What's Bugging You?

Master Gardeners often field questions about indoor, as well as outdoor pests. Here are descriptions of insects and insect-like pest that can invade the home and what it do about them.
What's Bugging You? - Articles


Brown marmorated stink bug, Photo credit: David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQ,

It’s hard to believe, but our homes belong to the bugs. Roughly 100 different species of insects and other creepy crawlers troll our basements, attics, and kitchen cabinets. They scurry along windowsills and floorboards, and tromp through the walls. Everyone, including cleaning fanatics, harbors these creatures. Dust bunnies, closet clutter, and snoozing pets are no match for the insects, spiders, and mites dwelling with us. If there is food, water, hiding spots and a way in, the critters will come. Instead of grabbing the bug spray, consider getting to know some of our buggy roommates and learn ways to control their populations.

Ants are a nuisance, but not a danger to humans. They often enter our homes when they are foraging for crumbs, grease, and food scraps, leaving a pheromone trail for their relatives to follow. Caulking points of entry can thwart them, and non-toxic products like boric acid can reduce their numbers. However, sanitation, especially in the kitchen, is the most effective method of elimination. Vacuum floors and carpets to remove the scent from their trails, clean remaining food crumbs from counters and floors, and take out the garbage daily.

While adult carpet beetles lurk in lint that collects around baseboards, it is their larvae who do the damage. The larvae are attracted to natural fibers, such as those found in wool blankets, carpeting, upholstered furniture, clothing and even books. The best approach is to evict these little tenants as soon as possible. Thoroughly dust and vacuum to remove dust bunnies and cobwebs that shelter these pests and discard infested items. Store woolen clothing in tight containers with mothballs or alternatives such as cedar chips or blocks and essential oil combinations (lavender, mint and white camphor oil.)

Usually a garden creature, the brown marmorated stink bug is known to sneak under our doors to escape winter’s wrath. They hibernate in the walls until spring, when they awaken and search for a way to get outdoors. Although they are harmless to us, when agitated or squashed, stink bugs emit an offensive odor. Keep stink bugs at bay by applying a silicone-latex caulk to seal all cracks and crevices around windows, doorframes, vents and siding. Eliminate stink bugs inside the home by vacuuming thoroughly and disposing of the vacuum bag in an outside garbage can.

Unpleasant though they may be, dust mites are found in everybody’s home. Because they feed off dead skin, dust mites can be found on any plush surface, including bedding, carpeting, upholstery and children’s stuffed toys. Although dust mites cannot be entirely eliminated, their numbers can be reduced by routinely vacuuming carpets and furniture and washing bedding in hot water. Seal plush toys and delicates in a re-closable plastic bag and place in the freezer for at least 48 hours. Dust mites cannot survive the deep freeze.

Most often a summer pest, fruit or vinegar flies multiply quickly, because the larvae hatch within 24 hours after their eggs are laid. Remove their food source by storing ripening fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. Wipe down cutting boards and counters after cutting or preparing fruit. Take out garbage and recycling items daily. If, in spite of these preventative measures, a few fruit flies are buzzing around, create a simple trap by filling a small tumbler halfway with apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid and warm water to fill the tumbler. The fruit flies will fly in, but will not fly out.

The Asian lady beetle, an invasive pest, enters our homes in the fall and winter seeking warmth and shelter. Large numbers can be found, and they create an offensive smell. The best prevention is physical exclusion, by caulking all gaps in outside walls and eaves. Remove aggregations with a broom and dustpan or vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming kills almost all of the indoor beetles, so there is no concern about them crawling out of the vacuum cleaner.

The Indian meal moth, a common flour, pasta, and cereal pest, is likely to be unnoticed until it becomes abundant. Products contaminated with these insect’s eggs may be purchased and unwittingly transported into our pantries and kitchen cabinets. If the products are not used in a timely manner, the moth eggs hatch, and the larvae chew through the package, leaving a mess of silk and waste. To prevent infestations, inspect stored products periodically, including dry dog food and birdseed. Discard any infested food and thoroughly clean cupboard shelves, including cracks and crevices. Store susceptible food products in airtight containers whenever possible.

Fearful of spiders? Annoyed by their sticky cobwebs strung across doorways and wall surfaces? Relax! Most spiders are shy, harmless beneficial creatures that trap pest insects. Consider leaving spiders to do their work. If sharing space with spiders is not appealing, remove and destroy spiders, webs and egg sacs. Vacuum behind and under furniture, and clean laundry rooms and furnace rooms regularly. Because spiders are fond of moisture, keep basements and crawl spaces as dry as possible.

Because few insects cause problems in humans, categorizing all insects as enemies is unwarranted. A balanced level of insect diversity in our homes is a reasonable expectation. While it is prudent to treat and remove infestations, we might be obliged to develop an attitude of tolerance for our buggy friends.