Keep Pests From Haunting The House This Halloween

f you watch the local news, you may have seen the pest control industry got a fair amount of attention this fall since the overwintering pests like stink bugs caused more than their fair share of trouble (and are likely to continue to do so in the spring). It’s always good to have a reminder about the important steps you can take to pest-proof your home each season.  Check out a our recent press release below.


Knoxville, TN, October 2013 – Ghosts, goblins, and witches won’t be the only creatures trying to spook homeowners this Halloween. Russell’s Pest Control advises people to be on the lookout for real-life ghoulish pests lurking around neighborhoods, including rodents, bats and spiders.

“As the temperature continues to drop, many of these creepy critters will seek respite from the winter chill – often within the confines our homes,” said Mark Nadolski, Owner/General Manager for the Russell’s Pest Control. “Once inside, rodents and other pests can do more than just provide their fair share of scares. They are capable of contaminating food, spreading disease and posing a threat to our property.”

Rodents can spread salmonella and hantavirus and create fire hazards by gnawing through electrical wires in the home. Bats are frequent carriers of rabies, which is potentially fatal if left untreated, and some species of spiders can administer a painful bite when disturbed.

To keep these pests from haunting the house this Halloween, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) recommends the following tips:

  • Seal any cracks or crevices with caulk and steel wool. Pay special attention to holes in the structure that lead to dark secluded areas, like attics and belfries.

  • Screen attic vents and openings to chimney.

  • Install door sweeps on exterior doors and repair damaged screens.

  • Eliminate sources of moisture, especially in crawl spaces and basements.

  • Inspect items such as boxes, grocery bags and other packages brought into the home.

  • Store food in airtight containers and dispose of garbage regularly.

  • If you suspect a pest infestation in your home, contact a licensed pest professional to inspect and treat the pest problem.

For more information on common household pests and how to protect your home, please contact us today!

Parasitic Wasps And Zombie Caterpillars: A Halloween Chronicle

In keeping with tradition, it’s time to take a break from our typical timely pest control advice to check out a creepy critter for Halloween (see previous Halloween posts here and there). This post is not for the faint of heart (or stomach), but read on if you want to know more about carnivorous larvae and zombie caterpillars.

There is actually an entire family of wasps with the common name Parasitic Wasps. These creatures can vary widely is size, behavior, and habitat, but they all have one thing in common: They all begin their lives by chewing their way through another creature.

Our parasitic wasps of choice for today are found in the caterpillar wasp family. These wasps find a vulnerable caterpillar minding its own business on a plant somewhere. They then use a hollow, sharpened spine on their back ends to puncture the skin of the caterpillar and lay one or more eggs inside the caterpillar’s body. Over a few days or weeks, the eggs hatch, and wasp larvae emerge. Luckily for them, they are surrounded by a convenient food source! These wasps literally begin to eat their host caterpillar from the inside out. By the time they have consumed enough of their food source to break through to the air, the young wasps are old enough to survive outside the protection of the caterpillar’s body. They can move on, eventually maturing into full- sized wasps that can repeat the procedure all over again. Of course, the caterpillar doesn’t survive to see the wasps grow up and fly away.

This process would be creepy enough on its own, but all sorts of crazy variations can be found in this system. For instance, some plants produce a chemical that, when combined with caterpillar saliva, attracts parasitic wasps in droves. The plants are saved from becoming a meal for the caterpillars because the caterpillars become a meal for someone else.

These wild wasps also have unexpected connections to zombie lore. For instance, some wasps inject a special virus into the caterpillar when they lay their eggs. This virus hijacks the caterpillar’s immune system so that it can’t attack the wasp larvae before they can hatch and take over their host.

In an even weirder twist, some parasitic wasps can actually “brainwash” the caterpillar host to protect the young wasps when they emerge. In those cases, the wasps do not consume enough of the host caterpillar to kill it when they hatch. Upon reaching the open air, the wasp larvae quickly spin cocoons so that they can complete their life cycle and emerge as adult wasps. The poor caterpillar then stands guard over the cocoons and thrashes to try to ward off other creatures that could potentially harm the developing wasps. The caterpillar typically doesn’t survive long enough to see the wasps emerge from their cocoons, but it will stay on as a zombie guard until it eventually expires.

In good news, pest control experts and homeowners in Knoxville and surrounding counties needn’t fear parasitic wasps and zombie caterpillars. It’s very unlikely you’ll ever even see one of these, much less see one in your home. But, if you do happen to come across a caterpillar in your house that’s groaning and says it wants to eat brains… well, go ahead and give Russell’s Pest Control a call. We’ll do what we can to help.

Black Widow Spiders: The Ultimate Halloween Pest

Since it’s October, we’ve decided to continue our tradition of introducing you to a creepy beastie. Last year’s house centipede was alarming, but now let’s look at what may be the most widely-recognized “bug” in North America. Today, we’ll discuss facts about black widow spiders and what homeowners in Knoxville and the surrounding counties need to know about keeping themselves safe.

Probably almost all of our readers have at least seen a picture of a black widow. But, just as a review, you can identify a black widow by its bulbous, round body that is shiny, black, and hairless. They have thin, jointed legs, which are also hairless. Adult black widow spiders have that tell-tale hour glass on their stomachs, which is most famously known to be red but can also be orange, yellow, or even white. We are also seeing a rise of brown widows, which obviously have a different body color but usually still have a bright spot on their stomachs. Black widows prefer to make their webs near to the ground where they will not be disturbed. The webbing is extremely dense and messy; clearing it away with a broom may be difficult because the silk is so strong and sticky.

Black widows are one of the only two dangerous spiders in our area. Although brown recluses are probably more famous for their dangerous bites, pest professionals like those at Russell’s Pest Control consider the black widow to be more of a threat. They can be quite aggressive, particularly when guarding their eggs. Unlike recluses, who produce a toxin that attacks skin cells, black widow spiders produce a neurotoxin. A neurotoxin is a poison that affects the nervous system. This means that the location of the bite itself may show only mild symptoms, but other side effects could be more problematic. Additional symptoms of a black widow bite include nausea, fever, and severe muscle cramps, particularly in the abdomen. Despite the possible severity of these symptoms, black widow bites are very rarely fatal in the U.S. and usually only require observation by a doctor for a day or two.

So, you don’t want to meet a black widow…what should you do? Unfortunately, widows are very common in East Tennessee and are most likely to be found by homeowners in stored items or debris around the property. The crevices in wood piles make great homes for widows as do boxes that are rarely opened in the garage. Keep your wood piles well away from the house, and always wear long sleeves and gloves if you’re going to haul wood to burn inside. In addition, keeping your garage as tidy as possible will also deter black widows from settling at your house. If you’re going to clean out your garage and move old boxes, always wear gloves to protect yourself.

Generally, the position of a good pest control company is that spiders should be preserved because they serve such a crucial role in nature. However, black widows around your house are dangerous, and Russell’s does not recommend that you view them as good neighbors. If you find a black widow at your house, kill it (use a closed-toed shoe, not a paper towel or broom). Widows reproduce very rapidly and can easily have around 350 eggs in one sac. If you think you have a widow problem at your house and want to try to treat them yourself, read the label of your over-the-counter pesticide carefully. Most store-bought products are not labeled to kill spiders and will not do so effectively. There are plenty of people who can’t stand spiders and don’t want to deal with them. We at Russell’s Pest Control understand that completely and would be glad to set you up on a quarterly pest control plan that takes care of ants, roaches, and mice in addition to alarming arachnids. Think about it, and visit us here if you’re interested.