12 Common Household Pests
Can you identify the insects and other pests that inhabit your home? Here are twelve common household pests, with descriptions and photographs.
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Identify Indoor Pests
Insects and other indoor pests invite themselves into your home through open doors, cracked windows, and torn screens. They often hitch a ride on your pets, clothes, and things you bring into the house from outside.
Entomologists, scientists who study insects and other terrestrial animals, track household pests in the United States and around the world. Today's highly mobile populations spread these pests into new areas every day.
In the United States, some household pests are common nationwide. They include carpenter ants, house flies, fleas, ticks, silverfish, cockroaches, aphids, itch mites, and black widow spiders.
Deer ticks are common in the Northeast, brown dog ticks populate the south, and black-legged ticks live east of the Mississippi River. In the Midwest, you're more likely to see carpet beetles, crickets, millipedes, termites, fruit flies, yellow jackets, and brown recluse spiders.
Fire ants, subterranean termites, centipedes, scorpions, and sun spiders are common in the Southern states and desert Southwest. The West is home to Africanized bees and dampwood termites, while Formosan termites are common in Hawaii.
Many of these insects carry disease, so it is important to keep their populations under control inside your home. For your safety and that of your family, try natural prevention and pest control before calling a professional exterminator.
Can you identify the indoor pests in your home? Here are twelve common household pests, along with pictures and short descriptions.
1. Black Ants
Did you know there are more than 20 species of house ants in the United States? Little black ants are the most common. You may see them on your patio, under flag stones or in areas that lack grass or other vegetation.
Black ants often nest in rotting wood, behind masonry, under carpets and in wall holes. While aphids are their preferred diet, they also feast on grease, meat and sweets.
Fire ant mounds are common on Southern lawns, and odorous ants may march across the floor of your home. Crazy ants are named for their erratic running as they search for food. They are common around kitchen sinks and cabinets.
Centipedes and millipedes are unusual-looking, land-dwelling cousins to lobsters, crawfish and shrimp. They are found in humid regions and may infest damp areas of the home.
Sometimes called "100-legged worms," centipedes have a pair of legs on each of their body segments. While their poison may pose an occasional threat to humans, they rarely bite.
Millipedes are called "1,000-legged worms" or "rain worms." Their rounded body segments bear two pairs of legs. Their defensive spray is not poisonous, but it may cause an allergic reaction in humans.
Millipedes are rarely more than two inches long, but centipedes can grow to more than 12 inches. Ranging from light yellow to dark reddish-brown, centipedes are lighter in color than millipedes, which are normally dark brown or black.
Although house centipedes may look scary, they are actually beneficial for controlling cockroaches and other household pests. Millipedes pose no danger to the home, but they can damage house plants by feeding on stems and leaves.
Cockroaches are the most common household insects in the United States. Ranging in size from a half-inch to more than two inches at maturity, cockroaches are usually brown or tan with large wings covering their abdomens.
German cockroaches, the most common type, can live anywhere there is water, food and privacy. While they usually feed on human or pet food, they also eat toothpaste, soap and glue.
American cockroaches are sometimes known as water bugs or "sewer roaches." They prefer places that are warm, damp or wet. While they are uncommon in single-family homes, they are very common in apartment buildings and other heavily-populated areas.
Brown-banded cockroaches like dry places that are off the floor. You may find this type of cockroach behind your baseboards, crown molding, picture frames or wall hangings. They are also common in closets and seldom-used furniture or appliances.
Oriental cockroaches, like American cockroaches, are sometimes called water bugs. They prefer damp, secluded places to warm, dry ones. Like both American and German roaches, Oriental cockroaches produce a pungent odor. The feed primarily on organic matter that is dead or decaying.
Crickets enter homes during a wet, warm season or when the temperature turns cooler in the fall. They typically enter through open doors that don't have door sweeps, screens or weather seals.
Field crickets, camel crickets and Indian House crickets are the most common types of these indoor pests. Usually about an inch long, crickets may be winged or wingless. Their colors range from tan to dark brown to shiny black.
Winged male crickets, like Indian House and field crickets, produce a noisy "chirp" by rubbing their wings together to attract female crickets. Wingless camel crickets do not chirp.
These pests are most active at night, and they often breed in vegetation or debris outside the house. Manage their populations by keeping your home clean to reduce their food supply. Encourage natural predators like spiders, lizards and birds.
Fleas and ticks are annoying household pests that carry numerous diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. They can infect you and your pets.
Fleas are wingless, flat-bodied biting insects with six legs. They have special mouthparts for piercing and sucking, and long back legs for jumping. Fleas are just a fraction (1/8) of an inch in length.
Ticks are teardrop-shaped arachnids with eight legs. Like fleas, they are parasites that feed on the blood of pets, humans, birds and other animals.
Ticks seldom bite humans. After feeding, they usually drop off their host onto a wall, the floor or furniture. They cannot survive well indoors.
Fleas, on the other hand, easily reproduce indoors. Eggs in the carpet will hatch into adult fleas, and the population can multiply quickly. This can create a serious problem for pets and homeowners alike.
6. House Flies
House flies are the most common of all household pests. Usually about a quarter-inch in size, these insects are disease carriers. This makes them a health threat as well as a nuisance.
Known in entomology as "filth flies," house flies carry disease from their filthy habitats: the moist, decaying material found in household garbage and manure, such as dog waste.
Pest control begins with house fly larvae, called maggots. These creamy white and cone-shaped larvae feed on decaying organic material. Sanitation prevents breeding and the need for drastic control measures.
Identifying house flies is important, since stable flies and other flies can resemble them. House flies have robust, striped bodies with two clear wings. You may see them around trash cans or decaying lawn clippings.
Mosquitoes are pesky "bloodsuckers" with long legs, clear wings and skinny bodies. Their "buzz" is annoying, and the saliva they inject during feeding causes an irritating itch.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water and are common in wet, humid regions of the country. Their aquatic habitats vary from puddles and ponds to containers of standing water. Swamps, marshes, rice fields and flood waters encourage the growth of mosquitoes in large numbers.
Male mosquitoes fly in swarms or "clouds" to attract females. Adult females bite and can transmit diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and encephalitis.
More than 170 species of mosquitoes have been identified in the United States. More than 55 species are found in Texas alone.
Adult clothing moths signify the presence of moth larvae, the real problem when it comes to finding moths in your home.
Casemaking clothes moth caterpillars eat natural fabrics such as wool, fur and leather. The larvae also feed on milk powders, fish meals, lint, dust and paper.
Stored spices, hemp and tobacco attract clothing moth larvae. They often feed on household items like feather pillows, piano felt, old clothing and yarn.
Cothing moths are generally buff colored insects with hair-fringed wings about one-quarter inch long. The wings may be brown or golden. The caterpillars feed from a flattened silk-like case that they drag over their food source.
Scorpions are closely related to spiders. They are common in Texas and the desert Southwest, but they can appear in other regions too. In fact, scorpions have been found as far away as San Francisco, California; St. Louis, Missouri; and Baltimore, Maryland.
The scorpions in your home are looking for water and shelter. They are often discovered in bathrooms, attics, crawl spaces, foundations and stone walls. You may even find them in shoes or clothes that are dropped on the floor.
Scorpion stings are comparable to wasp stings. The venom is not deadly, but it can cause allergic or adverse reactions in some people.
Like scorpions, spiders are not insects but arachnids. Because some of them are poisonous, spiders are often the most feared of household pests.
They usually prefer secluded spots like basement corners, rafters and crawl spaces. To prevent infestation, vacuum spider webs and egg sacs and discard them in a secured plastic bag.
Many homeowners like spiders since they often keep other household pests under control. However, two American spiders are poisonous: the black widow and the brown recluse. Their bites can cause serious allergic reactions, anaphylactic shock and painful, slow-healing ulcers.
Female black widows are usually more than an inch long with glossy black bodies and round abdomens. Two triangular red spots make an hourglass design on the underside of the abdomen. Male spiders are smaller than the females.
The markings on brown recluse spiders give them the names "fiddle back" and "violin" spiders. These spiders are half the size of black widows. With long legs and six eyes arranged in a semicircle, brown recluse spiders
Termites are small, winged insects with straight antenna. Their pale, soft bodies are about one-quarter inch long, and they appear to have no thorax or "waist." They are sometimes called "white ants," but they are not ants.
Termites are often known as "the silent destroyer." These insects can secretly hide in your home, basement or yard without any immediate signs of damage.
Different species thrive in different climates, but all termites need four things to survive: food, water, shelter and a favorable temperature.
While they typically feed on dead plants and trees, termites can do some costly damage to your property. You may discover them in your home's foundation, furniture, books, carpet or insulation -- after they have done some damage.
Wasps round the list of twelve common household pests. Stinging wasps can pose serious health and safety concerns to you and your family.
Most wasps are beneficial predators of other insect pests, and many are useful pollinators. You are likely to get stung, however, if you get too close to a wasp nest around your home or in your backyard.
Wasps vary in size by species. Paper wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, mud daubers, cicada killers and cricket hunters are some of the common wasps found in American homes, garages and yards.
Wasp stings cause pain, swelling and redness. While they may also cause serious allergic reactions in some people, most stings are not life-threatening.
Reference Sources / Further Reading
- Hallam, Linda (editor). "Identifying Common Pests." Making a Home: Housekeeping for Real Life. Des Moines, IA: Better Homes and Gardens Books, 2001. Print.
- TAMU. (n.d.) "Insects in the City: Household Insects and Other Pests." Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
- UGA. (n.d.) "Millipedes and Centipedes." University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
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Last updated on August 3, 2013
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