The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Spring fling of early season insects

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

They're baaaack. Those bumbling bugs and buzzing bees; tiny ants and teeny gnats. As soon as the weather warms insects awaken looking for love in all the wrong places.

Our night lights attract all kinds of insects looking for a sweetie. Indian meal moths can be common night time companions. They are 3/8 inch grayish brown moths whose caterpillars infest grain products. These are not the same moths that attack clothing. Caterpillars are white and spin silken threads throughout and over the surface of food. When full-grown, caterpillars migrate out of the food source often across walls and ceilings to make silken cocoons in cracks and crevices. A few days later adult moths emerge from the cocoons. The complete life cycle from egg to adult moth takes one to two months.

Indian meal moth larvae are general feeders on dried fruit, crackers, nuts, powdered milk, cake mixes, candies, pasta, bird seed, dried pet food, and craft projects. Adult Indian meal moths do not feed.

To prevent infestation by Indian meal moths and other pantry pests:

  • Inspect food for possible infestation when it's first brought home.
  • Freeze grain products for at least 3 days after purchase.
  • Grain products should be stored in air-tight containers, pressure-sealed jars with rubber gaskets or in the freezer. If possible, remove the original cardboard package.
  • Dry pet food and bird seed should be stored in heavy plastic containers with tight sealing lids.
  • Don't store grain products for over a year. If you haven't used it by now, you never will.
  • Keep cupboard shelves clean.

Fungus gnats or gall making gnats can also be found now in large numbers indoors and outdoors. These gnats can be so tiny that they fit through window screens. Those out-of-this-world looking clouds of fungus gnats can be seen hovering in fields and along roadsides. These gnats are mainly a short term nuisance and do not warrant control.

The Asian multicolored lady beetles have awakened from their winter retreats inside walls. They are now looking for a way outside. Help them out or give them a roller coaster ride in the vacuum cleaner. Write "caulk cracks and crevices around home" on your "to do" list to keep them out this fall.

Caulking will also help to keep ants such as the tiny odorous house ant out of our homes. This ant gets its name from the unpleasant smell it emits when it's crushed. They like to eat sweets so good sanitation is important. Wipe counters regularly with soapy water. They nest in soil under stones, boards, patio blocks and nearly any other object lying on the ground. They can nest in homes in wall voids, under floors and even in potted plants.

Spraying a pesticide on the occasional ant foraging for food is only temporary and has little impact. However spraying may be useful for seasonal ant problems when ants enter from outside nests. Indoor sprays include chemicals such as mint oil, cyfluthrin or permethrin. Be sure a pesticide is labeled for indoor use. Read, understand, and follow all label directions. Baits containing boric acid can also be useful. For long term ant control the nest should be found and treated.

Recently I have received several calls about ground nesting bees emerging in swarms in lawns. There are several different species of ground nesting bees. Since they are considered beneficial as important pollinators and predators, we generally recommend a live-and-let-live attitude. Most of these bees are not aggressive. If their nests are in a high traffic area such as a playground, control may be warranted. These bees like to nest where vegetation is sparse so plant more grass or groundcovers to keep them away from certain areas.

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