The Five-Point Guide To: Pests
Every month, we run a Five-Point Guide, a quick, handy tool to help deal with city life. This time, we tell you how to identify and get rid of the five most common household pests.
How to identify them: Roaches are motivated by stale food and water and have an affinity for dirty kitchens, sinks, trash cans and drainage pipes. Our homes tend to be infested by the peanut-sized (.51 inches to .63 inches) German species (the American species is larger and capable of flight, but mostly inhabits gutters). German cockroaches are mostly active by night when they forage for food and water; during the day, they hide in dark and humid environments. If you spot them in the daytime, it suggests that there is a heavy population of them close at hand. Roaches are not social insects but if you find them in groups, that also indicates that infestation is high. If a neighbour complains of a roach problem, it’s likely to spread to nearby apartments.
Where to find them: Cockroaches inhabit the trash disposal area, dark crevices and corners in kitchen cabinets, gaps in walls, the area under the sink, exposed water pipes, wooden furniture and pipes around the stove.
How to get rid of them: Cockroaches are averse to cleanliness. Give your kitchen a thorough wipe down before you retire for the day. Place overstuffed garbage cans outside the door and don’t leave unwashed dishes in the sink. Exterminators resort to assorted poisons that vary from toxic sprays to herbal gels and powders to poisoned dough. “It’s better to entice them with a food-based poison,” says Jaspal Singh, founder of pest control company, Marvel Pest India. “Pesticides can provide temporary relief but tend to be less effective as roaches build resistance to them. They also tend to drive cockroaches out of one home and into neighbouring apartments.”
How to identify them: This microscopic pest feeds on human blood and is the trickiest to identify. The best way to judge if you have them is through itchy welts on the body and tiny blood stains on bedsheets. Nymphs are translucent and almost undetectable. An adult bug grows to the size of an apple seed and is generally dark red or brown in colour, but can still be hard to identify by an untrained eye. They mostly feed at night and a good way to tell if you have them is to lay the bed with white sheets and pillow casings. Bedbugs change appearance according to their life stages. To help spot them, see photos on bedbugger.com.
Where to find them: Bedbugs hide in sofas, dressers, frames and beds. They have a predilection for dark crevices, cracks in wood, fabric, suitcases, bags and other tiny nooks.
How to get rid of them: Avoid purchasing second hand mattresses and furniture. Clothes should be washed and laundered regularly especially if you commute by public transport. Mattresses should be dusted daily and bedding should be washed and changed frequently. “We apply chemical sprays or hot-water sprays over the bed lining, wooden headboards and in the storage space enclosed within beds,” says Narendra Kumar Samal, an exterminator with pest control firm, Jardine Henderson Limited. “The three-day treatment involves the use of larvicide.”
How to identify them: Termites are generally white, almost translucent, live in colonies and inhabit damp wood. Telltale signs include tiny holes in the woodwork or little piles of sawdust-like powder on the bottom and corners of wooden wardrobes, shelves and cabinets. Darkened or blistering wood that crumbles at touch is also an indication of termite infestation.
Where to find them: Termites thrive in damp conditions and are generally found in water pipes, around still water, where leaks occur, in electric cables and in cracks and crevices in the flooring.
How to get rid of them: “The problem can be quite severe so we offer a three-fold solution, which involves spraying moisture-prone areas with pesticide, sprinkling cellulose-based material such as wood, paper and dry leaves with wood preservative pesticides and lastly regular pest control, which we do twice a year,” Samal says.
How to identify them: The easiest way to tell if you have a rat or mouse is if you find black pellets or droppings around the house. “Mice also need to sharpen their teeth regularly, much like humans need to trim their nails, so expect to find gnaw marks on food, fruit, packaging and other objects lying about the kitchen,” Singh says.
Where to find them: Mice gravitate towards kitchens. They travel through drainage pipes and can enter homes through bamboos erected during building repairs. In compounds, they can be found in circular holes or burrows with a pile of mud chucked up on the side. They’re extremely shy and mostly venture out when they sense no imminent threat.
How to get rid of them: Drainage pipes in housing societies and air conditioning ducts need to be sealed with steel guards. You could install window grills or purchase rodent traps. “Poison bating techniques (mixing an undetectable poison with food) are quite effective, as are ultrasound machines, which emit a frequency that mice find jarring and makes them flee,” says Singh. “Some people also use glue traps to capture rodents, but that doesn’t kill them.” If all else fails, get a cat. Mice are really scared of them, because if presented with the opportunity, most cats will hunt them.
How to identify them: Female mosquitoes have a battery of sensors to detect human blood. They tend to swarm around people or “hosts” to feed, as they need human blood in order to develop eggs. Mosquito bites can be felt instantly and result in painful welts on the body. Male mosquitoes are nectar feeders and not common to homes.
Where to find them: The bloodsucking species is a carrier of a host of diseases (of which, malaria transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, is most prominent) and is active year round in tropical climates. Swarms of mosquitoes can be found around mangrove swamps, over stagnant water and around exposed drains and sewage disposal areas. Anywhere that you can see road construction, pot holes, and ditches filled with water—which in a city like Mumbai is pretty much everywhere—there’s likely to be swarms of mosquitoes.
How to get rid of them: “There are dime-a-dozen mosquito repellents including sprays, creams, vaporisers, and bug-zappers that provide temporary relief, but do not eradicate the menace,” says Samal. The most effective way to deal with rampant infestations is an area-wise fumigation, which can only be done by the BMC.