Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ant Problem in the Kitchen, Home or Apartment

ants feeding on sugary bait
Sooner or later almost everyone experiences ant problems in their home or apartment. Ants often invade kitchens first but can spread to other areas of the home as well. They are several different species of tiny black/brown ants that enter homes in search of food and water.

Ant colonies (see below) can be located in the soil around and beneath the structure but they can also be in the walls and/or ceiling.

Ant Colonies and Ant Control

All ants live in complex, highly organized colonies where workers gather food and water for the developing young and the egg-laying queen. The trick with any successful ant control program is to use the worker ants to collect food for the colony that has been laced with a poison (poison bait). The poison bait is fed to developing young and the queen thus disrupting the entire colony. Spray insecticides do not work against household nuisance ants.

The least expensive ant bait is a sugary liquid that has been laced with boric acid. This is the standard recipe for products like Terro (tm) and this type of bait can also be home-made (see Home-Made Ant Baits for more information). Sugar-based boric acid baits work well for small, active colonies but may not be effective against large, stubborn infestations, and against certain species that are not attracted to sugary foods.

In the last few years a new type of ant bait has become available to home-owners. These baits are typically supplied in tubes that look like large hypodermic syringes, without the needles, or single-use trays (bait stations). The tubes/trays contain a paste or gel that has been laced with an insecticide, or insect growth regulator. Since the attractiveness of an individual bait will vary between different species it may be necessary to try several different baits until you find the one that your ants will most readily accept. See Professional Ant Baits for more information.

Using Ant Baits

  • Place baits near established ant trails and don't disturb these trails.
  • Do not contaminate the area with insecticides as this will prevent ants from finding and accepting the baits.

As always Read and Follow package instructions carefully, especially regarding bait placement.

See Controlling Household Nuisance Ants for more detailed information and precautions.

Please see our Disclaimer as well.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tiny Jumping Bugs In Homes and Yards - Springtails

close-up of springtail/collembola
I get questions through my 'Bugs site every week about tiny jumping bugs in people's homes. The questions usually start something like: "I've found tiny jumping bugs on my _____, what are they and what should I do?" Since there are only a few small insects that actually jump or hop when disturbed this question is pretty easy to answer even without a good photo.

These tiny critters are called springtails, or collembola, and they are not really insects at all but rather primitive soil micro-arthropods (a distinction that is only of interest to an entomologist!).

See Springtails In Homes and Gardens for more pictures and life history.

Springtails live in soil where they feed on bacteria, fungi, and occasionally plant roots. They are harmless to plants and even beneficial to healthy soils. Very large populations can build in highly organic soils. They are most often noticed following heavy rains when they are washed out of the soil by flooding and concentrate where rain water pools.

Springtails can enter homes when outside soils are saturated following heavy rains, or they can be brought in with house plant soil. Again, they are completely harmless and can be simply swept up when found. See the article cited above for more information.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tiny, Yellow, Biting Bugs

a thrips next to a leaf vein
Have you every felt a sharp pinch while outside during summer only to find a tiny, yellow, sliver-like bug when you investigate the bite?

These bites are from a tiny insect called a thrips (the name is always plural; one thrips, many thrips).

Thrips normally feed on plants with very sharp, knife-like mouthparts. If they happen to land on us they can bite causing a sharp, stabbing pain. The bites are annoying but completely harmless and are more common in mid- to late summer. Unfortunately, insect repellents don't work against thrips. See this article at the 'Bugs website for more information.

Thrips can be important plant pests where they damage leaves and in some cases even infect plants with a virus. Greenhouse growers in particular often treat their crops with insecticide to prevent thrips damage. 

drawing showing feathery wings


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs

bed bug (drawing)
Bed bugs are pretty easy to distinguish from other insects that you may find around homes. First, since bed bugs can't fly they are confined to areas near where people sleep. You won't find bed bugs crawling across the floor or flying around a light! Second, bed bugs are large enough to be easily seen, about 1/4" as adults, and are a distinctive chestnut brown color.

See this page for close-up pictures of bed bugs actually feeding.

Bed bugs hide during daylight hours in cracks and crevices around bedding and in folds of mattresses. These areas will also generally show dark stains caused by their fecal matter (digested blood, see drawing below). Finally, bed bug bites look like bad mosquito bites on most people (see drawing below). Some people, however, don't show the characteristic bites and some lucky folks hardly react at all. When combined, these signs are usually unmistakable. If bed bugs are found use our control suggestions to manage the infestation.

nearly full grown bed bug

bed bug hiding places, bites

See the 'Bugs Website for bed bug control and other home pest control questions.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Tiny, White, Bugs In Homes - What Are They?

mold mite (drawing)
Have you ever found tiny white bugs crawling on the kitchen counter or over a sack of pet food, or on your computer keyboard, or in some similar situation? The bugs are too small to see clearly and are often described as "salt" or "sugar" that moves! If you look very close, with a magnifying glass, you'll probably see long "hairs" from tiny round whitish bodies.

There are a couple of things that people describe this way but in my experience mold mites (mould mites), also called grain mites, are the most common.

These tiny mites feed on mold that grows on damp surfaces so are almost always associated with excess moisture and mold growth in one way or another. Their presence in kitchens can indicate a leaky pipe or dishwasher.

The mites don't bite or cause any harm but some people will experience an allergic reaction to large numbers of mites similar to dust mite allergy. In fact mold mites are related to dust mites. This allergic reaction can be as simple as a stuffy noise or an itchy rash or even difficulty breathing.

The only treatment that is needed is to control the sources of moisture. Once the area dries out the mites and mold will go away. After all sources of moisture are eliminated the area can be treated with a botanical insecticide like EcoPCO-ARX to control remaining mites.


See the 'Bugs Website for information about other insect and mite pests.