rodents

There are times when spring cleaning can be dangerous…

1.Close up of mouse droppings

1. Close up of mouse droppings

By Marcia Anderson

I live in a suburban area, surrounded by woods, lots of woods. So an occasional visit by an insect or rodent is inevitable.

Field mice drop in for the winter, especially when my family unintentionally invites them by leaving the garage or deck doors open. The mice also slip into the basement through the gap between the door and the floor we keep meaning to seal. Even though the gap is small, they still manage to squeeze through. Mice can squeeze through a hole the size of a dime, and rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter! Once inside the little critters seek food, water and a warm shelter.

During the winter months the little pests usually go unnoticed. However, every spring or summer when I clean sections of my basement, I find mouse droppings, patches of urine, nesting material and occasionally a dried corpse. The same scene also plays out as warm weather motivates us to clean out our backyard shed and open our little vacation cabin in the woods.

More than just a spring nuisance, cleaning up after rodents in and around your own home, cabin, shed or barn can put you at risk from the allergens and illnesses that go hand-in-hand with rodents. Rodent droppings can be prime allergy or asthma triggers in urban or rural settings. Even worse, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome a severe and sometimes fatal disease caused by the hantavirus, is spread by rodents. The American Lung Association provides helpful information on rodent-borne illnesses, including hantavirus.

2.This gap between the brick wall and cement step provides the perfect entryway for a mouse.

2. This gap between the brick wall and cement step provides the perfect entryway for a mouse.

Rodents throughout most of North America carry forms of hantavirus, deer mice in the west, cotton rats in the southeast, and white-footed mice in the northeast. The Centers for Disease Control reports that Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome has occurred in 34 states. The disease is spread through either direct contact with rodent urine, droppings and saliva, or by breathing in dust that is contaminated with rodent urine or feces.

There are things that you can do to both prevent rodent problems and to safely clean up if you find them indoors. Focus on prevention – remove the food sources, water, and entry points into your home or other shelter. This is the cornerstone of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable way to reduce pests, including mice and rats.

Keep pests out by sealing gaps or holes outside your home, garage or outbuilding. Look for holes in the roof near the roof among the rafters, gables, eaves, windows, attic vents and crawl space vents. Check for holes around the foundation and where electrical, plumbing, cable, and gas lines enter. When you find small holes, pack them with steel wool then apply a sealant to keep it in place.

To fix larger holes, use lath screen, lath metal, hardware cloth, metal sheeting or cement to repair. Install a door sweep to close off gaps under doors. As long as these entry points remain open, rodents will continue to get inside.

Other steps you should take on your property are aimed at eliminating outdoor nesting sites. Position compost bins and woodpiles at least 100 feet from buildings. Elevate garbage cans and, if possible, woodpiles at least one foot off the ground. Get rid of old tires, cars, and trucks that mice and rats could use as homes. Keep grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed away from buildings. Keep bird feeders away from the house and use squirrel guards to limit squirrels and other rodent access.

Remember a few key points to keep food away from any rodents that do make it indoors. Store your non-refrigerated food in thick plastic, glass or metal containers with tight lids. This includes pet food, grains and domestic animal feed. Uneaten animal feed should be returned to its storage container or disposed of each evening. Wash and dry dirty dishes and make sure there are lids on your trash cans.

If you have a building with signs of rodent activity inside, take care when cleaning to avoid potentially serious health consequences. Avoid actions that raise contaminated dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming rodent feces. Instead, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for cleaning up after rodents that include wearing gloves when cleaning and properly disinfecting.

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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New York City’s Proactive Approach to Rat Management and the 2013 Rodent Academy

By Marcia Anderson

Rat Management

Rat Management

The New York City 2013 Rodent Academy was sponsored jointly by the NYC Department of Health (NYCDOH) and the EPA Region2. The academy also drew people involved in rodent control from the National Parks Service and pest management professionals from Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Alaska.

The responsibility of dealing with rats in the city is shared among NYCDOH, city building owners, and the City Departments of buildings, transportation, sanitation and parks. Unlike the other city departments, however, the NYCDOH has an ‘Emergency Response Team’- a group of exterminators to help out other city agencies with severe rodent challenges. A call to NYC’s 3-1-1 number about a rodent issue brings a prompt response.

We learned that NYC is taking an aggressive and proactive approach to pest management including inspections and compliance assistance. Inspectors go out into the community, block by block, and inspect for evidence of rodent activity, rodent entry points, runways, harborages, and more. They educate building managers, home owners and the general public on how to prevent rodents and conduct up to 140,000 of these inspections per year. After they educate those responsible for properties in violation, they follow-up at sites where people have remediated rat infestation problems. These proactive inspections were first conducted in the Bronx and Manhattan, and now include Brooklyn and Queens.

This pest inspection program uses hand held devices to reduce paperwork enabling more people to remain on the streets and in the communities to deal with rodent problems. The results of this work are available on the NYC Rat portal website.

The NYC DOH does not just bait and trap. They use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which is a science-based decision-making process that identifies and reduces risks from pests and pest management related strategies. IPM employs horticultural, mechanical, physical and biological controls with selective use of pesticides when needed. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pests by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls.

Rats are monitored to determine the extent of the rodent problem at any site. Participants learned that NYC is not only monitoring with tracking powders, but is utilizing some new biomarkers. After consumption of new baits, a bio-florescent marker is left in the rodent droppings making the droppings visible by black light. This helps to identify how rodents are traveling from nest to food sources and back. It can also help measure a rat colony range, and determine if rodents are entering from the outside and invading buildings along a particular wall or through a specific opening that needs to be sealed.

In NYC, rats have had at least 200 years to become established, multiply and learn areas and harborages in which to feed, hide and thrive. City infrastructure like sewers, stream and water tunnels, subways, parks, refuse collection, highways, streets and seaports provides innumerable harborage sites throughout our metropolis. Some hidden harborages may include:  ground earthen burrows, beneath sidewalks and curbs, within interior and exterior structure voids, old sewer system tunnels, subway platforms and track tunnels, and within construction materials.

On the third day, the Rodent Academy participants visited numerous sites around lower Manhattan to improve their ability to identify rat burrows, runways, harborages and food sources. Look for a discussion of some of these sites in upcoming ‘Rodent Academy Part 2’ blog.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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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Our Friendly Feathered Friends

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

Ever since the beginning of the year, I have been noticing more the comings and goings of wild birds around my home.  For the past weeks, I’ve been hearing an increasing number of bird calls as well. While I didn’t quite recognize the distinct chirps or calls of the different birds, I can tell that they are coming from a wide variety of bird species.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, there is a pair of cardinals that is frequently visiting my backyard. I’ve seen blue jays and other birds in the wooded area behind my house, but they don’t seem to come to my garden while I have been around. I discussed the situation with my children and they suggested that I put bird feeders. “You can even put peanut butter on an acorn. That’s what we did at school,” proclaimed the youngest.

Frankly, I had been resisting the idea of bird-feeders for the longest time. I thought that by creating a bird-friendly environment in my backyard birds would visit regularly. I’ve prided myself with planting flowering plants, shrubs and trees that will provide birds and other pollinators with habitat, food and rest areas. There’s even a little creek nearby to provide water. I was opting for a natural approach. Personally, I didn’t want to get bird feeders because I didn’t want to feed the area squirrels nor did I want to attract unwanted rodents.

To feed or not to feed, that was the question! So, in the spirit of National Bird-Feeding Month, I finally decided to get a couple of bird feeders and birdseed for wild birds. I will be placing them strategically in my garden this weekend. I stress the word “strategically” because I don’t want to put them in location that will give easy access to those pesky squirrels. Nonetheless, I want to have them in a location where my family and I may feast our eyes with the site of the colorful avian visitors that will be flying by.

I hope to take some nice pictures of some blue jays, orioles and in the summer, some golden finches. I am looking forward to sharing the experience in future blogs. Stay tuned.

Do you have any bird-watching suggestions? Would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Attic Squirrels

By Amy Miller

Honey, come quick, I called.
What, what is it?
Just come listen.

We listened. We waited. They scratched. And scratched. We looked at each other. And we knew. These were no mice, these were squirrels. Or raccoons. Or some animal that would laugh at a mousetrap.

By the next day the scratching had stopped.

Our neighbor was not so lucky. For months she tried traps and barriers to get rid of her squirrels. She paid experts. And in the end she had to chainsaw nine-tenths of the branches off her giant pine trees to eliminate the bridges the squirrels were using to her rooftop.

My friend’s mother also wasn’t so lucky. All the boxes stored in her attic fell apart because squirrels apparently munched on the glue holding the boxes together.

According to one web site, about 15,000 home fires each year are caused by squirrels and other rodents chewing on wiring. (Yes, a squirrel is a rodent).

While it’s not so hard to find a squirrel or its nest on a roof, once they are inside the house they will win the game of hide-and-seek hands down.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is one of the most common pests. At 16 to 18 inches and weighing about a pound, they get in through small holes that they gnaw wider. They bring nesting material with them and make noise scurrying around storing their nuts, seeds, fungi or fruit. They may fall down the chimney or down a wall from the attic and get stuck.

A survey of web sites makes it clear that solving this problem is no picnic. You can try trapping them, locking them out, or quickly sealing up holes if you know they are out to get lunch and water.
I heard one story of a mother squirrel and her babies that camped out in an attic, but when the babies grew up they all left on their own, taking up residence in a new nest in a nearby tree.

Be warned, if someone recommends using mothballs, forget it; it’s illegal. The EPA allows moth balls for moths and caterpillers only. This is because moth balls are toxic to humans and pets.

EPA tells landlords that if squirrels are in a house, the tenants should be told of integrated pest management techniques, and advised to fix screens, remove clutter and eliminate wood piles. In addition, holes should be patched with pest-resistant materials and mesh should be used to cover air intake and exhaust vents.

I wonder what tricks others have used to get rid of their squirrels.

Click for more information

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.

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Protecting Children Comes First

By Lina Younes

I hate pests! I loathe disease-carrying rodents with a passion.

Several years ago, I participated in the filming of a TV interview in Spanish with an expert in healthy homes. Together, we went room by room through a home and day care to identify potential environmental hazards and, above all, to learn how to keep areas pest free.

I found the experience very informative. Personally, I was struck by the behavior of rodents. Did you know that mice and small rats can fit through holes about the size of a quarter and can squeeze their way into your home and take up residence, nesting in corners and feeding on food crumbs? Yuck!

Likewise, small children have their own behavioral characteristics. They spend a lot of the time on the floor, crawling or playing. Their innate curiosity leads them to grab small articles they find along their way and often put them into their mouths, including mouse pellets they may find in open trays on the floor. More than 10,000 kids each year in the U.S. are exposed to mouse and rat pellets, often by putting them in their mouths. That is why EPA has been working with pesticide manufacturers to change consumer mouse and rat poisons to be sold in enclosed bait stations, to protect curious kids from the poison. The enclosed bait stations are also protective of household pets.

In addition, EPA is banning four of the most toxic poisons from consumer products, to protect wildlife. Mouse and rat poisons that you use inside your home can harm wildlife because poisoned rodents that venture outside can poison wildlife like hawks and foxes that ingest rodents as prey.

So, what can you do to keep your children safe from accidental poisonings in the home?

  1. Read the label first! By not following the instructions carefully, you can actually put your family at risk.
  2. Create barriers to prevent rodents from entering the home by closing cracks, using wire mesh along pipes, so that these unwanted visitors will not seek shelter in your home and you will need to use less poison.

Do you have any safety tips that you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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To Catch Or To Kill, That Is the Question

While I was on my way home, my daughter Mariam franticly called me because she had seen a small mouse running in our family room. I told her that I would stop by the supermarket to buy mouse traps. She insisted that we catch the mouse live and dispose of it. She didn’t want to kill it or use any poisons that might hurt our three house cats. In fact, the scene was quite comical because in our time of need, the three cats were no where to be found!

I wasn’t worried about having a rodent infestation in the house because we observe integrated pest management practices. Furthermore, I hope that the cats’ presence should serve as a natural deterrent. I suppose that the small field mouse, which seemed to be as frantic as my daughter, must have entered the warm house while I brought the garbage can and recycling bin inside. Yes, I had left the kitchen door open in the process, me bad.

When I got home with two sets of mouse traps (including a live-catch one) my daughter kept insisting that she didn’t want to kill the mouse. Surprisingly, while the mouse was scurrying around the family room trying to escape, it jumped into a box full of toys. My husband quickly took the box, dumped it out on the deck, and the small mouse leaped to freedom.

So what are the do’s and don’ts to get rid of mice and other pests in the home? Simple tips include removing sources of food, water and shelter. If you have to use pesticides, read the label first and keep children and pets away while these pesticides are being applied. In the home, traps and baits pose less risks to children and pets. Nonetheless, place them in areas where your children or pets cannot reach. In fact, the use of rat poison in the home leads to accidental poisonings of children on a yearly basis. The Agency has announced stricter policy guidelines to prevent rodenticide poisonings.

I must confess that while the mouse trapping scenario was hilarious this weekend, rodents and other pests in the home are not a laughing matter. They present many health risks and need to be handled properly. With preventive measures, you can keep everyone at home safe and the pests far away.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Mouse Trap

While watching television the other night, I caught a glimpse of a movie about a certain kind of pest: rodents. I know that horror films clearly over exaggerate and are intended to scare people but it did bring back some memories for me. Last year I lived in a new apartment with two of my best friends back at school. One night as we were having a movie night, one of my roommates yelped that she saw a mouse run across our kitchen floor. My other roommate and I went to check it out and as we stood there anxiously awaiting the arrival of our four legged visitor, it suddenly ran across the edge of the floor disappearing into a wall. We all immediately jumped on our kitchen table and screamed. It was a scene straight out of a movie. Girly, I know. I’m sure the mouse was just as scared we were. Needless to say, we discovered later that we had more than just one mouse and a pest problem. Our ordeal with mice lasted a month or so until we had carefully and safely eliminated all rodents and sealed up any possible nook and cranny that they could get in. I will be forever grateful to the roommate that was brave enough to ‘take out the trash’. Moral of the story, though, is that we handled our situation safely. It should be noted that as young adults we were able to take care of the situations ourselves and young children should definitely not. This brings up a few good tips to keep in mind when handling pest infestations of your own, especially when children are around.

  • Always keep pesticides and other household chemicals out of children’s reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Never transfer pesticides to other containers that children may associate with food or drink.
  • Never place rodent or insect baits where small children can easily get to them.
  • If you are interrupted while using a pesticide or household chemical, make sure to properly reclose the container and put it out of children’s reach.

Remember that pesticides aren’t just limited to those used for rodents but apply to many other products that may be in your house. You can visit a virtual house where you can learn about various chemicals and pesticides, health and safety tips, and what to do if an accident occurs. Take a stand against those pests but do so in a safe way!

About the author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

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.