Bugs that come indoors, by Bill Hayes

Cooler temperatures means “Expect Company”!

The other day one of my cats, Tigger, was moving around the sunroom like a predator. I don’t know why he would hunt because he and his brother are indoor cats and at 18 pounds each, they have never missed a provided meal. The next thing I heard was my wife’s scream: “He’s got something in his mouth”! As my wife picked up the cat, a very small green anole lizard, we call them chameleons, fell out of his mouth. I picked up the lizard and took him outside to resume his fragile life. Just as I was about to release him I saw a tiny lady bug drop from his mouth and stagger away. I was an eye witness to nature’s food chain and today, nobody got a happy meal. This event also gave me some valuable information. I have an opening somewhere large enough for a tiny lizard to enter the house. This is not a good thing.

This is the time of year for some of the insect population to migrate from their summer home in your back yard to their new winter quarters inside your warm living room. Ladybugs, stinkbugs and box elder bugs are three of the most likely insects to enter your home. They will gather on warm sun facing outside walls and have meetings to determine how and when they will enter your home. OK, I’m making up the part about the meetings but they do have a way of knowing the optimum time for moving in. For your part, there is still time to inspect your exterior for likely places of entry. Typical locations include cracks around window and doorframes, behind fascia boards and exterior siding, and within soffits, attics, and wall voids. Structures in poor repair with many cracks and openings are most vulnerable to infestation. They also are attracted to light, bright surfaces so sunlit white homes would be especially vulnerable. Fix the cracks and openings now because if you do it after they are in the house, how do they get out? If they have gathered in large groups you can spray them with a strong soap solution. I mentioned this to a friend and he said: I don’t want to wash them, I want to kill them”! Well, you will do both. The soap has chemicals in it that will break down the protective coatings on insect bodies and enter their fragile systems. For best results, use a commercial insecticidal soap. Be sure to protect your plants if you are using something homemade because it will usually be too strong for plant surfaces. Another means of protection is a chemical barrier. Spray your most likely entry points with a pesticide that will protect against these potential intruders. A professional pest service will certainly be the best choice for handling the problem.

Well what happens if you don’t worry about protection and these critters enter you home? If it was my home, they would certainly drive my cats crazy. The old saying: ‘Birds of a feather flock together” also applies to these insects. The stinkbugs, ladybugs and box elder bugs will gather for more meetings once inside your home and plan on staying until the weather warms and they return to the garden. What can you expect if they invade your home? Not much really except that they will always be around. Here are some unrelated facts about bugs that “winter” inside: They don’t eat much which also means that they won’t go out of their way to bite you or your pets. If your home is like mine and lacks humidity in the winter, ladybugs tend to dehydrate so you might see one looking for a drink in the sink, the dog’s water dish or ugh, the dog’s other water dish. Keeping the lid down will not help. They will move around the house and your first reaction will be to capture them. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that your first move will not be to crush them! That would be a mistake. All of these bugs have an internal fluid that will stain your fabrics and leave a pheromone that will attract even more insects. These pheromones have been known to remain on surfaces for years which explains why some homes see these pests year after year.

There is agreement that you can capture and remove large quantities of these insects, especially ladybugs, by putting a single bright light in the corner of a darkened room. The light attracts the insects and allows you to vacuum them up in a single attack. Tip: Use a Shop-Vac if you have one and clean it after you dispose of the bugs. If you use a canister type vacuum, wrap the disposable bag in a larger plastic bag and throw the bag away with the insects inside. If you leave the bag in the vacuum cleaner, be prepared for a very foul smell as the bugs release their foul odors. You will never get them all since some will live in the wall insulation where they are warm, cozy and non-bothersome. They will find their way out when the weather warms and your home will be yours again until next fall.

The final “Meet a Master Gardener” event for 2010 will be at the Farmers Market on Saturday, November 6th from 8:00 A.M. until noon. This is your last chance to discuss gardening questions “in person” until next March so bring your weed, lawn and garden samples for identification or discussion. See you there!