Autumn is that joyful time of year when the hot, humid weather conditions begin to change to much more pleasant, cooler temperatures. The crops are ready to be harvested and put away for the winter and the leaves of hardwood trees are turning their bright, beautiful color. However, there is one other phenomenon that is sure to take place that isn’t nearly as enjoyable. The overwintering pests begin their march indoors in preparation of the coming cold weather and to settle down for a long winter nap.
Why Do Pests Overwinter In Our Homes?
The overwintering of insects takes place in various stages of maturity from adults to larvae, nymphs, pupae, and even eggs. The adult overwinters in a type of hibernation much like that of a wild bear. The larvae and nymphs will often overwinter outdoors. You may find larvae burrowing deep into the soil or mulch while the nymphs can be found in ponds beneath the ice. The pupa overwinters in a very inactive transitional stage and emerges in the spring as an adult. Mosquitoes and other insects often lay eggs in the fall, preparing for a fresh hatching in early spring.
Regardless of the stage of development, the purpose of overwintering is based totally on survival. The development and growth is placed on hold during this time to allow for a greater chance of avoiding the cold temperatures and surviving until the welcoming spring temperatures arrive. Problems are created for homeowners and commercial facilities when the choice location of overwintering is in the eaves, behind siding, in cracks or crevices. The insect will often recognize the warmth from the building and emerge into the home or commercial building as if spring had arrived.
What Pests Am I Likely To See This Fall?
While there are many insects that overwinter, the more common pests include box elder bugs, lady bugs, stink bugs, cluster flies, and a wide variety of spiders. While these pests are rather inactive during the winter months there are other pests that seek shelter from the cold and yet remain quite active. Rodents are the more obvious pests that stay quite busy even during the winter. It is not uncommon for field mice and rats to begin working their way indoors during the fall season in anticipation of winter weather. All rodents are a nuisance to homeowners and businesses as well as a potential health threat in their ability to spread diseases. Rodents can spread at least 25 different diseases easily and quickly through their feces and urine. Many of these diseases can place you and your family at serious risk.
Remember that these pests all have one thing in common. They are looking for a nice, warm, comfortable, and safe place to spend their winter, making it obvious that prevention from invasion is in your best interest. However, before you look into methods of control and prevention, you will need to become more familiar with the identification and habits of each of the overwintering pests.
Box Elder Bugs
Box elder bugs are certainly nuisance pests. They forage on the leaves, flowers, and seedpods of the box elder tree. Occasionally they will be found on maple and ash trees and even various fruits but the large numbers of the box elder bug occur only on box elder trees.
The adult box elder bug is about ½ inch in length and mostly black with red lines on the body and wings. In the fall, the adult will overwinter under boards, in cracks and crevices of foundations, in door and window casings, and inside houses. While they are not dangerous to people or pets, they become a nuisance and very annoying when they make their way indoors. They give off an offensive odor when crushed and their excrement will spot curtains, furniture, and clothing.
Lady bugs are insects of the beetle family, sometimes referred to as lady beetles or ladybird beetles. They are noted for their oval-shaped body and unique, distinctive color. While a few lady bugs feed on plant and pollen mildews, their primary diet is aphids and other soft-bodied insects and insect eggs. There are 4 stages of maturity processing from the egg to the larvae, pupae, and adults. The adult lady bug lives for approximately one year.
The adult will seek a warm place to hibernate during the winter months. They congregate in large numbers to help stay warm during the overwintering. The choice locations are cracks and crevices in and around homes as they search for any source of heat. However, the lady bug is not known to bring any harm to people, pets, or any portion of the home. The worst effect they may have is occasional spotting from their excrement. One interesting note is the ladybug will become a cannibal when food is scarce, eating any of its soft-bodied larvae or newly emerged adults that are still soft enough to chew.
The brown marmorated stink bug adult reaches an approximate length of 5/8 inch and is a mottled brownish grey color. There is a white band around the antennae and a faint white band around the legs. The underside is white with grey or black markings. The adult blends in very well with the bark of trees while the nymphs are brightly colored with a red and black pattern. One stage of growth has an appearance much like that of a tick. The eggs are often laid on the underside of leaves and are light green in color. The eggs are laid in groupings of approximately 28 eggs.
While the stink bug is destructive to agriculture, there is no known threat to people or pets. They do not bite and are not known to cause structural damage. Even though they do not cause physical harm or transmit disease, some people may be sensitive to pest allergens. They are a nuisance to homeowners and businesses as they begin working their way inside. They will congregate in many places like bookcases, under beds and sofas, and in cracks under baseboards, windows, and door trims.
Cluster flies are often referred to as attic flies. The cluster fly is slightly larger than a common housefly. They are somewhat larger than the common housefly and not nearly as quick in their movement. The adult cluster fly is a little darker colored than a housefly and its thorax is covered with short yellow or golden hairs. The life cycle of a cluster fly begins when the female lays eggs in the soil in late summer and early fall. It only takes a few days for the eggs to hatch. The newly hatched larva enters the body cavities of earthworms and feeds on the worm for several days until they molt and pupate in the soil. The total development of the cluster fly from egg to adult ranges from only 27 to 39 days.
The adult is then found on the sunny side of structures in heavy populations during late fall and early winter as they search for warm locations in which to live during the cold winter months. They can crawl through surprisingly small openings of a structure and hibernate inside the walls or attic. Even during the winter months, an unusually warm day will bring the cluster flies out into the inhabited parts of the house as they seek the warmth and light coming through the windows.
What Can I Do To Prevent Overwintering Pests?
It is time to wage war against these unwanted, uninvited nuisance pests the moment their presence is made known. However, as always, it is much easier to prevent their access than it is to bring about a successful eviction. Adhering to the following fall pest prevention tips will greatly reduce the risk of overwintering pests taking up residence in your home.
Locate all potential points of entry and eliminate pest entrances.
Caulk and seal around all doors and windows.
Inspect the soffit and seal any gaps.
Caulk between your siding and window/door trim.
Eliminate water and food sources.
Keep counters, cabinets, and pantries clean and free of any crumbs or spills.
Clean under all appliances regularly.
Store any leftover food in sealed containers.
Get rid of clutter in the kitchen, under sinks, and in the attic.
Store dog and cat food in metal containers with secure lids.
Sweep down cobwebs in attics and basements to greatly reduce spider populations.
Keep mulch away from your foundation and basement window frames.
Keep tree branches and bushes trimmed away from the walls and roof of your home.
Examine all the vents of your home, including the clothes dryer vent. Repair or replace as needed and cover openings with screen mesh.
Install new door sweeps on all exterior doors and repair any damaged or poor-fitting screens.
A careful inspection of the exterior and interior of your home and following these prevention guidelines will greatly assist in the control and management of nuisance pests. In addition to applying these prevention measures, don’t hesitate to call professional pest management services the moment you discover any sign of a pest infestation in the home this fall.