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Critters are coming to your home

What to do if your home is being invaded by unwanted house guests

Posted: June 16, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 16, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Ground squirrels can be removed and eliminated from your property without restrictions. Ground squirrels can be removed and eliminated from your property without restrictions.
Ground squirrels can be removed and eliminated from your property without restrictions.
Wasps and their nests can lurk in attics and below the eaves of homes. Wasps and their nests can lurk in attics and below the eaves of homes.
Wasps and their nests can lurk in attics and below the eaves of homes.
It’s the season for snakes in the Santa Clarita Valley. It’s the season for snakes in the Santa Clarita Valley.
It’s the season for snakes in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Pesky raccoons will scatter garbage, eat koi and hassle pets. Live trapping is a humane way to relocate the critters. Pesky raccoons will scatter garbage, eat koi and hassle pets. Live trapping is a humane way to relocate the critters.
Pesky raccoons will scatter garbage, eat koi and hassle pets. Live trapping is a humane way to relocate the critters.

The ants are antsy, the bees are busy, the gophers are going, the rats are racing, the mice are munching and the spiders ... well, they've been multiplying all winter. And the bigger animals, such as skunks, possums and raccoons, are out on the prowl.

Maybe, your home has become one of their favored hangouts.

If you are pulling your hair out over critter issues, you might benefit from the advice of some professional pest people.

The remedy depends on which unwanted guests you have visiting.


Typical pests

When most people think of household pests, it's usually something like ants or mice. And if you are considering selling your house, it might be termites. Clark Pest Control in Canyon Country is a local solution for these problems (and others).

Ray Baker, the Canyon Country branch manager, said that the bulk of his company's work is for homeowner problems with ants, spiders and rats. "Those are the big three," he said.

"The biggest thing is keeping these out of the house," Baker added. And this is through "exclusion" work, which might be as simple as caulking cracks, or as complicated as blocking off holes where rats are getting in. For example, he said his company does a lot of exclusion work, sealing gaps where air conditioning freon tubes enter homes, coming from the outside units. This is a favorite entry point for rats.

Baker said his company's service plan is $70 every other month, for bimonthly service for ants, spiders, other crawling insects, rats and mice. Minor exclusion work ("quick fix") has no additional charge, but for more involved work, there is added charge.

The service plan includes spraying the base of the house, edges of sidewalks and fence lines, as well as taking down spider webs. "If they need service inside the home we will come in and do that," he added. And there is no extra charge if the homeowner needs them to come out between regular service visits.

Baker emphasized that the products his company uses all carry EPA regulation numbers, which means they are tested and approved for use by the state of California.


Tips for you

Baker noted that the homeowner can do a lot to help prevent invasion by pests such as mice and rats.

First, check the doors leading to the outside of your home and the door leading from the home to the garage. "If you can stick a pencil under the door and move it around easily, it's a perfect entry for mice, which can flatten themselves out," he said. These entry points should be blocked.

You should also cut back tree branches that touch your home or overhang the house, eliminate lines that allow access to the roof and block entry points under your eaves. He said rats can climb walls, but if they have to go upside down to get around an overhang, it makes it much tougher for them.

Baker said it is very important to keep your garage door closed after dark, and he offered a personal example. One night, his wife left the garage door on their Castaic home open for only 20 minutes. "And it took me two weeks to trap out seven rats that got in," he said.

When it comes to rats and mice, Baker said he prefers trapping.

However, sometimes you have to use poison bait. And, when you do, occasionally, the animals will die in the walls, and you get the smell and, later, big flies hatching out.


Pantry pests

While most homeowners probably have experienced "pantry pests" (those bugs that show up in your flour or rice, etc.) they may not realize there is at least one preventive measure you can take. Baker said whenever he purchases these food sources, he puts them in his freezer for a minimum of 48 hours before the food goes in the pantry.

"This will kill anything in there," he said.



Baker said that ants, especially those Argentine ants, sometimes come into your home "for no rhyme or reason." Sometimes, they want sweet food, sometimes protein food, sometimes water and sometimes they are just passing through. But you should try to eliminate food sources for them.

"The ants started coming out pretty strong a couple weeks ago," he noted. "We've been getting a lot of bee swarms, too, and people need to really be aware of it. We know Africanized bees are already in L.A. County."



"German cockroaches are the big ones found in the house," Baker said. "Sanitation has a lot to do with it. Clean up so you don't leave food out." But he added that roaches can get into your home in many ways, such as inside a bag of potatoes. Roaches can be controlled with baits and growth regulators.



Spiders are beneficial in eating other insect pests. But Baker said people don't like seeing their webs and they don't like having black widows around.

He added that brown widows are also found in the SCV and also poisonous. The black widow's egg sack is rounded, while the brown widow's egg sack is spiky, "like an asteroid."

"The spiders have been pretty bad all year because of a lack of rain and the lack of a hard freeze," he said.


Bed bugs

Baker also discussed bed bugs. He said they are an increasing problem that is expected to get much worse.

"They have a resistance to a lot of the chemicals," he said. You can pick them up in hotels or at the airport, via your baggage and even your jacket. "You have to be more careful where you go these days."

He said you need to prevent these bugs from getting into your home because getting rid of them isn't easy.

"Chemical treatments work, but you have to be thorough," he said.

This might take 30 days, and you can never guarantee you have eliminated all of them. It might require "tenting" your home, as fumigation will kill all the bugs and their eggs.


Other critters

Beyond the "typical" pests, there are many more creatures that can cause you problems. Critter Busters is a local company that offers all types of pest control services but specializes in rodents and animal control.

"We do everything but termites," said Denise Craig, the general manager. And she added that her employees are licensed through the California Department of Fish and Game for live trapping.

Craig said that rats and mice are considered commensal, in that they "live off humans, almost." For keeping these and other animals away, the less inviting you make things, the better.

She echoed Baker's advice on keeping rats out of your home and added, "Don't leave dog food out. And keep your trash cans sealed and closed."

She noted that bird feeders will attract unwanted animals as well.

Keeping plants away from the structure of your home will help and Craig said keeping plants trimmed nine to 12 inches up from the ground is beneficial, too. "It removes the safe harborage for the animals," she said.

Craig said every pest situation is different, and that the "average" visit for gophers, ground squirrels or meadow mice could be from $85 "on up." Trapping of rats and mice inside walls could run $250 to $300 and take two to three weeks.

Live trapping of larger animals is on a case by case basis and depends on the type of trap needed. Excluding coyotes, the cost might be $350 for the first week and $250 for additional weeks, if necessary.

Coyotes must be humanely trapped as well. But Craig said this is much more difficult to accomplish than with other animals. It can take longer and cost more.



Gophers can be a major headache for homeowners. Their mounds can ruin the aesthetics of a well-kept landscape and cause severe plant damage as they feed on roots. Their burrows pose personal liability problems to homeowners, as people can injure their ankles in rough, uneven areas

Additionally, burrowing activity may lead to irrigation problems, excessive water use and erosion problems. On slopes this can be particularly menacing as erosion can help contribute to slope instability and failure.

"Our biggest call is for gophers," Craig said. "We do a lot of gopher work in the Santa Clarita Valley." Critter Busters treats gophers using burrow fumigants and toxic bait placement. Craig noted that bait must be applied underground (by the homeowner, as well) as the label indicates, otherwise pets, children and other wild animals could be harmed.



Craig said ground squirrels can be eliminated without any restrictions, but tree squirrels are considered a game species and require a special fish and game permit to remove - and then the permit is usually for one, particular, problem animal and it has to be shown that the squirrel taken was the one actually causing property damage.


Live trapping

Raccoons, skunks and possums require live trapping. Critter Busters uses no repellents or poison baits for fur bearing animals. The wire mesh traps vary in size, depending on the animal sought. Craig said that raccoons can occasionally be "trap shy" and you might have to get the animal used to getting food out of the trap before you set it.

Craig said the standard live trapping period is five business days, with additional time at additional cost.

But Critter Busters usually gets the animal within the first five days.



While snakes will sometimes invade yards, they are beneficial in eating rodents - and only the poisonous snakes represent a real problem. Craig said her company will remove snakes but that the snakes are usually gone by the time her employees arrive.



Craig said that only three types of birds can be "removed." These are pigeons, starlings and sparrows. Craig's company does "bird exclusions," which is really behavior modification, induced by adding such things as spikes or netting to keep the birds away.

Bees and wasps

Craig said that wild bees are not protected. There are no regulations about removing them. She said that Africanized bees tend to make their hives in lower spots, such as irrigation boxes, while European honey bees prefer voids in walls.

"Bee work is always interesting," Craig said. "Each situation is different." Sometimes you just plug holes, spray and remove the bees when they are dead. But sometimes beehive extraction inside a wall can be difficult. The cost for eliminating bees can really fluctuate depending on the access and location, Craig said. It can run from $185 to $600.

Craig said the type of wasps usually found under the eaves of a home are paper wasps. However, sometimes the nests can be in attics. Treatment is spraying and removal of the nest.


More on ants

Craig agreed with baker about Argentine ants, but offered some additional information. She explained that Argentine ant colonies can grow to monumental sizes. Their colony borders sometimes cover entire habitats. Argentine ants deposit trails continuously, instead of just from nest to food source. This habit ensures they do not waste time visiting the same area for food.

"They prefer to eat sweets but they will eat almost anything including meats, eggs, oils and fats. Cracks and crevices around pipes and where wires enter the home should be caulked/closed to keep ants out," Craig said.

Clark Pest Control is located at 26764 Oak Ave., Canyon Country, CA 91351. Call 661-255-2253 for information. For more information about Critter Busters, visit Call 800-273-6059.



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