Winter Pest Control 101
When winter comes around, nothing sounds better than curling up inside your warm house, enjoying a nice meal, and spending the season safe and dry. Unfortunately, many pests feel the same way. Winter pests, including animals and insects, infiltrate our homes for several reasons, and if you’re not prepared, they can leave behind lasting damage or sickness.
Why Are Pests a Problem in the Winter?
Though different pests have various reasons for seeking shelter, it’s most often due to outdoor temperatures and weather conditions. Bugs and rodents seek warm, dry shelters away from freezing temperatures and snow. Even when there is cold weather outside, the temperature inside your house and between your walls stays constant. Winter is also a popular time for people to cook or bake foods rich with fat and sugar, an attractive food source for many bugs.
Some household pests take up permanent, year-round residence in your basement or attic. Others wait until the weather begins to change to make their way inside through entry points. Once inside, they build nests, bring others from their colony and start seeking a food source — usually your furniture, walls, fabrics, garbage or kitchen crumbs.
Before and throughout winter, it’s crucial to implement pest control measures to keep your home and property safe.
The Hiding Places of Winter Pests
Winter pests will hide in places away from easy detection but close enough to food or water sources. They create nests and establish colonies in damp areas, like your basement or near indoor plumbing and leaks. Outdoors, they might house themselves in sheds or stacks of firewood, hitching rides indoors whenever they can. Some animals, such as raccoons or mice, may create a home near their point of entry, like in an attic with easy access to outdoor tree branches.
Search these critical areas frequently and inspect for signs of insects or unwanted critters, like:
- Droppings: Pest droppings vary in size, color and shape, depending on the rodent or insect who left them behind. Rat and mice droppings tend to be longer, with slightly pointed ends, while squirrel droppings have a less defined shape. Cockroaches and other insects create small, sometimes minuscule-sized droppings.
- Sightings: Never ignore a lone bug or rodent — if one could enter your home, many may follow. Even a single pest may indicate a larger infestation or colony elsewhere in the house. Sightings also include dead insects, molted skins or living pests scurrying across your path or near a food source.
- Nests: If you suspect an infestation, search your home for nests or dens, which might look like piles of twigs and debris, muddy buildup along walls or foundations or a collection of dark smears and insect casings.
- Markings: Bite marks and other markings on wooden furniture, wall and wall trims are usually signs of insects or rodents. Other possible markings include small holes or tears in fabric, like your rugs, carpet, clothes, curtains or blankets.
- Sounds: Listen for unexplained skittering or thumping sounds coming from the walls or attic, especially at night, as this is when many pests search for food.
Common Types of Winter Pests
Identification is the first step in eradicating house pests. The more you observe a suspected infestation, the better you can protect your home and property.
These are the most common winter house bugs and rodents in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and how to identify them.
House mice vary between light and dark shades of grey and brown, with lighter bellies and a rounded body. They have black eyes, large ears and hairy tails. Mice are nocturnal, preferring to scavenge for food and move to other areas of your home while you’re sleeping. Though they’ll often eat whatever they can find, they prefer to snack frequently throughout the night on high-fat and high-protein foods like fatty meats, butter, sugars and grains.
House mice are usually 5 to 8 inches long, making them smaller than rats but large enough to cause significant property damage. A litter of house mice will eat their way through your belongings, consuming food, fabric, paper products and furniture. They also chew on electrical wiring, putting your home at risk for shorts or fires. Their excrement also poses a serious threat to your family and pets’ health. These pests breed quickly — the average house mouse can produce up to 10 litters per year.
A few signs of house mice in your home are:
- Squeaking, rattling or scurrying sounds in your walls, attic or rooms.
- Mouse holes in your walls, including inside cabinets, pantries and closets.
- Distinctive teeth marks on wires, furniture, walls or food left on the counter.
- The presence of mouse nests, which look like piles of random debris, like cardboard, cloth, newspaper and other litter.
- Smudges of dirt along baseboards and walls, indicating mouse travel.
- Mouse droppings, which are black, cylindrical and usually a quarter of an inch long.
Though mouse traps and glue boards are a temporary way to locate or eradicate a single mouse, they are not an effective long-term strategy. Never touch mice or their droppings with your bare skin to prevent the spread of possible disease.
The brown Norway rat is larger than the average house mouse at roughly 16 inches in length. They have short fur that covers everything but their ears and long tails. They will consume nearly anything, including human and pet food, plants and other animals, like fellow rodents. Female rats can have up to seven litters each year, with litters containing an average of eight pups each time. Though these rats have poor vision, they are adept travelers, relying largely on hearing and smell.
Rats have been known to transmit potentially dangerous diseases and viruses to humans, including hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, hemorrhagic fever, rat-bite fever and salmonellosis. These diseases transmit via contact with urine and feces, through scratch wounds or after consuming contaminated food or drink. Rats can also cause extensive structural damage, thanks to their strong jaws and appetites. This includes pipes, wires, walls, furniture and flooring.
You might be dealing with Norway rats if you notice things like:
- Large, noticeably visible teeth marks on furniture and walls.
- Loud or heavy thumps and running in your attic or walls.
- Rat droppings, which are larger than a mouse’s and highly dangerous.
- Trails of grease smudges along your walls or floors, which signifies frequent travel along that route.
- Debris and trash-filled rat nests close to food and water sources.
Compared to other pests, raccoons are instantly recognizable. They are mixed shades of grey, red and brown, with dark hair around their eyes and rings on their tails. Their hands and feet are thin and limber, allowing them to grip easily. The average raccoon is about 13 pounds and between 23 and 37 inches in length. Fortunately, females only produce litters once per year, averaging about four younglings each time.
These nocturnal creatures tend to sleep heavily — but not hibernate — during the winter, but they may also enter warm homes. Common entry points are vulnerable areas in the attic or roof, which they can access from nearby trees or by scaling up the side of your home. Inside, raccoons are fast, nimble climbers, allowing them to access and grab food easily. They enjoy feeding on fruits, nuts and corn, but will also eat garbage, rodents, insects and eggs. They use their heightened sense of hearing to hide when you or a potential predator comes their way. Raccoons create dens, where they store their uneaten food, garbage and other things they pick up along the way. Some raccoons may enter and exit your house throughout the season, depending on perceived threat and food availability.
These pests may cause extensive damage to your electrical wiring, insulation and house, especially if they scale your siding or roof shingles to gain entry. Some may also enter through your chimney or plumbing system. They will pillage your food and rustle through your trash, leaving a mess behind. The biggest threats raccoons pose is to you and your pets’ health. In addition to the danger of rabies and lice, raccoons can also carry dangerous viruses, like baylisascaris, a type of roundworm infection that affects humans and dogs.
Signs of raccoons in your home include:
- Unexplained thumping or loud running in your attic, especially at night.
- The presence of nesting materials, like leaves, insulation and fabric.
- Teeth and claw marks on wires, furniture, carpets and packaged food.
- Deposits of large, foul-smelling feces in or around your home.
- Raccoon sightings outdoors near your house or along your property line.
Cockroaches are notorious home invaders. They breed quickly and form nests inside your house. Though there are several types of cockroaches, they each have a flattened, oval body with long antennae and six spined legs. Some adults have wings. They can enter your house in a multitude of ways — via packages and cardboard boxes, through small cracks and gaps in the wall and doors, through plumbing line entry points and on secondhand furniture.
Once established, they seek food sources, leaving a trail of bacteria and sometimes dangerous diseases like salmonella or staphylococcus. They’ve also been linked to intestinal illnesses, including diarrhea and typhoid fever. Their molted skins, feces and shells can even irritate asthma and allergy symptoms in some people.
Telltale signs of cockroaches are:
- Droppings, which may resemble small black specks of pepper on the floor or in nests.
- Molted cockroach skins or shells in corners or on countertops.
- Chew marks on furniture, paper products, walls, food packaging and fabrics, including leather.
- A strong, musty odor on or near surfaces.
- Visible bean-shaped eggs, which roaches lay in oval-shaped capsules.
Spiders make their way indoors throughout the year, but the most common winter species are the American house spider, the wolf spider, the brown recluse and daddy long legs. While many spiders enter your home through cracks and open windows, most of them were likely born there. Spiders are adept at hiding in places like your basement, attic, crawl space and closets, leaving eggs wherever they make their home. They are persistent in undisturbed areas around your property, like storage items or unused closets.
Aside from being disturbing roommates for many homeowners, most spiders are fairly harmless. The most significant spider-related concern in the winter is the brown recluse spider, which is very dangerous. They inject venom into bite victims, which could be you or your pets.
If you think you might have spiders in your house, look for simple or intricate webs in the corners of walls or along air ducts and rafters. Another common sign is silken bundles, or sacs, of spider eggs deposited on surfaces or in secluded areas of the house.
Homeowners fear termite infestations because of the extensive — and expensive — structural damage they leave in their wake. As they feed, they can ruin furniture, walls, porches, decks and even some foundations. They’re also known to eat paper products, including books, as well as insulation and live plants. They can even ruin your electrical wiring and cause shortages or system failure. Though they resemble ants, termites’ wings are equal in size and they have straight or drooped antennae. They burrow into walls and other vulnerable areas, feeding and creating hollowed spots for their colonies.
You might have termites if you’ve experienced:
- Live sightings around doors and windows.
- Thin deposits of mud “tubes” along the interior and exterior of your house.
- Damaged wood, drywall or paper products.
- New or worsening wall cavities.
- Discarded termite wings.
- Small deposits of soil, especially near areas with visible damage.
- Blisters on wooden flooring.
Silverfish are wingless, half-inch insects with long, curved antennae and three bristles on their rear. As their name suggests, they have a metallic, silver appearance with dark markings. Silverfish thrive in warm, damp environments, so you may find them near plumbing, in bathrooms or under the sink. They feed on whatever they can find — food, paper, packaging, other insects and even fellow silverfish.
Silverfish are highly resilient and can live extended periods without eating. They get inside through packages, small cracks or open doorways and leave behind holes when they feed. They can also burrow inside your food. Despite their unsettling appearance, they pose no health risk to humans.
Some signs of a silverfish infestation are:
- Small, black dropping or molted skins.
- Yellow stains on walls and belongings.
- Live sightings or visible damage.
What Are Overwintering Pests?
If you have bugs or flies in the house in winter, you’re likely dealing with an overwintering pest. Overwintering is the term used to describe pests that enter your home to escape wintery conditions and leave again in the spring. Failure to identify or eradicate overwintering insects can lead to unexpected, costly damage over time.
The following bugs are considered overwintering pests:
- Boxelder bugs
- Stink bugs
- Cluster flies
Tips for Keeping Your Home Pest Free During Winter
The best way to solve a pest problem is to take early preventive measures around your home and property. When you work with a professional pest removal service like Spectrum Pest Control, we can help you create a line of defense against the different rodents and bugs each season brings. By planning defensively, you save yourself damaged property associated with infestations and the time and money it costs to remove them.
In addition to your customized pest prevention plan, use these tips to avoid winter bugs in the house:
- Start preparing early: Start preparing your property for winter throughout late summer and early autumn. Groom shrubs and greenery and rake and discard decaying leaves. Have dead plants and trees removed by a professional, so the decaying wood doesn’t attract insects. Trim tree branches that could offer rodents easy access to your roof or windows. Indoors, make prompt repairs of any damaged sinks, plumbing lines, walls, doors and windows.
- Keep things clean: Though insects do not discriminate between clean or messy homes, clutter and debris may make your home more inviting if it offers food or hidden shelter. Keep your home free of dirt or crumbs, including your pantry and cabinets. Store food in airtight containers and keep garbage in a trash can with a lid.
- Fill cracks and holes: Inspect your walls, foundation and areas around your doors and windows for any gaps, cracks or holes that could allow winter insects inside. Fill them with caulking or weather strips.
- Remove standing moisture: Basements and crawl spaces are notorious for their damp environments, which attract insects and may damage your property. If necessary, work with a professional to make repairs around your home to prevent or minimize excess moisture. Mop and dry leaks or use a fan to air dry them in the meantime.
- Clean the gutters: As leaves and debris build up inside your gutters, water can overflow, redirect or cause damage to the home, attracting pests and possibly creating more entry points. Clean your gutters regularly and have them serviced if they need repairing.
- Inspect furniture and packages: Many bugs hide inside mattresses, dressers, boxes and packaging materials, entering your home unnoticed. Before bringing packages, secondhand items or antiques into your house, inspect them for signs of bugs or insect-related damage.
Contact Spectrum Pest Control for Winter Extermination Services
Avoid dangerous, damaging winter pests by scheduling a consultation with Spectrum Pest Control. Whether you’re preparing your home for the season or need professional assistance to eliminate an existing infestation, we’re here to help with prompt, safe service backed by our Pest Free Promise. Contact us today to learn more.