What are the most common household pests? Living in a home, apartment, or other property can bring with it many problems. The last thing you want to do is worry about some of these pests that commonly invade our living spaces. From the annoyance of the fruit fly to the march of the ants, pests are the last thing we want to be concerned about within our homes. These unwelcome guests can occupy even the cleanliest of homes. From our pantries to our garages, these insects can bring disease, and some can also cause severe damage to our homes. 

Despite how familiar we are with the most common household pests, very few people are prepared when they see them inside their homes. So, what can a person do to identify and act against these unwanted critters? What steps can you take to rid yourself of the problem? First, learning to identify what creepy crawlies you might be dealing with and then recognize if they are merely a nuisance or harboring something more dangerous. Finally, you can help protect your home against unwanted pests by implementing a few preventative measures. Let’s take a look at some of the most common household pests, how to identify them, and what do if you think you have them. 

Ants

All ants are arthropods, meaning they have an exoskeleton and segmented bodies, each connected with a moveable joint. Arthropods usually have a pair of appendages on each body segment. An ant is probably one of the most easily identified pests on the planet. We are all familiar with the visual of a parade of ants marching across a checkered picnic blanket. Yet many homeowners don’t know how to identify what kind of ants they have. Fewer still know what to do when they see them.

There are many kinds of ants. In Florida, you can find hundreds of different species. However, some are more likely to invade your home than others. Ghost ants and carpenter ants are among the most frequent calls that pest control professionals get when it comes to ants. Ghost ants are considered more of a nuisance than anything else. One of the main reasons why these ants are so problematic to homeowners and apartment dwellers is that they create supercolonies. Supercolonies are multiple colonies within a small space, all with their own queen. These supercolonies make breeding, and therefore population explosion, inevitable. Ghost ants are generally not harmful, they don’t bite, or sting, and very rarely will you contract any disease from them. Many readily available pesticides will help control your population of Ghost Ants. Still, it is always best to call in a pest control professional, as what you see is usually just the surface of the problem that you have. 

The second most common ant complaint in Florida is the Carpenter Ant. These ants are identified by their large size, ranging from 1/5”-2/5”. Queens are much larger, measuring about 3/4” in length. Despite their name, carpenter ants are generally not destructive to wood. Instead, they prefer to nest in soft, rotting wood. During flight season, when carpenter ants have wings, pest control professionals usually see an uptick in “termite” calls. Carpenter ants are often mistaken for termites, and frantic homeowners want to get ahead of any potential problems. Carpenter ants do not sting, but they can bite. They will also release formic acid when they feel threatened. Formic acids is not dangerous to human in the tiny amounts that an ant will release. Formic acid is an anti-bacterial and is often used in food preservation. In extremely high doses, it does, however, pose a potential threat to humans. 

Termites

Termites are a homeowner’s worst nightmare (besides maybe bud bugs), and they can quickly destroy structures. Termites voraciously eat wood, drywall, and sometimes plastic. They feed on dead and decaying plant material. A small termite colony can eat up to a pound of wood per day. But termites, like ants, are social creatures who live in colonies. They have the same social structure as ants. Some ants are foragers while others are scouts. Each termite, like an ant, has a place and job to do within the colony.  Homeowners start to see trouble when reproduction starts to increase. Colonies may start small, but reproductive rates are quick, and colonies can grow extensively in a very short amount of time. If you are unsure whether you have a carpenter ant or a termite problem, it is best to contact a qualified pest control professional. Letting the problem persist or trying to contain it yourself can be costly the longer it goes on.

Bed Bugs

While bed bugs themselves do not transmit diseases, they can cause a variety of health problems to the people in the infested home. Some sensitive individuals may experience allergic reactions to bed bug bites. Bedbugs bite you when you are sleeping, leaving swollen, red skin behind. In our unconscious state, we can scratch the bite site, worsening the effects of the initial bite. Thereby causing worse skin infections later. 

Bed bugs are problematic because of their rapid reproduction cycles. The most common way to bring bed bugs home is to bring them with you from another place, such as a hotel or guest rental. The bugs will travel in your suitcase and then take up residence in your home. If you live in an apartment and one of your neighbors brings home bed bugs from their last vacation, you too can be infested within a matter of days. Bed bugs travel fast and spread far, so be wary of the neighbors who are continually picking up roadside couches for their living room. 

Bed bugs themselves cannot be easily spotted, but it is easy to recognize if you have them. Look for small red bite marks on your skin; you can also check your furnishings for crushed bed bugs, which will appear as rusty-colored spots. Dark brown spots that smear is also a good indication of the presence of bed bugs. These specs are bed bug waste, and the smearing is the blood they have digested from biting their human host. When it comes to bed bugs, it is best to call in a pest control professional as soon as possible. Getting on top of the situation early will help eliminate the cost of having to replace much of your furniture later.  

Roaches

Roaches are probably the most disturbing of pests that can reside in your home. Cockroaches get a bad rap as they are often associated with poverty.  Cleanliness or lack thereof, is not always the case for cockroach infestations. Even clean homes in well-kept neighborhoods can become infested. Roaches fall under the pest category when it comes to home invaders of the insect kind. Cockroaches can transmit diseases such as dysentery, salmonella, polio, and typhoid disease. Nobody wants to have roaches. In the south, roaches are often referred to as palmetto bugs, simply because the name sounds much nicer than a roach.

The most common household roach is the German roach. Despite its namesake, it is not native to Germany at all. German cockroaches are extraordinarily adaptable and survive in nearly all climates, though they will move indoors during cold seasons. These roaches are small in size, ranging from about .4-.6” in length. They are most often spotted in the more humid areas of the home including bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. German cockroaches are another pest that you will want to call in the professionals as soon as possible. Once these roaches start mating, their reproduction rate is astronomical. A single pair of cockroaches can produce tens of thousands of offspring in less than a year. That’s a lot of reproducing. 

Flies 

Three fly species are the most common issues for homeowners: fruit flies, gnats, and house flies. Some people believe that gnats and fruit flies are the same thing; they are not. While they may both be tiny in stature, there are different physical and characteristic traits. Despite their name, fruit flies are not just attracted to those bananas that you forgot about rotting in the basket. They are also attracted to fermented items like beer or wine. Fruit flies most commonly develop and breed in places like drains, buckets, and garbage bins. They are less than an eighth of an inch in length, and like all flies have six legs, two wings, and two antennae. Fruit fly eyes are typically either red or dark in color. These pests are much more than a nuisance as they can transmit many diseases. They generally go from a few to hundreds seemingly overnight. A female fruit fly can lay up to 500 eggs at a time, which hatch less than 30 hours later. To discourage fruit flies from forming, keep fruit in sealed containers, and don’t leave those empty beer cans dripping in the recycling bin inside your home. If you do notice a few fruit flies buzzing about, you should immediately clean the area, removing any potential attractants. You can hang sticky traps or indoor zappers. Just remember, you will want to get the problem contained quickly, as fruit flies are rapid breeders, and you can find yourself overrun with them in only a few days.

Florida is home to many species of gnats. Often called “no-see-ums” because you know you have been bitten, but when you seek out the offender, none can be found. The most common of Florida gnats are known as sandflies. Entomologists refer to them as biting midges. These pests are generally localized to coastal regions and tend to be more prevalent near salt marshes and mangrove swamps. Since the majority of Florida’s residents live in the coastal areas, gnats can be a huge problem. These insects to attack in swarms, but only their females bite. The good news is that if you avoid going outdoors during dawn and dusk, you can avoid these annoying insects. The bad news is, if you live in an older Florida home, and don’t have central air, your home could become filled with these insects very quickly during the warm summer months. However, even the tiniest bit of wind will keep these little buggers from attacking. 

The common housefly is the one insect nearly everyone can identify (other than the ant). We’ve all heard the annoying buzz only to finally swat at them as they land on your plate of perfectly crafted sandwich just as you were about to bite down. Most homeowners would categorize the house fly as a mere nuisance and not a dangerous pest. However, the common housefly has been known to transmit many diseases, including e. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, and roughly one hundred other pathogens. The common housefly has been linked with causing meningitis, cholera, hepatitis, and other serious human diseases. Flytraps, indoor bug zappers, and sticky traps, all will work to control the population of house flies. Still, if you find yourself overrun, it may be best to call in a professional. 

Spiders

Ahh, the arachnid. What horrifying responses such a little thing can bring. Full-grown adults have been known to run screaming in terror from these eight-legged little creatures. But the house spider, among many other species of spiders, is typically an excellent thing to have around. Spiders are great because they help to control the population of other pest insects. They are great flycatchers and even build elaborate traps for them. The presence of spiders isn’t something to be feared, but rather celebrated, as you have an ally in eradicating your home from nuisance insects and other pests. The only downside to having spider houseguests is that when they move on to better hunting grounds, they leave behind their homes. The most annoying thing about spiders is the cobwebs that are left behind for the humans to clean up. Even long since abandoned webs still have a sticky quality to them that humans just can’t seem to get past. 

If you find you have a large number of spider guests, you may want to call out a pest professional. If spiders are prevalent, it generally means there is a good source of food nearby. Food, in spider terms, is insects, and not something you want to have plenty of in your home. If you are noticing lots of cobwebs, that generally means spiders are getting in. However, they are not finding your home to be a good hunting ground, and therefore are moving on quickly. On the other hand, if you have active webs in each corner of your living spaces, then it’s time to call in a professional for a full home inspection. Better to be preventative than to find out there was an underlying issue you missed. 

An old myth says that pest control professionals will never kill spiders. This tall tale is just that, not accurate. Your pest professional might try to convince you otherwise, However, if your spiders are rarely seen than it is probably best just to let them do their part. However, if you find that you have spiders, like the black widow, that can be dangerous to humans, then calling in a professional to help eradicate the problem is necessary. 

Fleas

Fleas are every pet owner’s worst nightmare. Besides preying on our beloved Fluffy and Fido, fleas can also bite humans. A single flea can consume up to fifteen times its body weight in blood each day! The reproduction cycle of fleas is fast, taking one to four weeks to mature. Females can lay roughly fifty eggs per day. The problem arises when fleas get into the carpeting. Flea larva is immune to nearly all pesticides, so if you have a flea infestation, completely eradicating the problem could take weeks to months. The best defense for fleas is a good offense. Make sure that your pets are appropriately protected with flea prevention collars or applications. Check your pet’s fur often for signs of fleas. Look for dark pepper-like specs on the loose fur. If your pets do have fleas, make sure to clean not just the animal but their bedding, toys, and other furnishings where they rest. Think you are not at risk for fleas because you have no pets? Think again. Just because you choose not to have pets, does not mean you are immune to a flea infestation. Raccoons, squirrels, opossums and other wildlife taking up residence in your attic could also bring fleas into your home. If you notice yourself itching, you might want to inspect your property for fleas. 

Treatment of fleas is a multi-step and intensive process. With pets, you’ll want first to eradicate their fur of the parasites. Then move on to eliminating your home of the eggs and larvae that might be in your carpets. Begin preventative measures at this time on your pets, so fleas will not be attracted to them again in the future.  Wash the bedding, toys, and other furnishings where your pets rest. If you have a yard, that is most likely where your pet picked up fleas, so have that treated too. Calling in a pest professional to get a flea problem under control is the best method. You don’t want to learn the hard way that you may have missed a spot. 

Mice

Other than spiders, the house mouse is probably the next most terrifying thing for a human to encounter in their home (or anywhere for that matter). Nothing sends a person shrieking to the highest point than meeting a mouse in their home. House mice are small in size, usually less than four inches long, with the tail adding another three inches or so. They are typically light brown or grey with lighter colored bellies. House mice are round with pointed noses and large ears with some fur covering them. The most common way people find out they have mice is when they grab a box of grains or seeds out of the cupboard and find a hole chewed into the corner. 

Having cats around can help deter mice from entering your home, but if you see a mouse scurrying across your kitchen floor, you can be sure there are more around. Another way to prevent mice from entering your home is to make sure that all gaps and cracks are sealed with caulk or steel wool. A mouse can enter through any crevice wider than a pencil, or a hole as small as a dime in diameter. 

You can use glue boards and snap traps to kill mice. However, if you are noticing multiple signs of mice such as gnaw marks or oily markings on baseboards, then you may want to contact a licensed pest control professional. Mice can transmit diseases such as salmonella. Mice and other rodents can also transmit the bubonic plague. While most of us think that is a disease of the middle ages, there are still confirmed cases of it. The CDC reports anywhere from 1-17 cases per year in the US. Worldwide, the number is between one and two thousand, but thankfully due to antibiotics, very few cases are lethal. 

Mites

There are many different species of mites, and you may be more familiar with them than you think. Some feed on plants, others on arthropods, while a few attack humans.  We’ve all heard of dust mites, but what about chiggers, or scabies? These are all species of the mite that attack humans. Mites are borderline between nuisance and pest. While they rarely transmit diseases to humans, they can cause severe skin irritations that can lead to other problems. 

Scabies is probably the most common mite to attack humans. Scabies can be transferred between people or between people and pets. There are multiple types of scabies mites, each with a preference for a host. Scabies mites that prefer dogs cause mange. Scabies that attack humans tunnel under the skin to lay eggs. Because many mites are minuscule, only being identified under a microscope, scabies infestations on humans may go unnoticed for some time. The itching associated with scabies is usually how one tells they have them.  

If you happen to be itching around your ankles after a nice brisk walk in the woods, you may have picked up another common mite called chiggers. Chiggers also burrow under the skin of its host, but not to consume blood, but rather to liquefy the skin for consumption. Chiggers are identified when not treated because the area around the site will become inflamed, turn hard, and be extremely itchy. Chiggers generally do not live around people. It is people invading their quiet rural living in the soil that brings them back to areas populated by humans.

The most common mite found in homes is the dust mite. Dust mites are the number one cause of indoor allergies. If someone is diagnosed as being allergic to “dust,” they are actually reacting to the dust mite feces and carcasses that float in the air. This is what makes up regular household dust. Thankfully, however, dust mites do not feed on live human flesh. Instead, they prefer the dead skin cells of humans and dander from our pets. Dust mites are more often found in our bedding, clothing, and upholstered surfaces than in carpets. Mites can easily be controlled by keeping your environment clean. Regular washing of linens, towels, and routine cleaning of furniture is the simplest prevention methods when it comes to the common household dust mite. 

Preventing Insect Infestations

The number one preventative tip to keeping your home free from pests is to keep a clean house. Regular washing of often used bedding, towels, and clothing can help to prevent dust mites, fleas, and other easily preventable insects. 

In the kitchen, make sure to wipe up spills immediately, don’t leave crumbs lying around and take out the garbage as soon as it is full. Also, keeping a receptacle with a closed lid is a good idea. Don’t let recycling pile up either. Make sure to remove beer cans, soda cans, and other such attractants to a covered bin outside.  Keep any moist areas dry to prevent flies from breeding. Any foods that can be secured in airtight containers should be. Fruits and vegetables stored this way will prevent fruit flies, dry goods like rice, pasta, dry beans, and grains stored in plasticware will deter mice from seeking their next meal in your cupboard. 

Minimize clutter in and around your home. If you have firewood, make sure you store it at least 20’ away from the sides of your home. This will prevent breeding grounds for all sorts of unwanted guests, including snakes. Inside, do not store cardboard boxes on the ground. This will help to reduce the occurrence of mice and other rodents. 

Minimize the amount of standing water in and around your home. Many people have birdbaths in their yards, make sure to change out the water at least once a week. This will deter mosquitoes and other moisture breeding insects from being allowed to reproduce and later make their way into your home. 

If you have pets, make sure they are up to date on their shots and are on flea treatments. Even if you have indoor-only cats, they should still be on preventive protocols. Fleas may not just come from other domesticated animals, but from wildlife taking up residence in and around your home as well.  

Finally, if you do find yourself with any kind of pest control problems, immediately schedule an inspection with a licensed pest control professional. They will do a thorough job to both identify and create a plan of action to eradicate the pest infestation you might be facing.

Resources:

https://www.pestworld.org/news-hub/pest-health-hub/overview-of-the-real-health-risks-posed-by-mice-and-rat-infestations/

https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef602

https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef602

http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcmites.htm

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Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.

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