Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Will Global Warming Bring Southern Species North?

It's entirely possible that the warming trends of the past decade have encouraged southern species of plants and animals to increase their range. This would be a mixed blessing, since some beautiful and unusual species may soon be in your backyard -- but it could also be a problem, as the growing range of pests like fire ants demonstrate. 

So with recent studies showing that global warming has the potential to spread species farther north than ever before, we have to keep our eyes open for new and potentially dangerous insects and arachnids in our garden. One of these animals is the Black Widow, Latrodectus mactans, a large and venomous spider that until recently was confined to southern areas of the United States.

In order to get to know this spider, it pays to investigate sites like this one on Black Widow Identification. These spiders are big and easy to identify, but they do like to hide in dark and out-of-the-way corners, so you may well have them in your house or garage without knowing it. Keep your eyes open and be careful before you go poking around in dark corners of your basement or garage!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Household Bugs -- Identify Clothes Moths

People seem to think that every moth in the world eats sweaters. That's wrong on several levels. This post will give you the straight facts about clothes moths -- what they are, what they aren't, and what you can do about them.

First of all, THIS is a clothes moth:

"Tineola.bisselliella.7218" by Olaf Leillinger - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

Not much to it, is there? It's a tiny brown moth in a group with the scientific name Tineidae. This is the only group that eats fibers and stored cloth -- virtually every other moth on the planet just eats leaves. And even then, it's not the moths that do the eating -- it's the caterpillars. The same goes for clothes moths. The adults don't eat your sweaters, the caterpillars do. 

Here's an adult clothes moth next to the shelter that the caterpillars make and live in:

Only the caterpillars eat wool, and that's the critter you want to get rid of. Finding moths flying around only alerts you to the problem -- even if they all left, the caterpillars would still be munching away in your closets, waiting to turn into moths.

 “There are 15,000 moth species in the U.S.,” says Bruce Walsh, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona at Tucson. “To give you a sense of perspective, only two affect clothes. So if you see one, odds are you don’t have clothes moths.”

As with many things, prevention is the key. Good old-fashioned naptha (moth balls)keeps the insect out from the start. But if you DO find you have a clothes moth infestation, there are a few things you can do.

  • Have everything dry-cleaned. This will kill all of the life stages of the clothes moth
  • Vacuum your closets thoroughly. Many times there are pupae and moths hiding in cracks comers, and a good vacuum will pull them out.
  • Invest a few dollars in Pro-pest Clothes Moth Trap 3 Packs (6 Traps). This will attract and trap moths -- if you have any, that is. It's a good way to be sure.
  • Put everything in the freezer for two weeks. Clothes moths can't survive that much cold for that long.
  • Place cedar balls or cups in your closets. It's a natural moth repellant.

This will help! Clothes moths do have a way of coming back, though, so you may need to do this for a while!

Good luck and keep those caterpillars out of your closets!

Drop by my Household Bugs Solutions eStore for special selections and deals on non-toxic, proven methods for dealing with your household bug problems!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Household Bugs -- It's Roly Poly Time!

(or, "What are these shrimps doing in my basement?")

This household insect isn't really an insect at all. That cute, familiar roly poly (they're also called woodlice, pill bugs or doodle bugs) is actually a "terrestrial crustacean" -- which means it's really a kind of shrimp or crab that has evolved to live on land. Pretty cool! And it's also definitely NOT something to worry about if you find one in your home.

Household Bug or Household Crab?
"Curled Woodlouse" by Sanjay Acharya - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
Roly Polies are animals in the family Armadillidiidae, which kind of gives a clue as to their special talent -- like an armadillo and some other creatures, they can roll up into a ball. These little guys, however, have made it into an art form, rolling into a nearly perfect sphere that rolls around in your hand like a little bead. Kids have loved playing with these harmless animals for centuries. Some people have kept them as pets, and in good conditions they can live for up to three years.



So are those roly poly pill-bugs actually a household pest? 

It's always good to know who you're sharing your home with, and this blog tries to put things into perspective. So for what it's worth, NO, woodlice are not a problem for homeowners. They eat gross stuff like bug poop, mold, and crumbs. Unless you were saving that last little bit of dried booger for dessert, the roly-polies in your house are nothing at all to worry about.

"Pillbug (17152476067)" by Brian Gratwicke from DC, USA - Pillbug. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Do Roly Polies Bite?

And, finally, in case it isn't already screamingly obvious, NO, these little mini-shrimps are completely harmless. So pick them up, give them a little shake, and watch them roll around like the cute little balls of fun they are.

Do Centipedes Bite?

Unlike woodlice, centipedes CAN bite. Read more here!

Drop by my Household Bugs Solutions eStore for special selections and deals on non-toxic, proven methods for dealing with your household bug problems!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Household Bugs -- Spider Identification

You're never more than 6 feet away from a spider, whether you're sitting in an office building or camping in the forest. These amazing animals have adapted so well to the plague of human development that we hardly notice they're around -- until one drops from the ceiling or shows up in the bathtub. Then we notice them big-time, and some of us run around like fools when that happens.

This post is all about the spiders that live in your basement and every other part pf your house -- and are perfectly happy to be there. It's also a plea to live and let live, but if you just have to deprive your home of its useful spiders, then please do it with a minimum of collateral damage.

This is a large tropical spider in the genus Nephila.

Spider Identification -- What Kind of Spider Is This?

Spider identification suddenly becomes critically important when you discover you have an infestation of the little guys in your home or basement. If you do find a lot of spiders in your house, or any kind of bug for that matter, do your best to catch one, and get a good look at it. You can also just take a quick photo and send it along to a doctor or emergency room to see if you should worry about it being poisonous.

This post may also help you figure out what you found. It's based on an article on HubPages that, along with several other articles, serves as a good base for figuring out which kind of insect or spider you're dealing with.

But please don't assume you have to kill all the spiders in your house -- if you did somehow wipe out all of them, you would soon notice swarms of houseflies, fruit flies, mosquitoes, clothes moths, and other pests flying around your house. Those are all the household bug pests that your spider "enemy" eats for you.
So before you decide what to do, have a look at this guide -- you just might find that you have a little, pest-eating friend in your basement.

The Black Widow and Relatives

This is the common black widow spider, Latrodectus mactans. It's found throughout most of North America.

What To Do If You Find a Black Widow

If you find a big black spider with long legs, look at the underside. Black widows almost always have a bright red mark underneath the abdomen.

Spider Identification -- Orb-Web Spiders

Orb weavers are the architectural geniuses of the spider world. These are the spiders that spin perfect circular webs -- think Charlotte's Web. These webs are perfectly designed to snare flying prey. Like most spiders, orb weaver spiders are highly successful predators.

Spider Identification -- Wolf Spiders

When I was a kid, we used to catch these big, aggressive spiders and keep them in a coffee can, feeding them crickets and flies. They live ourside, and can subdue much larger prey than themselves.

 Spider Identification -- Crab Spiders

Crab spiders do not spin webs -- they hang out on flowers or leaves, perfectly camouflaged, and wait for spmeting to come along -- a bee, butterfly, or other spider -- and then they lunge and catch the victim. These cool spiders aren't in your home, but they're worth looking for.

Spider Identification -- Grass Spiders

Grass spiders spin webs in your lawn, where they catch crickets and other prey. Sometimes they wind up in your house -- if they do, have a heart and usher them back into the world they understand.

Spider Identification -- Jumping Spider

These cool-looking guys don't spin a web. Instead, they wait for prey to come by, and then they jump many times their body length to grab their victim. You often see them on window sills. When they see you looking at them, they turn to face you, keeping you in sight. They're quick, cute, and harmless.

Jumping Spider -- These guys are SO photogenic

Spider Identification -- Recluse Spiders

Recluse spiders are sometimes found in basements and garages. They're fairly large, brown spiders with long legs. The most common identifying mark is an upside-down "violin" mark on the back of the thorax. The bites of these arachnids can turn into a spreading wound that leaves a serious scar -- it's rarely fatal, thought it does happen. If you think you have a brown recluse, take a picture and send or take it to a doctor or emergency room.

Spider Identification -- The Common House Spider

No, It's NOT a Black Widow!

This spider looks a little like a black widow, but it's harmless. These spiders eat a LOT of flies and mosquitoes, so leave them be and they'll take care of you. For free.

Spider Identification -- Daddy Long-Legs Spider

These very common spiders are harmless inhabitants of basements and dark corners. They eat lots of gnats and fruit flies.

The Spider's Web

I hope this little guide helped -- and I hope you think twice before you squash that spider in your basement.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Household Bugs -- Cabbage Butterflies

Cabbage Butterfly or Cabbage Moth?

Okay, this isn't exactly a "household bug," but this time of year cabbage white butterflies are everywhere, and they're after the plants in your garden. So for this post we're including the garden: call it "House and Garden Bugs."

So this insect, properly called, is the "imported cabbage white butterfly," also known by its scientific Latin name, Pieris rapae. My dad used to call them "cabbage moths," which is kind of a cool name for a band but totally inaccurate in terms of taxonomy (the science of working out groupings of animals and other things). The cabbage white is a plain white butterfly that is part of a rather large family of other butterflies that are also often white or pale yellow. The Pieridae include some very beautiful species, and none rise to the level of world-wide pest that the cabbage white does.

Here's a nice photo of this butterfly in flight:

public domain images at

As with nearly all butterflies and moths, it's the larva, or caterpillar, that does most of the eating, and therefore most of the damage. In the case of P. rapae, the caterpillar is exceedingly good at not being seen on the food plant. It's a marvel of cryptic coloring. If you've looked everywhere for the thing that's eating big holes in the leaves of your kale, cabbage, and chard, and can't find anything, it's not because no one's there. It's because they blend in with the green of the leaf to the point of invisibility. There's a reason this species has been so successful!

Here's a picture of a P. rapae caterpillar:

                                                       public domain images at

See what I mean? This little sucker is almost invisible.

So if you'd really like to eliminate cabbage white caterpillars from your garden, get a bucket of soapy water and your reading glasses. Get out there and real LOOK for the little guys. They can be tiny, but a full-grown one is about an inch long. Find em, pinch em, drop em in the soapy water, and dispose.

See more about this species right here: Caterpillars Eating Cabbage Plants

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Household Bugs -- Are Centipedes Poisonous?

Are Centipedes Poisonous?

We get this question a lot, and it has been addressed in previous posts. Centipedes are those speedy little critters that live in your basement and run out from under piles of laundry on the floor, or from whatever you might have on the floor. They tend to pop up unexpectedly, and they have a lot of legs, and they're really fast. There's something about that combination that doesn't appeal to humans.

So are they poisonous? Yes, but you really don't have anything to worry about! The brown centipedes in your house are essentially harmless, though if you picked one up and messed with it, and basically insisted that it bite you, you would feel a little sting.  So don't freak out! As we said before, the centipedes in your house aren't going to come swarming up on your bed at night and chew you to death (although that would be pretty cool -- not for you, but for everyone else).

Now there are some centipedes in the world that can REALLY bite. You'll never find one in your basement, since they live in wild and natural places. Some of these big guys -- which can grow to be several inches long -- can deliver a really painful bite that in exceptionally rare cases can kill an individual already prone to heart attacks. Here's one of them, a beautiful animal known as Scolopendra cingulata:

image public domain at

Ain't it cool? If you find one of these, you're lucky. If it finds you, then maybe not so much.

Anyway, the individuals who really have to worry about that centipede bite are the cockroaches, silverfish, and other little bugs that can form part of the centipede's diet. The other part of the centipede's diet? Cockroach eggs. Yummy, right? But think about it -- those freaky-looking centipedes are doing you a HUGE favor every day and night. They're basically part of the clean-up crew that takes care of undesirable insects, living and dead, that would otherwise pile up in your house.

Here are a couple of centipedes you won't find in your house:

This beautiful animal lives in Hawaii, where its habitat is volcanic soil. Before you ask, yes, it's poisonous too. But please remember that it's poison is the result of eons of evolutionary development, and is meant for eating and self defense, NOT for attacking you!

This large centipede was photographed in Oman. It has a cool fake "head," with split end that a predator like a lizard or a bird might mistake for the head

The little brown centipede that lives in your basement is known scientifically as Scutigera coleoptrata, although depending on where you live it could be one of several other closely related species. The genus ("group") of brown centipedes originated in southern Europe, but once ships started sailing of and docking in foreign lands, the hitch-hiking centipedes (and lots of other critters) found happy homes in all parts of the world.

Your basement centipedes have 15 pairs of legs. The pincers that deliver the venom are actually modified legs, which is likely the case with all insect appendages, from mouthparts to antennae -- as different forms evolved, they adapted the many legs that their ancestors had for specified uses.

So yes, centipedes are venomous -- but in a pretty cool way. Often they will withdraw after biting prey to let the sting take effect. They can also distinguish between easy prey and dangerous insects like wasps. They're selective about who they try to eat, so your chances of being hunted and attacked by your house centipedes is zero.

So yes, they bite, and no, it's not a big deal.

Centipedes eat a lot of harmful bugs, so in general you should give them a pass and focus on killing the bugs that can really impact your life, like termites and roaches.

And remember -- it could be worse. Your basement could be full of these:

More Questions about Household Bugs? Click here for a ton of photos and information!

all images courtesy of wikimedia commons

Monday, October 21, 2013

Household Bugs -- Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite!

What's It Like to Be Bitten by Bedbugs?

It was in Costa Rica, in a little off-the-beaten-path hotel, that I encountered my first bedbug. Actually I never encountered, or even saw, the little sucker -- I just found the evidence, in the form of a line of red itchy bites on my neck. I spent most of the morning trying to convince my wife, and myself, that they were just mosquito bites, but finally had to admit that they seemed different. For one thing, the bites were blotchy and irregular, unlike a nice round mosquito bite, and they didn't itch quite as much. Plus, there were at least six of them, all in a rough line from my left ear extending down to my shirt collar. Classic bedbug action. But I didn't want to admit it.
"Maybe they're spider bites," I said hopefully. 
"Ew," said my wife. "That's even worse."

Actually, bedbugs are much more serious pests than spiders. Spiders actually have an upside -- they eat tons of mosquitoes, flies, and other insects -- while bedbugs are just a pest. Bedbugs feed on human blood, which they suck much like mosquitoes do, with a sharp, hollow proboscis. Bedbugs don't fly, though. They hang out in the cracks and crevices of walls and mattresses and crawl out during the night to bite you, often on the face, where blood-rich capillaries lie just below the skin's surface. 

They tend to bite, suck, move a few steps, and repeat the process, which is why the bites, like ones on my neck, are often in a line. The worst part is that bedbugs poop while they feed. They can track their own feces into the bites, causing potentially serious infections. All things considered, bedbugs are pretty gross. This quick and easy bedbug guide gives you some options for bedbug control, if you think you have them, or if you live in the south where they are most common. But don't laugh, Yankees -- bedbugs are currently expanding their range, and can be found anywhere from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Canada.

If you think you might have bedbugs, have a look around your mattress. Bedbug colonies are relatively easy to spot -- they basically look like dirty spots, and closer inspection will reveal live bugs, both adults and immatures, which look like smaller versions of the adults. If you do find these nasty little pests, have a look around the web for control measures or a local exterminator. If you don't attack the problem right away, the colony will only grow!