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Thirsty pests head indoors for relief

The drought is driving ants, roaches and other assorted bugs indoors in droves. Pest control companies say they are being swarmed with calls for help.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2000

Kelly Anderson will think twice before putting down wet clothes on the floor at her New Port Richey home again. After she did so Friday, it took only a moment for ants to swarm over her laundry.

"I just put (the clothes) on the floor, and then just within a minute they were there," Anderson said. "I didn't know where they came from. . . . It kind of freaked me out, because I don't have a bug problem at all."

Anderson is not the only homeowner in the Tampa Bay area to have encountered the thirsty insects lately. As plagued by the drought as humans, bugs are seeking moisture inside people's homes.

Phil Koehler, an entomology professor at the University of Florida, said Florida, Georgia and Alabama are all seeing dramatic increases in indoor bug infestations because of the dry weather.

"A lot of insects are getting desperate," Koehler said. "And these are mobile insects. When they cannot find any more water . . . they just start looking for it inside. . . . If you talk to pest control people, they'll probably tell you they're keeping busy."

The problem is not limited to ants and roaches, either.

"All insects are on the move, looking for water resources," said Laura Burke, a supervisor at ABC Pest Control in Largo.

The worst part is, Burke said, "There's not a heck of a lot you can do" to keep them from entering your house.

As Anderson discovered Friday, even a pile of damp clothes can draw a swarm. The dampness slightly raises the humidity in a small room, which the ants can sense, said Richard Frezza, the exterminator who helped Anderson get rid of her problem.

"I say their antennae get the Weather Channel," he said.

At Atlantic Pest Control in Palm Harbor, calls from people having problems with ants and cockroaches have doubled in the past two months.

"The last eight weeks have been horrendous," said Bunny Maccaroni, office manager at Atlantic. And while some people call the exterminator at the sight of a single ant, most homes are getting them by the numbers, Maccaroni said.

"They're getting quite a few, we're talking 20 to 50 (ants on average)," she said. Swarms of carpenter ants and fire ants, which usually stay away from homes, are also infesting houses.

Roach problems can be just as bad. Maccaroni said she has seen houses infested with as many as a couple of hundred roaches at one time. The bugs aren't discriminating, either, said Frezza, who owns Bugs-Away Pest and Rodent Control in New Port Richey.

"My customers who usually don't have any problems all are seeing ants and roaches," Frezza said. "I've seen expensive houses, mansions, that had them all over the place."

While inspecting nine houses on a route yesterday, he found four were ant-infested, he said. Usually that number is one or two houses at the most.

Ironically, even an end to the drought could increase the problem at first, Frezza said. With the drought drying drainage and sewer systems, roaches are finding their way farther up those pipes than usual and are getting lost. When it rains, those roaches will try to escape the rising water and are likely to find their way into people's homes via sinks and toilets, he said.

This problem, however, is easier to avoid.

"Put the plugs in (the drains)," Frezza said. "Simple as that."

Keeping bugs out

Exterminators recommend taking the following precautions to keep bugs out of your house:

Put weather stripping around doors and windows.

Cover all vents, including those on the roof, with screens.

Caulk all small cracks in the walls, doors and windows.

Plug drains and overflows in sinks and tubs when not in use.

Make sure sprinkler systems and spigots don't leak.

Direct runoff from air conditioners as far away from the house as possible.

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