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  • Writer's pictureNoel McCarthy

Winter Bugs: Does Your House Have Unwanted Guests?

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Each year there’s an argument in our house about which day, exactly, marks the official beginning of winter. Being a traditionalist, I maintain that the coming of the winter solstice is the much-argued-about day! Others argue that it’s always on December 21st. Either way, we are now indisputably in the grasp of winter and all that it connotes: leaden, grey skies; sub-zero temperatures; snow drifts covering our cars and choking up the driveways; layers of ice on our windshields; snow days and early store closings, etc.

But winter brings something else in its wake; something quiet, stealthy, and often unnoticed: bugs. Lots of bugs! And these aren’t the sort to which we’re accustomed, like honey bees, wasps, mosquitoes, ticks, and so on. These are seasonal interlopers, and include Box Elder Bugs, Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, Cluster Flies, Hairy Fungus Beetles, and Foreign Grain Beetles, among others.

Since we are a bit bug-obsessed here at Sterifab, we’ve put together a guide. Here’s everything you need to know about winter bugs, including which ones are worrisome and what you can do to get rid of the bugs.

Why Do the Bugs Come Inside?

These unwelcome guests make their way into our homes (and offices) for many of the same reasons that we, too, like to be indoors in winter months. Walls and a solid roof provide warmth, safety and protection from the blizzards of winter. Can you really blame the bugs? If I were a bug, I’d probably do the same ̶ and bring the family along too!

These Aren’t the Bugs of Summer

Officially, the bugs we mentioned above are known as “fall invaders.” That’s because they usually make their way inside during the autumn months, before the worst of the winter is upon them. With the exception of the Foreign Grain Beetle and Hairy Fungus Beetle, which feed chiefly on mold and decaying grain, the rest of these pests neither reproduce nor feed during the coldest months. Fortunately for us!

However, even without eating, these pests can become a real nuisance if they arrive in any numbers, especially if they park themselves in kitchens, pantries, or food storage areas. In addition to their being an annoyance, they can produce very unpleasant odors that can waft throughout a house (or office).

Common Winter Bugs

Here’s a list of these bugs and what signs to look for if you suspect you’re facing an intrusion:

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Many millennia ago, before humankind arrived in significant numbers, stink bugs didn’t have the luxury of invading homes, offices, stores, or any of the other places of refuge. In the colder regions of the continent, winter not only brought a halt to the growth of plants and deciduous trees, but also killed off vast numbers of these bugs. Those few, hearty souls who found shelter in leaf litter and behind the rotting bark of downed trees, were enough to guarantee the survival of the species. Today, things are very different.

According to one report, a homeowner in Maryland trapped some 26,000 stink bugs from January through June 2011. For some unknown reason the homeowner didn’t smell them and only became aware of their presence when they started to leave ̶ in droves!

Fortunately, stink bugs don’t bite, and they don’t carry any known diseases, but if you are storing fruit and/or vegetables for use during the winter months, they can do a great deal of damage. And your stored items won’t be edible at all.

How to Spot a Stink Bug

For the record, adult stink bugs are easy to spot. At just over 3/16 inches long, they sport what can only be described as shield shaped bodies that are mottled brown. Their abdominal edges and antennae exhibit irregular light and dark bands.

Box Elder Bugs

Boxelder Bug

Another member of the infamous group known as “fall invaders,” Box Elder Bugs depend for the most part on the juices from box elder trees for sustenance, although they can sometimes be found feasting on other plants ̶ maple trees being a favored alternative.

Box Elder Bugs pose no particular problems for humans, although they have been known to pierce the skin of humans and thus cause areas of mild irritation. But these bugs also have a tendency to deposit fecal material in those areas where they set up their temporary homes, curtains being a particular favorite.

They also tend to gather in the small cracks of outside walls in order to insulate themselves from cold winter temperatures. And while they are relatively harmless, Box Elder Bugs can become a real problem when they overrun homes and offices in large numbers. Look for black bugs with reddish or orange markings on their back. The body itself is an elongated oval measuring about 1/2 an inch long, with six legs and two antennae.

Getting Rid of Box Elder Bugs

The best way of getting rid of Box Elder Bugs is to prevent them from invading your home in the first place! Before it gets really cold, take time to repair any holes or gaps in and around your windows and doors. You also want to seal any cracks and crevices on the exterior of your house.

If you do find Box Elder Bugs in your house and decide to eradicate them with a pesticide, they will usually hide out. Resist the temptation to kill them. Sounds odd, I agree, but if you do, they will invariably take cover within wall voids, where their dead bodies may attract dermestid beetles. Your best bet is to use a vacuum cleaner to remove as many as you can. Oh yes, and throw out the vacuum bag outside. Otherwise, they might escape within the house and you’ll be right back where you started!

Cluster Flies

Cluster flies usually make their appearance via the small openings and cracks on the exterior of houses. And, like every other “fall invader,” they are attracted to warmth. For the record, adult Cluster Flies are ever so slightly larger than a house fly. The wings overlap each other over the abdomen unlike the house fly, whose wings appear to be more of a triangular pattern at rest.

Fortunately, Cluster Flies do not carry any known diseases and, for the most part, will not cause extensive damage to homes. However, their droppings can blacken walls or windows, and they can also gather inside ceiling light fixtures.

Hairy Fungus Beetle

Hairy Fungus Beetle

The Hairy Fungus Beetle is not much of a threat in homes or offices since it generally feeds on mold that grows on stored grains. Females lay their eggs in the grain so if you’re a farmer, you may be all too familiar with these buggers. Hairy Fungus Beetles are often found in cornfields, drawn to the decaying kernels of exposed ears.

Unfortunately, little is known about the life cycle of this pest, apart from the fact that they’re attracted to light and have a culinary preference for grain.

The adult is a small, brownish oval-shaped beetle about 1/10 of an inch long, and covered in hairs. They are sometimes mistaken for other common stored product pests, although their distinctive three clubbed antennae are usually a giveaway.

If you do find them in your home, it’s usually because you’re either storing grains in open containers. The beetles are unlikely to come in large droves and, in any event, they do not pose a threat to humans.

Foreign Grain Beetles

Foreign Grain Beetles are certainly a nuisance when they make their way into homes, but fortunately they do not bite and do not pose any threat to humans. Plus, they don’t infest furniture, nor do they hide in clothing or linens. But they can reproduce in prodigious numbers very quickly since their entire life cycle is about 30 days.

Reddish-brown in color, these bugs have a flattened appearance and the adults usually measure about 1/8 of an inch long. Foreign Grain Beetles prefer to live in damp areas ̶ especially where fungus grows. In fact, these pests require humidity levels of 65% in order to reproduce. Once the humidity levels drop below 60%, they quickly die off.

Contrary to popular belief, Foreign Grain Beetles are not found in grain storage facilities. For the most part, they are attracted to new construction projects: houses, apartments, town houses, etc. According to entomologists, this is because today’s building materials (such as sheetrock, plaster, caulking, and plywood) are quite damp when they are first installed and retain small quantities of mold ̶ a favored source of sustenance for these beetles. Eventually these materials dry out and the bugs move on once they’re denied their favorite food.

Foreign Grain Beetles can also be found in older homes, provided they have high enough levels of humidity. Such humidity levels in turn create the ideal conditions the fungi and molds that these pests love. If you own an older home and find these beetles, there are a number of steps you can take to evict them (or prevent them from setting up camp in the first place):

  1. Install vent fans in bathrooms.

  2. Ensure that if you have a crawl space under your house it is adequately ventilated and dry.

  3. Check the attic and make sure that it is properly aerated.

The Bottom Line on Winter Bugs

It’s always a good idea to have a can of Sterifab® bug spray in your home (or office), especially since it has a number of different ̶ but complementary ̶ functions. As a disinfectant it will quickly destroy microorganisms; kill fungus, germs, and viruses, as well as mold and mildew; and put an end to pathogenic odors. Plus, it also operates as a bacteriostatic and an efficient fungistatic.

As an insecticide, Sterifab can not only eradicate a wide number of pests ̶ including bed bugs, lice, ticks, fleas and others ̶ but it is fast drying and completely clear. That means it won’t stain and doesn’t contain any perfumes. Another plus is that Sterifab will not harm fabrics or carpets, and can be used on mattresses and upholstered furniture.

So, buy a small bottle, and keep it handy. You won’t be disappointed.

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