The holidays are here and you are once again dragging down those big, heavy cardboard boxes out of the attic or garage to decorate. Shortly afterward you start to see some “bugs” in your nice clean home. What are they? Where did they come from? What can be done? Here are the three most common insect pests we see this time of the year and how to prevent them.
#1 – Booklice (aka psocids)
First, Booklice are not true lice so they will not bite you. Do not worry about that. They are small insects that feed on the mold that grows on things like old flour, insulation, paper, or cardboard. Have you ever tried to cook something and after you poured out the flour you saw tiny little specs about 1mm long crawling out of the flour? That was probably booklice.
They get their name because, before modern air conditioning, microscopic mold would grow on paper books, which was the perfect food source for these insects to eat. It was common to open a book in a non-air conditioned library and see dozens of booklice scurry away.
Booklice do not live well when there is less than 50% relative humidity. Thanks to modern air-conditioning, most people never see booklice anymore. This time of year is the main exception. Garages and attics air typically not air-conditioned and the humidity is high which creates the perfect environment for booklice populations to explode. We unknowing bring down all our boxes of decorations (and uninvited guests) and set them down in our living room. Now the problem is everywhere.
How do you get rid of booklice? First, get rid of as much cardboard as possible. Store items in your garage or attic in plastic bins. Prevention goes a long way here. If you do bring booklice indoors, repeat vacuuming is the best option. Insecticide sprays will work on contact, but so does a vacuum. Don’t worry if you miss any booklice, the lower humidity indoors will kill any you miss in a couple days.
#2 – Silverfish
These ugly little prehistoric insects have changed very little over millions of years. They also love humid cardboard. They feed on the starches in the paper and the glue. Plus, all those tiny little cracks and crevices are perfect hiding places for them.
Silverfish can cause damage to paper, fabrics, and other materials if the population gets high, but are mostly just a pest that we don’t want to see in our home. Control is the same as with booklice. Silverfish will die on contact with most insecticides, but a vacuum kills on contact too. Most importantly, get rid of all that cardboard!
#3 – Stored Product Pests
I grouped all these pests together because control is the same for all of them. Stored product pests include a variety of beetles and moths that will infest grains, pasta, flour, pet food or other foods in your pantry.
Why are these so common around the holidays? Well, we love to make decorations out of food and save it for next year. Children’s macaroni art, Indian corn, cookie-dough ornaments, popcorn garland, and dried flowers are all great food sources for Stored Product Pests. Not to mention we then usually put them in a nice humid cardboard box in the attic until next year. These are the perfect conditions for Stored Product Pests to multiply.
What can you do? Eliminate the source. That is the only control of stored product pests. You will not get control by only spraying insecticides or vacuuming the adults that walk around. Less than 10% of the population are the adult pests that you see. Over 90% are still eggs or larvae that live in the source. Until you find and eliminate all the sources, the problem will come back.
Throw away any potential sources that are of no value to you. However, you do not have to throw away those priceless cookie-dough ornaments or macaroni art that your little Picasso made. Placing items in a freezer for four days will kill even the eggs. Next, store any of these items in air-tight plastic bins for future years. Even if a few Stored Product Pests sneak into one bin, this will also help keep them from spreading to other items in other bins.
Throw away your cardboard boxes! Cardboard is a big problem when we talk about pest control. I know plastic bins can get expensive, but that is the best prevention to protect your decorations and peace of mind this time of year. If possible, storing items in air-conditioned areas will also make it more difficult for these insects to survive. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!