black flies

This Summer Prevent Pests by Reducing Moisture Outside of Your Home

By Marcia Anderson

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Like most suburban dwellers, I spent the past few weekends trimming vegetation, mowing the lawn and making sure gutters and other areas around the house were clean of debris and standing water. I soon realized that the mosquito, black fly, and other insect populations were blooming along with the flowers. But where were all of these pests coming from?

Bugs and rodents go wherever there is water. If you have a water leak in or under your house, and the wood stays wet, it will attract pests such as: wood lice, carpenter ants, and termites. Pests that eat wood are particularly interested in moist wood because it is easier for them to chew. They also rely on the moisture in the wood as a source of water. Termites and carpenter ants are known for burrowing through wood and forming nests inside the wood structures. Once holes are made because pests have found wet, weakened spots, rodents may enter the home through those gaps. Have your home’s crawlspaces checked for pests when plumbing problems are detected.

Insects and other small pests need to draw life-sustaining moisture from their surroundings, so they avoid dry places and are attracted to moist areas. If the soil around your house is dry, it’ll be less attractive to insects, spiders, centipedes and other pests.

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Downspouts and gutters are the first places to look for breeding pests. Termites thrive in the moisture often found around your home’s downspouts. Direct water away from your home by turning the downspouts away from the house and use downspout extensions (splash blocks) to disperse rainwater and prevent soil erosion around the foundation. Also watch for leaks and clogs in your gutters that may eventually lead to water damage. Make sure all other drains, including the air conditioner drain lines, flow away from the home and that the pipes extend at least two feet from the foundation.

I found a few standing water sources on my property.

  • The drainage holes on the bottom of a planter were clogged with leaves and collecting rain water.
  • My grandson’s plastic pail and other play equipment had been forgotten outside and had filled with rainwater and mosquito larvae.
  • One of my sprinkler system’s underground lines was leaking, creating a puddle in the yard.
  • Water was collecting in a cavity in one of our trees.

Everyone should take steps to eliminate places where water collects outdoors, such as: tires, garbage cans, tree holes, buckets, wash tubs, even table umbrella stands, etc. This will not only eliminate mosquito breeding habitats, but also water sources for cockroaches and termites. Empty out any water you find to eliminate this problem.

I also had to remove some mulch that was piled too close to the house and trimmed the plants that were growing too close to the siding.  Mulch traps moisture and should be raked away from windowsills, siding and any other wood. Keep a two-foot pest-free strip around the building by trimming branches, and making sure mulch doesn’t touch the foundation.

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Plants growing against the house will also keep siding damp so trim back bushes and trees. Make sure that the soil is sloped away from the house at least six inches every 10 feet. This will reduce soil dampness near your foundation and keep your basement drier.

Lastly, monitor irrigation systems. Ensure sprinklers are adjusted to spray away from the foundation walls and the house.

Be PestWise! Regular maintenance and sanitation are key components of a smart, sensible and sustainable pest management program. Recognizing the value of pest prevention is an important first step. Preventing the accumulation of moisture outside of your home protects you from pests, saves water, and helps the environment. Visit EPA’s website for more information on controlling pests in and around your home.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Black Flies on Mountaintops

By Amy Miller

I might as well move to Alaska where you have to walk around with a net over your head all summer. The little black flies were so bad at the top of Blueberry Mountain in the White Mountain National Forest of Maine (that’s right! The Whites Mountains cross into Maine) that I couldn’t even sit at the summit long enough to eat my brownie.

No gloating at the top for us. Down we rushed from the 1,780-foot peak in the Caribou Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area. And although I didn’t notice it during the three-mile loop, come to find out the bugs were not just buzzing in and out of my mouth and eyes, but had taken enough tiny chunks to leave more bumps and welts than I could scratch with two hands.

Why was I surprised? Do I normally stay inside in May and June? According to Maine Humorist Tim Sample, Black Flies are the unofficial Maine State bird. And the Maine Outdoors website said black flies are most common in wooded, wet areas with lots of standing water. And they especially like hot calm days with little wind. AHA!

So what is a hiker to do? Wear long sleeves or pants, is one idea. At least it’s a good idea if you like to hike around in summer in long sleeves and pants. But then you are probably already doing that to protect against ticks. Not me. I like my shortie shorts and tank top.

A little research and I learned black flies are about 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch long. While mosquitoes breed in still water, black flies breed in running water. Like with mosquitoes, bites come only from the adult females.

Repellents can help: anything from a popular moisturizer to 90 percent DEET to little hunks of garlic cloves, depending on who you ask.

Since the bugs tend to leave you alone when you are hiking, I cringe to think what I would look and feel like if I had stopped for more than 30 seconds at the summit. But let me tell you, the hike was well worth it. We came to a pool at the bottom of a waterfall that would have been worth the $500 airfare to Costa Rica. But next time I head up to the White Mountains of Maine (really, they exist), I will remember zip-on legs and a neck bandana.

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.