nasty insects due to the fact that they carry a variety of pathogens, including redettsia and other types of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Due to the fact that a single tick can carry multiple disease-causing agents, a person bitten can be infected with more than one pathogen at a time, complicating diagnosis and treatment. Some of the major diseases that ticks can carry include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain fever, relapsing fever, tularemia, tick-borne meningoencephalitis, Colorado tick fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, babesiosis, and cytauxzoonosis.
Tick eggs can be infected with pathogens while still inside of their mothers ovaries; this means that the freshly hatched ticks can be infectious before ever biting their first host.
The best way to remove an adult tick is by physically pulling it out. Once the tick is removed, inspect its head to determine whether any part of the tick still remains in the host at the location of the bite.
If any part of the tick remains in the host, a punch biopsy may have to be preformed to completely remove any remaining part of the tick from the host. One of the most effective natural predators of ticks is the guineafowl, which is a bird species that consumes mass quantities of ticks. Just two guineafowl can clear two acres in just one year.
Figure 4: Ticks
Mites can cause a variety of allergic diseases, including hay fever, asthma, and eczema and are also known to aggravate atopic dermatitis. These parasitic insects are typically found in warm and humid climates, including beds. Inhalation of mites during sleep exposes the human body to some antigens that can eventually cause a hypertensive reaction. The allergens produced by dust mites are considered to be among the heaviest of all dust allergens.
The best way to treat types of mite allergies is to simply avoid coming into contact with them. This is accomplished by regularly washing mattresses and blankets with hot water. Generally, cleaning the areas that mites tend to accumulate is the best way to prevent this pest from taking up residence in your facility.
The house mouse is considered to be one of the most troublesome rodents in the United States. The house mouse can thrive under a multitude of conditions; they can be found in and around houses and commercial structures, in open fields, and in agricultural land. They consume and contaminate food that is otherwise intended for humans, pets, livestock, and other animals. In addition, they can cause considerable structural damage to buildings. They are also carriers of pathogens that can cause disease such as salmonelosis, a form of food poisoning.
House mice are relatively small rodents. They average 5 to 7 inches, including their 3- to 4-inch tail, and weigh about ounce. They are characterized by their small bodies, relatively large ears, and small black eyes.
These mice leave telltale marks which indicate their presence, some of which include droppings, fresh gnaw marks, and tracks. Their nests are usually located in sheltered locations and are typically made from fine shredded paper or other fibrous materials. Their presence can also be detected by their characteristic musky odor. They are mostly active at night, but can sometimes be spotted during the day.
The house mouse is not known to be a carrier of Hantavirus, while other species such as the deer mouse and the white-footed mouse are known carriers of the Hantavirus. The house mouse can be differentiated from the other mouse species by its overall gray appearance. The other two species have a distinctive white underbelly that is clearly demarcated from the mouse's darker colored top. Also, the house mouse's tail typically has little to no hair while the deer mouse and the white-footed mouse's tails are moderately to well furred and share the same light underside and dark top characteristic as their bodies.
Due to the small size of the house mouse, it is much easier for them to gain access into a home or building than it is for a rat. This is why house mouse infestations occur 10 to 20 times that of rat infestations. To effectively control this pest certain steps must be taken which include sanitation, exclusion and population reduction.
Foxes can be an annoyance to farmers and landowners. Prevention is the key to managing foxes and avoiding damage to livestock and property.
There are over 37 species of fox but only 12 of the 37 species are known as the "true fox." The most common specie, which happens to fall in the "true fox" category, is the red fox. The defining characteristic of the red fox is the auburn colored coat. However, all foxes share certain physical features that can be used to identify the mammal. These features include a long muzzle and an elongated bushy tail. Foxes are omnivores; their diets include but are not limited to rodents, reptiles, berries, grasshoppers, and fish. Foxes are known for being opportunistic feeders, meaning that they will hunt not only for what will satisfy their hunger but hunt in surplus to store away for a later time. Foxes populate in suburban communities and build dens, also known as earths, that can be found under garden sheds, in soft piles of earth, and places where foliage is dense.
Figure 7: A Fox
One of the elements that lead the fox to being considered a pest is that they are known to eat garden pets such as chickens and rabbits. Foxes are also known to be scavengers and will frequently search through waste bins and trash bags for food, which results in the scattering of trash across the lawn. Even though these problems can cause more of an inconvenience issue than anything serious, foxes can cause property damage, which can become a financial concern when considering the long term ramifications. Foxes can cause damage to buildings if they find access underneath through an airbrick or any other means. If they succeed in finding passage underneath the building they will build earths. Cosmetic damage can be done to the lawn when foxes tunnel underneath sheds to their earths or among shrubs. During specific times of the year, mainly autumn, foxes will dig shallow holes in search of worms and grubs.
Prevention is the main method that can be used to deter foxes. To protect garden pets, cages and runs should be made of galvanized mesh instead of the common chicken wire, as chicken wire has proven to be no match for a hungry fox. Since chickens are often the largest victim of the garden pet variety, here are some ways to protect chickens. Using the previously mentioned galvanized mesh, construct the walls of the chicken coop six feet high. Include a mesh roof or an outward facing slope to deter the foxes from climbing up and over the wall. Also, bury the wire one foot underground to prevent tunneling and bending in the mesh. Chemical repellents that have met wildlife safety requirements and are approved for the use of fox deterrence can be employed and have been known to be the most effective tool in preventing fox pests. These repellents can be sprayed on chicken coops, gardens, or any other problem areas in the yard to which foxes are responsible. Methods to prevent foxes from rooting through the trash include disposing of waste in closed containers or using bins that have a snap on lid. Putting trash out only on the morning of collection will deprive an opportunistic fox of the chance to peek inside the trash cans. By understanding the hunting and habitation personality of the fox, and learning what preventative measures can be taken in deterrence, the frequency of fox pest problems will diminish.
Raccoons are a formidable pest to many homes since they are highly adaptable and intelligent creatures. Like most pests, prevention is the key to ensuring that raccoons will not be a nuisance. Understanding how raccoons operate is the first step in prevention.
The raccoon's visual features are quite unique. Its main coat color ranges from grayish to white except for the black fur around the eyes. This black fur pattern looks like a mask; this facial feature is commonly referred to as the "bandit mask." Raccoons are, for the most part, nocturnal; they are also omnivores. Their dieting habits are largely dependent on the type of season. For example, during the spring and early summer their diet consists of insects, grubs, and other animals, whereas during the late summer and early autumn they prefer such things as acorns and walnuts. Raccoons avoid nesting in open terrain; they prefer areas where tree and foliage cover is plentiful, like forests. Raccoons will live in tree hollows, rock crevices, or burrows dug by other animals. Many small towns and suburban neighborhoods experience these pests as the raccoons will sleep in the nearby forest after foraging in the settlement area. Raccoons can carry rabies, which is caused by the neurotropic rabies stored in the saliva; this disease is spread by bites. A raccoon with rabies can be spotted by their sickly appearance, peculiar vocalization, impaired mobility, and aggressiveness. Most rabid raccoons will choose the shelter of their den; however the risk of coming in contact with a rabid raccoon is why trying to catch a raccoon is not recommended. A raccoon will only attack if it feels cornered or threatened.
Figure 8: A Raccoon
Raccoons will often search through trash cans for food, rip up gardens in pursuit of fruits and vegetables, and nest inside a home's attic or crawlspace. While a ripped up garden and turned over trash can cause superficial problems, a serious issue is raccoons nesting within the home. This proves to be costly, since raccoons have been known to tear off siding or loose roof shingles to gain access into a home. Raccoons, if allowed to nest within a home, can introduce fleas, ticks, mites, and disease inside the house. There are some preventative measures a homeowner can take to deter these pests. When throwing away certain foods, double bag before tossing it into the trash to reduce the smell that can attract raccoons. Invest in trash cans that have lids, and when placing the lid on top of the trash can weigh it down with a heavy object. Raccoons are very sensitive to smell, thus splashing a little bit of ammonia into the trash cans will be enough to keep even the most persistent raccoon away. There are also raccoon repellents that can be purchased and sprayed in trash cans and on gardens, this scent is undetectable by humans but is a strong deterrent to raccoons.
Raccoons have been known to enjoy domestic pet food; this can sometimes lead them to use doggy doors or other pet access points to enter the home and partake in the house pets food and water. To prevent this from happening, do not leave pet food and water out and always store away when not in use. Raccoons have been known to enter chicken coops and kill the livestock. One preventative measure to avoid this is leave a small radio near the coop, set the dial to a talk radio program, and lower the volume. Raccoons are deterred by human voices; however, if this does not work, turn up the volume to an acceptable level. Another measure to keep raccoons from seeking shelter inside the house is to regularly inspect the siding and shingles of the home; ensuring that both are in good condition will help keep a house hunting raccoon out. Installing motion detector flood lights in the yard will help deter raccoons, as they prefer the dark and will be afraid to go into the light. If a raccoon has already nested inside the house, do not try to remove it by hand; as stated previously, a raccoon will only attack if they feel threatened or cornered. Instead, placing a radio in the attic or area where the raccoon has nested, placing a light in the area to rid the space of darkness, or dampening a rag with ammonia and placing it in the area should be enough to cause the raccoon to pack up and leave. If these methods do not work, it may be wise to seek professional assistance in removing the pest.
Pigeons are pests that are drawn to areas where a constant supply of food exists; this food may be provided advertently or inadvertently by humans. The most common type of pigeon in North America is the rock pigeon. The physical characteristics of the rock pigeon are a predominantly gray body with a whitish rump, black stripes on the wings, a thick black stripe across the tail feathers, and red feet. Pigeons are generally located in agriculturally rich areas such as grain elevators, feed mills, and warehouses. They are also commonly seen around bridges, parks, and building structures. The dietary habits of pigeons include seeds, fruit, and plants.
Pigeons carry diseases such as toxoplasmosis, salmonella, and cryptococcosis. In addition to carrying disease, pigeons also carry fleas, lice, mites, and ticks, making them dangerous pests. Pigeon fecal matter has been known to cause humans to slip and fall. Also, pigeon fecal matter accelerates the aging of structures and statues; hence, in areas where the pigeon population is large, the dispersion of fecal matter increases, which results in increased risk.
Figure 9: A Pigeon
The most effective method in getting rid of these pests is prevention. The main method is to make it inconvenient for pigeons to nest, block voids and any location that would make it a suitable perch for a pigeon nest. Remove all standing water and food out of the open. Do not feed in public settings, such as parks and bridges. The deterrence of pigeons can also be accomplished with the installation of bird spikes, which can be mounted in various different ways including glue, ties, screws, or nails. And owl decoy is another good deterrence as it uses the same principle as a scarecrow. Since owls are predators of smaller birds, pigeons will be wary of approaching an area where a potential predator is present. It is important to note however, that if investing in an owl decoy, one should move the owl or buy a decoy owl that has a moveable head as to maintain the illusion of the bird being real. Otherwise, pigeons will not be scared of the decoy and will enter into the space. Bird repellents can also be bought in liquid or gel form. Bird repellents make the surface slimy or sticky, which makes perching for a pigeon undesirable.
Seagulls are pests that usually are found in coastal regions. There are many species of seagulls; the most common is the herring gull. The physical identification of a herring gull includes a light grey back, a white belly, black wingtips, pink legs, webbed feet, and a bill that is slightly hooked with a tiny red spot. Though the herring gull operates in places that are trafficked heavily by human activity, they prefer to nest and rest in areas where there is no human traffic, such as rocky cliffs, shorelines, and rooftops of buildings found in coastal towns. If herring gulls are unable to find a preferred area for rest away from human activity, they will sleep in colonies to ensure that they will be alerted by other seagulls if danger is close. Herring gulls are carnivores and will either hunt live food or scavenge. When seagulls scavenge, they forage opportunistically. Herring gulls often will find food from picnic grounds, garbage dumps, ports where many fishing boats are docked, and fast food restaurant parking lots.
Figure 10: A Seagull
Seagulls can be dangerous as they carry disease in their fecal matter such as E. coli, cryptococcosis, histoplasmosis, and psittacosis. They have also been known to cause meningitis, peritonitis, mastitis, pneumonia, and septicemia. Exposure to these types of diseases can occur by being bitten by an infected seagull, which is likely if one ventures near a nest. Seagulls will often attack in groups; this is known as mobbing behavior. Exposure to these diseases can also occur if an infected seagulls plumage and tissue is handled. Individuals can also be exposed from the inhalation of dry feces dust, urine, and respiratory secretions of an infected gull. Seagull fecal matter also corrodes paint, machinery and structures. Seagulls have been known to pick at roofing material to build nests; this can cause damage to the roof. This is especially bad if the building is located in an area that is prone to rain and thunderstorms. Nests can block rain gutters; if this happens, built up rain will hold moisture against the house, which can result in mold and water damage. Nests can also block gas flues, which will prevent the crucial ventilation of gas fumes. All of these elements can cause a hefty financial burden if constant repair is required of housing and commercial buildings.
Like the majority of all pests, prevention is the predominant solution to getting rid of seagulls. Since most seagulls will live in colonies, prevention must be considered on a larger scale for the larger problem. Reducing the seagulls food source is a good way to start. Many willingly feed seagulls; this can cause a long-term issue if seagulls feel that the area is rich in food resources. The practice of feeding seagulls must be discouraged. Since seagulls will scavenge opportunistically, they must not be given the opportunity to scavenge through garbage. Efficiently bag all refuse and keep in a garbage can, as opposed to leaving the plastic bags out in the open. In coastal neighborhoods, prevention of nesting is very important. One may efficiently do away with any food source for the gulls; but since they are on the coast, food can be found close by. Therefore, reducing the food source in the immediate area may not solve the problem for seagull occupancy. In addition to reducing food sources, one must seagull proof their building to prevent nesting. Long spikes can be installed in locations such as chimney stacks to deter nesting. Shorter spikes can be installed in areas on the roof that are prone to be nested by Seagulls. Installation of wires and nets are effective methods in preventing a seagull to land in areas that might be at risk for nesting. If a building has already been nested, any one of these methods can be applied once the removal of the nest and eggs has been accomplished. However, since seagulls will attack if they feel threatened and will most likely mob the intruder, it is best to seek professional help when attempting to remove a seagull nest and eggs.
The Canada goose is a pest whose population seemed to thin, however, due to commercial development and the natural removal of predators and a considerable growth of man-made bodies of water the Canadian geese population has increased dramatically.
The Canada goose can be identified by its size and color. It can be anywhere from 7-14 pounds, having a black head and neck, white patches on the face, and a brownish to gray body. The Canada goose is found throughout most of Canada, Alaska, the northern Unites States, and a small number can be found in Greenland. These birds are known to migrate, however, some will choose to stay in their native land if food is constantly available; this food source is usually left over by humans. The Canada goose nests in elevated areas that make it easy to watch for predators; they look for elevated areas, generally in streams, lakes, and ponds, and have been known to take refuge on top of beaver lodges. The Canada goose is primarily an herbivore, its eating habits depend heavily on the time of year and what food source is available during that season. The Canada goose has been known to eat green vegetation, grains, and aquatic plants, such as seaweed. The Canada goose can be seen frequently in such places as golf courses, parking lots, and recreational parks, as these areas prove to be rich with food provided by humans.
The Canada goose is classified as a pest, because of the financial and social inconvenience they can sometimes cause. The Canada goose carries disease like salmonella, E. coli, histoplasmosis, toxoplasmosis, and giardia. Beaches have been shut down due to excessive Canadian goose fecal matter which can cause E. coli. Flocks of Canadian geese have been known to cause bird strike, which is when a plane collides with the birds and causes a crash. Geese can also damage crops by walking over and consuming them. They are also responsible for soiling reservoirs and ponds with excessive fecal matter and causing costly aesthetic damage to golf courses and yards. Preventing the Canadian geese from becoming a pest is the most important method for ensuring the health and safety concerns of any property. The use of approved goose repellents is effective in deterring the feeding of geese, as a treated lawn with goose repellent will not be a desirable food source for most geese. However, in most cases it will not be until after the geese have settled in that homeowners will realize the issue. If geese have occupied the area there are ways of causing them to move. Keeping a dog is a good method, as geese will sense the dog as a threat and will look for a safer breeding friendly area. Bagging trash efficiently and not leaving it out in the open will deter geese, as it will not provide them with a constant food source to sustain them. Removal of the nest and eggs is another effective option; however to prevent being attacked it is wise to consult a professional.