Quit being a pest: How to stop critters and creatures from ruining your summer
A pest control expert shares tips for keeping raccoons, ants, fleas and more at bay
Remember last autumn when the cold weather set in and we warned you about the various critters and crawlers scoping your house out for a warm place to spend the winter? Well, you may have heeded our warning and won the winter battle but the pest war is far from over — spring and summer weather spawn a fresh, new group of marauders. Spring cleaning, hot garbage and outdoor eating are all siren calls to the most pesty of pests, so we asked Brett MacKillop of Abell Pest Control to give us the inside track on how to keep them from making themselves at home.
"Spring is a great time to inspect your home or cottage for pest access points", says MacKillop, "General monitoring and maintenance of those areas should be an annual item on your spring cleaning list." Use weather stripping to eliminate gaps and caulking to fill cracks along windows, door frames and floors both inside and outside the home. Even though you may have done so last year, the expansion and contraction of the house through hot and cold weather tends to create new openings. Pay special attention to the garage, whether attached to your house or not, it's an easy access point for pests to enter and dwell in. If you have a hole that's larger than ½ cm or so, seal it with metal or concrete — materials that can't be chewed through are ideal. Outdoor vent openings such as dryer vents, are another easy access point and need to be screened in or closed with a shuttered vent cover.
Be cautious of hantavirus
"Hantavirus is a serious respiratory disease spread by deer mice", says MacKillop, "Often during spring cleaning, homeowners encounter mouse droppings in the garage or cottage and care should be taken when cleaning these." Most often occurring in rural or semi-rural areas, hantavirus is caused by inhaling contaminated dust or coming into contact with contaminated objects from poorly ventilated or enclosed spaces, such as cottages, sheds, barns and garages. The deer mouse is found across North America (and the virus has also been linked to brush mice and western chipmunks), so if you cannot identify the droppings, it's wise to take precautions. Keep areas well ventilated, wear rubber gloves and HEPA filter respirators in high risk locations and douse the droppings in a sanitizing agent such as alcohol or bleach. Contracting the virus can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), the early symptoms of which are coughing, headache, fever and severe muscle aches which can lead to critical lung disease and potentially death.
Raccoons and other animal pests
Perhaps the most brazen of pests, raccoons, can be so intimidating (particularly in the city) that some Canadians are calling 911 for help. Like a lot of other animals, when spring hits, raccoons start looking for a warm, safe place to hunker down and reproduce — and to them, your attic seems like a great place to raise a family. Raccoons mate all the way into June, with the first litters born around April, and they can become determined to venture into places they aren't wanted and wreak havoc on houses and sheds "I can relate", says MacKillop, "this year a mother raccoon ripped open the gable vent at the peak of my home, gained access to my attic and proceeded to have a litter. When this happens the best option is to wait until the young are old enough to travel out of the attic on their own, then repair the access point or physically remove the babies and relocate them outside to reunite with the mother. In either case an expert at wildlife control should be consulted."
If you want to stop critters from using your property as a nursery, there are a few things you need to do. First, clear any potential nesting areas, such as hollow trees, rock crevices or brush piles outside and keep attics, fireplaces or any larger hiding spaces indoors clean and well-organized. Trees and plants growing close to the house can create easy entry for climbing creatures, so ensure your roof and windows are clear from branches. While all animal pests can be crafty and destructive, raccoons' curious nature and high capability can create the most damage. That's why it's wise to invest in outdoor garbage and compost bins that are made of heavy plastic or metal, with securable, raccoon-resistant lids that won't fall off when tipped over. Raccoons are omnivores, so almost any kind of food can attract them and once they start hanging around your house, enjoying the buffet, it's just a matter of time before they put out the welcome mat and move in. While other animal pests may require specific removal (skunks for example) and need to be handled by an expert, cleaning and securing your home against the wiliest of creatures will help protect you from all species.
"Wasps and stinging insects", such as hornets and carpenter bees, "generally do not survive the winter in large numbers so they are not a serious nuisance until later in the season", MacKillop explains. That seasonal reprieve makes now the perfect time to repair or replace broken screens on doors and windows. If you see a stinging insect entering a weep hole (those narrow openings in between bricks), don't plug it up — there's likely a nest inside and obstructing it could cause an even more hazardous situation when the stragglers left outside get irritated and/or the insects work their way indoors as they search for an escape route.
Annoying but not hazardous, cluster flies are attracted to the sunny, warm side of homes in autumn where they crawl into cracks and crevices and over-winter. When the temperature rises in spring, they emerge — often en masse — and try to find a way out. "Cluster flies are often seen around windows and doors in spring trying to exit the structure", says MacKillop, "The easiest way to deal with them is to use a vacuum cleaner to remove them from windows." Known for hiding in walls and attics, there may be more cluster flies in your home than you realize, so it's best to prevent them early. MacKillop suggests, "A more effective strategy is to treat access points in the autumn with a residual insecticide before the cluster flies gain access to the home." The good news is, cluster flies don't breed indoors as some other flies do; they lay their eggs in soil where the larvae burrows into earthworms which they feed off of.
Fleas are most active in both warm and wet weather, so they can appear as early as April and last well into autumn. They reproduce rapidly and frequently, while desperately searching for a host and you'll likely see them on your pet first, but they can definitely get to you, leaving itchy, red bites behind. While it's easy to vacuum up any fleas or eggs around the home, if you spot them on your pet, you should remove them with a fine comb then wash your pet with warm water and soap. It's also important to check the sheets before you get into bed and, if fleas are found, wash all bedding in hot water.
Risk areas for ticks (and therefore Lyme Disease) are up in Ontario this year and, in 2017, the entire province of Nova Scotia was declared high risk — so it's important to be aware of them. Like fleas, ticks thrive in warm temperatures, so they often first appear in spring, and the overall increase in temperature due to climate change is greatly expanding their reach and longevity. Unable to jump, ticks perch atop tall grass, ready to latch on to passersby. To protect yourself, wear long pants and sleeves and apply strong bug spray in grassy, wooded areas. After your outdoor adventure, thoroughly check your entire body and do it again in the shower. If you spot a tick on you, remove it with tweezers and save it on a piece of tape to be given to your doctor in the event you develop any serious symptoms such as headaches, fever, fatigue or a rash in the affected area.
It wouldn't be a summer without ants, and there are plenty of types making the rounds. The common pavement ant, most often found on sidewalks, can easily take their quest into your house. The small pharaoh ant can carry contamination on their quest for sweet foods and the fire ant (often found in warmer climates) can leave you with an unforgettable bite. Ants are the kings of the cracks, so you'll want to be extra vigilant when crack-filling, and on special lookout for carpenter ants. Carpenter ants can enter your home by burrowing through even the strongest wood structures and their bite can be extremely painful as well. Getting themselves into wood outside your home makes it more likely they'll target the wood inside next. Stop them before they start by clearing dead and decayed wood and branches from your area, stacking firewood and lumber away from the side of the house, controlling the humidity in your home, keeping food well-sealed and cleaning up those crumbs!
Have a summer pest that's pestering you? Have some more tips on curbing crawling visitors? Infest our comments below.