What are pests?
A pest is defined by the EPA as "living organisms that occur where they are not wanted or that cause damage to crops or humans or other animals." This can be animal - insects, mice, rats, wildlife; plant - weeds; or organisms and microorganisms - bacteria and viruses. This article, however, will focus on the pests most often associated with the term "pest control." That is, animal pests.
Why do they need to be controlled?
As explained by the Maine Board of Pest Control, pests can cause problems by:
- reducing the availability, quality or value of food, water or space
- causing injury to people or animals
- damaging structures or possessions
- transmitting disease
- or simply causing annoyance, discomfort or inconvenience.
How do I get rid of pests myself?
Explaining that proper pest control requires knowledge of the particular pest a person is wanting to control, the National Pesticide Information Center describes pest control as consisting of three steps. So whether you are seeking to get rid of mice from your home, control ants or keep them from entering, or stop raccoons from digging in your garbage, you need to identify the specific species of the pest, learn as much about it and its behavior and habits as you can, then take steps toward control-keeping safety at the forefront.
Identify. Proper identification is important, not only because it makes the job easier, but it makes it more effective. For example, different ant species are attracted to different types of bait; and while mice are curious creatures, willing to investigate new things (such as traps), rats are more wary and require more care and thought in placement.
You can identify the pest through a variety of resources:
- Send a sample to your county extension office (A list of offices is available at About Landscaping)
- Search the Internet for a similar-looking image to get an idea of what you are dealing with. The most accurate resources will generally be university and government sites, that often have fact sheets on common pests; trusted pest control company pest identification pages; and, of course, About.com sites including About Pest Control and About Insects.
- Contact a local pest control company for identification and recommendations.
Learn. Once you have identified the pest, you need to learn everything about it that you can. Learn about things such as:
- breeding - does it breed in the home? If so, simply eliminating the ones you see will probably not eliminate the problem.
- feeding - what is attracting it to your home? If you get rid of the source that is attracting the pest, you can often get rid of the problem as well.
- entry - how is it getting into your home? If you seal all potential entry points, you can reduce the chance of new pests entering and deal only with those that are already there.
- habits - does it prefer to scurry in, then harbor in a hidden spot (like cockroaches)? Does it form trails for others to follow to find food (like ants)? Does it flitter around bright exterior lights, and enter when doors are open (like moths and mosquitoes)? Does it prefer attics and roofs (like roof rats) or basements and sewers (like the Norway rat)?
Control. Once you understand the particular pest, you can determine what to do to control it-and whether you can and should do it yourself, or call a professional.
Either way you decide, an Integrated Pest Management plan should be used. IPM focuses first on non-chemical control, including
- exclusion - sealing and repairing entry points to keep pests from entering.
- sanitation - cleaning the interior and exterior to eliminate food and water on which the pest is feeding, and cluttered and dirty areas where it is finding shelter.
- non-chemical controls - traps and non-chemical baits.
When and if these attempts fail, then pesticide controls can be judiciously implemented. Before using any pesticide, read and follow all label directions. In some cases, the only effective pesticides will those that are limited to use by licensed professionals.