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Spiders and bats and mice, oh my

Controlling fall pests

Big black spiders hanging out in the sun porch are fine … when they’re plastic and part of Halloween décor. And tiny bats fluttering about the family room ceiling can be downright cute, if attached to orange crepe-paper streamers.

But real spiders and real bats in those spots? Not so welcome.

Nonetheless, at this time of year, creepy-crawlies and critters can be found in all sorts of untoward places in homes, says Gary Patton, a certified pesticide applicator and owner of SWAT Team Pest Control in Columbia City.

“They’re trying to get in somewhere warm for the winter,” he says of the arachnids and wasps, stink bugs and ants now turning up in area residents’ houses – joining bats and birds, squirrels and mice looking for lodging.

What’s a homeowner to do? Experts say the best bet is to keep pests out to avoid problems later. “We encourage (people) to take a few easy steps to prevent infestations,” says Missy Henriksen, public affairs vice president for the National Pest Management Association.

Here are some.

Sealing. This should be the first plan of attack, according to the association. Survey your house for spots where pests might gain entry: the foundation, where a quarter-inch crack or crevice can let in spiders or mice; the roofline and soffits can beckon squirrels and bats; exterior doors, where caulking or installing a tight-fitting door sweep can keep out critters as well as cold winter air, and small openings around windows and screens, where the recently emigrated Asian flying pest, the shield-shaped brown marmorated stink bug, tends to congregate.

Also check any chimneys. Flues should be closed except when in use and the tops fitted with a cap and wire mesh if necessary. Other spots to survey: the damper of the dryer vent and the opening around it and gaps under siding, which can be filled with metal mesh, caulk or foam sealant.

Preventive spraying. An alternative to spraying chemical pesticide inside a home after pests are seen is preventive spraying outside around the home’s perimeter, Patton says. It’s a good alternative for hard-to-reach places and when pests, including box elder bugs, infest shrubbery, he says. Chemicals used now tend to have a low likelihood of damaging the environment, he adds.

Trapping. If you don’t want critters inside, set traps outside around possible entry points, says Rex Helton, owner of the local Critter Control franchise. For mice, use one-time-feed rodenticide traps or conventional spring traps. His favorite bait recipe: peanut butter mixed with uncooked oatmeal and a little vanilla. “Mouse cookies,” he says.

If an animal or bird does get in, don’t despair. For squirrels in an attic, there are cage traps set outside the entry hole. “They have to come out to find food, and we want our good-smelling bait to be the first food they find,” he says. Bats and birds get a one-way door installed over their entry point so they can get out, but not back in. Workers from Helton’s company also seal the possible entry points after critters are gone and can clean up any mess they leave behind.

Environment management. This entails making an area less attractive to pests. The NMPA recommends raking warm, moisture-filled mulch away from a house’s foundation and trimming back trees so critters can’t use branches as little highways to the roof line. Firewood should be stacked away from the house to discourage the transfer of rodents and bugs. To discourage spiders, keep the basement humidity at 40 percent or so, and sweep away cobwebs. Secure trash and pet food containers.

And oh, if you’ve stored those Halloween decorations in a pest-susceptible garage, shed, attic or basement, make sure you check them for hitchhikers before you bring them into the house.