Pest library: common household pests

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Learn to identify threatening pests, understand their biology, diets, habits, and habitats—plus, find effective ways to control them.

The following is a brief description of common pests.


Winged termites are usually, but not always smaller; about 1/4" to 1/2" in length. They appear to have two body segments, straight antennae, and two pairs of equally long wings. Ants have three body segments with a narrow waist, elbowed antennae and a longer pair of front wings.


The Crazy Ant gets its name from the way it wanders about randomly. It looks a little crazy, too! The legs and antennae are much longer than normal in proportion to the rest of its body. As funny as they may look though, it's no laughing matter if they get in your home. The Crazy Ant is highly adaptable and will nest in many places, then roam aimlessly though your home in search of food. Their favorite foods are proteins such as animal matter, grease, and other insects. They also love sweets.


Fire Ants. They get their name from their venom, which causes a fierce burning sensation. The two kinds we see the most often in Florida are the Red Imported Fire Ant and the Little Fire Ant. Both build their colonies underground. When mounds of the red imported fire ant are disturbed, the workers look like they are bubbling out of the nest. If you see this, consider them armed and aggressive, and get away from there as quickly as possible. You'll be quickly out numbered. A large colony may have between 300-500,000 workers!


Carpenter Antis not by the tool belt around its waist! Actually, they're rather large... about to inch long, and black with dark red. Although they don't eat wood like termites, they hollow it out to nest. Any area that had water damage or is damp is a good place to start looking. Check for dead bodies or shredded wood fragments that look like sawdust. And don't forget to look outside. Palm trees, Pine trees and Schefflera trees are favorite nesting spots. Limbs that touch the house and branches that overhang the roof are like an interstate highway into your home. So call a professional to have the branches cut back. After all, they are Carpenter Ants, not landscapers!


Pharaoh Ants. Nests are rarely found, but are often located near warm places in close proximity to water sources. In Florida, that could be anywhere! They feed on a variety of foods, including syrup, grease, dead insects, meat, etc. A colony may house tens or hundreds of thousands of workers with many queens. Cleopatara would be proud! A word of caution: Throw out the can of bug spray you keep under the sink. The only way to control Pharaoh Ants is to call a professional.


Sleeping in a tent is lots of fun if you're camping out. If you have Drywood Termites, you still may camp out, but your house spends the night in the tent! Drywood swarmers are usually brown in color. They also have two equal sets of wings that are twice the length of the body. You may see telltale signs like wings and pellets lying around your home. Sound familiar? Have a professional perform an inspection for you. Otherwise, you may have to live in that tent when they eat you out of house and home!


You've heard of Atlantis, the City Under the Sea? The dry land version is the Subterranean Termite colony. These mini cities have their own social ranking and are self-supporting. Queens and swarmers are responsible for colonization, whileworkers and nymphs do all the work (and all the damage). The soldiers protect the nest from enemies. Although they must maintain contact with the soil for moisture, it's not uncommon to find subs in the attic of your home. One sure-fire sign is a mud tunnel built up the side of the structure. These guys work fast, so call a professional for an inspection right away. New technology has made eradicating them from your home easier than ever.


The new kid on the block is the Formosan Termite. Though first discovered in Texas in 1964, it took them until 1980 to make it to South Florida. Formosans are very aggressive and said to destroy wood six times faster than other species of termites. As with other types, they feed on cellulose. These guys have even been known to penetrate concrete by secreting an acid substance just to get to the wood on the other side. Talk about tough! Treatment methods are the same as those used for Subterranean termites.


Chinch Bugs are the vegetarians of the lawn world. Their needle-like mouth parts pierce the blades of grass and suck the juices out of them. The good news is that if you don't treat the problem right away, you won't have to mow the lawn. The bad news is the yellowish patches in your lawn will eventually turn brown and die. Often times the damage begins along the edge of a sidewalk or driveway. Then, before you know it, your beautiful lawn is just a memory. As the saying goes, give them an inch and they'll take your yard!


Spiders have gotten a bad rap. Most are harmless web spinners that feed on other insects. The Black Widow and the Brown Recluse are the two to watch. Female Black Widows have a reddish hourglass on the underside of their abdomen and hang upside down on the web. Brown Recluse have a distinct marking on the back of their head that looks like a fiddle. They lurk in clustered areas and bite when threatened. In either case, if bitten, seek immediate medical treatment, and if you can take the spider with you for a positive ID. Your best bet for getting rid of spiders is with the help of a professional.


What's reddish-brown, capable of gliding, and is big enough to stand up and salute? The American Cockroach of course! Actually, they're about an inch and a half long, but if you've ever had one coming at you, you'd swear they were six inches long! Inside they prefer dark and moist areas. Outside they are common around palm trees, woodpiles, and down in the landscaping. They're busy, too. Egg capsules are produced at the rate of about one a week...each one containing 14 to 16 eggs. After they hatch, which takes six to eight weeks, they can live up to several years under ideal conditions. Don't worry about keeping enough food in the house to feed all those hungry mouths. Adults can go two or three months without food, but only a month without water.


If you have dogs or cats, chances are you've had fleas. Although there are many types of fleas, Cat Fleas are the most common. The preferred host is your dog or cat, but we humans are not immune to their bite. In order to reproduce, they must have a blood meal from your pet. So, one of the most important steps to getting rid of fleas is treating your pet. And since the pupa can lie dormant for up to nine months, you'll want to vacuum often to pick up the eggs. By the way, forget the bug bombs. If you're itching to get rid of the fleas, scratch yourself a note to call an exterminator.


You've probably seen them scurrying around your bathroom. Silverfish set up house pretty close to their food source. That can include paper, cotton, glue, paste, linen, and more. Plus, they can go for long periods without eating at all. Usually you'll find them nesting under the carpet, behind baseboards, under fixtures, and in any crack and crevice. Put away your tackle box and your rod and reel. You'll want some professional help to get rid of these guys.