Gardening season is coming to a close, but we’re still getting calls on our Response Line at the Shawnee County Extension Office.
The calls change throughout the season as issues change. We haven’t received a call on tomatoes in weeks. Tree calls still come in with some regularity, while lawn questions are almost daily.
An issue that seems to be cropping up in these cooler days is insects inside homes. Although many insects can invade your home with malicious intent — or so we perceive — many are simply lost travelers.
Pillbugs, ants and ground beetles are the insects we’re seeing now. One may require removal, while the other two need a map and compass.
Pillbugs and sowbugs — or as everyone I know says, roly polys — are a common crustacean 5 to 8mms long. Their color changes with age; they can be brown, gray or black. Sowbugs differ in their small, almost tail-like appendages that pillbugs lack. Sowbugs also can’t roll themselves into a ball like pillbugs can.
Each of these crustaceans needs moisture, because they can’t control moisture loss from their bodies. Both also feed on decaying matter. Occasionally, they may feed on stems and roots of young seedlings. Neither insect is a serious problem in your home. Because they don’t live long without water, a broom and dust pan are the needed tools to resolve this issue.
Most people know an ant when they see one. The confusion arises when the ant you’re seeing has wings like a termite’s. Ants have a large top wing and a small bottom segment, while termites have two large wing segments on each side. Termite antennae come straight out of their heads, while ant antennae come out — a small segment — and then jut to the outside. Ants have a visible waist, while termite bodies are thick all the way through.
Although termites are a much more serious pest, ants aren’t wanted in the home either. Ants come into your home seeking food and water. Once they find it, they leave a chemical trail for the rest of the family to join. This trail can be treated, but the ants will find another pathway.
Spraying the nest with an insecticide labeled for ants will kill the inhabitants, but finding the outside nest is difficult. In your home, baits and sanitation are the best options. Keeping counters and floors clean and eliminating food sources help discourage an invasion. If they persist, a bait — found in your local hardware store — is a good way to kill the nest.
The ants may increase with the initial bait, because they see it as food to take back to their queen. But putting out more will eventually stop them.
If you’re still seeing ants, try a different brand of bait, because some ants have different tastes.
“Ground beetle” is a generic term applied to more than 3,100 different species found in North America. The two most common species, Harpalus pensylvanica and Harpalus caliginosus, are often found congregating near buildings and dwellings. They move inside, because they are attracted to light.
H. pensylvanica is ½ to 2/3 inch long and has a reddish-brown underbody and legs.
It is a predatory beetle, meaning it eats other insects, and is considered beneficial. H. caliginosusis entirely black, ¾ to 1 inch long and feeds on seeds. It can be considered a pest in that regard.
Both beetles are annoying indoors. They can be numerous and constant. It is possible to seal the cracks they use to come indoors, although it could be time consuming to find each entry. A perimeter spray is another option, but it may not provide complete control.
Unlike some, these beetles don’t pose any health threat. They don’t chew or stain fabrics, and they don’t contaminate foods. As with pillbugs and the sowbugs, a broom or vacuum for disposal is the best action.
No matter the insect, read all pesticide labels completely and follow their directions exactly. It’s always the best horticultural practice to properly identify pests, diseases or weeds before using any chemical control. Using chemicals without proper identification can be harmful to beneficial insects and the environment.
If you need help identifying any of the above mentioned insects or others, contact your local Extension office.
Ariel Whitely is the horticulture agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension.