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Common Pests


There are approximately 20,000 ant species on earth. In various cultures around the world, different ant species are used in cuisine, rituals and for medication. In North America ants are commonly considered as pests in homes. Ants can damage plants, destroy structures and invade buildings. Ant bites can also be painful and may be life threatening for some people.

As pests, successfully controlling them starts with the identification of the right species. Finding and directly treating the colony is also a key. Typically, only 5% to 10% of an ant colony is out foraging at any one time, so it is crucial to locate and treat the colony. Most ant infestations originate from the outside of the structure. Hence, an exterior inspection is necessary to control ants.


Spiders are viewed as beneficial when capturing and controlling other insect populations but inside the home they are considered pests. They belong to the largest order of arachnids that have eight legs and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. As of 2008, there has been approximately 40,000 species of spiders identified. Size and features depend on the species.

While spiders often bite in self-defense when they are threatened, it can also be by accident. Some spider bites may result no worse than a mosquito bite or bee sting but certain species can cause serious medical conditions.

Toxic spider bites may cause skin irritations, headache, shortness of breathing or wheezing, muscular weakness or cramps, and increased heart rate.


Also known as fishmoths, carpet sharks or paramites, silverfish derives its name from the fish-like color of silvery light grey and blue, body shape and the appearance of its movements. They are flattened insects typically ½ to an inch long with abdomens tapered at the end. Silverfish do not have wings but have long antennae. Typical lifespan is 2 to 8 years.

Silverfish consume matter that contains polysaccharides, such as starches and dextrin in adhesives. These include glue, book bindings, paper, photos, sugar, coffee, hair, carpet, clothing and dandruff. While silverfish are not harmful to humans they can also cause damage to household items like books and tapestries. Other substances that may be eaten include cotton, linen, silk and synthetic fibers, and dead insects or even its own exuvia (moulted exoskeleton). During famine, a silverfish may even attack leatherware and synthetic fabrics.


While almost with the same characteristics as mice, rats are typically distinguished from mice by their size. Rats are generally large rodents. A rat may grow to be 16 inches from tip of tail to nose, with a tail shorter than its body, light brown to dark gray in color, with a blunt nose, small eyes and small ears. The lifespan may depend on the species but on average live up to about a year.

Rats are known to be commensals in the sense that they benefit from living with and near humans. Like mice they invade homes to look for food but most often prefer to reside in burrows. They are good swimmers and can also be seen living in sewers and other underground water systems.

Rats can be linked to the spread of diseases such as classical swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease.

To prevent rat infestation in your home, follow the same simple suggestions outlined for the prevention of mice.

Pantry Moths

Adult moths are 8-10 millimeters long with a wingspan of 16-20 millimeters. The outer half of their forewings are bronze, copper or dark gray in color. Upper half are yellowish gray with a dark band at the intersection between the two.

Moths typically lay between 60 and 400 eggs. Larval stage lasts from 2 to 41 weeks, depending on the temperature and their life cycle may range from 30 to 300 days.

Adult moths tend to avoid lights. The larvae feed in seclusion, spinning silk webbing over themselves and the food material as they feed and move about. Under favorable conditions there can be as many as 8 generations per year. The larvae typically leave the infested food and wander long distances to pupate and their thin silk cocoons can be found in rooms far away from the infested material.


Mice are small mammals belonging to the order of rodents. They invade homes to look for food and occasionally shelter. They can be harmful pests eating crops, damaging structures and spreading diseases through their parasites and feces.

Mice measure 7 inches long from its nose to the tip of its tail which is hairless and scaly. Their color varies from white to grey and light brown to black with ears relatively bare of hair. Although with poor eyesight, they can get by very well locating food and avoiding predators with a keen sense of hearing and sense of smell.

The House Mouse is sexually mature at 2 months old, has a gestation period of only 3 weeks, and averages 5 to 8 young per litter, but potentially up to 15. Each female may give birth to 8 litters. The House Mouse is a nibbler, consuming small quantities of food at many feedings. They are “curious,” and tend to investigate new objects.

To prevent mice from invading your home, there are simple things you can do:

  • – Remove fallen fruit from ground and monitor on a regular basis for knaw marks.
  • – Monitor vegetable gardens for activity.
  • – Remove bird feeders, especially ones containing seed’s and/or liquids.
  • – Don’t leave pet food out indoors or outdoors any longer than necessary.
  • – Store pet food in sealed containers to prevent rodent access.
  • – Keep doors closed when not in use to prevent entry.
  • – Trim tree branches and vegetation away from structure to prevent entry and harborage areas.


Fleas are wingless insects with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. As external parasites they live off the blood of mammals and birds. There are over 2,000 flea species worldwide which include common human, cat, dog, Moorhen, Northern rat and Oriental rat fleas.

Typically, fleas are 1/16 – 1/8 inch long and dark reddish brown in color. Under favorable conditions they can live up to 1 year. Adult fleas must feed on blood before they can become capable of reproduction with females capable of laying 500 or more eggs over their lifetime. Eggs are laid in batches averaging 20 and take 2 days to 2 weeks to hatch. Eggs are tiny white and oval shaped.

Fleas are not only annoying to humans and pets but can cause serious medical conditions. Skin irritations are common effects of flea bites which can also transmit diseases among animals and from animals to humans. Anemia, tapeworms, stomach flu, fever, and the bubonic plague are some of the extreme results.


Crickets are somewhat related to grasshoppers. Adult crickets are about ¾ inch long, with somewhat flattened bodies, long thin antennae and range in color from light and dark browns to black. They are active usually at night and usually remaining hidden during the day. Most commonly found in dark damp areas such as basement, especially in unfinished areas.

Crickets are omnivorous, eating or drinking almost anything that is available. While they are generally harmless to humans, they may chew on or damage silk, woolens, paper, fruits, and vegetables in households.

They are widely distributed throughout United States and heavily populated in Northern Virginia.


Cockroaches have a broad, flattened body and a relatively small head. They are generalized insects, with few special adaptations, and may be the most primitive living insects. The mouthparts are on the underside of the head and include generalized chewing mandibles. They have large compound eyes, two ocelli, and long, flexible, antennae.

Cockroaches live in a wide range of environments around the world. Pest species of cockroaches adapt readily to a variety of environments, but prefer warm conditions found within buildings. They generally live in moist areas, but can survive in dry areas if they have access to water. They are scavengers that feed on decaying organic matter and a variety of other foods, particularly fermenting foods. Cockroaches are common in kitchens, bathrooms, basements, crawl spaces, cracks and crevices of porches, foundations, and walkways adjacent to buildings.

Cockroaches leave chemical trails in their feces as well as emitting 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.

Cockroaches can live up to a year. The female may produce up to eight egg cases in a lifetime; in favorable conditions, it can produce 300 to 400 offspring. Other species of cockroach, however, can produce an extremely high number of eggs in a lifetime, but in some cases a female needs to be impregnated only once to be able to lay eggs for the rest of her life.

A female German cockroach carries an egg capsule containing around 40 eggs. She drops the capsule prior to hatching, though live births do rarely occur. Development from eggs to adults takes 3 to 4 months.

They can also passively transport microbes on their body surfaces including those that are potentially dangerous to humans, particularly in environments such as hospitals. Cockroaches have been shown to be linked with allergic reactions in humans.


Adult bedbugs are about 4-5 millimeters in length and are reddish brown, flattened, oval and wingless. They can live up to 11 months with females laying up to 250 eggs during her lifetime. They are normally out at night just before dawn, with a peak feeding period of about an hour before sunrise.

They do not move quickly enough to escape the notice of an observer. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color and become browner as they molt and reach maturity. The bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow feeding tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host.

Bed Bugs in VA have become a major epidemic. Treating and eliminating bed bugs can be a hard process because of their ability to hide in the smallest cracks and crevices. Since bed bugs reproduce so quickly it is important to contact a pest control professional immediately to keep from further spreading. Early warning signs of bed bugs can be small rust colored blood stains on sheets, pillow cases or mattresses. Also bite marks on the skin will appear as small red spots.


Aphids may be green, yellow, brown, red or black depending on the species. There are about 4,400 species of 10 families known. Around 250 species are serious pests for agriculture and forestry and an annoyance for gardeners. They are among the most destructive insect pests on cultivated plants in temperate regions.

Generally adult aphids are wingless, but most species also occur in winged forms. They vary in length from 1 to 10 millimeters. Most aphids reproduce asexually throughout most or all of the year with adult females giving birth to live offspring (often as many as 12 per day) without mating. Aphids may transmit viruses from plant to plant on certain vegetable and ornamental plants. Although aphids seldom kill a mature plant, the damage and unsightly honeydew they generate sometimes warrant control.