Now that summer is fully upon us, you may be encountering some typical summertime pests around North Carolina. It may not help that you’re probably home more, giving you more opportunity to notice the critters around the house.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provides oversight of pest control professionals to be sure they’re properly trained and using the correct products in the correct ways. (That regulation is handled through the Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division, which also oversees pesticide applications for agricultural uses.)
So what summer pest are you likely to see this time of year in North Carolina? Dr. Mike Waldvogel and Patty Alder provided some insights. Waldvogel is an extension associate professor and specialist in structural and industrial pests in N.C. State’s Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology. Alder is the director & training coordinator at the NCSU Structural Pest Management Training Facility.
Ants (including fire ants)
You may find ants creeping inside your home foraging for water or food, or you may find a mound outside. Fire ants prefer fatty foods, so outdoor eating or grilling can attract them. Almost all ants you encounter will also love sweet foods. Keep that in mind around Independence Day or any time you plan to have a cookout.
“Fire ants are just as excited because they want to see that grill light up,” Waldvogel said.
Ants in the outdoors serve a purpose (e.g., pollinating, feeding on dead or live insects or caterpillars, aerating soil, distributing seeds, etc.), so if they’re not a nuisance or danger, you can probably leave them along. If a fire ant mound is in a place where it may be a health concern, especially for children or older adults, that’s when you may want to consider taking action.
“Those are cases where you’d want to take care of them if you could, if they’re posing a threat,” Alder said.
Home remedies (e.g., gasoline/kerosene, boiling water, vinegar) for fire ants can be dangerous, so stick with treatments that have been proven to work and are approved by the EPA. Waldvogel and Alder agree that disrupting a fire ant mound (e.g., mowing off the top) can often prompt the ants to move.
There are also granular baits designed to kill the colony. Just be sure to put the bait around the mound, not on top of it. A pesticide drench may also work, but it can be hard to know if you’re using enough or too much. A “Texas Two-step” may be appropriate in which you put down bait and then five to seven days later use a drench.
“Just don’t put down a bait and then spray it,” Waldvogel said. “It’s overkill that leads to underkill.”
Whether you’re disrupting a mound or trying to kill a colony, some ants will likely relocate, and that means it may be a good idea to coordinate treatment with your neighbors.
Baits can also be a good option for ants that make their way inside. You just have to realize it will attract more ants for a while. Most baits use sugar as an effective lure.
“It works well if you’re patient, and they’re eating it,” Alder said. “Sometimes they get finicky, and you’ll put a bait out, and they won’t eat it. So you want to be sure they’re eating it, or it’ll never make it back to the colony.”
Whether indoors or out, baits are also a relatively safe option because they don’t involve the pouring or spraying of chemicals. Keeping ants from getting inside your house may be as simple as finding the holes or cracks where they’re coming inside. Plug, caulk or otherwise close those openings for a chemical-free solution.
Millipedes and Springtails
Closing up holes and cracks can also be an effective way to keep millipedes and springtails out of your home. They don’t usually like to be inside, but it can happen more often during extreme wet or dry conditions. So people may have seen them after the recent weeks with lots of rain, or they may see more inside when dry days persist.
“It’s almost like they’re running for cover,” Alder said.
Millipedes can be smelly. They can gather in the hundreds, and they can dry out if they stay inside.
“A lot of reasons they’re around homes is because they’re attracted to leaf litter, logs and lumber,” Alder said. “If you can get rid of that, it’ll help.”
They can also be under mulch. Spraying the top of mulch likely won’t get down to where they are, so it helps to pull back the mulch if spraying is needed. Alder has created a no-vegetation zone around the base of her house. Instead of grass or mulch, she has a strip of pea gravel around her home about a foot or two wide. It’s a way to prevent moisture around her home that make attract pests.
Watering your yard more away from your home may draw millipedes or other pests away from your house also.
Standing water is the biggest contributor to mosquito problems. In eastern North Carolina, swamps make the problem worse, but there are still lots of ways to reduce any problems.
“We are often our own worst enemy because we leave all sorts of things that hold water,” Waldvogel said.
Tarps are an easily overlooked culprit. Eliminating standing water is another instance where you’ll benefit from coordinating with any neighbors. If you can work with your neighbors to fix the problem, that’s best.
“It takes a village to fix it. It takes the village idiot to mess it up,” Waldvogel said in a joking but also honest way.
The need to check with neighbors also carries over to spraying for mosquitoes. If you decide you want to spray your property, check with your neighbors to see if they have bees, children, pets or anything else that may be harmed.
“For personal protection, only put repellant on exposed skin or on your clothing, never under your clothes,” Waldvogel said. “Repellant under your clothes can be absorbed into your body when you sweat.”
Snakes such as Copperheads
Waldvogel said he recently heard a report that more people are seeing Copperhead snakes. While it is certainly more likely that you’ll see a snake in warm months, Waldvogel said most people only see them in nature or along greenways, etc. So he says just keep in mind that you’re probably seeing them in their natural habitat, and it’s best to just leave them alone.
You’ll likely encounter ticks in weedy areas, including wooded areas.
“If there’s somewhere that has a lot of weeds, if you can cut back those weeds, something as simple as mowing can help,” Alder explained.
Tucking your pants into your socks can prevent ticks from crawling up your leg, and wearing light colors can help you see if a tick is crawling on you, Waldvogel and Alder said.
Again, only wear repellent on exposed skin or on the outside of clothing. It’s a good idea to do a check for ticks on your body after any day outdoors. If you find a tick, document the day you found it and monitor yourself for any sickness.
Smoky Brown Cockroaches
Alder said she’s noticed more smoky brown cockroaches lately. Their activity increases in warmer months, and they’ll usually be outside where they prefer to stay under ground cover. So removing leaf litter outside your house can help reduce them. They’re also attracted to light, so if you’re outside more in the evenings with porch or flood lights on, you may see them more.
You may occasionally find them looking for water around a sink inside. (They’re not the same as German cockroaches that live almost exclusively inside and are associated with food and indoor infestations.)
“It’s time for those weekend projects to caulk and exclude them from your house,” Waldvogel said.
Yellow jackets are especially active in late summer (August and September). Waldvogel and Alder say it’s generally best to leave them alone. People often find them when weed whacking or mowing the grass, so keep an eye out for them then. Also, yellow jackets are attracted to your soft drinks and beer. If you’re outside enjoying a beverage, pour anything in a can into a cup instead. That should prevent you from finding a surprise yellow jacket in your drink can.
When to call a pro
Both experts say they’d call a professional if they ever had a problem with a rodent or larger animal inside their homes (e.g., squirrels, raccoons, bats or snakes). They also encourage you to seek a professional if you just aren’t confident you know how to use pest control products safely and effectively. It can be a complex balance.
When talking to a pest control professional, be sure to mention any health concerns such as asthma or COPD. Communication with any pest control company is key to good success. They can offer solutions to your problems that you may not have thought about.
“If every solution came out of spray can, we could probably do that ourselves,” Waldvogel said. “You’re paying for their wisdom.”
The Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division of NCDA&CS ensures that pest control companies have properly trained professionals. Someone must have at least two years of experience applying structural pest control pesticides to become a licensee for a business, according to Victor Lennon, Deputy Director of the division.
So after certain training, someone can begin as a registered technician before moving to more training and becoming a certified applicator. With even more experience and examinations, certified applicators can become licensees.
Education, training and experience are vital because pesticides are designed to be toxic. That means they come with risks, and that can be especially true around the house. If improperly used, pesticides can put your family, your property and the environment at risk.
“Most people aren’t knowledgeable or experienced enough to be able to do it properly themselves,” Lennon said. “Our biggest concern is for the proper application.”
To find a properly licensed pest control company, you can visit https://www.ncagr.gov/SPCAP/LicenseSearch.htm or call the division at 919-733-6100 for more guidance.