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Vanquishing Household Pests

A few thoughts on taking on legions of tiny, unwanted invaders.


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Underscoring the inevitability of an armed standoff with household pests is Jake ('98), who says, "I paid a obscene amount of money to live on (Boston's) Beacon Hill, just to wake up every morning surrounded by a platoon of roaches."

The odds are tremendous that, at some point in your life, you too will live somewhere, urban, suburban or rural, in which you will be left no choice but to go toe to toe with some form of unwanted vermin.

I myself suffered a concerted ant/mouse invasion at my previous apartment about a year ago. I came home from work to find the kitchen floor covered with black dots, most of which were ants, many of which came from the inside of a mouse -- or many mice. We weren't sure. So we did what any fools would do, we filled the kitchen with Country Scent Raid (the trace of potpourri scent making it seem all the more toxic), laughed at the carnage, and damn near asphyxiated ourselves in the process.

The ants had been routed, leaving the floor looking like a miniature rendering of Antietam. We were reasonably certain that they invaded in search of food, which at that point was all over our notoriously filthy apartment. So we swept up the ants, opened the windows and cleaned up every morsel of food left out in the open. From there on out, the ants never returned.

Out of our respect for its lightening speed and wile, we opted not to pursue the mouse, being of the mind that as long as it didn't make much of a mess, or foul our foodstuffs, we'd leave him be. This lasted exactly one week, before the mouse somehow managed to get into the cabinet, and ate clean through a package of Rice-o-Roni. Then he ejected the contents, anally, all over the countertop. We held a meeting, and decided the mouse was no longer welcome in our home. Something had do be done.

So we bought glue and conventional mousetraps and scattered them all over the house. The only thing they caught was my roommate's foot. Though the mouse did manage to eat all of the bait without engaging the trap or getting stuck in the glue. At wit's end I chased the beast down the hall with a hammer, but it was much faster than I.

Finally, we moved out. The mouse, to the best of my knowledge, is still in the house.

You needn't suffer the same fate we did. To save you the frustration and futility of a poorly executed vermin hunt, we've done some research that should be of use to anyone in a similar predicament, whether you're facing ants, mice or roaches.

Ants

Ants invade for two reasons: for food and, in drier parts of the country, for water. Track the paths of the ants to see which they are interested in, and cut off their supply. Clean up food and seal packages. Then set traps inside and out, and use bait (any chemical that ants mistake for food, bring back to the nest and kill off a number of comrades) as a proactive measure. If the ants are entering in search of water, you can buy liquid bait for the same result. Barring a full-bore infestation (in which case you may need to call an exterminator), this should take care of the problem.

Roaches

As you may well know, roaches are able to reproduce faster than we can catch them. Consequently a more aggressive campaign is required. Historically the most popular measure is spraying, but even that can be ineffective considering how quickly roaches are able to develop a resistance to the various products. Thus, the best way to kill them isn't to try to overtly poison them, but to trick them into believing the poison is food. There are a number of professional-grade baits out there that, because of the taste and smell, roaches find irresistible. Supplement these baits with roach traps. These use roach pheromones to attract the hornier bugs. Monitoring the traps will give you a good idea where the bulk of the bugs hang out, making it easier to bait the hotspots and kill the most roaches.

Mice

Though less physically fortified and fertile than roaches, mice are very savvy. Let it be known right off, the number one attractant for rodents is birdseed and pet food, due to the sizeable amount of nutrients in both. Hence, getting a cat to hunt the mouse is a bad idea, since more of the mouse's cronies will be attracted by the presence of the cat food required to maintain the cat. Also complicating matters is the fact that removing the source of food will do nothing to keep the mouse from returning. They are creatures of habit and will keep returning, eventually adapting to the new situation.

So the key is to trap them as they return for the food. Use it like you'd use the bait for ants and roaches. If you know what and where they're eating, you know the most highly trafficked area, and can focus your efforts there. Set glue traps, snap traps or more humane alternatives, and bait them with food and/or mouse poison. Once you catch a mouse, dispose of it immediately. If other mice see it before you do, they will stay away from both the bait and the trap, and you'll be forced to start all over again. If you catch a live one and don't have the heart to off it yourself, be sure to drive it at least 5 miles away. Otherwise it will find its way back.

Next, search the space for any openings and entrances the mice might be using. Check next to radiator pipes or any other hole in walls floor or ceiling. When you find them, plug them with copper wool. It won't rust, and the animal can't chew through it.

There are also ultrasonic devices you can buy that emit a hideous noise that mice find unbearable. It is inaudible to humans, and works well to fend off any rodents that might otherwise be tempted to invade your personal space.

eGrad's Joe Keohane currently lives in a vermin-free apartment in Boston.

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