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Unwelcome Guests

What happens to all of the bugs in the winter? It sounds like the question of a precocious child, but very few adults would have the correct answer.

Many of the bugs we see in the summer hibernate through the winter as adults, outdoors, tucked into the warmest, most sheltered places they can find. Naturally your home is far and away the best place around for a bug to overwinter. Though it might feel drafty to you, a winter in your mudroom is like an all-expenses-paid trip to Maui for your average arthropod. The ensuing conflicts are fodder for your local daily’s Home & Garden column: Beware the Invasion of the… Asian Ladybeetles, Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, Boxelder Bugs, etc.

If you spend your Springs watching these critters amble around your coffee table looking for the exits, you know how much of a losing battle it can feel like, but there are things you can do to keep your home from being overrun by overwintering bugs –and chances are you should have been doing some of them already.

Photo by Paul Marengo

Exclusion

If you are serious about getting the bugs out, you must keep them from getting back in:

  • Apply weather stripping around your windows and doors. Yes, winterizing your home will keep more than the cold air out. If a draft can get in, a bug will get in.
  • Caulk gaps around baseboards, windows, and floor drains.
  • Seal floor drains and sumps with caulk and window screening in order to prevent bugs from crawling in.
  • Pay special attention to areas where the outside interfaces with the inside. Cracks in the foundation and areas where pipes come in from the outside need to be filled. Attached garages are ideal entry points.
  • Vents and chimneys should be screened and sealed properly.
  • All holes in window screens should be repaired.
  • Thinking of installing a dog/cat door? Don’t.

Reduce Habitat

Try to minimized moisture in your home.

Most bugs rely on high ambient humidity and are very sensitive to drying out. Maintaining proper home drainage and use of dehumidifiers can be helpful control measures.

Eliminate bug-friendly shelter.

I.e. any dark, sheltered spaces which are not regularly disturbed. A basement full of damp cardboard boxes is going to provide a great home for just about any overwintering bug.
Photo by Marius Muresan

Reduce Food Sources

Most overwintering bugs will not be interested in eating. However, predatory household pests like house centipedes and spiders will. Reducing overall insect populations, along with exclusion and habitat reduction, will discourage a large population of predators in your home.

There is an old saying that the difference between a plant and a weed is where it is growing. Anyone who has had the misfortune of planting mint in their garden understands the sentiment. We identify the role of a natural organism based not on its natural history, but through the biased lens of narrow personal interests. These “pests” are simply trying to get through the winter as comfortably as possible, just like the rest of us.

Who overwinters with you? Do you wish they wouldn’t?


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15 Comments

  1. Kara

    We get some small spiders during the winter (many are daddy longlegs). I haven’t seen them lately, so they’ve probably gone back outside. Mostly I leave the bugs alone if they’re small and high up on the walls, however, I do kill large spiders that are potentially poisonous to humans. I am lucky that I haven’t experienced any major pest problems like ants, cockroaches, termites, etc.

    • NJ Renie

      That’s a great point: as always, your tolerance level is the biggest single factor in the amount of work you need to put into this sort of thing.

      If I had to guess, I’d say that you daddy-longlegs are sneaking in from the garage. They do a good job of keeping the riff-raff out and are totally harmless, so if you don’t mind them it seems like you’re in a good spot.

      Ants, roaches, and termites are tougher than winter invaders because they can feed and reproduce year-round inside your home.

  2. Marci

    Nice timing on this post, I saw my first fly lurking on the windows inside my house yesterday. I guess that means spring is nearly here.

  3. Maria

    Oh, yes— we have uninvited guests. We have enjoyed living in an older home for over 8 years… Recently we have tried a variety of tools and tricks for ridding our home of mice. They seem to actually travel in the walls so I am at my wits end. Hubby has valiantly removed them with his tools. We have moved certain foods into plastic keepers and attempt to keep the crumbs at a minimum (quite a challenge w/ 4 young children). However, I have not given up hope– and would love additional ideas from this great community.

    • NJ Renie

      Oh, yes. We had mice growing up and they are tough, not to mention that they raise the stakes as they are a legitimate health threat to your family.

      The general rule is that mice can enter any opening larger than a dime (large enough to get their skull through.) You can cover entry points with 1/2″ hardware cloth (basically steel screening).

      I would also say that your plastic containers are better than nothing, but a determined mouse can make short work of them–better to go with metal or glass whenever possible.

      Other than that the good old mouse trap w/ peanut butter may your best option, albeit a grisly one.

    • Tami

      Mice can not stand the scent of peppermint. To get of mice here I had to mix peppermint extract with any oil in a sprayer to spray in baseboard areas etc. It works longer this way. Takes longer for the peppermint smell to evaporate.

  4. Kara @Simple Kids

    Oh, yes, I have certainly noticed the return of the spiders. Every warm day seems to bring a few new creatures.

    I shall try to look at it as a sign of Spring 😉

  5. Michelle

    It is -20 celcius with the wind chill today and I have not seen a bug in months and do not expect to see any for quite some time to come.

    We live on a quarter section of land 30 kilometers from town, we have a lot of bugs up here in Northern Alberta. I have cats that take care of the rodents and any bugs that try to winter in my house.

    I have heard that according to the experts this is too be a very cool spring & summer this year. I truly hope they are wrong.

  6. Sarah G

    Our two biggest invaders are the ones you have pictured: the stink bug and centipede. I recently moved to PA from FL and both are brand new to me. The stink bugs are a nuisance, but I must admit I’m terrified of the centipedes. I think they are entering through our bathroom drain, they certainly like to hang out in there (probably the moisture as you suggested). The worst is when the nest in our hand towel and fall out as I dry my hands *shudder*. We will definitely be trying to seal up the house better this year!

    • NJ Renie

      If your sinks have water traps (the dip in the pipe below the sink) they probably aren’t coming up through there, though they will take advantage of a free drink of water. If you have a sump in your basement that is a likely source. When the summer comes they will move outside freely, so they may have come in at some point during the summer and established themselves that way. Your bottom line is that they must be eating something, find that and you will keep the population down.

      We have lots of them here in our building and yes they are pretty freaky,

  7. Betsy (Eco-novice)

    We’ve had ants (and a few other items) on and off for months. Basically whenever it rains. These are good tips, but pretty much impossible for me to do with young kids. I can’t even keep crumbs in the kitchen. Here is my post on how i’ve dealt with the ants:
    http://www.eco-novice.com/2011/01/ants.html

    My friend recently mixed a little borax laundry powder into some watered-down peanut butter as bait, and said that did the trick.

    • NJ Renie

      There is no shortage of commercial and homemade concoctions out there, none of which will ever out kill or out deter the mass of insects living outdoors.

      Seal their entry points and your pest control world always becomes much easier, kids or no kids.

      • Betsy (Eco-novice)

        True enough. I live in an older house in a temperate area (no insulation, not much effort to make the house less drafty). There are approximately one million points of entry into my house. I am not sure how I would seal off the crawl space under my house. At any rate, I’m a renter, so there’s not much I’ll be doing regardless.

  8. Sustainable waste management

    Nice post!
    Thanks for sharing the various incests and i saw a butterfly in front of my window.Anyway keep it up these interesting blogs.

  9. hermes birkin bag

    I really hate such pests. But there is not a useful method to keep them out.

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