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Sharing your home with nature

Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not. A raccoon or squirrel in your attic, a bird in your dryer vent, or a fly on the window are generally accidental entries, where the animal was enticed or tricked into entering your home and then couldn’t find its way out. But what about the other critters who choose our homes as a safe haven, some for a short while and others for long periods of time?

Many bees, wasps and their allies will nest in wall voids. Cluster flies will come in during the autumn and then try to find their way out in the spring. Likewise, many ladybugs will do the same. Rats and mice, always unwelcome, invade our homes through the tiniest cracks and may live here for months undetected!

Ants will sneak into all corners of a home, as incidental pests seeking sugars or as destructive ones eating the very structure of the house (e.g. carpenter ants). The loosely related termite, albeit not present here in North Durham and the Kawarthas, can be devastatingly destructive where it is found. If we live in urban settings, we might anticipate, cockroaches and bedbugs could share our homes. As unsavoury as this sounds, it is a real problem; and these creatures actually choose these environs, as they provide food and shelter.

Spiders, centipedes, millipedes, nematodes, sowbugs, pillbugs, and so much more live in dark, damp corners and basements. Sometimes carpet beetles, clothes moths and silverfish live in our darkest corners as well.

Dust mites are among the most common and annoying pests, at least to those with allergies. These almost invisible, tiny invertebrates live in virtually every home, quietly cleaning the little bits of ourselves we leave behind. We shed hundreds of thousands of skin cells daily, and these little guys thrive on that. Perhaps if they didn’t, we’d really see a difference because the accumulations of these cells would be surprisingly robust. According to medical experts, these mites don’t bite or suck on our skin, nor do they sting us. They just quietly nibble on our personal sheddings. If we do react, it’s not to them directly but rather to dust from their feces and decaying bodies. These allergens are not airborne but settle on our mattresses, bedsheets, carpets and pillows, and it is then our greatest exposures through inhalation occur.

So what should we do about all these critters who share our homes? Well, frankly, our reaction should be quite variable. Suppose a pest is a disease carrier or destructive to our households, such as rats, carpenter ants, termites and the like. In that case, they should be expelled promptly, in whatever safe manner we can find. This may involve trapping, exclusion or poisoning, but always consult a professional first.

If it is a seasonal pest which we perceive as a nuisance by its very presence (e.g. ladybugs or cluster flies), try to tolerate them. Just leave them alone, and they will likely hide and eventually die as they try to escape our homes.

If it is a moth, cricket or another large insect, try to catch it carefully and set it free outside. The easiest way to do this is to place a glass over the insect, and, when it is caught, slide a piece of paper under the glass, trapping the bug inside and then carry it all to the door and set it free.

If it is a pest of food or clothing, then you have no alternative but to try to remove it or kill it. Things like silverfish are small and very secretive, and most people don’t even know they have them. They usually eat the same stuff as the mites; our castings, so generally, just ignore them. The biggest challenge is trying to be tolerant of centipedes, millipedes and spiders. These are all predators, so if they’re alive, you have something else they’re eating. Remove them, and maybe you won’t like the consequences. Sometimes it’s good to share our home, and sometimes not, but please always be tolerant first!

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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