A Pesky Problem
Household Pests & Natural Ways to Contain Them
Sooner or later, we’re all pestered by pests. Whether it’s ants in the kitchen or rats gnawing at night, pests can be annoying and bothersome. Some may bite, sting or transmit disease. A few may even cause serious structural damage which can impact the value of your house. As much as we aim to get rid of pests, at the same time, many of us are concerned that the pesticides used to control pests can cause problems to our health. Pesticides are best left to professionals to handle. You can still opt for natural control measures, so that a longer lasting, more significant impact is made.
Common Household Pests and Problems
Understanding the problem is the first step in finding a healthy solution. Once a pest is identified, you will be better able to determine the factors which limit its reproduction and survival potential. Here are the most common household pests that can drive you up the wall.
Termites sometimes known as ‘white ants’ live in colonies that, at maturity, number from several hundred to several million. Termites mostly feed on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung.
Some indications you may have termites include:
- A temporary swarm of winged insects in your home or from the soil around your home.
- Any cracked or bubbling paint
- Frass (termite droppings).
- Wood that sounds hollow when tapped.
- Mud tubes on exterior walls, wooden beams, or in crawl spaces.
- Discarded wings from swarmers.
Problem: The damage from termites is significant, causing serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests. Once they have invaded a building, they do not limit themselves just to wood, but also paper, clothes, carpet, and other cellulosic materials. The resulting damage from termites can cost millions of ringgit every year.
Pest: Rodents (Rats and Mice)
Rats and mice pose serious threats to health and property. They eat a wide variety of stored food. The size of rodent populations is always in direct proportion to the amount of food available. Pet food, poorly stored human food, garbage and compost are other good food sources for rats and mice. They like to stay out of sight, even when feeding to avoid predators. Rats and mice do most of their food foraging in the dark. Clutter in the home, debris, construction lumber, wooden sidewalks and decks on the ground all provide a safe shelter for rodents. Once they sense the warmth of a building they will try to find entry points.
Problem: Rats and mice carry potentially fatal diseases and contaminate human food. They damage structures by chewing electrical wires creating the potential for a structure fire. Perhaps more than any other pest, rodents signal unsanitary conditions, and rightly so.
Ants serve many important functions such as to aerate soil, break down organic matter and control the population of other insects. So your goal should not be to destroy them altogether, but to control them and keep them out of your home. Ants establish colonies and they send out scouts to find resources (food and water). The scouts leave a scent trail enabling them to return to the colony with news of found resources. Other members of the colony will follow the scent trails to collect resources and bring them back to the colony.
Problem: In many cases, ants are classified as ‘nuisance’ pests; with minor food spoilage the most frequently reported domestic impact. They can travel long distances, which means an infestation in your surrounding area may eventually find its way to you. Ants contaminate products and, in the case of fire ants, their bites are painful and harmful.
Aedes aegypti, commonly known as ‘yellow fever mosquito’, is a mosquito that can host the dengue fever. The mosquito is most frequently found in the tropics, and feed around dawn and dusk. Warm temperatures and rainy, damp conditions are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Problem: The most significant threat of mosquitoes is the fact that they can infect people with diseases such as Dengue fever, which is life-threatening if left untreated.
The Musca domestica, is known as the common housefly. They feed by spitting out saliva on solid foods to predigest it, and then suck it back inside. Flies have a very highly-evolved evasion reaction which helps to ensure their survival. Flies are also among the filthiest insects around, carrying more than 100 known pathogens. Combined with their ability to cover large distances very quickly and their attraction to human food, flies can pose a serious health risk.
Problem: The main threat of a housefly is its ability to carry and transmit serious diseases. Houseflies can carry over 100 pathogens such as typhoid, cholera, salmonella, bacillary dysentery, tuberculosis, anthrax, ophthalmic, parasitic worms, staphylococcus, E. coli and shigella.
Cockroaches are found all over the world and are among the hardiest insects on the planet, with some species capable of remaining active for a month without food, or being able to survive on limited resources like the glue from the back of postage stamps. Some can go without air for 45 minutes or slow down their heart rate. Cockroaches leave chemical trails in their faeces as well as emit airborne pheromones for swarming and mating. Other cockroaches will follow these trails to discover sources of food and water, and also discover where other cockroaches are hiding.
Problem: The threat of cockroaches is twofold. First, they carry many pathogens that can cause serious illness in humans. It is believed that they can spread including salmonella, gastroenteritis, and can also cause allergies to humans. Second, the perception of cockroach infestations can seriously damage a business’ reputation.
Pest: House Lizards – Geckos
Geckos are insect-eating lizards found in almost every household in this part of the world. Geckos have pads on its toes that enable it to cling even to smooth surfaces or stay inverted on the ceiling. These pads consist of rows of plates covered with thousands of microscopic hook-like projections that latch into any minute surface irregularity.
Problem: While geckos can be considered beneficial for their insect-consuming diet, they can become a pest themselves. Gecko faeces are definitely greater in volume than cockroach faeces, and tend to smear a bit more. Their droppings soil the walls and contaminate expose food. They love to nest inside drawers and their eggs are often found in them.
Pest: Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of animals. They are active mainly at night. During the daytime, they prefer to hide close to where people sleep. Their flattened bodies enable them to fit into tiny crevices especially those associated with mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards. Bedbugs may be erroneously associated with filth in the mistaken notion that this attracts them. However, severe infestations are often associated with poor housekeeping and clutter. Bedbugs are attracted by exhaled carbon dioxide and body heat, not by dirt, and they feed on blood, not waste.
Problem: Bed bugs pose a threat to humans in as far as their bites to feed on blood causing scarring and itchiness. They adversely affect the comfort in sleeping, which can result in sleep deprivation in the long term.
Combat Pests Naturally
Here are naturally safer, least toxic solutions to rid your pests-gleaned from books and handed-down grandma advices. Try them yourself, and if they work for you, help share the message.
As termite infestations are usually immense by the time they’re discovered, a professional is often needed. Equipment, chemicals, and specialised tools often make treatment difficult. Still, the best and most cost effective means of termite control is prevention. While insecticides will destroy termite trouble, they are extremely poisonous, often leaving trace toxic residue on carpeting, furniture, flooring, and walls for many years.
Boric Acid dissolved in water and painted on affected area will keep termites at bay for years. This is a wood treatment, often used in the preventative stages, but many believe it also helps curb current population growth.
Rodents (Rat & Mice)
Rats and mice do not like the scent of mint leaves, mint oil or peppermint oil. Although it’s impossible to coat your entire house in mint, it is possible to leave mint where they tend to enter or frequent.
Ammonia is another smell that will control your rat problem. Simply soak a rag in ammonia, place it in a can, and place it near where the rats live or are causing damage.
If there is a specific item that the rats are chewing, such as engine wires or plastic tubs in your garage, try putting some hot pepper sauce or wasabi on the item.
Set out cucumber peels or slices in the kitchen or at the ants’ point of entry. Many ants have a natural aversion to cucumber. Bitter cucumbers work best.
Leave a few tea bags of mint tea near areas where the ants seem most active. Dry, crushed mint leaves or cloves also work as ant deterrents.
Neem oil is a natural vegetable oil extracted from the Neem tree in India. The leaves, seeds and seed oil of the Neem tree contain sallanin, a compound which has effective mosquito repelling properties.
Thai lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a natural and effective mosquitoe repellent. It contains the natural oil, citronella, which is safe and effective. Plantings around the patio will also help repel mosquitoes.
Use mint as a fly repellent. Small sachets of crushed mint can be placed around the home to discourage flies.
A few drops of eucalyptus oil on a scrap of absorbant cloth will deter flies. Leave in areas where flies are a problem.
Keep a spray bottle of soapy water on hand. Spraying roaches directly with soapy water will kill them.
Leave cucumber slices or garlic in the affected area as deterrents.
Lots of people swear by egg shells. If you place cracked eggshells around the house, in corners, and in windows, the occurrence of lizards should decrease noticeably. Lizards associate the broken shells with larger predators such as birds and larger reptiles.
Peacock feathers are enough to scare these small reptiles. Hang them on the ceiling, stick them on the wall, or just put them in places where lizards usually stay.
Some insecticides comprised of pyrethrins and canola oil is a great remedy. It’s safe for children and pets as well. These herbs get attached to the bug’s nervous system and kill them.
The pleasant smell of lavender oil is a big turn-off to bed bugs. You can also use lavender sachets to place in your closets and wardrobes. Make your own by first drying the lavender flowers. Once dried, put the dried flowers between two pieces of fabric and sew the pieces around the corner. For best results rub lavender oil on your bed frame and you can also add some drops in water to mop the floor of your house.
Spread some mint leaves at those places which are more prone to bed bugs.