What is crawling around in my house?

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The winter months can really drag out. You can’t go outside and garden and you are stuck indoors. It is at this time that you might start to notice some other critters coming into your home as well. There are a lot of home invading insects and arthropods that use our homes to stay warm through the winter.

One of my favorite non-insects from my childhood would be the roly-poly, which is officially called a pillbug. These arthropods are not harmful indoors and are often found in damp basements. They are also found in potting soil, so if you bring any outdoor plants inside for the winter, you may bring these inside with the plants. If pillbugs are found in your home, just pick them up to remove them from your home or vacuum them up.

Fruit flies are another problem in the winter months. They are tiny yellow flies with red eyes found around the kitchen. They are often found indoors attracted to fruits, vegetables, beer, sodas, and fermenting things in our garbage. These fruit flies are a real nuisance as they fly around us and our food in our homes. For management of fruit flies, it is best to eliminate their breeding locations and food sources. Throw out all fruits and vegetables past their prime for eating and make sure to rinse out all beer and soda cans and bottles before throwing them away. It might also be helpful to just keep your trash in the garage or other location near the house to avoid problems indoors. For those left in your home, you can make a fruit fly trap easily and cheaply. Take an empty container such as a jar or yogurt container and fill the container 1/4 of the way full with apple cider vinegar to attract the fruit flies. Put a few drops of dish soap in the vinegar to make the flies sink as they land on the vinegar and cover the container with a layer of plastic with a few holes poked in with a toothpick to allow the fruit flies in. This will bring the fruit flies in to die in the vinegar which attracts them to the trap in the first place.

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Another aggravating insect pest indoors in the winter would be the fungus gnat. Fruit flies and fungus gnats are often confused, but opposed to the bright colors of a fruit fly, fungus gnats are tiny black flies. Fungus gnats often get into our homes in houseplants or potting soils used indoors. They are not damaging flies, but they can be a real nuisance indoors. To rid a home of fungus gnats, there are many options. Try repotting the plants and allowing the soil to dry out more between waterings. You can also place a yellow sticky card next to the plants that will attract the gnats to kill them in the sticky glue on the card. Finally, you can treat the soil with insecticides labeled for use on indoor houseplants or use a mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water and run that through the soil to kill any maggots left in the soil.

Soon we may begin to notice ants in the home or the winged reproductive stages of ants which are common in the spring months. If temperatures warm up for a few days at a time, some ants may even become active in the late winter months. Ants in the home are mostly a nuisance pest, but can sometimes be quite difficult to control. Liquid ant baits or bait stations are the best for control of these pests. Also, be sure to reduce overgrown landscaping outside the home around where the ants are coming in and use barrier insect sprays to reduce their movement into the home.

ants with bait

Information regarding management of Fungus Gnats and Fruit Flies is from Jonathan Larson, Douglas-Sarpy County Extension, from the Acreage e-news Pest of the Month articles.

Pirate Bugs are Everywhere!

Fall is a great time of year, the weather is cooler, the trees are turning brilliant fall colors, and we can enjoy being outdoors. However, sometimes that enjoyment is smashed when insect invaders join our outdoor gatherings. The minute pirate bug is one that shows up this time of the year.

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Minute Pirate Bug photo courtesy of Kim Riggs, Richardson County Extension

Minute pirate bugs are the tiny, black insects that seem to fall out of the trees in the fall and bite us. The bug, which is a true bug, is 1/8 inch in length and black with white and black wings. The appearance of this bug is very similar to a chinch bug. The wings have an “X” on them which is typical for insects that are true bugs.

Minute pirate bugs are present throughout the summer but they are out in fields, woodlands, and gardens. During the summer they are feeding on other insects. They are actually a beneficial insect. Pirate bugs are predatory insects that feed on many insects that cause harm to our plants, such as thrips, aphids, mites, and small caterpillars as well as the eggs of other insects.

Most people wouldn’t notice these pirate bugs if they didn’t land on us and bite us. Pirate bugs bite with a pain that doesn’t seem possible from such a tiny insect. However, some people may not notice the sting at all because the reaction to the bite can differ from no reaction at all to having the area swell up like a mosquito bite. But, in the fall, these insects move into the areas where people are more often outside and they begin to bite us. When they bite us, they insert their piercing-sucking mouthpart into our skin, which can be painful. However, the good thing is that they do NOT feed on blood, inject a venom or transmit diseases.

Because of the painful reaction that most of us receive from this pest, we want to do something to control them, however, control is not practical. Minute pirate bugs are a temporary pest, they are beneficial insects, and most of our solutions would not harm them so there is no reason to try to control them with an insecticide. Using a bug spray will not deter them either because they are not attracted to us by carbon dioxide like most other blood-feeding insects such as mosquitos. So, the best control for these pests would be to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and dark colored clothing or to wait patiently for cooler weather when they will no longer be a problem.

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Photo of Ground Beetle courtesy of Daniel R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

And just as a reminder, this is the time of the year when our insect invaders start to move into our homes. Many of the insects and other arthropods that we see every year are things like boxelder bugs, Asian multicolored ladybeetles, ground beetles, centipedes, millipedes, and spiders. All of these do not pose any physical harm to us, spiders can bite but it is rare and usually does not cause much harm. The best controls for these critters would be to use a home barrier spray, sticky traps and to vacuum them up as you see them. These insects and others are moving into our homes with the cooler temperatures to keep warm during the winter.

Grasshoppers!!

Grasshopper via Mark Robinson,Flickr

Photo of a Grasshopper from Mark Robinson via Flickr Creative Commons License

This year has been quite warm and fairly dry. We have been lucky to have received the rain that we did see come through in July after such a dry June. However, that warm, dry weather has lead to an increase in grasshopper populations this year. These grasshoppers have been a large problem in our lawns and gardens.

Grasshoppers can be a problem in grassy areas and in our gardens. They will feed on flowers and some vegetables such as lettuce, beans, and sweet corn under normal situations. However, in situations where the population is high, like this year, they can be found feeding on nearly all vegetables and in some cases even trees and shrubs. They can even be found eating paper, paint, and window screens. On our plants, you will notice a high number of grasshoppers as well as the chewed appearance of the leaves, fruits, and flowers of many of our plants.

Grasshoppers are often reduced in population due to the environment during their developmental period of life. If we have cool, wet weather right after they hatch from their eggs, typically in early to mid-May, this will help reduce the populations. The nymphs are vulnerable to death due to starvation in the early development of their lives. In most years, we face a fairly wet, cool May that helps reduce the population of grasshoppers, but this year that did not happen, so our populations are high.

Grasshoppers can be managed fairly well. There are some good cultural and mechanical practices that can help as well as some use of chemicals in other locations.

Keeping overgrown grassy areas mowed and/or tilled will help reduce the sites where grasshoppers prefer to lay their eggs, therefore helping to reduce the population. It may also help to leave some of the border areas of a large yard, especially in an acreage setting, unmowed so that the grasshoppers will stay in the unmowed areas of the lawn and not move as quickly into the lawn and garden areas. You may also plant some trap crops, such as zinnias or other flowers in these border areas to attract grasshoppers to these plants instead of your lawn or garden.

For chemical control, it is best to treat grasshoppers when they are young. Once grasshoppers become full grown adults, they have a decreased susceptibility to insecticides and they are larger which also makes them harder to control with insecticides. With all insects, management is much more effective if insecticides are applied at a younger age for the insects to be controlled.

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Look for areas along the roadsides for spraying where eggs are deposited.

When applying insecticides for grasshoppers, first concentrate the sprays on the roadsides and ditches where grasshoppers lay their eggs to get them when they first emerge from the eggs. Then you can focus on the lawn and garden areas. In the vegetable garden, be sure to use insecticides that are labeled for use in the vegetable garden such as sevin or eight and follow the PHI. The PHI is the amount of days to wait to harvest after spraying has been done. Most any general insecticide can be used in locations not in the vegetable garden including sevin, eight, or malathion, just make sure the label has grasshoppers and the area to be treated on it and it will work.

The information for this article came from the NebGuide: A Guide to Grasshopper Control in Yards and Gardens by Gary Hein Extension Entomologist, John Campbell Extension Entomologist, & Ron Seymour Extension Educator.

Mosquitoes and the Zika Virus

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Mosquitoes are a huge irritation in the summer months. Mosquitoes are a type of insect that is in the same order as flies, which means they are closely related to flies and gnats, which all tend to bother us. Mosquitoes are also vectors of many different diseases. Because of these factors, we need to do what we can to eliminate the problem and reduce mosquito populations.

The best way to avoid any pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes is to prevent being bitten. Like any pest management program, IPM is the strategy that works best to prevent mosquito bites at home in the yard. Sanitation is a must to eliminate breeding sites and harborage locations of mosquitoes. Female mosquitoes lay eggs on the surface of standing water and the larvae (“wigglers”) require water to survive before pupation. Removal of stagnant water in a variety of containers such as flowerpots, buckets, gutters, pool covers, used tires, and dog bowls will break the mosquito life cycle. A general rule is to dump any water that has been standing for more than five days.

Culex mosquitoes are active biters in the evening, so it is important to wear long sleeves and pants or permethrin-treated clothing when outdoors between dusk and dawn. The effective insect repellents applied to skin include those with the active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, or the oil of lemon eucalyptus.

As far as chemical control, Mosquito Dunks contain the active ingredient bacterium, Bacillus thurengiensis israelensis (Bti), which is toxic to mosquito larvae when consumed, but non-toxic to humans, pets, pollinators, fish, and other wildlife. They are sold in hardware stores, and will dissolve in standing water such as water troughs, fishponds, rain barrels, and birdbaths. They are effective immediately and can last for a month.

It is not recommend to use foggers or adulticide treatments by homeowners. These treatments are not effective for more than a couple of days and should only be used a few days ahead of a large outdoor get-together if absolutely necessary.

It is best to utilize IPM to reduce your exposure to mosquitoes because they spread many diseases including West Nile Virus and the Zika virus. Most people who get West Nile Virus have no symptoms or have flu-like symptoms. However, from 2001 to 2009 1,100 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to West Nile Virus. Most of the deaths occurred in people ages 65 and older.

As for the Zika Virus, it has been known about since 1947, but has just recently hit the news as it spreads more. Zika does appear to have minimal impacts on adult humans, but if a pregnant woman becomes infected, her fetus may suffer from developmental abnormatlities such as microcephaly. The good news is that the main mosquito that transmits Zika isn’t in Nebraska. The mosquito that most commonly transmits zika to humans is the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Recently, a zika vector was found in Richardson County Nebraska, but this was Aedes albopictus, which has been found in Nebraska before and is the lesser of the Zika vectors. Aedes aegypti is the more competent vector as it feeds almost exclusively on people, according to Jonathan Larson, Nebraska Extension Entomologist. This summer, some counties will be trapping for mosquitoes in Nebraska to monitor for the presence of the mosquito that could carry Zika. We are not on high alert for Zika in Nebraska, but it is still a good idea to protect yourself from mosquito bites to reduce the chance of West Nile and other mosquito vectored diseases.

Zika mosquito map, J. Larson

Map showing the potential range of A. aegypti the mosquito that can transmit Zika virus, from acreage.unl.edu/zika-virus

Information for this article came from the article Zika Virus, the June Pest of the Month on the Acreage Insights webpage for Nebraska Extension. It was written by Drs. Jody Green and Jonathan Larson, Nebraska Extension Educators.

Bed Bugs while Traveling

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Denver Botanic Gardens

Summer is finally coming. With the end of school near and Memorial Day only a couple of weeks away, many of us will began planning our summer vacations. Summer vacations are so much fun and a great way to bond with your family. However vacations are not so much fun if you unintentionally bring home some unwanted guests, bed bugs.

Bed Bug after feeding

Bed bug photo by Vicki Jedlicka, Lancaster County Extension

Bed bugs are flat, wingless insects with adults reaching a size of approximately one-quarter of an inch in length. These insects are reddish brown and are usually a deeper red after they have finished feeding. Bed bugs feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals, mainly humans, but do not spread diseases.

bed bug bite 2

A common first indicator of bed bugs would be bite marks on your body. The bites are usually found around a person’s neck, arms, and shoulders, but sometimes are found on a person’s legs and ankles. The bite marks are not always a good indicator of bed bugs because 30 percent of the population does not react to bed bugs even when bitten repeatedly. Other signs of a bed bug infestation include small brown fecal spots on the bed, linens, pillows, or on items surrounding the bed such as the nightstand. You may also see the bed bugs themselves because they are large enough to see with the naked eye.

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Luggage in the bathtub while inspecting a room for bed bugs.

There are methods to protect yourself from a bed bug infestation while traveling. Check out the room you will be staying in before you put your belongings in the room. While doing a bed bug inspection in a hotel room, place your luggage in the bathtub where the bed bugs cannot access it. Look at the beds, sheets, behind the headboard and in the nightstand for fecal smears or the bugs themselves. If you don’t see anything, you should still be careful when you get home. Leave the luggage in the car in the sun for a few hours on a hot day to kill any bugs and eggs that may have gotten into your luggage. Also, take your clothes straight to the washer and dryer when you get home rather than leaving it in your bedroom for a few days prior to washing. If you wash clothing and dry it on the medium to hot setting for 20-30 minutes you will kill the bugs and eggs found in your laundry. If you can’t get it all washed right away, leave the luggage outside or in the garage until it can be moved to the washer or dryer. Inspect toiletries before bringing them indoors as well. A duffel bag is preferred to a suitcase because it can be thrown into the dryer after travel. Shoes and purses can be placed in the freezer for a few days to kill any bugs and eggs found on them.

Bed bugs are very hard to control, 88 percent of all bed bug populations have become resistant to the chemicals that we use to control them. Bug bombs are not effective at controlling bed bugs because the chemicals from the bug bomb cannot get to the hiding locations of bed bugs. If you have a bed bug infestation in your home it is best to contact a pest control company for management. Reducing clutter in your home will help reduce the infestation as well because bed bugs can hide in clutter to avoid being sprayed. Getting a bed bug infestation does not mean that you have a dirty house or that the hotel is not clean, they will infest anywhere people are commonly found because that is their food source.

Insects & Firewood

Fireplace

Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces are a nice way to keep your homes warm in the winter while saving money on heating bills. However, when using any type of wood-powered heating method, it is always a concern of what other things you will bring inside besides just the firewood. Insects are often found in wood brought indoors for fireplaces and they can emerge in your home to cause you troubles. The most common insects we find in our firewood include carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles.

Insects can be brought into your home when you bring in firewood for fireplaces and stoves. Some insects may lay their eggs or pupate within trees prior to or just after they have been cut down for firewood, the insects may still be inside the wood when you bring it indoors. When the temperatures warm up, either in spring or in your home if you bring the firewood indoors, the insects can emerge. These insects rarely cause an infestation in your home or cause damage to your furniture or home structure, but can be a nuisance when they get into your home.

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Carpenter Ants are commonly found in many forms of decaying wood. They do not feed on wood, but they dig into decaying wood to form galleries for their nests. Carpenter Ants are the large black or red ants often found on trees that have decay as they are making a nest within that tree. In a house, carpenter ants can do damage if you have a leak which has caused wood of your home to decay, otherwise they usually will not become a problem in a home. They can be brought indoors with firewood that they were living in.

There are many wood-boring beetles that are also found in firewood. We have longhorned beetles, flatheaded borers, and bark beetles that are all found in trees and logs cut for firewood. Females of these beetles are actually attracted to dying, freshly cut, or recently killed trees to lay eggs on the wood. These beetles can emerge in your home, but don’t usually cause problems in the wood products found within your home. One common structure-infesting pest, a powerpost beetle, can get into your home, but they only lay their eggs on bare, unfinished wood. Wood that has been varnished, painted, or sealed is safe unless exposed surfaces appear. So, the wood-boring beetles can get into our homes on firewood, but they are rarely a problem other than an annoyance to you.

A good control for insects that emerge from your firewood in your home is to vacuum them to dispose of them in that manner. However, the best method of management of these insects is to keep them out of the house in the first place. To protect your home from insects emerging from firewood indoors, bring in wood only as needed. Do not store your firewood indoors, leave it outdoors in an accessible location to bring in wood a few pieces at a time so that it goes directly into the fire. It is not recommended, and is strongly discouraged, to apply pesticides to your firewood because dangerous fumes may come out of the firewood when you burn it.

Fall Yard and Garden Issues

Fall will be here before we know it. Take the time to read this to help you through all of your horticulture and insect issues during the fall months.

Bare lawn in need of overseeding.

Bare lawn in need of overseeding.

For fall lawncare, September is a good month for overseeding, fertilizing, and aerating your lawn. If you have bare spots from the floods or have a thin lawn, you can overseed in the month of September, before the 15th will have better establishment before winter, Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are the best choices for seed in Nebraska. Remember to fertilize with the holidays, and Labor Day and Halloween are coming up for our final two applications for this year. If your lawn has a deep thatch layer, over 1 inch, you may need to aerate your lawn, fall is a good time for aeration as well.

Weeds in a lawn

Weed control is better in the fall. Many of our perennial weeds and winter annuals will get much better control if they are treated in the fall. This year has been a great growing season for many of our lawn weeds, especially clover. Perennial weeds such as Dandelions, creeping Charlie or ground ivy, and clover, are best controlled in the fall with either 2,4-D or Triclopyr products. Remember to apply these chemicals on days when the temperatures are predicted to be at or below 80 degrees for 72 hours. This is the time of the year when these weeds are taking their nutrients back into their roots for next season’s growth, so they will take the herbicide with them to get a better kill. The winter annuals such as Henbit are just beginning their growth in the fall so it is best to treat them now rather than in the spring when they are almost done with their growing season.

It is finally getting close to the time of the year when we can begin cutting back our perennial plants. Once these plants die back in the fall, when their leaves turn brown, we can cut them back for the year. Peonies and Iris are two plants that should be cut back in the fall to avoid diseases spreading from this season to next since these plants tend to get leaf spot diseases annually. When you go to remove the spent leaves, you can also divide these plants and transplant them if you need them in a different location. Avoid pruning roses and butterfly bushes until the early spring to avoid problems with moisture getting into the hollow stems of these plants. If you have a shrub that blooms early in the spring, such as lilac, forsythia, weigela, some spireas, and some hydrangeas, wait to cut those back until after bloom next spring to avoid removing flower buds that are already on the shrub for next year.

Center photo by S. Cochran, Lancaster County Extension

Center photo by S. Cochran, Lancaster County Extension

Watch for fall invading insects in your home in the fall. This is the time of year when many insects will begin to invade our homes. As it begins to get cooler outside, insects move into our homes to stay warm. Many of the insects we see in the fall inside our homes include boxelder bugs, Asian multicolored ladybeetles, stinkbugs, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, and ants. These insects are mostly just a nuisance to us when they come into our homes. The best control for these would be to seal up all cracks where they can enter our homes and to use the insect barrier sprays around the home, especially around doors and windows.

Chiggers…They make me so itchy!!

Container GardensIt’s summer! It is a great time to be outdoors working in the garden, playing in the sprinkler, and getting bug bites. I realize bug bites is not something we want to think about when we think about the joys of summer, but it’s a reality that they go together. Insects and other “bugs” are active in the summer months and that is when they feed on us. Mosquitoes, ticks, flies, gnats, and chiggers can be found throughout the summer months nagging us and leaving us with itchy, red bumps all over our bodies.

Chiggers are actually a type of arthropod, but not an insect. They are more closely related to a spider than they are to an insect because they have 8 legs. However, when mites are immature they do only have 6 legs, which makes it more confusing. Many people will also call chiggers “jiggers” which is the same thing, these would just be different common names for the same mite. The stage that bites us is an immature form of the common red harvest mite.

Chigger Bite photo by V. Jedlicka, Lancaster County Extension.

Chigger Bite photo by V. Jedlicka, Lancaster County Extension.

Chiggers differ from mosquitoes and ticks by their food choices. They do bite us but they do not do it to suck our blood. They pierce us with their mouthpart to inject their salivary fluid that breaks down the host animal’s cells so they can then suck up the liquefied tissue as a drink. The enzymes that are found in their salivary fluid is what causes an itchy reaction to us. Chiggers prefer to feed in locations that are constricted such as sock tops or waistbands. If we itch the bite mark bacteria and fungi can get into the bite if we itch the spot, which can cause more problems and an occasional infection. The best thing for the bite is to avoid itching it by using an antihistamine cream on each bite.

Many people believe that chiggers burrow into our skin and that is what causes the itch. These people also believe that painting nail polish over the bites will smother and kill the chigger, thus eliminating the itch. This is not true. Chiggers are easily removed from our bodies with soap and water. They only will stay on you until they are brushed off or until they are done feeding, from on top of our skin.

DEET insect repellant for chigger control

DEET insect repellent for chigger control

Chiggers can be found in your yard or anywhere with tall grass and weeds. The best way to keep from being bitten by chiggers would be to avoid sitting in grass. If you can lay down a blanket or sit in a chair you would be better off than if you sat directly in the grass. Also, it is best to wear long sleeved shirts and pants with socks and boots to eliminate locations where chiggers can get to our skin. Make sure that anytime you are outside in the summer months, you use insect repellents containing DEET to deter chiggers from feeding on you. If you find a large population of chiggers in your own lawn, a liquid treatment of bifenthrin will reduce chiggers 75-95 percent for several weeks, according to Fred Baxendale, UNL Entomologist.

Where do insects go in the winter?

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

With winter on its way and a few freezes behind us, it leaves us thankful that the mosquitos and other insects have finally quit bugging us for the winter months. But, where do insects go in the winter? Do they all just die? How do they always come right back to my yard, garden, and home next spring? Some insects head south for the winter, others overwinter in the garden, some spend the winter in cracks and crevices outside, and others come indoors to join us in a heated home for the winter.

Many of our ‘snowbirds’ or insects that move south for the winter are the lepidopterans, the insect order that contains butterflies, skippers, and moths. Some of the snowbirds include armyworm, corn earworm (also known as tomato fruitworm) and striped and spotted cucumber beetles. Since these insects do not overwinter in the garden, sanitation is not considered a control method for them.

Many insects overwinter in the garden so cleaning up and destroying plant debris can reduce their numbers. Reducing the population of insect pests limits the amount of damage they cause and provides more control options. Insects that overwinter on plant debris in the garden include cabbageworm, cabbage loopers, and squash bugs. The cabbage caterpillars overwinter as pupae inside cocoons attached to plant debris, usually the host plant. Squash bugs spend the winter as adults hiding in plant debris. This is why it is a best management practice to clean up the garden in the fall and not leave the plants in the garden to harbor insects over the winter months. Some insects will even spend the winter on weeds near the garden. Fall sanitation not only includes cleaning up or tilling under vegetable debris in the garden, but control of nearby weeds as well.

Squash bug-NH-pic monkey

Some of the insects that overwinter in the garden do so in the soil. These insects would include the adults of Colorado potato beetles, the eggs of grasshoppers, and the pupae of squash vine borers and onion maggots. Fall tillage of soil reduces these insects by exposing the insects to colder temperatures. Removing plant debris removes an insulating layer that also protects insects from extreme temperatures.

squash vine borer damage

When cleaning up plant debris, the general recommendation is to not add insect infested plants, diseased plant debris, or weed seeds to home compost piles. Most plant diseases and weed seeds, as well as some insects, are destroyed during composting when temperatures in the pile center reach 140° to 150°F. However, in many home compost piles, it is difficult to mix materials thoroughly enough to bring all waste to the center where it will be exposed to these temperatures.

It is often asked if insecticides applied to bare soil in fall will kill overwintering insects. The answer is not very often, if at all. Overwintering insects are often in the pupal or egg stage where they are protected from insecticides. Applying insecticides to the soil to try and control overwintering insects is not a responsible or effective use of a pesticide.

Many other insects come into our homes during the winter months to avoid freezing temperatures outside. Boxelder bugs, multicolored Asian ladybeetles, and stink bugs move inside in the fall and then leave in the spring. These insects survive the winter in our homes and other buildings. These insects can find places to survive outdoors under leaf litter and in other plant debris, but they are much more comfortable in our homes, as we are. They do not do any damage in our homes and should be vacuumed up or smashed when they are found in our homes.

Center photo by S. Cochran, Lancaster County Extension

Center photo by S. Cochran, Lancaster County Extension

This article comes from an article written by Kelly Feehan, Extension Educator in Platte County, Nebraska.