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Household Insect Pests

Household insect pests have developed in part from the availability of food sources. Just as the Colorado Potato Beetle populations exploded when potatoes were planted in large acreage, pests in households also flourished with the storage of dried organic material in houses, such as grains, flour, dried fruits, and even dried dog food.

Some common insect pests in households:

-- Carpet Beetles. These tiny insects are quite destructive in the larval stage on nearly anything organic. Heavily infested food should be discarded. Lightly infested food may be frozen for a few days and then used. Pantry shelves should be vacuumed and cleaned thoroughly. Carpet beetles also infest carpets, of course.

-- Pantry Moths. There are several kinds of moths that appear in pantries to feed on all kinds of stored foods, the Indian Meal Moth perhaps being the most common. They may be controlled to some extent by using sticky trap boxes that contain pheromones as attractants.

-- Silverfish. These insects are a wingless, primitive type that live in areas of moderate humidity and darkness. They are a particular threat to paper and paper products, and the glue used in book and magazine production. Silverfish are able to extract nutrients from the cellulose fibers in paper products.

-- Cockroaches. There are thousands of cockroach species in the world, but only a handful that are pests. Control measures commonly involve sprays or dusts. Sprays are easier to apply, but dust will get into tight areas where cockroaches live. Control is enhanced if one cleans the area before applying chemicals.

-- Termites. This group of insects is the least commonly seen of all the household pests. They infest wood, and must rely on protozoa and bacteria in their guts to break down the cellulose of the wood. Recent studies indicate that termite digestion produces large quantities of methane gas (as flatulence), which, because of the large numbers of termites, affects world ecosystems.

-- Bed Bugs. Fortunately, bed bugs are no longer common as pests in households in the United States. In earlier decades, these blood-suckers were an annoying problem, and would also be found in the seats of trains, trolley cars and theaters. The origin of bed bugs appears to be from parasitism on bats in caves. The movement of early humans into caves occupied by bats started the association with bed bugs that bothered humans for many centuries.

-- Carpenter Ants. The Black Carpenter Ant, Camponotus pennsvlvanicus, is a problem in many households in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeastern United States. They originate from large nests in dead or dying trees, then enter houses to start secondary nests, usually in walls. Sometimes homeowners are alerted to their presence by the sight of small piles of sawdust. Blockage of entry places and the use of baits will usually control these large pests.

-- Clothes Moths. Adults of this species do not feed, but damage to clothes is caused by the larvae, which avoid light and live inside silken cases or webs. Wool, hair, fur and feathers are eaten. Dry cleaning kills the larvae, and storage in airtight boxes or bags will protect clothes.

Selected References:

Cotton, R. T. 1943. Insect Pests of Stored Grain and Grain Products. Burgess, Minneapolis.

Gordon, D. G. 1996. The Complete Cockroach. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California.

Turpin, F. Tom. 1992. The Insect Appreciation Digest. The Entomological Foundation, Lanham, Maryland.

 

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Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology, Entomology Section,
National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
Smithsonian Institution

Information Sheet Number 166

5/99

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