Cold Weather May Bring Uninvited Guests: How to Avoid Getting New Room-Mates

— Written By Samantha Foster

Falling leaves and brisk weather often bring to mind thoughts of cozy sweaters and pumpkin pie- but they may also bring about uninvited guests. As the temperature drops, many wild things begin to look for a warm spot to call home for the winter. Our homes and other structures are often attractive to these critters, but taking the right preparations can help to keep them at bay.

One of our most common cool- weather visitors is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. These brown, shield- shaped insects get their name from the foul odor that they can emit, which becomes much worse upon being crushed. Although they can damage fruits and vegetables, they do not damage structures, bite, or sting and have been observed to be non- toxic to pets who mistake them for a snack. The use of pesticides for control is often ineffective, and generally not recommended. Dead stink bugs also have the potential to attract more pests, such as carpet beetles.

One method that is effective to simply vacuum them up and either freeze the vacuum bag or empty them into a bucket of soapy water. Both methods will kill the bugs. Releasing them is not recommended because they will more than likely find their way back in. However, be advised that vacuuming them may leave you with a smelly vacuum cleaner. Simple winterization strategies can help prevent them from making their way into your home in the first place. These include:

  • Applying caulk or foam around holes leading into your home. These may be found where cables or pipes pass through and around windows and doors.
  • Replacing or repairing damaged screens on windows and doors. Screen can also be used to cover large holes or openings such as those in air conditioners.
  • Installing sweeps to the bottoms of doors and having reliable weather- stripping where needed.

These techniques can also keep mice and rats at bay. To prevent gnawing at foam, you may opt to use a “pest- block” type formula. Good sanitation is also key in deterring rats and mice. Keep your home free of crumbs, and make sure to store food properly (including pet food and treats.) Paper products such as old newspapers and magazines and soft items such as stored clothing or linens are attractive bedding for mice and rats. These types of items are best stored in plastic bins with tight- fitting lids.

Mice and rats who make their way into the home should be dealt with promptly. Their gnawing will cause damage, sometimes even to electrical wires. Their feces can contain disease- causing organisms and their presence will often exacerbate symptoms in people who have asthma or allergies. Professional services are available for rodent removal and there are many do-it-yourself options. Traditional snap traps are often effective, especially when baited with peanut butter, honey, dry bread, oatmeal, or sardines/ meat items. Wooden traps are often inexpensive, but modern plastic ones may be more effective.

Poisons are another popular option, but should be used with caution around children, pets, and non- target animals. Poisoned rodents often die in undisclosed locations, making disposal of the carcass impossible and posing risks to animals that may consume them. Glue traps are effective but not necessarily humane and may trap non- target animals. “Humane” traps can be purchased or made, but the rodent has to be either euthanized or relocated to a remote location upon capture. If you don’t see immediate results, don’t get discouraged. It may take up to week for mice and rats to drop their guard around suspicious new objects.

Following these tips can help you have a pest- free holiday season. New weather stripping may not keep away your in-laws, but it will certainly un-invite stink bugs and other pests from your home. For help identifying or finding out how to discourage or eliminate other pests, feel free to contact Samantha Foster, Agricultural Extension Agent at 704.983. 3987 (extension 3) or Samantha_foster@ncsu.edu.