Pest Elimination and Control Q&A
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I have heard that ladybugs can sometimes do as much damage as termites. I
fear I may have a problem. I live in Northeast Pennsylvania. We have a 1930 Cape
Cod. Where can I find their nest and how can I get rid of them?
I have never heard of ladybugs doing any damage to homes at all. They are not
capable of eating or chewing wood... they are mostly carnivores (with a few
vegetarians thrown in). Your dog or cat may be at greater risk than your
house... just kidding! Furthermore, ladybugs are a valued ally in the battle
against other types of insects, such as aphids, which cause extensive damage to
favorable shrubs and plants.
Ladybugs are known to hibernate in buildings during the winter and to
sometimes emerge during warm spells. In fact, my own church swarms with them at
times during the fall and Indian summer. They are more common in older buildings
that have more access points due to the looser construction of the cheap energy
If you are still concerned, or even if you just find them to be a nuisance, a
licensed exterminator worth his salt should be able to eliminate them. He
probably won't really look for the "nest"... he will
"shotgun" treat the affected wall with the appropriate chemical.
When I moved into this house over 3 years ago, squirrels already lived
here. It's an old house (1929) in an old neighborhood with lots of trees. There
is a family of them living in an eave on the corner of the house where they have
a hole made so they can come and go from outside. This eave is open to my attic
on the inside and I hear them sometimes scooting about up there. There's holes
around the underside of the eaves in other places, too, where they can get in
and out of the attic.
Everybody I mention my squirrels to says they will do great damage, but so
far they haven't done any more damage than it takes to make a nest in the
eave... at least as far as I can tell. They have NOT eaten my wiring and burned
down the house.
At one point, hearing horror stories of squirrel damage, I got alarmed
enough to call my pest control service about them. They told me they didn't do
squirrels. I called the city. The city told me that it was against the law to
kill, molest, or otherwise harm the squirrels. Huh? They couldn't say why.
Should I be worried for the safety of my home and by extension, myself? An
animal rescue lady told me I could run them off by tossing a few moth balls
around in the attic, but I haven't done it. I did buy some mothballs, but I
couldn't bring myself to take the next step. After all, they were here first.
So the squirrels remain. I say hello when I come home from work and they
seem to tolerate me well enough, even though I couldn't say they're friendly.
What are your thoughts on this matter?
CW from Jacksonville, FL.
I have known many folks who feel the way you do, and don't want to see harm
come to small animals.
The problem is that the opening they use to enter your home will also allow
access to bats and insects that are not as benign. And their droppings are
accumulating... unless the former owner installed flush toilets for them.
This increases the potential for human disease and allergic reactions.
So I vote that you whip out the moth balls... it will not hurt them, because
they will not eat them... or get some large humane traps and take them out of
your attic. There is no need to harm them to evict them. Then you can repair the
damage and seal the access hole.
Just remember... the longer you wait, the more incremental damage they will
do, and the more expensive it and difficult it will be to get them out.
My basement has a hole around the main water pipe, created by mice, that
leaks whenever it rains. I would appreciate it if you could tell me how to fix
this problem and whether a novice handyman w/ few tools can handle it. This
basement happens to be a finished one. Thanks again.
A good and easy way to seal a small leak like this would be to inject some
expanding plastic foam into the area around the pipe. You can purchase this
product in any hardware store. There are two types available… latex-based and
solvent-based. Use the solvent-based type… the latex-based is not recommended
for use below ground level.
Clean (as best you can) dirt and dust from the pipe and the cement before
using this product. And don't overapply it. It will expand to fill the crack. Of
course, any excess that expands into your living space can be cut off with a
sharp knife once set.
Mice usually will not eat this stuff, but I can't guarantee they won't bore
right through it. One thing you might do is to first push a small amount of
steel wool through the hole as a "backer" to discourage gnawing...
then inject the foam.
We have pigeons that have staked out a corner of our house. They spend their
time sitting under the eaves of the roof and making a mess on the ground
underneath. Any advise for getting rid of them? FYI, this is an old four story
house, so it is nearly impossible to reach their perch without a hook and
VG from Baltimore, MD
If you seriously can't get up to this area, you will have to accept the
birdies as unwelcome borders! I know of no "long distance"
extermination method except for shooting them that will solve your problem
without. And I don't recommend shooting under these circumstances.
However most things are not as impossible as we think so if you can get up to
the area, here are a few thoughts. If the eaves are hollows, you can install
dark aluminum screen over the openings. This will keep all sorts of vermin out
including bugs and bats. At your home's 4-story height the dark screening should
be all but invisible to the eye. If a more finished look is desired the exposed
edges of the screen can be covered with wood molding and then painted or
If the eaves are just overhangs with a flat "perching" area,
putting something up there that "moves" on contact will discourage all
but the most persistent pigeons. You may, for example, use pieces of extruded
aluminum gutter guard loosely nailed and positioned so that they are not seen
from the ground. You can also use pieces of chicken wire, again loosely stapled
or nailed and bent to make footing uncomfortable for the little dears.
There are more drastic methods involving chemicals. Poison bait is one method
of bird control. Another method is the use of specially designed perches, which
use a "wick" to apply a contact-type poison to the bird's feet. There
are also chemicals that actually sterilize the birds leading to reduced
populations. These methods are generally available only through a qualified
and/or licensed exterminator. Though these methods may seem cruel, it is a fact
that birds can carry various diseases that are spread through their droppings.
Many bird control methods were developed to help the food industry protect its
product… our food… from bird contamination. Given the fact that there are
nearly a hundred types of potentially dangerous bacteria and parasites carried
by birds in the wild, that unattractive "poop" could indeed be
carrying a deadly cargo.
After moving into our new house in Florida in 1996, we were immediately
invaded with almost microscopic Pharaoh ants. We are told that they live in the
masonry; the house is constructed of concrete blocks with stucco.
The ants are controlled with a boric acid paste. But, we have found nothing
to eradicate them. Do you have any information on this problem?
Pharaoh ants are notoriously difficult to exterminate, especially in Florida
where they can live inside and outside. Insecticide sprays, while effective in
the sort term, can cause Pharaoh ants to exhibit a unique behavior… they will
divide their colony up into multiple nests when threatened, making extermination
even more difficult!
From what I have read about the various treatments, the only truly effective
solution is to use poison bait both inside AND outside your home. Poison bait is
a combination of a food the ants like and a slow-acting poison that lets the
ants live long enough for them to bring the poisoned food to their nest. NO
other form of extermination or insecticide should be used when bait is also used
or you may kill the ants before they complete their deadly task!
Poison bait is admittedly a less-than-speedy a solution compared with
spraying insecticide, but you are more likely to get to all the nests by taking
the "friendly" approach. Not friendly to the ants, mind you…
friendly to your home's inside environment! Spraying insecticides inside should
always be done sparingly and with care, if at all, and only in the most dire of
Apparently this treatment can take up to one year to show complete results,
since Pharaoh ants tend to make multiple nests, not just one like carpenter
ants, making them difficult to eradicate. However, once the nests inside and
outside the vicinity of your home are exterminated you should get at least some
relief from their invasion!
We built a new home last year and have ants in our house this house was
built very tight with everything caulked, plastic, and taped. How are they
In my experience, once you begin seeing lots of ants in your home, they are
not coming in... they ARE in! Carpenter ants do not eat wood for food as do
termites... they just tunnel within it to make their home. And they have little
reason to enter your home just for food... there's plenty outside! Visible ants
within the home is a sure sign that there is a nest in the house... somewhere.
Carpenter ants usually start their nests in water-softened wood produced by
leaks in roofs or siding, around windows or in unflashed areas adjacent to
cement or concrete. I have even seen ants nesting in countertops where there has
been a long-term leak around or behind a sink or faucet. In a new home, though,
the culprit is often the use of lumber in construction that may have already
been populated with ants. Depending on the time of year your house was built, it
is possible that a small nest formed inside a piece of stacked lumber but was
dormant or too small to notice. Then the ants would become active in the warmth
of the summer and begin doing their ant thing... eating, tunneling and
Though modern houses are sealed fairly tight, I would venture to say that
there is no home immune to infestation from ants or various other pests. Mice,
for example, can find the smallest chink in your home's armor and make a cozy
nest. Remember... they have nothing but time and lots of motivation!
The roaches here have gotta go away!! Help !! What can I do ? I keep a clean
house, I don't let crumbs collect under the tables, I vacuum regularly, etc.
Essentially, I don't put out the "Welcome Here Bugs Mat".
But, I can NOT use standard, oil-based roach sprays. I have two children
with severe asthma, and those types of products send them both into asthmatic
episodes. I have tons of those little roach baits and motels scattered here and
there through out the kitchens and bathrooms; just like the boxed instructions
say to do. But does that work? Not for us so far. In fact, it seems that the
roaches are actually having a "party'' on this stuff but NOT dying.
Can I use some diatomaceous earth? I have heard it is used as an
insecticide, but I have been hesitant to use it for fear of it causing asthma
problems too...since it is such a fine powder.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a really effective indoor AND outdoor
pesticide against many types of insects that does not contain dangerous
chemicals. It is made from the fossilized remains of diatoms... a type of
plankton... which were left behind in massive amounts after the ancient oceans
receded. These almost microscopic particles have very sharp edges which cut the
external membranes or exoskeletons of insects such as ants and roaches. These
membranes are similar to our skin in that they keep moisture inside the insect,
but unlike human skin are relatively fibrous and thin. Once cut, moisture
escapes and the bugs dehydrate quickly, often dying within hours. Fortunately,
we humans don't have to worry about contact with DE since our skin is not
vulnerable due to its flexibility and thickness.
It is important to use the proper form of DE. All DE is heat treated and
sifted based on its intended usage. The type that is used for swimming pools is,
to my understanding, not very effective for insect control. Pool filter DE is
also much finer and therefore dustier than the insecticide-type.
Be aware that some brands of insecticidal DE have added chemical insecticides
as a "kicker" to extend DE's killing power to other insects, specifically for
those with tougher, DE resistant shells. One bug killer often added is
pyrethrin, a "natural" insecticide extracted from the flowers of the
chrysanthemum plant. Pyrethrin, as you may know, is commonly used in flea
control around the home and also approved for use on pets.
Another very effective chemical against crawling insects is boric acid.
They can't help but ingest it as they walk through it, and die soon after.
They can also track it back to their nests. If you're curious, boric acid
is also used as a fireproofing compound, in eyewashes and as a fertilizer.
It is not very toxic, falling somewhere between aspirin and table salt in
I cannot tell you what the effect of DE or boric acid would be on your
children's asthma. Only your physician can tell you that. It is certainly
true that either could probably hurt anyone if they breathed too much of it, as
with any fine dust. The same can be said of sawdust, dust from insulation and
even airborne sand!
In writing this response, I learned something that I was not aware of… that
many people are actually allergic to cockroaches. This allergy can trigger
asthma attacks in susceptible people. There is a great article on cockroaches
and allergic reactions
from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. Search for "cockroach" to find the article.
Knowing that roaches can be contributing to your children's problem presents
a dilemma and requires you to make a judgment. In the real world, there is
always a cost vs.benefit in using anything. With your physician's guidance, you
can determine just what this risk is and find a compromise to the benefit of
your children. For example, by applying small quantities of DE in
"out-of-the-way" places where the insects walk and hide, you should get some
results with minimal dusting of this product. Though some companies recommend
widespread use of the product throughout the home, taking a more conservative
approach to application may meet your doctor's approval.
If you can't find the product locally, you can order it from many online
sources. One website with extensive information on all sorts of pest control
issues is the Biocontrol Network.
I suspect we've got a dead rodent inside walls, behind a cabinet. What next?
Cut through the drywall? Pry the cabinet apart? (no access from above or below --
concrete slab, too near outside wall to access from attic space) Can I drill
holes to try to locate .... remains ... before I cut through the drywall? Or
should I just go ahead and pull off a large enough piece to make sure I can get
to it? Suggestions about getting rid of the smell? Great Site, BTW! Hugely
helpful, and helpfully arranged!
MR from San Antonio, Texas
Thanks for the kind words!
Though it may seem insensitive to your plight and eagerness to get rid of
that nasty smell, my suggestion is to just open the windows and let the smell
disappear on its own. You can cause a lot of damage trying to find the little
critter, and with no guarantees! There are too many places that the body could
be! What wall do you rip apart first? Which cabinet?
The good news is that the odor will dissipate in a few days on its own as the
creature desiccates. Living in a wooded area myself, my clients and I have had
to relive your agony many times over the last 25 years, so we all "feel your
pain". I think, though, that your pain will be greater if you spend many hours
and dollars trying to find this thing with no sure hope of success.
I'm a new subscriber, so this may not be the right forum for this
question.....but like the rodent question in last month's newsletter. I have an
unwelcome visitor. It's a gray squirrel, who had evidently built a home in one
of the soffits of my four dormer 2 and a half story house when the roof was
damaged. After replacing the roof, the squirrel clearly did not have the easy
access he'd had previously, so he/she chewed a softball sized hole in the facing
board right beneath the roof. After waiting to be sure there are no babes in the
nest, I want to clean out the area and reseal it. Do you have any suggestions
for making it more squirrel resistant, other than cutting back the lilac bushes
he uses as the path to the bay window roof that has clearly been the staging
area to the site, which I clearly will do?
Squirrels present a difficult problem because they are very persistent once
they find a nesting location. From what I have seen, the only two ways to
eliminate a problem squirrel are to either make the attic area totally
inaccessible or to trap it and move it far enough away that it will not come
As far as sealing the attic, using a metal flashing outside the wood repair
will keep those sharp teeth and those of its relatives from getting back into
your attic. The flashing can be painted to match the siding or trim so that it
is hardly noticeable.
Of course, moving the offending squirrel may still be necessary. A nesting
squirrel becomes territorial and will do whatever it has to in order to return
to its nest, even as far as eating through your attic in another spot! New
squirrels, on the other hand, will not be motivated enough to eat through the
In your response to the person (last months newsletter) who thought there
was a dead rodent in their wall, you mentioned that the best thing to do is to
wait it out. I had a similar experience. However, I was able to find the body in
the attic above my daughters closet. That was 6 months ago and the smell is
still in her closet. I have tried room extra strength deodorizers to no avail. I
was just wondering how long you had to wait for the smell to go away in your
I have rarely had the smell linger longer than 2 to 4 weeks... usually quite
pungent at first but disappearing over time. I have been involved with this
situation perhaps 20 times over the last 25 years, but I do by no means discount
your personal experience. I know that there will be times where circumstances
might cause a more lengthy stink. Larger animals, such as squirrels or raccoons,
must be removed ASAP but they are usually easier to locate because they cannot
get trapped in the smaller spaces mice can. Of course, raccoons stuck in
chimneys are not that uncommon!
Perhaps you have had more than one mouse and/or the one you found was not the
only cause of the odor. Mice make nests, so where there is one there are usually
As far as getting rid of the odor in the closet, I would remove all the
clothing and launder them. Let the closet air out empty and see if this helps.
If the closet has any dampness in it, it might explain the resilience of the
odor. Using a small fan can speed the airing/drying process. Once thoroughly
dry, a repainting the inside of the closet may also be helpful.
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