The Occasional Invaders
A homeowner may be troubled with a bevy of different kinds of “bugs”. Most of these creatures do not pose a significant threat to health or property, but we still don’t like to share our homes with them. While it isn’t possible for us to detail all the many creatures that we’ll call “Occasional Invaders”, we will spend a little time here on some of the more common pest problems that occur in our area.
Earwigs are a very common insect. They may be found in many regions throughout the world. They are part of nature’s “clean-up crew”, scavenging for decaying organic materials in damp, dark areas. We find them under trash cans, debris piles, landscape timbers, etc. Earwigs are seldom a serious household pest in our area. However, in humid and wet parts of the country they can be much more of a problem. Generally speaking they tend to be more of a problem in the autumn months each year.
Aside from occasional light damage to some delicate plants, earwigs are considered harmless. They have not been shown to transmit any diseases, and despite the common name “pincher bug” they cannot hurt a person.
Control of earwigs usually consists of a combination of sanitation steps taken by the homeowner coupled with periodic pesticide applications to troublesome areas. Sometimes satisfactory control of earwigs can be accomplished with sanitation measures alone.
Sowbugs and Pillbugs
Sowbugs and pillbugs belong to a group of creatures known as crustaceans. Although they have the word “bug” in their names, they are not insects. They are more closely related to crayfish and shrimp than to insects. Although they are closely related, sowbugs and pillbugs are not the same creatures. The easiest way to tell them apart is by their defensive posture. A pillbug is capable of rolling up into a tight ball like an armadillo.
These creatures are rarely a significant pest problem to a homeowner. Like earwigs and many species of cockroaches, they feed on decaying organic materials in the yard. If they become a pest indoors, control can usually be achieved by vacuuming them up. It may also be necessary to check door thresholds to be certain they are properly sealed. Cleanup of humus or other dark, humid areas filled with decaying vegetation will reduce populations naturally. In some situations it is helpful to treat shrub beds around the home with products that will reduce populations to acceptable levels.
In many Asian countries crickets are considered good luck. In some European cultures it is a common practice to keep crickets as pets. Small cages are made just for crickets. The cricket isn’t looked on as fondly in America. Although they don’t pose any particular health risk to humans or our domesticated animals, they can chew on and severely damage crops, fabrics and many stored items.
Crickets are sometimes confused with grasshoppers because their bodies have similar construction. Although crickets are distantly related to grasshoppers, they are much more closely related to katydids. Crickets are known for their nocturnal “chirping”. Only the male cricket makes this sound as he attempts to attract a mate by rubbing his wings together. The sound that the cricket makes is unique to that species and a well trained pair of ears can tell them apart.
There are two common crickets that we find in the Fresno area. The house cricket and the field cricket. Other species that occur less frequently are the camel cricket, mole cricket, and the Jerusalem Cricket.
The so-called field cricket or brown cricket may be found under logs, bushes or in any area where they may hide during the daytime hours. These crickets may also be nearly black in color. Like most crickets they are nocturnal. Their populations can grow by explosive proportions when conditions are just right.
The house cricket occurs much less frequently than the common field cricket. They can be easily identified by the lack of prominent wing covers.
The camel cricket is an oddity that rarely requires control measures. I have included him here just in case you have found one and are trying to figure out what kind of bug you have!
The Jerusalem cricket is another little oddity that requires no control measures. This harmless little nightmare has the reputation for being deadly poisonous. In some Spanish speaking countries they are referred to as “child of the earth” and are blamed for infant crib death syndrome.
The mole cricket may be found, like its namesake, burrowing under the turf. They prefer light, sandy soils. In some areas they can do significant damage to turf by chewing through the roots.
There are a number of species of mole crickets distributed throughout the United States. Some species are capable of flight, but many are not. They are not considered a serious economic pest in our area, although localized damage to lawn turf may be a problem that requires some control measures. Control of mole cricket infestations is best left to a pest control professional with the appropriate training and licensing for turf and ornamental work.
The term “ground beetle” may be applied to any of several hundred species of beetles that occur primarily outdoors. At the right is the Darkling Ground Beetle that occurs commonly in this area. There are a large number of other species of beetles that may be identified loosely as “ground beetles”. If you hear a pest control technician referring to ground beetles, it is best to keep in mind that he or she is more concerned with source of infestation and control measures than with making a positive species identification.
Ground beetle populations tend to grow as the summer months pass. By the autumn of the year their populations may reach enormous numbers. If your home or business happens to be near an open field or other area where their food requirements have been met for the summer, you may be subjected to an invasion when the weather begins to turn cool.
This seasonal invasion of ground beetles has been occurring for as long as I can recall. If you are experiencing just such an invasion you may be able to quell the tide by improving the weather-stripping under doors, etc. Close off any openings to the exterior of the building that they can squeeze through. Vacuum the insects up as frequently as possible. As soon as the first really cold weather shows up, the ground beetle problems will come to an end. Exterior and interior pesticide applications will provide only a limited amount of relief. Our products will kill a lot of the offending insects. However, due to the vast numbers of insects involved, we cannot offer much more than a little help.
Centipedes and Millipedes
Centipedes and millipedes can be significant pest problems for folks who live in rural areas. Although they both may occur in urban settings, their natural habitat (and thus their food) is more commonly found away from the town environment.
Centipedes are nocturnal hunters that occur in most of the tropical regions of the world. They are venomous and many species can inflict a painful bite. However their venom is not considered life-threatening to those who are not allergic. There have been hundreds of species of centipedes identified worldwide. Although they do occur in this area, they are not a common pest problem in the Fresno area.
The term centipede comes from the Latin for 100 legs. Although the animal may have a hundred legs, it may have more or less, depending on the species and the age of the individual. The best way to tell a centipede from a millipede is to determine how many legs are attached to each body segment. If there is only a single pair of legs attached to each body segment, you are dealing with a centipede. If there are two pairs of legs attached to each body segment, the creature is a millipede.
Millipedes are extremely common household pests in the rural and foothill areas of the eastern San Joaquin Valley. Unlike the centipede, millipedes are not venomous and they are not hunters. Instead they feed on decaying organic materials. Populations of millipedes can grow to staggering numbers when conditions are right, and attempts to control them with pesticide applications alone usually result in disappointment. Instead, every effort should be made to close off all points of entry that they may use to get into the structure. Removal of vegetation near the structure can also be helpful. Pesticide applications done in conjunction with good sanitation practices will yield the best results, but, especially in severe situations, complete control is often not practical.
Flies, Mosquitoes, Gnats, etc.
Many flying insects that are a problem to homeowners are actually members of the fly family. The order “Diptera” includes all the flies, the gnats and mosquitoes. In addition to the hundreds of species of flies, moths (members of the Lepidoptera family) may be attracted by outdoor lights and become an occasional pest. Bees and wasps (Hymenoptera) may build nests on or near the house.
The bad news is that your pest control professional can do very little to control flying insects. In fact, our contract for pest control services states very specifically that we do not offer control of flying insects. That doesn’t mean that we will do nothing to help if you call, but it does mean that whatever help we can give will be limited in nature and that we cannot guarantee any particular level of control.
The products that we apply around and inside your home work by contacting the target pest. If an ant or cockroach crawls across a surface we have treated, there’s a pretty good chance it will either kill or repel the insect. However, when a flying insect, such as a fly or mosquito, flies over the areas we have treated there is no contact with the product. The insect can move freely in an area we have treated and suffer no ill effects. Therefore, the best hope for control of flying insects rests in elimination of harborage/food sources and sealing entries into the structure.
House flies are gross. I can think of few creatures (aside from German roaches) that will turn my stomach more quickly. Perhaps it is because I know too much about them and how they go about feeding and how their feeding habits lead to the spread of numerous diseases and other maladies. House flies have been shown to spread conjunctivitis, poliomyelitis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, anthrax, leprosy, cholera, diarrhea and dysentery. These creatures are an extremely serious health issue. We recommend that you make every effort to maintain a good set of screens on windows and doors. Also, keep a couple of flyswatters handy to nail the occasional one that sneaks past the barriers. (Flies don’t live very long in my house!)
Bottle Flies (sometimes called blue bottle or green bottle flies) feed on decaying animal flesh. The green bottle fly is commonly found feeding on dog feces. If you have dogs it is very important that you keep the animals’ droppings cleaned up and properly discarded.
Mosquitoes are members of the fly family. With their piercing and sucking mouthparts they pierce the skin of their host and then suck out a blood meal. This meal is a critical part of the mosquito’s reproductive process. Mosquitoes are known vectors of many serious diseases including encephalitis, yellow fever and malaria. Equine encephalitis has been a serious problem in our area.
Control of mosquitoes is like control of most other flies. Eliminate the source of the insects and exclude any others that show up. Mosquitoes are unique among the flies in that they lay their eggs in water. Because of this it is important that any standing water on your property be eliminated. Careful attention should be paid to areas of poor drainage, flower pots, old tires, or any other area where rain water or irrigation water may accumulate and remain undisturbed for long periods. If you have a pond or other water feature you can reduce mosquito problems by introducing “Mosquito fish”. These small fish are very efficient when it comes to seeking out and eating mosquito larvae before they have a chance to hatch into a biting adult.
Gnats are more nuisance than economic pests. Fruit gnats are small, vegetable eating flies that reproduce rapidly in the presence of warm temperatures and adequate food supplies. The Fungus gnat (pictured at left) feeds on the spores of certain fungi that may be present in times of high humidity or where watering practices have encouraged their development.